by Paul Knight
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. vi, 204.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 0786470496
A Forgotten Campaign with Enduring Consequences
Author Knight, a British Territorial Army officer with a doctorate in history, begins this work by observing that when “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began in 2003, that he was not one of the few people, including many diplomats and soldiers, who had any idea the country had been a major theatre of war nearly a century earlier. Knight’s tour in Iraq (2005-2007) sparked an interest in the Great War’s “Mesopotamian Campaign,” and this volume is the result.
Knight opens with the background of the campaign, setting it into the framework of recent Ottoman history and the coming of the Great War. Initially envisioned as a small commitment of troops who would secure access to local oil fields, the operation turned into a protracted, increasingly difficult, and costly campaign. Operating in a virtually undeveloped and very unfamiliar country, the British initially encountered feeble resistance, which led to an ill-advised attempt to take Baghdad, resulting in the surrender of the entire 6th Indian Division at Kut-al-Amara. Massive reinforcements followed, and ultimately the British, with some French help, secured the country, eventually resulting in the formation of Iraq, with consequences down to the present.
Knight offers some interesting insights, noting, for example, that the advance of the Indian 6th Division which eventually turned into the disaster at Kut-al-Amara, was the most successful Allied operation of 1915, albeit obscured by disasters on the Western Front, at Gallipoli, and in the Balkans. The volume has some good maps and although there are profiles of several people, they are all British (Charles Townshend, Frederick Maude, Gertrude Bell, even Presidential son Kermit Roosevelt, etc.), but Knight unfortunately does not give us any insights into such able Turkish commanders as Nureddin Ibrahim Pasha, the victor at Kut.
While heavily slanted towards the British perspective, this is a useful look at the campaign, and reminds us to never neglect history.
Note: The British Army in Mesopotamia is also available as an ebook, ISBN 978-1-4864-9304-3