The Siege of Kut-Al-Amara

The 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment

11-nov-1914-b

Men from the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment with a captured Turkish gun.

Of all the tragedies that would be learnt after the cessation of hostilities in 1918, it is the experiences of the 2/Norfolks at Kut that comes to mind immediately. Today, 29th April 2016, marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Siege of Kut-Al-Amara.

After the failed attack on Ctesiphon in November 1915, Sir Charles Townshend, the commander of the 6th (Poona) Division, led his beleaguered force to Kut-al-Amara to form a line of defence. They occupied the town on 3 December 1915 and by 7 December, Turkish forces arrived and laid siege.

kut_map-of-entrenched-position_townshend

The Kut area as seen on a map. The Norfolk Regiment can be seen to the north west of Kut itself.

The 2/Norfolks headquarters occupied a building called the Serai and they dug in to await relief. The daily routine would see the men manning trenches, coming under fire from artillery and working on fatigue parties. estimated he had supplies for a month; however, this eventually had to be stretched to five months.

Mesopotamian_campaign_General_Townshend

Sir Charles Townshend, the commander of the 6th (Poona) Division.

Christmas Eve saw the Turks attack and occupy parts of the town, January 1916 saw floods and terrible conditions and in February the daily rations per man were reduced to three-quarters while the Turks continued to heavily shell the town and attack from the air.

Captain Alfred Joseph Shakeshaft who was serving with C Company in the 2/Norfolks during the siege kept a diary and noted in January 1916,

‘Heavy rain all day. Streets of Kut and trenches ankle deep in mud and water. By night the trenches were almost waist deep in water. No fresh meat, tinned meat issued. Fuel now running very short, doors and window frames issued for wood ration and crude oil used as much as possible for cooking purposes.’

As conditions worsened he noted,

‘Men are frequently seen sitting down resting in the street Sentries have to lean against walls’

major-a-j-shakeshaft

Captain Alfred Joseph Shakeshaft 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment who witnessed the siege.

By March it was learnt that all relief efforts were suspended and scurvy broke out. Horses were being used for food and many supplies had run out. By April, malnutrition had begun to set in and on 26 April – 146 days after the siege had started – Townshend surrendered the garrison. The Norfolks went into captivity, where many were treated terribly. It was a testament to the battalion that General Hamilton noted of them,

‘In spite of all the trying conditions of the prolonged siege, the discipline, good order, and soldierly bearing of the battalion were maintained to the end.’

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Cecil Lodge, C.O. of the 2/Norfolk’s, was present at the surrender and on 29th April 1916 he wrote;

‘All guns and howitzers were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammtnrevolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris… Turkish Infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.’

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Lieutenant Colonel F C Lodge, far left, seen with other officers.

During the siege the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment lost seventy-three men and it is estimated that 310 men went into captivity. In total the surrender of the whole fighting force, numbered over 10,000 men.

The remnants of the 2nd Battlion Norfolk Regiment did survive the siege. The transport section had not been at Kut and joined up with similar detachments from the 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment. They formed a composite battalion, named the Norsets. This was broken up on 21 July 1916, when the battalion was reconstituted by the arrival of new drafts.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Siege of Kut-Al-Amara

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for the article on the Siege of Kut. My grand uncle, Reginald Bryant, served with the 2nd Norfolk Regiment during the First World War and died during the siege, on the 22nd April. At the time my grandmother, Patience Huthwaite, was pregnant with his son, also to be called Reginald, who was born later in the year. Reggie Snr. and Patience had a wartime romance before he was posted overseas and Reggie Jnr was the result. Following Reggie Snr’s death my grand father, Clarence, met Patience and the fell in love and went on to have a family together and lived in Norwich. That’s a very summarised telling of the story but my grandfather went through the Somme and he had another four brothers that also served in the war.

    • Thanks Robert I will be writing about the Norfolk Regiment on the Somme from July onwards. So if there is anything that you think would be relevant to that with your grandfather’s service then please feel free to contact me.

      Steve

  2. Many thanks for this. At least somebody made the effort to remember them. One of them was my Great Uncle William Eckersley who in the Norfolks was killed in action 17/5/16 after the Fall. He was in the Norsets having joined the 2nd Batallion after Csetiphon in January 1916. I believe he fought furiously in awful conditions to try to free soldiers trapped at Kut. I believe Edwin Jones diary is a good account of what William and many others endured.

  3. Thanks Steve. Second from the right on the gun looks a lot like my grandfather Pte Robert H. Fisher, 2nd Norfolks at Kut. In the 1910 Regimental Album there is a photo of him on a similar gun during training at Belgaum, India. Cheers, John

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