Indian Army units landed in France three to six weeks after war had been declared and were involved in their first military operation a month later, briefly capturing the town of Neuve Chapelle, before a strong German counter attack drove them out again. Less than a month later, the Indian Corps was once again embroiled in fierce fighting, after the German army had breached the Indian Corps’ Trenches in Festubert. Hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches, resulted in heavy losses of Indian troops and trenches. The trenches were recaptured the following day after an “at all costs” order from Command. The following year, the Indian troops were to experience the savagery of chemical warfare in a particularly grueling offensive in Langemarck, near Ypres. A joint British-Indian counter-attack was launched against the Germans, which went horribly wrong. During the first day of the operation, the troops crossed into no man’s Land and were mowed down by heavy artillery and machine gun fire. The following morning saw 15,000 British and Indian troops stream over the trench lines but they were, once again, out-gunned by the powerful German artillery. The Indian troops in the centre of the offensive hid in shell holes, at which point, the Germans released toxic gasses onto the battlefield. The Russian Army suffered 419,340 casualties from gas warfare with 56,000 deaths.
The stalemate left men caught in trenches for months and months. By 1915 the dismally deadlocked Western Front brought Allied strategy under scrutiny, with strong arguments mounted for an offensive through the Balkans or even a landing on Germany’s Baltic coast, instead of more costly attacks in France and Belgium.
These ideas were initially sidelined, but in early 1915 the Russians found themselves threatened by the Turks in the Caucasus and appealed for some relief. The British decided to mount a naval expedition to bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula on the western shore of the Dardanelles, with Constantinople as its objective. By capturing Constantinople, the British hoped to link up with the Russians, knock Turkey out of the war and possibly persuade the Balkan states to join the Allies.
The naval attack launched on 19 February, in bad weather caused delays and was abandoned after three battleships had been sunk and three others damaged. Military assistance was required, but by the time troops began to land on 25 April, the Turks had ample time to prepare adequate fortifications and the defending armies were now six times larger than when the campaign began. Despite Australian and New Zealand troops making a bridgehead at ‘Anzac Cove’ on the Aegean side of the peninsula and the British, trying to land at five points around Cape Helles, but establishing footholds in only three, there was little progress. The Turks took advantage of the British halt to bring as many troops as possible onto the peninsula.
The result was another standstill, which led to a political crisis in London between Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the operation’s chief advocate, and Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord, who had always expressed doubts about it. Fisher demanded that the operation be discontinued and resigned when overruled. The Liberal government was replaced by a coalition and Churchill, though relieved of his former post, remained in the War Council.
Amid sweltering and disease-ridden conditions, the deadlock dragged on into the summer. In July the British reinforced the bridgehead at Anzac Cove and in early August landed more troops at Suvla Bay further to the north, to seize the Sari Bair heights and cut Turkish communications. The offensive and the landings both proved ineffectual within days, faced with waves of costly counter-attacks. The War Council remained divided until late 1915 when it was decided to end the campaign. Troops were evacuated in December 1915 and January 1916. Had Gallipoli succeeded, it could have ended Turkey’s participation in the war. As it was, the Turks lost some 300,000 men and the Allies around 214,000, achieving only the diversion of Turkish forces from the Russians. Bad leadership, planning and luck, combined with a shortage of shells and inadequate equipment, condemned the Allies to seek a conclusion in the bloody battles of the Western Front. Furthermore, Gallipoli’s very public failure contributed Herbert Henry Asquith’s replacement as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George in December 1916.
The Allies eventually withdrew in January 1916. It had failed its objective with a total of half-a-million casualties suffered by all sides. There are now 31 cemeteries for Commonwealth soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The Mesopotamia Campaign is an over-looked part of the history of WW1, with most attention understandably focused on the subhuman conditions of Trench Warfare. Yet, conditions for the troops in Mesopotamia were likewise truly abominable: extremes of temperature, regular cases of flooding, and diseases from vermin, flies and mosquitos which rapidly spread through the troops all contributed the high casualties in the campaign. The unexpected and underestimated fierceness of the Ottoman army and the appalling medical and logistical arrangements only made matters worse. Despite the equally extreme conditions of Mesopotamia, the Indian troops were better suited to fighting in the extreme heat than the extreme cold.
After the discovery of oil in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) in 1908, the British were keen to have access to oil fields which was to fuel the Royal Navy, the largest and most powerful navy of its time. Mesopotamia was part of the Ottoman Empire, and so, after Turkey joined the war in October 1914 on the side of the German Empire, Britain immediately sent forces to Iraq to secure key positions and drive the Ottomans out of Iraq for good.
The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale (Turkish: Çanakkale Savaşı), was a campaign of World War I that took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The campaign was one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war and a major Allied failure. In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation’s history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.
Nearly 700,000 Indian troops took part in the Mesopotamia campaigns. British and Indian troops were deployed on the Persian Gulf so as to safeguard government oil interests in Abadan. They initially made significant advances against the Turks but received a major setback at the Battle of Ctephison where they had to beat a risky retreat to Kut al-Amara, a key stronghold of the Anglo-Indian army, in the most adverse of conditions. The Ottomans, encouraged by recent military victories, went on to besiege Kut successfully, which ended in the capture of 11,800 British and Indian troops, who were forced to undergo a brutal march to Aleppo in Syria. Only 4,250 of them survived the journey.
After this humiliation at the hands of the Ottomans, lessons were learnt, and with an increasing number of Indian soldiers arriving in Mesopotamia, the Indian army succeeded in capturing Baghdad in 1917 and by the following year had reached as far north as Mosul.
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