***Operational Lessons of the Mesopotamian Campaign, 1914–18’,

‘Operational Lessons of the Mesopotamian Campaign Crowley’, PT Defence Studies . Autumn 2004, Vol. 4 Issue 3

To cite this article: Lt-Col P. T. Crowley British Army (2004) Operational Lessons of the Mesopotamia Campaign, 1914–18, Defence Studies, 4:3, 335-360, DOI: 10.1080/1470243042000344795

An expeditionary campaign at the operational level.

‘Operational level activity turns strategic guidance into tactical actions.’ (5) Levels of war ‘ … overlap to the extent that tactical activity can have strategic and operational consequences and effects’. (6)

Outline of events

Identify the key operational lessons learned from:

  • command and control
  • intelligence and the enemy
  • the environment
  • the quality of the Allied force
  • morale
  • training
  • tactics
  • logistics

Morale has always been considered as critical to the success of operations, justifying Napoleon’s comment that, ‘The moral is to the physical as three is to one’.
Failure to match capabilities with resources p357
Lack of forethought or imagination, and early success leading to ‘mission creep’ compounded by multiple challenges, inadequacies and unimaginative, ill-conceived and dishonest responses. (JV)

The initial seizure of the oilfields and Townshend’s victories up until the Battle of Ctesiphon must have encouraged the Allied force, despite:

Lt-Col P. T. Crowley British Army (2004) Operational Lessons of the Mesopotamia Campaign, 1914–18, Defence Studies, 4:3, 335-360, DOI: 10.1080/1470243042000344795

  • Inadequate:
    • training
    • resources
    • intelligence
    • artillery
    • aircraft
    • rivercraft
    • high explosives
    • access to water
    • communications
    • Command problems
  • Inadequate understanding of the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Inadequate training
  • Inadequately resourced – despite conditions suited to and favouring cavalry they wasn’t enough and the best had been kept for the Western Front
  • Inadequate artillery especially important in such open conditions that was used in a predictable pattern
  • Inadequate provision, and exploitation of aircraft
  • Lack of initiative: Failure to use smoke
  • Lack of high explosives
  • Poor equipment
  • The harsh environment: heat, cold, extremes of weather with sandstorms and floods
  • Limited access to water
  • Inadequacy of the base at Basra
  • Other logistic limitations and inefficiencies
  • The river Tigris was virtually the only, and restricted supply route made worse by lack of and inadequate river-craft
  • Paucity of communications due to lack of cable and signallers
  • Harassment from local Arab populations
  • Growing casualty figures.
  • Growing illness.

Low morale: Inadequate training and resources, harassment from local Arab populations, logistic limitations and inefficiencies, the harsh environment, limited access to water, unable to provide an adequate vegetarian (vegan) diet.

However, as these factors worsened made worse by:

Made worse by: lack of leave, non-existent mail services, serious food problems, poor medical provisions. Morale sickened and must have contributed to disaster at Kut and to the failure of Aylmer’s Relief Force. P351

lack of leave, no mail, poor medical provision. 

  • lack of leave (and nowhere locally worth taking a rest coupled with a fickle if not always hostile local Arab population)
  • Poor or rather non-existent mail services
  • Even censorship back home deluding families about conditions and expectations.
  • Serious food problems exacerbated by troops refusing to eat meat on religious grounds
  • Poor medical provision, despite leadership reporting the opposite
  • QQ: dealing with the dead (burial, cremation)

Morale sickened and must have contributed to disaster at Kut and to the failure of Aylmer’s Relief Force. P351

Lessons were learnt and confidence grew, though ‘traditions die hard’.
REF : The Kirke Report
Eight months of training and rest help boost morale. p353
No commander can effectively deploy an expeditionary force on operations unless it has clear strategic direction, there is accurate intelligence about the enemy, it has high morale, it is well trained and equipped and it can be sustained. p357
QQ: why therefore was their no mutiny? No mass surrender? They had might as well have been on the moon, with nowhere to go no choices.

QQ: how did men believe they would be treated had they deserted?

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