This Day In History: The Battle of Ctesphion Rages (1915).

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This day in 1915 the Battle of Ctesiphon enters its second day. The battle was fought between a British army, composed of British and Indian troops and Ottoman Turks. The battle took place in modern day Iraq, then known as Mesopotamia, which was part of the Ottoman Empire and had been invaded by the British under Sir John Nixon in the spring of 1915. The British hoped that by invading Mesopotamia that they could deliver a fatal blow to the Ottoman Empire. They assumed that the Turks Empire was on the verge of dissolution and that they could secure a relatively easy victory. In the initial phases of the invasion, the British achieved a string of victories and it seemed that they could conquer all of Mesopotamia. They had occupied most of southern Mesopotamia and they had control of the key city of Basra. This emboldened the British commanders and Nixon ordered a division mainly made up of Indian troops to advance up the Tigris and to threaten Baghdad. Nixon had overestimated the capabilities of these troops, who were inexperienced and many of who were sick. The General in charge of the Division argued that his force was in no position to advance on Baghdad.  Furthermore, he argued that the supply lines were already stretched and unreliable.  They were led by a Turkish General, but in fact, a German general was in charge of the Turkish defense of Baghdad. Nixon would not listen and he ordered Townsend forward. The Turkish army had retreated into the Baghdad area and developed a strong defensive line amid the ruins of the ancient city of Ctesphion.  Townsend made his way up the Tigris Valley and was stopped by the Ottoman Empire at Ctesphion. The Anglo-Indian army attacked the Turkish positions and they captured the first line of the Ottoman defenses. Their attempt on the second defensive line was unsuccessful.  The British suffered heavy casualties and they were in no position to carry on their assaults on the Turkish lines. On the 23rd of November, the Turks received some reinforcements and they attacked the British positions. The Turkish attack was fierce and Townsend’s units lost even more men. The British knew that they could not expect any reinforcements and they retreated to Kut. The British were soon surrounded by the Turks and both armies set up a network of trenches and there was a bloody statement. This is popularly known as the siege of Kut. Four times the British tried to break out but each time the Ottoman Turks forced them back into Kut. Nixon  was in no position to relieve the Anglo-Indian force trapped at Kut.

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Turkish troops in trenches around Kut

After a brave resistance the British were forced to surrender as they were out of ammunition and food. Some 10,000 British and Indian troops surrenders, and it was the largest single surrender of British troops up to that point in history. The survivors of the siege of Kut were forced marched into captivity and were often treated brutally.

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