The Siege of Kut
THE STORY OF KUT-EL-AMARA | 3 Dec 1915 - 27 April 1916
The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the First World War in October 1914 threatened British interests in the Middle East. The British Government decided to send troops to Mesopotamia – present-day Iraq – to protect the valuable oil fields near Basra. A British and Indian assault force landed there in November and achieved early successes against the Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire, capturing first Basra and then Qurna. The 2nd Norfolks (also known as The Holy Boys) only served in Mesopotamia and were the first British regiment to land there)**. Their surrender marks the largest single surrender of troops in British history to date and was later described by British historian James Morris as “the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history”. Almost 6,000 men died during the siege or later in captivity whilst prisoners of the Turks. According to Captain H. Whalley-Kelly, the long and winding disaster included 'the difficulty of advancing over flat, open, water-logged ground in the face of modern fire-power.'
Legend: * Colonel White as Adjutant and Pilot, AIF (1915-1916) | ** Captain JOC Orton as part of 2nd Norfolk Regiment (1915) and Observer for RFC’s No. 30 Squadron (1916). According to Wikipedia's AFC info ... apparently the Australian MHF initially undertook unarmed reconnaissance operations, before undertaking light bombing operations later in the year after being attached to No. 30 Squadron RFC. And so JOCO and Col. White were both airmen in the same theatre of war and would eventually meet in 1935 in Australia under a peacetime theatrical initiative.
The actual Siege of Kut Al Amara (7 Dec 1915 – 29 Apr 1916), also known as the First Battle of Kut, was the besieging of an 8,000 (alt. 13,000) strong British-Indian* garrison in the town of Kut-el-Amara, 160 kilometres (100 mi) south of Baghdad, by the Ottoman Army. In 1915, its population was around 6,500. The 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army, under Major-General Charles Townshend, had fallen back to the town of Kut after retreating from Ctesiphon. Included in this force was Australian Colonel White*, who on 1 April 1915 was appointed captain, Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and adjutant of a small unit, known as the Half-Flight, which was sent to Basra, Mesopotamia, for service within the Indian Army - under the command of Captain Henry Petre. (Read: PDF - AFC).
Pursuing Ottoman forces, numbering around 11,000 men, began increasing steadily with additional reinforcements constantly arriving. They were commanded by the respected but elderly German general and military historian Baron von der Goltz. After three attacks in December, Goltz directed the building of siege fortifications facing Kut.
After a month of siege, Townshend wanted to break out and withdraw southwards but his commander, General Sir John Nixon saw value in tying down the Ottoman forces in a siege. Nixon had ordered river transport for a retreat with reinforcements, commanded by his son, but by December they were still only in the Suez Canal. The confusing communications would prove a critical delay. The first relief expedition comprised some 19,000 men under Lieutenant-General Aylmer and it headed up the river from Ali Gharbi in January 1916. After little change on 8 January, renewed British attacks on 9 January resulted in the Ottomans retiring from Sheikh Sa'ad. Over the following two days the Ottomans were followed by Aylmer's force but heavy rains made the roads virtually impassable.
After the ensuing Battles of Wadi and Hannaain and the loss of 2,700, General Nixon was replaced as supreme commander by Percy Lake. More forces were sent. An attack of the Dujaila redoubt on 8 March failed, at a cost of 4,000 men. General Aylmer was dismissed and replaced with General George Gorringe on 12 March. The relief attempt by Gorringe is usually termed the First Battle of Kut. The British Empire's forces numbered about 30,000 soldiers, roughly equal to the Ottomans. The battle began on 5 April and the British soon captured Fallahiyeh, but with heavy losses, Beit Asia was taken on 17 April. The final effort was against Sannaiyat on 22 April. The Allies were unable to take Sannaiyat and suffered some 1,200 casualties in the process.
In April 1916, No. 30 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps* (including Captain JOC Orton, on secondment to RFC as an Observer) carried out the first air supply operation in history. Food and ammunition were dropped to the defenders of Kut."
