MAGNITUDE OF MESOPOTAMIAN CAMPAIGN
Lieut. Col. Milne Points Out Importance of the Capture of Bagdad and Subsequent Operations-He Discusses the Remarkable Baku Expedition
In the Occidental mind Haroun-Al-Rashid's importance as a fictional figure overshadows his historic status. All of us remember that the Caliph liked to look on incognito at the procession of his life in the capital. How many of us remember that he was monarch of an empire stretching from Spain to China, the fabulous cradle of world wealth and culture? And how many of us have reflected that Germany's dream of such another empire was a factor in this war, with German trade methods and German Kultur as its backbone?
That dream of empire was not merely a factor, but the immediate cause of the war, in the opinion of Lieut. Col. J. S. Wardlaw Milne, who has played an important part in the Mesopotamian campaign and who was in New York recently. He regards the campaign as of equal importance with the Western front and the capture of Bagdad as a crushing blow to German ambitions.
"Whatever Germany does in the way of restitution and reparation in France and Belgium," he observed, "If she leaves the peace table in possession of Mesopotamia and the road open to the East she will have won this war."
General Allenby's great successes in Palestine, although spectacular an valuable, are inferior in importance to the achievements of near by in the Bagdad campaign, in Colonel Milne's opinion; and he was emphatic in refuting the ill-informed theory that the two campaigns are one, or have any immediate vital bearing on one another.
When the Colonel spoke the latest news from Mesopotamia had been a meager bulletin from about the British evacuation of Baku. He knew no more about the Baku expedition from official sources than do you, but his familiarity with the territory over which the campaign is being waged was such that he was able to construct an interesting hypothesis of what had happened.
"When the story of that expedition finally comes to be known," he said, undoubtedly it will be the most thrilling in the war. Not more than a handful of men could have taken part in it. They must have fought their way across **** miles of Persia, a vast interior infested by robber bands, until they reached Unrell on the Caspian Sea. There they made their way by boat to Baku, hoping to organize the Americans against the Central Powers.
"You must not suppose the Armenian can not fight. He can. He has proved it before now. I hold no brief for that nation, although I do feel sorry for it. I confess even to some repugnance personally toward Armenians, but I admit that they can fight. And so I think the purpose of this amazing expedition was to enlist the considerable Transcaucasian Armenian forces against the Turks. Apparently that intention was not fulfilled. If it had been fulfilled it would have put an end to the German hope of a road through Batum and Baku to the East.
"For Germany, having sold out for the promise of the Berlin-to-Bagdad road, and then having found herself balked by the fall of Bagdad, turned naturally toward the Batum-Baku road. That way lies the path to Peking. Upon the Mesopotamian campaign now, and upon the steadfast purpose of the Allies when the time comes to talk of peace, depends the question whether Germany's plan for a conquest of the East is to be realized.
"Few persons realize the magnitude of the Bagdad campaign. I am not at liberty to tell the number of men engaged in it, but I can at least say that the number cannot be epressed in tens of thousands nor in hundreds of thousands. Lieutenant General Sir John Marshall is now maintaining a line of communication with his base more than 700 miles long, and supplies are transported by boat along the Tigris River. His forces are in three sections. One arm is stretched forward along the Euphrates River, through the region of the Garden of Eden, to a point somewhere west of Hit. The central arm, of which he is in comman, is east of the Tigris, about sixty miles south of Mosul. The eastern arm is thrust along the borders of Persia, and it was from this force, I assume, that the expedition was sent to Baku.
"A line from Hit north to Mosul and thence east to the Persian frontier will show graphically what these forces have done to wreck the German hope of dominion in the Near East. We hear little or nothing about it now because from May to October the heat makes extensive operations impossible.
"The work done by these forces is not only military, but reconstructive. They have reclaimed 1,100 square miles of land, have irrigated it and put it under cultivation, and are now producing food in such volume as to save 2,000,000 tons of shipping annually for the Allies. The Sha'albah bund, or river wall, near Basra, is forty feet thick at the bottom, seven feet high, and eleven miles long; but that piece of engineering covers but a pins head in that vast and fertile country.
