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The EK1

The 8th Infantry Brigade in Mesopotamia, 5th November 1917


Tekrit, also spelt Tikrit, is a city in Iraq located on the Tigris River 140 kilometres northwest of Baghdad; in the 12th Century the renowned Muslim warrior Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) was born there.  In this century it became known as the birthplace and power-base of the executed former President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.  In 1917 British troops were pushing Turkish forces out of Mesopotamia, as Iraq was then known, and the Turks made a stand in defensive positions at Tekrit.  In and around Tekrit were several large Turkish supply dumps that the Turks were evacuating, but the British theatre commander, General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude KCB CMG DSO, wished to destroy the dumps.  On 5th November 1917 a swift but costly British attack was mounted on the city, and three Indian infantry battalions took part in the initial assaults.  This is an account of the actions fought by the Sepoys of those battalions, and of some of the gallantry that occurred on that day. 

The British advance up the Tigris River

In late October 1917 the commander of the British 1st Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Alexander Stanhope Cobbe VC KCB DSO (right), was fighting up both banks of the Tigris River.  The Turks were not a beaten force but they were pre-occupied by bad news from Palestine, where the British under General Edmund Allenby were making significant gains.  On 1st November Cobbe’s Cavalry and 7th (Meerut) Divisions pushed the Turks out of Auja and back towards Tekrit.  Cobbe, acting on previous orders, then prepared to withdraw his Corps to Samarrah, but General Maude was concerned about the enemy supply dumps at Tekrit, and ordered their destruction if it appeared that the Turks were withdrawing past Tekrit.  However Maude did advise Cobbe to slow down and make a good plan rather than rush into the attack.

During the 4th November British air reconnaissance and intelligence verified Turkish plans to evacuate Tekrit, and so Cobbe, whose judgement Maude trusted, seized the opportunity to act decisively and quickly on his own initiative.  Tekrit was a walled city standing on a bluff on the right (west) bank of the Tigris River; the highest houses stood 45 metres above river level, and observation from them was excellent.  Twelve kilometres of Turkish trenches surrounded the city and most forward trenches were elaborately supported by strongpoints and two more lines of trenches to the rear. Three Turkish Divisions, the 14th, 51st and 52nd, defended Tekrit and their field guns and machine guns were well-sited to cover the flat approaches to the city.   

The plan of attack

Cobbe deployed his Cavalry Division for flank protection, and to contain the enemy in their northern trenches whilst the 8th Infantry Brigade from the 3rd (Lahore) Division made an assault on the southwest corner of the defences.  The four battalions in 8th Brigade were:

·       47th Sikhs.
·       59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force).
·       2nd 124th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Baluchistan Infantry.
·       1st Manchester Regiment.   

The 19th Infantry Brigade from the 7th Division was ordered to support the attack of the 8th Brigade and the 4th Field Artillery Brigade supplied direct fire support to 8th Brigade.  The assault was going in on the right bank but elements of Cobbe’s Corps advanced concurrently on the left bank to provide fire support across the Tigris.    
Major General Sir V.B. Fane KCIE CB, commanding the 7th Division, ordered that 8th Brigade should attack on a 550 metre frontage under an artillery barrage that was to overlap the frontage by 130 metres on each flank.  19th Brigade was to exploit success by pushing through to the north as soon as the enemy trenches had been taken.  8th Brigade was deployed with 47th Sikhs on the left, 59th Scinde Rifles on the right, 2nd 124th Baluchis in support and 1st Manchesters in reserve.         

Above: An Indian camp, Mesopotamia

Seizing the trenches   
The three Indian battalions in 8th Brigade advanced at 0530 hours 5th November in order to enter the Jibin Wadi, a dry river bed, from where they could mount a swift attack on the enemy trenches.  Observing this impending attack the Turkish artillery fired accurately and effectively in defence, constantly cutting the telephone lines of the British artillery.  The wadi was reached successfully, and being about 2.5 metres deep and 70 metres wide it provided good cover from direct fire for the infantry, but the 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, following close behind lost men whilst entering the wadi because the steep sides slowed down the gunners and their equipment, allowing the Turks to engage them. 

