MESOPOTAMIA IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
This page contains links to free online resources about the Mesopotamia campaign during the First World War (WW1). It includes official histories, official documents, despatches, ebooks, films images and much more. They are the resources I found most useful while editing the letters of Robert Palmer, War Letters 1914–1918, Vol. 4, a soldier and officer in the British Territorial Army.
The Mesopotamia campaign during the First World War has often been seen as a ‘sideshow’ to the main conflict taking place in Europe, and I had initially thought this was reflected in the lack of online resources, but over time I have discovered a reasonable amount of material is available, although sometimes well hidden.
The Long, Long Trail has a characteristically good summary of the Mesopotamia campaign during the First World War.
After the First World War, the British government published four separate volumes on the history of the campaign in Mesopotamia. Of all the official histories, they were by far the most critical of the actions that took place. They have just recently been made available online by the US based Hathi Trust.
The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-1918, Vol. 1 covers the first months of the campaign.
The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-1918, Vol. 2 starts with the revived decision to advance to Baghdad in August 1915 and ends with the surrender of Kut in April 1916. ‘This volume’ says its author, ‘is mainly a recital of a series of British misfortunes.’
The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-1918, Vol. 3 takes events from the surrender of Kut up to the end of April 1917.
General Barrett’s report, covering the capture of Basra and including events between 14–28 November 1914, is in The Times Documentary History of the War, Vol. IV pp. 176–84.
Previously, the other official despatches had to be downloaded page by page from the London Gazette. To make this easier, I have created a single PDF for each despatch which can be downloaded directly from this site.
Despatch from General Sir John Nixon on the operations from mid April to September 1915, Second Supplement to the London Gazette, 4 April 1916, Issue 29536, pp. 3655–3672. (PDF 4 MB)
Despatch from General Sir John Nixon on the operations in October, November, December 1915, Third Supplement to the London Gazette, 9 May 1916, Issue 29576, pp. 4657–4662. (PDF 1 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir Percy Lake on the operations from January to April 1916, Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 October 1916, Issue 29782, pp. 9851–9858. (PDF 2 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir Percy Lake on events from April to August 1916, Supplement to the London Gazette, Issue 29823, pp. 11035–11038. (PDF 1 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude on operations between September 1916 to the end of March 1917, Second Supplement to the London Gazette, Issue 30176, pp. 6937–6950. (PDF 4 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude on operations between April and September 1917, Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette, 8 January 1918, Issue 30469, pp. 699–706. (PDF 1 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir W.R. Marshall on operations between October 1917 and March 1918, Sixth Supplement to the London Gazette, Issue 30874, pp. 10149–10155. (PDF 2 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir W.R. Marshall on operations between April and the end of September 1918, Fifth Supplement to the London Gazette, 18 February 1919, Issue 31192, pp. 2561–2568. (PDF 2 MB)
Despatch from Lt. General Sir W.R. Marshall on operations between October and the end of December 1918, Eighth Supplement to the London Gazette, Issue 31287, pp. 4739–4745. (PDF 2 MB)
OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS [top]
The Mesopotamia Commission Report, commissioned by the British Parliament to enquire into the operations in Mesopotamia, was set up at the same time as the commission to investigate the Dardanelles and the their investigations took place while the First World War was still being waged. Published in 1917, it was highly critical of the conduct of operations and the conditions for the troops. The report has been digitised by Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg.
The British Library has digitised a number of miscellaneous documents relating to the Mesopotamia campaign. An inexplicably poor online ereader can, however, make them frustrating to read. For those willing to persevere, the documents include:
Report on the defence of Kut-al-Amarah under Maj-Gen Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, 3rd December 1915-29th April 1916 Lt-Gen Sir Percy Henry Noel Lake, Commanding Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’ 1916.
Copy memorandum forwarded by the Director of Military Intelligence, War Office, on intelligence obtained from sick and wounded members of the Kut garrison who arrived at Basra on 9 & 14 Sep 1916.
Report on the treatment of British Prisoners of War in Turkey – The majority of the British and Indian prisoners had been taken captive by the Turkish forces at the end of the siege at Kut-al-Amara, in Mesopotamia, on 29 April 1916. The report by Lord Justice Younger’s committee details the brutal march the prisoners of war were forced to make to camps in Anatolia, and the harsh treatment they received once they arrived.
Report by General Sir C. Melliss on conditions and treatment of British prisoners of war interned in Turkey and also a memorandum by Major T.D. Cree, assistant political officer with Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, regarding treatment of self, companions and family in Turkey. 1917-1919 (Collection 425/1284)
Policy in Arabia. Note by Sir Frederic Arthur Hirtzel, a senior British official at the India Office, in which he outlines what he believed should be the policy of the British Government regarding Syria and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). 28 November 1918.
Letter on tribal situation in Mesopotamia, Brig-Gen A W Money, GHQ Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’, 22 Jan 1916.
Disposal of conquered territories. Note by India Office. [Mesopotamia and German East Africa] 3 Nov 1918
(There are probably many other digitised documents hidden away somewhere, but the British Library’s search engine makes finding them extremely difficult. If you do come across any, please let me know.)
The Families in British India Society have an extremely good guide to free ebooks about the Mesopotamia campaign during the First World War. Rather than repeat their links, I will just draw attention to a small number of the books they list.
My Campaign, Vol. II is the second volume of General Townshends WW1 memoirs (the first, although digitised is still held from general view by the Hathi Trust). This second volume deals principally with the defence of Kut and its final surrender
The Long Road to Baghdad by Edmund Candler is essential reading for anyone interested in the Mesopotamia campaign during WW1. Candler was the ‘official eye-witness’ and was there from January 1916 onwards. His book, however, is far from an official view and is scathing in its criticism of ‘the folly of statesmen and generals in a struggle in which blunder piled upon blunder.’ After a very brief survey of the campaign so far, the first volume takes events from January to June 1916, telling the story of the attempt to relieve Kut, its eventual surrender and the immediate aftermath. Volume 2 contines with events until the armistice.
Letters From Mesopotamia by Robert Palmer is the collection of Robert’s letters edited by his aunt and published not long after his death.
The Tragedy of Mesopotamia by Sir George Buchanan is another scathing look at the conduct of operations, this time from the man brought in to regorganise the port and river facilities that had been the cause of so many problems for the British.
British Strategy and Oil, 1914–1923 by M.W. Gibson from Glasgow University is an excellent Ph.D. thesis looking at the importance of oil, with a strong focus on Mesopotamia.
British-Indian strategy and policy in Mesopotamia, November 1914 – April 1916 by P.K Davis (Ph. D. King’s College, University of London, 1981). You need to register with Ethos, the free British Library electronic thesis service, to download this document.
Mesopot.net, a site run by Dr Gerard Bugler, has a collection of over 300 photographs of Mesopotamia taken between 1915–1919 by Captain Charles Henry Weaver who was working with the Red Cross.
The Gertrude Bell Archive at Newcastle University also has a vast collection of online photographs of the region taken before and during and the war by Gertrude Bell