Southern Asia 1917: Mesopotamian Campaign

Political map of South & Southwest Asia on 11 Mar 1917 (The Great War in the Middle East: Mesopotamian Campaign), showing the following events: Second Battle of Kut; Recapture of the Sinai Peninsula; Great Persian famine; February Revolution; Fall of Baghdad.

The securing of South Persia allowed the British to return their focus to Mesopotamia. In early 1917 they recaptured Kut and advanced on Baghdad, entering it in March. Good news as this was for the Allies, it was overshadowed by the outbreak of the February Revolution in Russia, which saw the overthrow of the Tsar and emphasized the growing disillusionment of the Russian troops at home and abroad.


Changes to the map 30 November 1916–11 March 1917

The British are now advancing on all fronts. In Mesopotamia, the securing of South Persia has allowed the British to deploy Indian units to Mesopotamia under the new and able leadership of Frederick Maude. From here, the 50,000 strong Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force - formed from the mostly British India troops of the Indian Expeditionary Force D together with the 13th (Western) Division of the British Army - has recaptured Kut in a methodical siege, then chased the Ottomans from Baghdad.

In the Sinai Peninsula, British and ANZAC mounted troops have defeated the Ottomans at Magdhaba, Rafa, and Nekhl. With the British now in control of the peninsula, the Ottomans are retreating back into Palestine.

In Arabia, the Hashemite Arab rebels of Hejaz have captured Wejh with British support, but are also facing increasing raids from the Ottoman-allied Rashidi Emirate of Jebel Shammar (Ha’il). In February they began their raids on the Hejaz Railway - threatening the supply lines of the besieged Ottoman city of Medina.

In Persia, the British are marching Indian troops from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz - the only major city still threatened by the Persian rebels. Meanwhile the Russians, in their last major offensive in the region, have pushed the Ottomans out of Hamadan and back to the frontier.

Russia is in a state of near-collapse. Over-extended and under-supplied, Russian troop morale in Anatolia and Persia is low, especially after the February Revolution in the homeland. The Ottomans, however, are doing little better, with only small gains near Lake Van.

British Protectorates in the Persian Gulf

The British Residency of the Persian Gulf maintained British India’s influence in a number of Gulf states from the 19th Century until 1947. These states were nominally independent - and shown as such in most atlases from the period - but all signed treaties guaranteeing British control over their foreign affairs.

The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman was the only one of these states with significant international relations, having obtained trade agreements with the US and France before it signed its treaty with Britain. Maps of the time often show Trucial Oman and even Qatar as regions of Oman.

Trucial Oman was the region to the west of Oman which collectively signed treaties with Britain. The sheikhdoms of this region were often called the Trucial States, and later became the United Arab Emirates. However at this time they had little unity, with no regional council until 1952.

Indian Empire

The British Indian Empire, also known as the British Raj, was comprised of a complex of presidencies, provinces, protectorates, and agencies. Only the top level subdivisions are shown here.

The area under direct British rule was known as British India and made up of presidencies and provinces - a presidency simply being the name for an older province.

Outside British India, but often included within the sphere of the presidencies/provinces, were the hundreds of protectorates or ‘princely states’. These were indirectly ruled states, the largest being Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Mysore. The others were either collected into agencies - which might in turn contain other smaller agencies - or fell under the sway of the provinces.

Main Events

14 Dec 1916–24 Feb 1917 Second Battle of Kut

In December 1916 British forces under General Frederick Maude slowly began undermining the Ottoman position at Kut by crossing the Hai and overrunning the south bank of the Tigris. On 9 February they attacked across the Tigris, securing the Dehra Bend northwest of Kut over the following days. From here they advanced on Kut, forcing the Ottomans to abandon the town on the 23rd for fear of being cut wikipedia

23 Dec 1916–21 Feb 1917 Recapture of the Sinai Peninsula

The British and ANZAC mounted troops of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force attacked and defeated the Ottomans at Magdhaba in the Sinai desert in December 1916. From here they advanced on Rafa, on the Palestinian border, capturing it in January. Then, together with Indian mounted units, they sent a raiding party to Nekhl in the center of the Sinai Peninsula in February, driving out the remaining Ottoman wikipedia

? Mar 1917–? ?? 1919 Great Persian famine

Famine broke out in the Allied-occupied state of Persia as crops failed due to drought and imports of foodstuffs were disrupted by the war. As a result Persia’s population fell to some eleven million due to malnutrition and disease—implying between one and eleven million died, depending on which estimates for Persia’s pre-war population are wikipedia

8–12 Mar 1917 February Revolution

Mass demonstrations broke out in Petrograd, capital of the Russian Empire, in March (late February in the Julian calendar) in response to economic and social problems, compounded by the strain of World War I. After a few days, the mutinous Russian Army sided with the revolutionaries, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate in favor of a Provisional Government under Prince Georgy wikipedia

11 Mar 1917 Fall of Baghdad

After recapturing Kut on 24 February 1917 and defeating the Ottomans at the Diyala River on 10 March, the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force under General Frederick Maude marches unopposed into Baghdad, the Ottoman regional capital. Although the Ottoman authorities had ordered the evacuation of the city the day before, some 9,000 Ottoman troops are caught in the confusion and became prisoners of the wikipedia