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Battle of Wadi

In an attempt to relieve their compatriots under heavy siege by Turkish forces at Kut-al Amara in Mesopotamia, British forces under the command of Lieutenant General Fenton Aylmer launch an attack against Turkish defensive positions on the banks of the Wadi River.

British forces under Sir Charles Townshend had occupied Kut, a town on the Tigris River in the Basra province of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) by September 1915. On December 5, the Turks had begun a siege of the town, inflicting heavy casualties. In response to Townshend’s calls for assistance, the British regional command, led by Sir John Nixon, assembled a relief force led by Aylmer that included three new infantry divisions dispatched from India.

On January 4, 1916, Aylmer set out up the Tigris from the British forward base at Ali Gharbi with 19,000 troops, 46 guns and two aircraft. His path was blocked by 22,500 Turkish troops and 72 guns under commander Nur-Ur-Din at Sheikh Sa’ad, just 15 kilometers upriver from Ali Gharbi and 32 kilometers from Kut. On January 6, Aylmer’s forces launched an initial attack, which the Turks quickly repelled, resulting in heavy British losses; another attack the next day failed as well. On the night of January 8-9, however, when Aylmer’s forces struck again, they were surprised to find that the Turkish troops had withdrawn for some unknown reason; Nur-Ur-Din was subsequently removed from command after he failed to justify the withdrawal.

Still, after losing more than 4,000 men, Aylmer’s troops were exhausted and demoralized as they continued to make their way up the Tigris toward Kut, and their progress was hampered by the region’s typical shortage of available roads and supply routes. Meanwhile, the Turkish army under new regional commander Khalil Pasha set up new and firmer defensive positions—with some 20,000 troops—along the banks of the smaller Wadi River, through which the British would have to pass in order to reach Kut.

Aylmer, aware of these enemy movements, planned to surround the Turkish forces, sending troops around to secure the area immediately behind the Turkish lines while simultaneously attacking with artillery from the front. The attack, which began in the early afternoon of January 13—postponed from the morning because of a persistent mist and a slow advance by artillery across the river—quickly lost the intended element of surprise, as the outnumbered British forces on both sides of enemy lines struggled to assert themselves against a robust Turkish defense. By the time Aylmer called off the attack at the end of the day, his troops had gained control of the Wadi, but it was a small advance that was unworthy of the 1,600 men killed or wounded in the attack and did little to bring relief closer to Townshend’s beleaguered forces at Kut. In April 1916, after nearly five months under siege, Townshend finally submitted, along with 10,000 of his men, in the largest single surrender of British troops up to that time. The British won back Kut in February 1917, on their way to the capture of Baghdad the following month.

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