Battle of Ctesiphon
British Army, 15,000 General Townshend Turkish Army, 45,000 Nuredin Pasha Marshal von der Goltz An army of Turks, numbering 200,000 or more, was pouring into Mesopotamia, composed of troops released from Egypt, Gallipoli and Transcaucasia.
They were not, however, as yet concentrated in battle line. Opposing the British Army of 15,000 Indian troops, in October there were probably 45,000 Turks. Against his better judgment, but on the peremptory order of his superior officer, General Townshend had been persuaded to advance toward Baghdad. His little army was supported by a flotilla of boats which sailed up the Tigris in early October.
On October 23, 1915, the British routed a Turkish force of 4,000 at Azizi. The advance continued. On November 21, 1915, General Townshend's army of 15,000 Anglo-Indians encountered a Turkish force of 45,000, occupying two lines of entrenchments near the ruins of the famous palace of Ctesiphon, only 18 miles from Baghdad. The Turks were securely entrenched on both banks of the Tigris. Their trenches, laid on level ground, were deep and narrow, affording a poor target for the British gunners. The Turkish position was further strengthened by fences of barbed wire.
General Townshend's small army gave battle to Nuredin Pasha's army of 45,000 Turks on the morning of November 22, 1915. The British gunners opened with a roaring artillery fire, which failed to find the Turkish trenches. Under cover of this bombardment, the whole British line advanced on a wide front The Turks made no sign until the British had advanced to within a mile of the barbed wire barriers; then a perfect shower of shrapnel fell upon the advancing Britishers. Without wavering, the British front advanced across the open ground, then pausing under a murderous rifle fire while a detail of men went forward to cut the barbed wire, finally charging the Turkish trenches gallantly.
Meanwhile, the British wings had turned both flanks of the Turkish line, compelling the enemy to retreat a mile or more to the rear. By mid-afternoon the entire body of Turks had been expelled from their first-line trenches, and when night fell, the British were also in possession of a part of the second-line trenches.
In the desperate charges and counter charges that took place that day an entire Turkish division was destroyed. The British, though victorious, had lost nearly 5,000 men, a third of their force. During the night, the rescue of the wounded occupied both armies. With the dawn, came a gale of wind and a dust storm which obscured the landscape for hours. When the air cleared, it showed the battlefield strewn with the slain.
The Turks strongly reinforced during the night, and now outnumbering the British four to one, flung themselves against the British line repeatedly, during the afternoon and evening of November 24, 1915, but the line held and before another dawn had broken, the Turks withdrew to reform on their third position along the line of the Dialah River.
Though victorious, the British still had suffered such heavy losses that General Townshend deemed it advisable to fall back upon Kut-al-Amara. The retirement was carried out successfully, in a region swarming with hostile Arabs. All through the retreat, the British were compelled to fight rear-guard actions with these treacherous nomads, who were mounted on fleet horses. Finally, the British force reached Kut, where a series of fortifications had been established. Here the slim British forces settled down on December 2, 1915 to await the reinforcements which were from India. Every day the Turkish ring of steel closed in upon Kut-al-Amara and many clashes between the two armies occurred. Before the middle of December, the British were practically beleaguered by the foe.
Sir John Nixon, Commander-in-Chief of the Mesopotamian Army, resigned his post under censure for his mismanagement of the Baghdad campaign and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Sir Percy Lake, Chief of the Indian Staff, who at once despatched an army to the relief of General Townshend's pent-up forces in Kut-al-Amara. At the same time, the German general staff sent the aged General von der Goltz to Mesopotamia to conduct the Turkish operations against the British.