December 5

This Day in History

World War I

Dec 5, 1915:

Siege of British-occupied Kut, Mesopotamia begins

On this day in 1915, Turkish and German forces launch an attack on the British-occupied town of Kut al-Amara on the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.

Under the command of Sir John Nixon, British troops had enjoyed early success in their invasion of Mesopotamia. Forces led by Nixon s forward divisional commander, Sir Charles Townshend, reached and occupied the Mesopotamian province of Basra, including the town of Kut al-Amara, by late September 1915. From there, they attempted to move up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers towards Baghdad, but were rebuffed by Turkish troops at Ctesiphon (or Selman Pak) in late November. Despite outnumbering the Turks two-to-one, Townshend s troops, made up partially of soldiers dispatched from India, were forced to retreat to Kut, where on December 5 Turkish and German troops began a siege that would last for the next five months.

Nixon had envisioned Kut as a base for his troops to invade further into the region and eventually provide a pivot point for an ambitious strategy where the Russians would enter the region through Azerbaijan and Persia and join the Allied forces to envelop the enemy. Unfortunately for the British troops, problems with illness among the British officers and sinking morale due to wet weather and dwindling supplies plagued Townshend s forces, who tried four times without success to confront and surround their Turkish opponents only to suffer heavy casualties.

Kut fell on April 29, 1916, and Townshend was forced to give up the fight, along with his remaining 10,000 men. That day marked the largest single surrender of troops in British history up until that time.

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