A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gunboat Diplomacy: The British Occupy Bushehr (Bushire) and Move Against the Tangistanis, August 1915, Part II

Note: If you have not read Part I of this post, which appeared yesterday, please do so first, as it sets the stage for the campaign described here.

The Punitive Force

Since here was no chance the impotent Iranian government could provide the compensation demanded for the July attack, the British immediately began assembling a punitive expedition to occupy Bushire and punish the Tangistanis.

Drury St.A. Wake (as an Admiral)
In anticipation of the campaign, the Royal Navy named Captain (later Admiral Sir) Drury St.Aubyn Wake as Senior Naval Officer, Persian Gulf. Up to this point, the Gulf force had been under the Senior Naval Officer, Mesopotamia, but the commands were now separated.

Defenses of Bushire, September 1915
The British formally occupied Bushire on August 8, reinforcing the garrison there. They met no resistance at the port On August 9 it was decided to send elements from four companies of the 96th Berar Infantry (70 rifles from each) to land at Dilwar, along with Royal Navy elements, a Royal Marine covering force and a Navy demolition team. The 96th was under the command of Major C.E.H. Wintle, and the force was accompanied by the Royal Navy's HMS Juno under the aforementioned Captain Wake, along with the HMS Pyramus  and the Royal Indian Marine ships HMIMS Dalhousie and HMIMS Lawrence as troopships along with a Naval Landing Party of about 100 men. After the landings the ships would seek to seize any Tangistani dhows in the Gulf.

HMS Juno
The ships arrived off Dilwar on the morning of August 10, but they discovered the  survey of the coast previously made was unreliable and they had to seek safe anchorages; also a shamal wind was blowing, preventing landings. This continued on the 11th, though in the interim they were able to do reconnaissance and practice landing operations.

The landing finally became feasible on August 13 and operations began at 9:30 AM. The tides forced a landing to the south of the original plan. The Tangistanis were in trenches onshore and opened fire with rifles, and Juno's landing boat lost four dead and seven wounded.

I reproduce he map accompanying Major Wintle's report to General Nixon, to illustrate the actions onshore though the resolution isn't  great, and another map below it.

The small boats had Maxim guns, and tried to suppress the rifle fire, but it was the six-inch guns on Juno, firing from 9,000 yards offshore, that had the most effect,

Due to considerations of light, it was decided to land he troops at 11 AM. Once the Royal Marines were ashore the infantry landings began.

The British did not have good maps of the area, and thought the villages of Old Dilwar and New Dilwar and its fort lay just beyond a palm grove. At 3:30 on the morning of August 14, Wintle ordered his troops forward to the palm grove, only to discover, as the maps a left show, that it lay some 1200 yards south of the villages.

Wintle's men in the grove began cutting down palm trees to punish the Tangistanis, but encountered resistance (as well as an instance when naval gunfire fell on the grove). After taking casualties, Wintle withdrew toward the British camp, but resolved to take the fort the next day

At 3:30 in the morning of the 15h, to avoid the heat of the day in the Gulf in August, Wintle moved out and took he village of Old Dilwar, stationing a company and a machine-gun there, and moving on to New Dilwar and its fort. It was discovered that the Tangistanis expecting him to return to the palm grove to cut down more trees,had reinforced the palm grove. The British were able to breach the walls of the fort. Wintle blew up the fort and burned the village of Dilwar.

At the time of the landings, Wintle estimated the hostile forces at Dilwar at 150-200 men, but by late on the 15th at 500 to 600, suggesting that reinforcement had come from other villages in the vicinity. He also makes reference to seeing a "white officer," who he suggested might be a Turk, with the enemy.

HMS Pyramus
Wintle was planning to return and destroy more palm trees, but due to a shortage of ammunition and naval shells and the growing enemy force, along with growing dissent among the local population back in Bushire, it was decided to order the force back to Bushire, considering the destruction of the fort and the village sufficient punishment to the Tangistanis, and the punitive force re-embarked that night.

Casualties were: Killed: Royal Navy: 1 officer, 5 seamen, 1 Royal Marine; 96th Berar Infantry: 1 Indian officer, 7 sepoys. Wounded: Royal Navy: 1 officer, 12 seamen and 12 Marines; 96th Berar Infantry: 1 Indian officer and 14 sepoys. As noted earlier, some casualties were from friendly fire when the Navy shells fell at the palm grove.

This was not the end of the campaign. The Tangistanis would attack Bushire itself again on September 9, and we will resume the story then.

A note on sources:
I was originally going to list a range of sources, but in the end most of the narrative of the campaign was taken from the primary source, available digitally online from the India Office Records digitzed by the Qatar Digital Library: "Report from General Sir J. E. Nixon, K.C.B., Commanding I.E.F. "D." on the Operations at Dilwar 10th-16th August 1915." This contains the texts of Major Wintle's and Captain Wake's official reports to Nixon, their daily orders, detailed casualty and decoration lists, and maps. The Qatar Digital Library has done a great service in digitizing these India office records.

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