Eventually, all the relief efforts failed, at a cost of around 30,000 Allied killed or wounded. Ottoman casualties are believed to have been around 10,000. The Ottomans also lost the aid of Baron von der Goltz who died on 19 April, supposedly of typhoid. After Goltz's death, no German commander took his place in Mesopotamia for the rest of the war.
Susequent negotiations broke down between the besieged Major General Charles Townshend and Turkish General Kahlil Pasha at Kut-al-Amara. Townshend destroyed his guns and ammunition and surrendered, on 29th April 1916, ending the 147 day long siege. *With the surrender of Kut, the operations of the Mesopotamian Half Flight of the Australian Flying Corps drew to a close. Following the surrender of the garrison, the survivors of the siege including 13,000 British troops were marched to imprisonment at Aleppo, during which many died. Almost 6,000 men died during the siege or later in captivity. Historian Christopher Catherwood has called the siege "the worst defeat of the Allies in World War I" (Wikipedia )
THE 1916 STORY of AERIAL CIGARETTE DROPS BEHIND ENEMY LINES at KUT-EL-AMARAOf how JOC Orton knew of Colonel T W White whilst he was encarcerated in Kut -JOCO had originally arrived in Mesopotamia as part of the 2nd Norfolks in 1915, but had been wounded and subsequently hospitalised in Bombay, India. Once there, during recuperation, he met and fell in love with Eveline Helen Simcox, daughter of Arthur Henry Addenbrooke 8imcox, the 'Collector of Bombay'. However, by 1916 he had returned to Norfolk; was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps' No. 30 Squadron as Observer and Captain; had married Eveline; and returned to Mesopotamia. By that time, Townsend and the allied troops, including Colonel T W White, were under siege in Kut-el-Amara, surrounded by Turks.
Newspaper clippings: A montage of which is made from Orton Family Archives. The Upcoming Film referred to was: The Flying Doctor Starrring: Charles Farrell, Mary Maguire, Margaret Vyner, James Raglan, Donald Bradman Exec Producer/Director: Miles Mander Scenarist / Editor: JOC Orton Production Companies: British Gaumont, National Productions Producer: Michael Balcon Country: Britain / Australia (See: Flying Doctor page)
COLONEL WHITE'S STORY as an Aussie War Hero and Politician
Read the amazing first hand account of how Colonel T W White became a prisoner of the Turks. (AWM).
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ANU)
"Sir Thomas Walter White (1888-1957), airman, businessman and politician, was born on 26 April 1888 at Hotham (North Melbourne), third child of Charles James White, a London-born brass-finisher and later hardware merchant, and his Victorian-born wife Emily Jane, née Jenkins. Thomas attended Moreland State School and it is said that family circumstances prevented him from taking up a scholarship to Scotch College. At an early age he joined the Citizen Military Forces as a bugler. In 1911 he was commissioned in the 5th Australian Regiment. He prided himself as an athlete, competing in running, cycling and boxing events.
By 1914 White was also interested in aviation. Selected for the Australian Flying Corps, in August he became one of the first batch of officers to train at Point Cook, where he helped found the Australian Aero Club. On 1 April 1915 he was appointed captain, Australian Imperial Force, and adjutant of a small unit, known as the Half-Flight, which was sent to Basra, Mesopotamia, for service with the Indian Army. He survived several incidents which involved landing behind enemy lines but on 13 November, while on a mission to cut telegraph wires near Baghdad, was captured by Arabs and Turks. Imprisoned in Turkey, he escaped from a train in Constantinople (Istanbul) in July 1918, sailed to Odessa, Ukraine, Russia, as a stowaway in a cargo ship and reached London on 22 December. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and twice mentioned in dispatches for his exploits."
White devoted his maiden speech to a subject he considered 'almost sacred', the building of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Throughout his career White was active in a range of organizations including Legacy, the (Royal) Flying Doctor Service of Australia and while High Commissioner in London later on, he sponsored the Society of Australian Writers there.