In the wadi the infantry deployed further forward, using nullahs (dry water courses) to conceal their preparations. 

During this period 728 Havildar Mastan Singh, 47th Sikhs, led a good reconnaissance patrol and was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: For conspicuous gallantry in the action on the 5th November 1917.  Previous to the attack in the morning this non-commissioned officer went on patrol and brought in most valuable information.  He then drove out an enemy entrenched picquet.  During the subsequent attack he took command of a platoon and showed great bravery, skill and determination.

The attack should have commenced at 1030 hours but the cutting of the telephone lines had slowed down the preparation of the British artillery fireplan, and 8th Brigade did not commence its attack until 1130 hours. The knock-on effect of this delay was that the hours of daylight ran out before all the designated British units could be effectively deployed in the operation.

At 1130 hours the Sikhs, Scinde Rifles and Baluchis all advanced under a supporting artillery bombardment; the enemy trenches could not be seen so the advance was made using a compass bearing of 20 degrees.  Observers noted that the Sepoys’ attack formations were maintained with parade ground precision although enemy shell and machine gun fire drastically thinned out the ranks of all three battalions.  The casualties were left where they dropped whilst the momentum of the advance was maintained.  After 700 metres of very unpleasant exposure to incoming fire the enemy trenches were encountered and swiftly rushed, the Turks there being killed if they did not surrender immediately.  Pushing on, the second line of trenches was quickly taken, and then the third, which was shallow and only partially constructed.  The enemy from the second and third lines retreated to occupy some mounds 500 metres to the rear and laid heavy fire onto the 8th Brigade trenches; also strongpoints and machine gun posts not within the Brigade’s area of responsibility began enfilading the Sepoys’ positions.  Units were now mixed up and a hurried re-organisation took place whilst under effective enemy fire.

The advance to the trenches had been costly.  The Baluchis’ Adjutant, Lieutenant A.G. Lucas, 127th Baluch Light Infantry attached to 2nd 124th Baluchis, was mortally wounded. 

Before he died 20 days later Arthur Geoffrey Lucas was awarded a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. His courage and energy under heavy fire during an action furnished a splendid example to his men, and contributed largely to the success of the attack.

Right: Sepoys in trenches, Mesopotamia

Other officers in that battalion excelled themselves when the situation demanded acts of bravery.  To quote the regimental history: ‘Noticeable was an old and trusty Indian officer, Darweza Khan, a Khattack, immaculately turned out, as he always was, who marched stiffly and smartly in front of his company dressing the line with the walking stick he always carried’. 

Subadar Darweza Khan was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 5th November 1917 when he led and handled his platoon under heavy fire with marked coolness and skill, inspiring the young and inexperienced soldiers composing the company to which he had been specially attached.  Always a reliable officer, he rendered most valuable assistance throughout the operations.  He also distinguished himself on a previous occasion when although wounded he continued to command his platoon throughout the action.

The Baluchis’ Subadar Major, Ali Nazar, was killed in action after the taking of the trenches.  Subadar Bhagwan Singh had taken over command of his rifle company when Lieutenant William John Grimstead Marsh, 127th Baluch Light Infantry attached to 2nd 124th Baluchis, was mortally wounded during the reorganisation. 

Bhagwan Singh was later awarded a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When his company commander was wounded early in an engagement he took command, and led the company with great courage and skill, setting a most inspiring example to the men. Later, when the adjutant and the Subadar-Major became casualties, he carried out their duties in addition to commanding his company, and rendered invaluable assistance during the ensuing night. 

After the battle Baghwan Singh was officially appointed regimental Subadar Major.  

