On this day in 1917, the so-called Battle of the Boot marks the end of the British army’s Samarra Offensive, launched the previous month by Anglo-Indian forces under the regional commander in chief, Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, against the important Turkish railroad at Samarra, some 130 kilometers north of Baghdad, in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).
Fresh from the triumphant capture of Baghdad, Maude decided not to hesitate before moving to consolidate the Allied positions to the north, where Turkish commander Khalil Pasha’s forces had retreated from Baghdad to await reinforcements sent from Persia. In the Samarra Offensive, begun on March 13, 1917, some 45,000 Anglo-Indian frontline troops were sent up the Tigris River towards the railway at Samarra; on March 19, Maude’s forces seized Falluja, preventing the Turks from flooding the Euphrates River onto the plains and hampering the British advance. Though an attempt on March 25 to intercept the Turkish reinforcement troops, led by Ali Ishan Bey, met with failure, the British were able to capture another city, Dogameh, by the end of March.
As the Samarra Offensive continued into April, the Turks had backed up to positions between the Tigris and the Al Jali Canal; the Samarra railway itself lay in between. Heavy fighting beginning on April 21 resulted in a Turkish defeat two days later and they were forced to cede Samarra to the British. Less than a week later, Ishan suddenly reappeared with the majority of his troops at Dahubu in an attempt to surprise the British forces; they were aware of his movements, however, and the Turks were met by several infantry brigades, commanded by General William Marshall, and forced to retreat to prepared positions in the foothills that spanned the river at Band-i-Adhaim. The subsequent action that took place, beginning early the morning of April 30, became known as the Battle of the Boot, for the boot-shaped peninsula of high ground on which it was fought.
Marshall began his infantry attack early in the morning of April 30; his forces advanced quickly, taking 300 Turkish prisoners and two lines of trenches within a short time. A sandstorm subsequently halted British operations, and the Turks were able to call on reserve forces for a successful counter-attack. By the time the sandstorm cleared, in the late afternoon, Isha and his men had taken 350 British prisoners and begun a retreat into the mountains; the punishing heat prevented Marshall’s troops from pursuing them.
The Battle of the Boot effectively ended the Samarra Offensive, as Maude decided to pause in order to regroup and give his forces the chance to recover their strength. Casualties in the offensive numbered some 18,000, with losses due to illness running more than twice that number. Ishan and his Turkish forces remained in the mountains, preparing for the renewal of hostilities on the Mesopotamian front that would begin that fall.