"White was a strong supporter of the book and film censorship which his Department administered, nevertheless, he attempted to place himself at arm's length from the decisions involved, appointing an advisory board of 'scholarly and enlightened men', chaired by Sir Robert Garran, to make recommendations concerning books. White conceded that censorship, whether for indecency or sedition, had increased, but put this down to 'a greater production of books'. He privately expressed the view that James Joyce's Ulysses was 'the foulest novel yet in spite of the author's much vaunted new technique'.
In 1937, White came close to resigning as a minister in protest against the government's failure to introduce universal service. Lyons reconstructed the ministry in November 1938. On learning that R. G. (Baron) Casey had been advanced in seniority over him, White made his displeasure clear during the swearing in on 7 November. Next day, when he discovered that he had also been excluded from the inner cabinet that Lyons had established, he angrily resigned, condemning 'the control of the Government of Australia by a small coterie of Ministers'. One of that 'coterie' was the ambitious (Sir) Robert Menzies whom White had long disliked, partly because of his failure to serve in World War I. After Lyons's death in 1939, White nominated for the leadership contest ultimately won by Menzies, but in a field of four was the first eliminated."
He took part in the October 1944 conference in Canberra that led to the founding of the Liberal Party of Australia. On 21 June 1951 White resigned from parliament to become Australian High Commissioner in Britain. Extracts: John Rickard, 'White, Sir Thomas Walter (1888–1957).
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Orton References: The Flying Doctor - Wikipedia
Source 1: Knights in Whites, Major Men - The Who's Who of Norfolk CCC 1976-2011, Book by Mike Davage 1998.
Source 2: The Victoria and Albert Museum's Lafayette Negative Archive:© Orton Family Archives - transcribed by Chrystine A Walter 2018
Historical Research, Sources and Further Information:
1. https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/222385-2nd-norfolk-regiment-and-kut-al-amara-just-a-thought/ - photos, letters, personal and family reports and stories of servicemen who served there.
2. http://www.centenaryww1orange.com.au/2016/04/ - 29th April 2016 - Extracts April « 2016 « Centenary of WW1 in Orange (Newsletter) “With the surrender of Kut the operations of the Mesopotamian Half Flight of the Australian Flying Corps draw to a close”
3. Biography - Sir Thomas Walter White - Australian Dictionary of Biography. White, Sir Thomas Walter (1888–1957) by John Rickard. This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002
4. John Rickard, 'White, Sir Thomas Walter (1888–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,
5. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-sir-thomas-walter-12013/text21545, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 6 December 2017.
6. PDF attached: VOICES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR: MESOPOTAMIA - Monday 4 June 2018 Imperial War Museum Podcast Transcript. https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/voices-of-the-first-world-war-mesopotamia
7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Cross_(United_Kingdom) - Note: 30 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps is JOC Orton’s Squadron and 2nd Norfolks is his Regiment.
8. RAF at 100 with Ewan and Colin McGregor review – a flyby history from the actor and his pilot brother | Television & radio | The Guardian.pdf
9. Kut & Vicinity 1915 Map | Public Domain: This map was created by the Department of Military Art and Engineering, at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). By This map was created by the Department of Military Art and Engineering, at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). - Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=726867. | http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/great%20war/great%20war%20%20pages/great%20war%20ma
10. Newspaper Clippings from Orton family archives.
11. PDF attached: The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia – Norfolk in World War One’ - https://norfolkinworldwar1.org/2015/11/09/the-2nd-battalion-of-the-norfolk-regiment-in-mesopotamia-2/ - Dates and events given here are a summary of the narrative related in The History of the Norfolk Regiment, Volume II (1914-1918) by F. Loraine Petre from the published edition of Jarrold & Sons Limited: The Empire Press. A facsimile of the Jarrold original has recently been made available by The Naval & Military Press (www.naval-military-press.com (http://www.naval-military-press.com/))
13. The Siege of Kut al-Amara between 3 December 1915 and 29 April 1916 is an important episode of the war between the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain.