A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 22-23, 1915: The Battle of Ctesiphon, Part II

As noted in Part I of this post, the Turkish position at Ctesiphon was a strong one. General Townshend arrived before the Turkish position late on November 21,  planning to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

We discussed the numbers and units involved in Part I. Nureddin had the 35th division deployed on the west (right) bank of the Tigris, the 38th division on the east bank in an L-shape, with the inexperienced 45th division refusing the flank in the short leg of he L. The 51st division was the reserve, with Arab units in support.

Both sides had poor intelligence. The Turks overestimated the size of Townshend's force, and he British underestimated Nureddin's numbers.

Townshend divided his 6th (Poona) Division into three infantry columns plus a "Flying Column" of cavalry and some infantry with transports.. He labeled the infantry columns A, B, and C, each consisting of several battalions with artillery and sapper support.

Column C was intended to attack the Turkish forces west of the river, B and the Flying Column were to carry out a turning movement against the Ottoman left flank, and A was intended to attack the center. The river flotilla was intended to support the attack.

General Nixon, the overall Mesopotamia Commander, was presen with the Army but left the tactical command to Townshend.

But he British found ground conditions on the west bank unsuitable so all the columns attacked east of te river, with C along the riverbank. The flotilla, meanwhile, came under artillery fire from the Turkish guns and also discovered the Tigris was heavily mined, so the boats provided little support.

In the attack, C and A encountered strong resistance but Colmn B, on the right, successfully carried the forward Turkish trench line. Nureddin fell back to his second defense line and committed his reserves and brought the 35th division from the west bank. The Flying Column encountered resistance from  Turkish and Arab cavalry and failed to turn the Turkish flank.

By the end of November 22, the British held the first line of Ottoman trenches but both sides.had suffered heavy casualties. On November 23, the Turks counterattacked. Casualties continued to mount with the British unable to make a decisive breakthrough.

British-Indian forces lost over 4600 dead and wounded; the Turks over 6000; in both cases nearly a third of their strength. Townshend who had complained of insufficient strengt all along realized he could ot hope to take Baghdad and decided to withdraw to Kut a decision that would prove fateful. Ironically, Nureddin also planned to fall back due to his losses but changed his mind when he realized the British were withdrawing.

The battle was essentially a draw, but it ended the first British attempt to take Baghdad.
Official History, Campaign in Mesopotamia, Volume II

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