"It is a country without wood or stone. The British have had to import even their firewood. Under the dominion of the Turk what was once a garden spot of the world had become a wasted ruin, and it is necessary to irrigate the land before it can be made productive. With irrigation nearly anything can be grown there. The work being done is so extensive, and the number of men required so great, that there are Generals in Mesopotamia who have never heard the sound of a gun there. The transport problem is tremendous. It involves 2,000 boats of shallow draught for the Tigris River alone-2,000 boats under Government control, aside from the native craft.
The common impression that the Palestine and Mesopotamian campaigns are halves of a whole is a mistake. They do affect one another, but they have different objectives, and there seems no intention now of linking them. The forces under General Marshall are advancing due north. If they were to follow the Euphrates River northwest as far as Aleppo it is possible that the forces under General Allenby, pushing forward from Jerusalem, might join them there; but at present there seems no indication that such is the intention."
Lieut. Col. Milne, whose regiment was stationed at Bombay, was detached to serve as an advisor in the Mesopotamian transport problem, and organized the transport from Basra to India and Great Britain for the successful second campaign which resulted in the fall of Bagdad. The transport from Basra into the interior, along the Tigris, was in other hands; but Colonel Milne, and though he himself disclaims any part in it, is said to have beeen requisitioned for service in that branch of transport too. He was with General Maude until three days before that officer's death from cholera. He spoke of the General's death as the greatest loss England had suffered in the Mesopotamian campaign.
When asked to explain his statement that Germany had "sold out" for the promise of the Berlin-to-Bagdad road, Colonel Milne said:
"Germany accepted that bribe in 1897. The European powers were attempting to bring pressure on Turkey to stop the Armenian atrocities. Germany alone stood aside, and we now know that her reason for silence was that she was bought with the great concession of the Bagdad railway. That scheme, with its forest and mining rights, and other concessions Germany had in view, was intended not only to give her control of the Turkish Empire, but to bring the whole are from the North Sea to the Indian coast under the Kaiser's sway.
"With the taking of this bribe arose a dream of empire which was to give her naval control of the Mediterranean, on the one hand, and of the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, on the other. With the preaching of a 'Jehad,' or holy war, the Arab was to rise at the call of his co-religionists, in Constantinople, and with hordes of barbarian soldiery at her command, Germany was to thrust the British out of Egypt and India, large portions of Russia were to be brought under her control, a new empire with its capital at Bagdad was to be established, and German influence and power were to extend without opposition or hindrance from Hamburg to Singapore.
"As a result of the Balkan wars there arose one barrier across this line, the little country of Serbia. But with the deepening of the Kiel Canal, and the termination, of long preparations at home, the appearance of possible civil war in England and the hope of an uprising in India, everything pointed to the day having arrived. The hour had struck, an excuse was found to crush Serbia, and thus the great war began.
"While it is probably true that these dreams of empire were not realized in pre-war days as they are today, enough of Germany's plan in the East was known to make it absolutely essential that she be immediately checkmated in the event of her being successful in dragging Turkey into the war. When therefore, in October, 1914, war with Turkey could no longer be avoided, the British had to face the necessity of sending an expeditionary force to Mesopotamia to build a barrier across Germany's line of advance to the East.
"It was in the nature of things that this force should come from India, which had already been bled white to provide men and materials for the western front. It will not be possible until after the war to publish a full statement of the efforts made by India to support the mother country. From Rajah to Ryot all united to send help to Europe, and the call for men and money met with a wonderful response throughout the length and breadth of India. And, when the necessity for action in Mesopotamia arose, the further need had to be met from India, and although ill-equipped for the task and on a very small scale, the small force lying in transports in the Persian Gulf was landed in November, 1914, at the mouth of the Shatt-'al-Arab, (the name given to the confluence of the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates,) and in the following month Bosra, the Port of Mesopotamia, famous as the spot from which Sinbad the Sailor embarked on his memorable voyages, was captured by the British.
"The activity of the Turks, reinforced from Bagdad and the constant attempts of the Germans to stir up trouble in Persia made an advance to the north, by the means of the River Tigris, essential, and, after hard fighting and terrible privations, Qurna was occupied in April, 1915. The horrors of the campaign are little realized in the allied countries even today. Ill-equipped in almost every respect, ill-supplied with everything required to make a campaign successful, fighting in a country with no resources of its own and hundreds of miles from its base, the British expeditionary force had to push further and further north, contending with every possible privation, with unique and terrible heat, with almost every insect pest known, and fighting and dying in a land without sanitation and without any of the necessities and surroundings which go to make life worth living.