Two other Khattacks, 702 Sepoy Sarwar Khan, 2nd 124th Baluchis, and 5564 Sepoy Mukhmad Shah, 126th Baluchistan Infantry attached to 2nd 124th Baluchis, were awarded Indian Orders of Merit, 2nd Class:  For conspicuous gallantry in action on the 5th November 1917.  Orders were given to put out aeroplane signals at a time when heavy fire was sweeping over the captured trench.  Without hesitation or direct order, Sepoy Mukhmad Shah stepped out of the trench with the signals and within fifteen seconds was hit by three bullets and staggered back into the trench.  On his own initiative and without hesitation Sepoy Sarwaz Khan deliberately completed the signal during which he was also wounded.  Both men displayed conspicuous bravery and determination.  Mukhmad Shah had been mortally wounded.  

In the 59th Scinde Rifles’ sector No. 3 Company Commander, Lieutenant G.E. Hansen, was soon wounded and Lieutenant J.D. Twinberrow took over, winning a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his company in the attack on three consecutive lines of enemy trenches with great courage and dash, and, though a very young soldier, handled his men with coolness and skill.

During the attack on the trenches the No. 2 Company Commander, Lieutenant Francis Bernard Roseveare, Corps of Guides Infantry attached to 59th Scinde Rifles, was hit through the head and mortally wounded.  Subadar Sahib-i-Haq took over and was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd ClassFor conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 5th November 1917.  Though severely wounded he continued to command his platoon with marked skill until severely wounded.  He has repeatedly been recommended for gallantry and good work.

The numbers of wounded were now considerable and Lieutenant Ratenshaw Nariman Kapadia, Indian Medical Service attached to 59th Scinde Rifles, received a Military CrossFor conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Exposed to heavy fire, he continued throughout the action to collect and dress the wounded, who were much scattered, thereby saying many lives.

Above: Indian advanced dressing station, Tekrit

The Turkish counter attacks

From noon onwards the position of 8th Brigade deteriorated rapidly but the Indian battalions, now in a defensive posture, held their ground.  Enemy fire increased on the Sepoys in the trenches and two serious Turkish counter-attacks were mounted.  The Divisional staff later complained that they did not know where 8th Brigade was and what it had achieved, as telephone lines were cut by enemy artillery fire as soon as they had been repaired.  The battalions had been ordered to light flares to signal the locations of captured trenches, but Turkish incoming fire was so heavy that commanders were reluctant to give the Turkish gunners specific aiming points.  As none of the Divisional staff were anywhere near the brigade they could not appreciate the situation and problems of the fighting troops.  

On the left in the 47th Sikhs’ trenches, machine guns in an adjacent Turkish strong point kept the Sikhs’ heads down.  Lieutenant James Leonard Courteney Clarke, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to 47th Sikhs, was killed in action and Subedar Kharak Singh was mortally wounded. 

Subedar Mit Singh, IDSM and Bar, performed acts of gallantry that earned him a Military CrossFor conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When his company commander was wounded during an engagement, he at once took command, and led the company with great coolness and skill. By his excellent dispositions, he repelled a counter-attack, and maintained the ground won. He set a magnificent example to his men.  

The battalion had absorbed very large drafts from the 35th and 36th Sikhs and two of these jawans were awarded Indian Orders of Merit, 2nd Class at Tekrit. 

The citation for 3420 Sepoy Bir Singh, 35th Sikhs attached to 47th Sikhs, read:  For conspicuous gallantry during an attack on the 5th November 1917.  When his company had occupied the enemy’s second line he repeatedly went with messages over ground swept by fire.  Although wounded he continued to carry on his duties as runner, all the other company runners having become casualties.

The citation for 3489 Sepoy Sardara Singh, 36th Sikhs attached to 47th Sikhs, read:  For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 5th November 1917.  Although the remainder of his Lewis gun section had become casualties, he succeeded in bringing his gun into action and kept it in action single handed throughout the whole day, leaving the trench many times under heavy fire to collect ammunition from the wounded.  By his determined and skilful handling of the gun he contributed largely to the repulse of a counter-attack.  

