Year
1916

British attempt to bargain with Turks over Kut

On this day in 1916, three British officers, including the famous Captain T.E. Lawrence (known as Lawrence of Arabia), attempt to engineer the escape of thousands of British troops under siege at the city of Kut-al-Amara in Mesopotamia through a secret negotiation with the Turkish command.

Since December 1915, British forces under the command of Sir Charles Townshend had been under siege from Turkish and German forces in Kut, on the Tigris River in the Basra province of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Four attempts to push the enemy troops back had resulted only in some 23,000 casualties—nearly twice the strength of the remaining regiment. Exhausted, undersupplied and plagued with illness, Townshend’s men were on the brink of surrender when the British regional command decided to try one last diplomatic maneuver.

Then working in military intelligence in Cairo, Egypt, the recently promoted Captain Thomas Edward Lawrence found office work dull, and thus was excited to be sent, along with two other officers, on a secret mission to negotiate the escape of Townshend and his troops with their Turkish counterparts. On April 27, they made their offer: if the Turks allowed the men in Kut to leave the city and rejoin Allied regional forces located to the south of Kut, they would be rewarded with £1 million in gold.

Turkish officers, confident of their imminent victory at Kut, refused the offer, and all Lawrence and his comrades were able to secure was the release of some of the wounded. Kut fell on April 29, as Townshend and his remaining 13,000 men were taken prisoner, in the largest single surrender of troops in British history to that point.

Lawrence’s well-written reports to British military command, both about Kut and Arab nationalism, won him high favor among his superiors. He was soon sent on another important mission, to help engineer an Arab revolt against the Turks led by Feisal Hussein.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Magellan killed in the Philippines

After traveling three-quarters of the way around the globe, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan is killed during a tribal skirmish on Mactan Island in the Philippines. Earlier in the month, his ships had dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu, and Magellan met with ...read more

Tragedy on the Mississippi

Days after the end of the Civil War, the worst maritime disaster in American history occurs when the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,100 passengers, explodes and sinks in the Mississippi River, killing all but 400 of those aboard. The Mississippi, with its dikes and levees damaged ...read more

To the shores of Tripoli

After marching 500 miles from Egypt, U.S. agent William Eaton leads a small force of U.S. Marines and Berber mercenaries against the Tripolitan port city of Derna. The Marines and Berbers were on a mission to depose Yusuf Karamanli, the ruling pasha of Tripoli, who had seized ...read more

Parliament passes the Tea Act

On this day in 1773, the British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government and, thus, granting it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade. ...read more

German forces enter Athens

On this day in 1941, the German army enters the Greek capital, signaling the end of Greek resistance. All mainland Greece and all the Greek Aegean islands except Crete are under German occupation by May 11. In fending off the Axis invaders, the Greeks suffer the loss of 15,700 ...read more

Humphrey announces his candidacy

Vice President Hubert Humphrey announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an interview, he said he supported the current U.S. policy of sending troops “where required by our own national security.”On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson, ...read more

President Grant is born

Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War leader and 18th president of the United States, is born on this day in 1822. The son of a tanner, Grant showed little enthusiasm for joining his father’s business, so the elder Grant enrolled his son at West Point in 1839. Though Grant later admitted ...read more

Explorer Zebulon Pike dies

After surviving two dangerous exploratory expeditions into uncharted areas of the West, Zebulon Pike dies during a battle in the War of 1812.By the time he became a general in 1812, Pike had already faced many perilous situations. He joined the army when he was 15, and ...read more

Cunanan begins his killing spree

Andrew Cunanan kills Jeffrey Trail by beating him to death with a claw hammer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Trail’s murder set Cunanan off on a nationwide killing spree that ended in July when he killed himself on a houseboat in Miami Beach.Cunanan spent most of his adult life as ...read more

Afghan president is overthrown and murdered

Afghanistan President Sardar Mohammed Daoud is overthrown and murdered in a coup led by procommunist rebels. The brutal action marked the beginning of political upheaval in Afghanistan that resulted in intervention by Soviet troops less than two years later.Daoud had ruled ...read more