"After a wonderful March in the hottest time of the year, the town of Amara, on the river Tigris, was captured in June, 1915, and the British forces pushed on to Kut-el-Amara, and then to Cteslphon, only a short distance southeast of Bagdad. The question of attempting any further advance was a matter for very careful consideration. On the one hand was the fact that the force was already several hundred miles from its base, that it had never been expected or hoped that it could push so far in so short a time and that it would be in great danger if it met with more severe resistance.
"On the other hand, there was the possibility of the capture of Bagdad, not only in itself desirable as a marked victory for the Allies, but of the greatest political-importance, if it could be achieved in securing the loyalty and good will of a large number of Mahommedans and of several of the more important Arab tribes. There was also the fact that the taking of Bagdad would mean a direct blow to the then continuously successful operations of the Kaiser and his government. It would be a very bold man who would criticize now the strategy and operations of these past days. It is sufficient to say that the attempt was made and was not successful. The Turks were reinforced from Bagdad and the British had to retreat to Kut-el-Amara.
" At Kut-el-Amara, a little mud-walled town of about 5,000 people, lying in a bend of the Tigris, General Townshend, not previously in command of the British forces, was surrounded, and he and his small band of heroes kept the Union Jack flying through the never-to-be-forgotten days between Dec. 7, 1915, and April 20. Cooped up in this Arab village on rations which gradually dwindled to a few ounces of meal and a little horse flesh per head per day, under conditions of living so terrible as to be almost indescribable, under daily shell fire from the Turks and with constant losses from sickness and disease, these men, by their defense, blocked for many valuable days the German plans in the East.
"It is probable that the effect which this noble defense at Kut had upon the whole war situation, and particularly upon the position of affairs in Turkey and at the Dardanelles, will not be fully understood and appreciated until after the war. Tremendous efforts were made to relieve the beleaguered force, but the absence of all essentials to make the campaign a success, the necessity for the importation of all material by sea from India or Europe, and the lack of all transport facilities in the country prohibited success. After untold privations, General Tonwshend surrendered, his last communication to his troops reading: 'Whatever has happened, my comrades, you have done your duty; the whole world knows that you have done your duty.'
"What May be called the second campaign in Mesopotamia opened when the late General Sir Stanley Maude, who had taken over the command of the British expeditionary force in August, 1916, began his famous drive to the north in December of the same year. Long and bitter was the fighting at Sheikh Sa'ad and other famous battlefields below Kut. Eventually the Turks were defeated, Kut was retaken, and in March, 1917, after crossing the Diala River, an operation bitterly contested by the enemy, the weary and war-worn troops expelled the Turks from Bagdad and pursued them to the north. Thus, at last, Bagad fell to the allied cause and a definite barrier was forever placed firmly across the German path to Eastern dominion and to worldwide conquest.
"Mesopotamia is the cradle of the human race, a country covered with the ruins of past ages, a land in which eight empires have risen and fallen and in which numerous races, from the Hittite to the Turk, have in succession struggled for supremacy. Here Nebuchadnezzar held his court at Babylon and the writing on the wall was made visible. Here Cyrus the Persian released the captives of the princely tribe of Judah and gave them the opportunity of returning to their native land. Here the Romans under Marc Antony were defeated; here the Greeks under Alexander the Great established an eastern empire, and here Haroun-al-Raschid held his court. The home of Abraham, of Issac, and of Jacob; the scene of the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; the country which produced corn and oil for all the world, and which was famous for its beautiful gardens and its wonderful system of irrigation, under the blighting misrule of the Turks has become a country of desert and desolation.'
"But already a change is beginning to creep over the land. The Arab is being taught that justice does not require to be bought, and that it pays him to work.
"The Allies have one great asset to their credit in connection with this war; they have made possible civilization in the desert, and have shown the path of progress to all beholders, holding out to the remnants of the great peoples of the past the hope of a future in their own land under a benign and stable form of government."