In the old Turkish third trench, now the 8th Brigade forward trench, a gap had opened up between the Sikhs and the Scinde Rifles on the right. The Rifles’ Adjutant, Captain W.H.H. Young, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to 59th Scinde Rifles was seriously wounded and later received a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in action. Whilst exposed to heavy fire he carried out his arduous duties with efficiency and zeal. He was severely wounded.

Captain Rainald Hugo Burne was also wounded and received a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led an attack in a most courageous and determined manner, and showed the greatest coolness and skill. His dispositions were excellent, and it was largely due to his splendid example that the attack was successful. Turkish counter attacks were beaten back by Lewis gun and rifle fire and by supporting artillery fire from the 4th Brigade, Royal Artillery.  For gallantry displayed in the fighting three of the Rifles’ jawans received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM):  3452 Havildar Devi Dyal, 4342 Havildar Niaz Gul, and 2696 Naik Dhanni Ram.

The gap in the centre of the line was filled by the 2nd 124th Baluchis.  The Baluchis’ signalling officer, Lieutenant Richard Hellier Agard Evans, 127th Baluch Light Infantry attached to 2nd 124th Baluchis, was killed in action by artillery fire along with a party of his signallers whilst repairing the telephone line back to Brigade Headquarters.  Havildar Moti Singh was killed in action leading a counter-attack to take the Hazara Company’s position that had been overrun by the Turks.

3890 Sepoy Harnam Singh received an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 5th November 1917.  When his company was temporarily held up by heavy machine gun fire from a flank, he arose and advanced alone.  Stimulated by his fine example, his platoon at once followed him and carried through the attack without further check.

Besides the Military Cross of Bhagwan Singh, three others were awarded to the Baluchis.  Lieutenant A.G. Lucas, received his: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. His courage and energy under heavy fire during an action furnished a splendid example to his men, and contributed largely to the success of the attack.   

Captain R.G. Mountain, 127th Baluch Light Infantry attached to 2nd 124th Baluchis, received his: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his company in an attack with great courage and dash, though wounded in the leg. Later, in an exposed salient of a captured trench, which was heavily swept by fire from front and flank, he collected five Lewis guns and brought harassing fire to bear on an enemy strong point, thereby greatly assisting another attack made later in the day.

The Baluchis’ Medical Officer, Captain D.H.A. Galbraith, Royal Army Medical Corps, worked ceaselessly on casualty evacuation, and received his Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was wounded in the head whilst attending to a wounded officer, and though in great pain, continued to carry out his duties for the remainder of the day with zeal and determination.

Above: Indian infantry, Mesopotamia

As Tekrit was the last action fought in Mesopotamia by the Baluchis a reasonable assumption is that these three men, listed in the regimental history as being recipients of the IDSM in early 1918, won their awards at Tekrit:  4732 Havildar Nur Khan, 5425 Lance Naik Kampoo Khan, 4442 Sepoy Bara Singh. 

The Commanding Officer of the 2nd 124th Baluchis, Lieutenant Colonel W.J. Mitchell CMG, was appointed to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO):  For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He handled his battalion most skilfully in the attack, and in spite of heavy casualties from a strong point on his flank, succeeded in capturing his objective.  His courage and perseverance on this occasion were most marked.

At 1245 hours 1st Manchesters was sent forward to reinforce the right of the 8th Brigade line and during the next three hours it held the right flank against a Turkish counter-attack whilst the Sepoys to its left fought to dominate the web of defensive trenches that they were occupying.  By 1600 hours the Divisional staff thought that they knew the layout of the battlefield and sent 1st Seaforth Highlanders and 125th Napier’s Rifles, both from 19th Infantry Brigade, in on the left of 8th Brigade.  This attack, delivered under a heavy bombardment, was successful in stabilising the situation for the British; the Turks withdrew during the hours of darkness.  

