ABSTRACT

Over one million Indian soldiers were deployed overseas in several expeditionary forces and fought in almost every theatre of the First World War. 1 On October 16, 1914, the 16th Brigade of the 6th Indian Division became the spearhead of the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia when it peeled off from Expeditionary Force A (headed for the European front) and reached Bahrain, on Oct 23rd. A few days later, Britain declared war against Ottoman Turkey on November 5, 1914. Under Viceroy Lord Hardinge, India was charged initially with overall supervision of the Mesopotamian campaign. 2 Brig.-General W. S. Delamain, the Commander of 16th Brigade, was tasked with defensive action at Abadan, and then with proactive action against the Ottoman forces. Skirmishes and battles broke out immediately between the expeditionary British forces and the defending Turks, with the 16th Brigade crossing the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Men and materiel were rushed from India to boost British forces, and on November 14, Lt.-General Arthur Barrett, GOC 6th (Poona) Indian Division, took charge of the operations. The Battle of Saihan (November 15, 1914) and the Battle of Sahil (November 17, 1914) caused heavy casualties amongst the defending Turks as well as amongst the British forces. Following a string of easy early victories, the British Expeditionary Force became engaged in a disastrous northern offensive towards Baghdad that resulted in the April 1916 surrender at Kut al-Amara. Finally, a fresh British campaign pushed the Ottomans out and captured Baghdad in April 1917. Mesopotamia, an Ottoman territory at the time, thus became one of the important and costly theatres of war for India. The history of the Mesopotamian campaign (1914–1918) and its various operations have been covered extensively although the campaign itself was treated as a sideshow by the War Office until the disaster at Kut in 1916. 3