Inquiry into a defeat

30 June 2017

June 29th, 1917.

[The British surrender at Kut in April 1916 had been, like the failed Dardanelles expedition, the focus of an inquiry.]

IF THE report on the Gallipoli disaster was humiliating, what are we to say of that on Mesopotamia? The facts that the Commission reveals are so painful and even horrible, that this ill-fated and shamefully managed expedition must be reckoned the greatest disgrace that our military history records. Politicians, administrators, and military commanders contributed in varying degrees their share of ineptitude, or indifference, or military ignorance to a whole which, for sheer incompetence, is not to be equalled in the past. The Indian administration was guilty enough, in all conscience, but the report of the Commission makes it abundantly clear that blame must be extended to other quarters. General Townshend, who is above censure, is unhappily a sufferer. Both he and his men were simply sacrificed to the stupidity or worse of those who ordered him to advance on Baghdad, without reinforcements, and with troops already tired and dispirited. There is no mistake about the frankness of the Commission. The scandal that their investigation revealed was too great to be hushed up, and it was not possible to refrain from naming some who were mainly responsible for them. Among those so named are the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief in India, who appear to be jointly responsible for an amazing telegram to a general who realised the difficulties and endeavoured to meet them. “Please warn General Cowper,” ran the telegram, “that if anything of this sort occurs, or I receive any more querulous or petulant demands for shipping, I shall at once remove him from the Force, and will refuse him any further employment of any kind.”

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