The cavalry  

The British cavalry kept the Turks in the northern trenches under close observation and maintained sufficient pressure to prevent the enemy commander from moving more of his men southwards.  3233 Lance Daffadar Kirpal Singh, 21st Prince Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) (Daly’s Horse), was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 5th November 1917.  During a reconnaissance of the enemy’s position he led his patrol with remarkable coolness in the face of heavy fire, to within a few hundred yards of the hostile trenches.  Throughout the day he remained with his patrol in observation in an advanced and critical position, sending back most useful information.  

In an attempt to assist the attack of the 1st Seaforth Highlanders and 125th Napier’s Rifles the 13th Hussars with a squadron of 13th Lancers charged along the enemy trenches to join up with the infantry.  Then two squadrons wheeled left and charged a group of Turks forming up 1,000 metres away.  The two squadrons went through the enemy, turned about and went through the enemy again, finally pulling up and fighting dismounted actions near the British infantry.  This was a gallant effort but around 30% casualties were sustained by the squadrons, including their commander who was killed in the first charge.   

8th Infantry Brigade’s casualty figures  

Casualty figures for all ranks recorded after the Tekrit battle were: ·     

47th Sikhs                                         28 killed and 293 wounded. ·      
59th Scinde Rifles                           25 killed and 230 wounded with 1 missing ·      
2nd 124th Baluchistan Infantry   40 killed and 269 wounded ·      
1st Manchesters                             A total of 115 killed and wounded.  

The total British casualty figure was 1,801 of which 161 were killed.   One hundred and thirty seven Turks were captured, and it was estimated that the total enemy casualty figure was 1,500 with 300 of those being fatalities.  

Next morning Tekrit was empty of Turks, and it was also empty of supplies.  The war correspondent Edmund Candler, who was in the trenches during the battle, stated in his book:

‘We found the place very quiet.  The customary white flag was fluttering on every roof.  The townspeople, loitering in the streets, received us with assurances of good will.  A few Arabs were pilfering wood.  But the Turk had left very little behind.  He had burned his aerodrome and his ammunition and ordnance dumps. . . . Of supplies there was no evidence, though Tekrit had been the enemy’s riverhead on the Tigris all through the summer and autumn.  The Turk was living from hand to mouth, and he has a genius for spiriting stuff away.  In no place that we occupied, however sudden and rapid the operations may have been, did we find enough food to keep a brigade for half a day.’  

The British did not want to permanently occupy Tekrit so on 10th November General Cobbe withdrew his units to Samarrah.  Some enemy stores in Tekrit had been destroyed by the Turks themselves, and the opportunity for the Turks to use the town as a forward supply depot in a future offensive had been negated, but the fighting for Tekrit had been expensive in British and Indian lives and in wounded casualties.   Tekrit was the last set-piece battle in the Mesopotamian campaign where enemy lines of trenches were directly assaulted by troops who had to endure heavy attritional defensive fire before reaching their objectives.  During 1918 the pace of war in the theatre visibly slackened and many units on both sides were sent to Palestine where more severe military pressure was being applied on Turkey.

above: Sketch map of the Tekrit Battle


Moberly, Brigadier General F.J. Official History. The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-1918, Volume IV. (Imperial War Museum & Battery Press Inc.)

Candler, Edmund. The Long Road to Baghdad, Volume II. (Cassel & Company, 1919.) Downloadable at:

Anonymous. 47th Sikhs War Record, The Great War 1914-1918. (Picton Publishing, Chippenham, 1992.)

Anonymous. Regimental History of the 6th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles (Scinde), 1843-1923. (Naval & Military Press.)

Chaldecott, O.A. The Tenth Baluch Regiment.  (Times of India Press, Bombay, 1935.)

Rawlinson, H.G. Napier’s Rifles. (Oxford University Press, 1929.)

Duckers, Peter. Reward of Valour. The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918. (Jade Publishing, Oldham, 1999.)

Chhina, Rana. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal. (InvictaIndia 2001.)

Townshend, Charles. When God made Hell. The British invasion of Mesopotamia and the creation of Iraq, 1914-1921. ( faber and faber 2010.)

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