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Mesopotamian Campaign

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The Mesopotamian campaign was a campaign in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I fought between the Allies represented by the British Empire, mostly troops from Britain and the Indian Empire, and the Central Powers, mostly of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire had conquered the region in the early 16th century, but never gained complete control. Regional pockets of Ottoman control through local proxy rulers maintained the Ottoman's reach throughout Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). With the turn of the 19th century came reforms. Work began on a Baghdad Railway in 1888; by 1915 it had only four gaps, and travel time from Istanbul to Baghdad had fallen to 21 days.

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company had obtained exclusive rights to petroleum deposits throughout the Persian Empire, except in the provinces of Azerbaijan, Ghilan, Mazendaran, Asdrabad, and Khorasan. In 1914, before the war, the British government had contracted with the company for oil for the navy. The operational area of the Mesopotamian campaign was limited to the lands watered by the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. The main challenge was moving troops and supplies through the swamps and deserts which surrounded the area of conflict.

Shortly after the European war started, the British sent a military force to protect Abadan, the site of one of the world's earliest oil refineries. British operational planning included landing troops in the Shatt-al-Arab. The reinforced 6th (Poona) Division of the British Indian Army was assigned the task, designated as Indian Expeditionary Force D (IEFD).

Aside from oil, a major British interest in Mesopotamia, especially in the minds of politicians like Austen Chamberlain (Secretary of State for India) and former Viceroy Lord Curzon, was in maintaining British prestige in the eyes of India's Muslim population. At first the campaign was run by the India Office and Indian Army, with little input from the War Office. The Ottoman Fourth Army was located in the region. It was composed of two corps: the XII Corps, with the 35th and 36th Divisions at Mosul, and XIII Corps, with the 37th and 38th Divisions at Baghdad.

On 29 October 1914, after the pursuit of Goeben and Breslau, Breslau bombarded the Russian Black Sea port of Theodosia. On 30 October the High Command in Istanbul changed the force distribution. On 2 November Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha expressed regret to the Allies for the actions of the navy. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Sazonov said it was too late and that Russia considered the raid an act of war. The Cabinet tried to explain that hostilities were begun without its sanction by German officers serving in the navy. The Allies insisted on reparations to Russia, the dismissal of German officers from the Goeben and Breslau, and the internment of the German ships until the end of the war, but before the Ottoman government could respond, Great Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 5 November. The Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress's official Declaration of War came on 14 November.

When the Caucasus Campaign became a reality with the Bergmann Offensive, Enver Pasha sent the 37th Division and XIII Corps Headquarters to the Caucasus in support of the Third Army. The entire XII Corps was deployed to the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Fourth Army Headquarters was sent to Syria, to replace the Second Army Headquarters, which was sent to Istanbul. In place of the Fourth Army was the "Iraq Area Command" with only the 38th Division under its command.

Mesopotamia was a low priority area for the Ottomans, and they did not expect any major action in the region. Regiments of the XII and XIII Corps were maintained at low levels in peacetime. Lieutenant Colonel Süleyman Askerî Bey became the commander. He redeployed portions of the 38th Division at the mouth of Shatt-al-Arab. The rest of the defensive force was stationed at Basra. The Ottoman General Staff did not even possess a proper map of Mesopotamia. They tried to draw a map with the help of people who had worked in Iraq before the war, although this attempt failed. Enver Pasha bought two German maps scaled 1/1,500,000.



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Categories: Mesopotamian Campaign