In the single largest surrender of troops in British history compared to that time, some 13,000 soldiers beneath the command of Sir Charles Townshend surrender on April 29, 1916, after withstanding nearly five months under siege by Turkish and German forces at the city of Kut-al-Amara, on the Tigris River in the Basra province of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).
Under the command of Sir John Nixon, British troops had enjoyed early success within their invasion of Mesopotamia. Forces led by Nixon’s forward divisional commander, Sir Charles Townshend, reached and occupied the Mesopotamian province of Basra, like the town of Kut al-Amara, by late September 1915. From there, they attemptedto progress the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers toward Baghdad, but were rebuffed by Turkish troops at Ctesiphon (or Selman Pak) in late November. Despite outnumbering the Turks two-to-one, Townshend’s troops, composed partially of soldiers dispatched from India, were forced to retreat to Kut, where on December 5 Turkish and German troops begun to lay siege to the town.
Problems with illness plagued Townshend’s forces, as morale sank precipitously alongside dwindling supplies and too little relief because of the heavy winter rains, which had swollen the Tigris River and managed to get difficult to go troops along its banks. The British attempted four times during the period of the wintertime to confront and surround their Turkish opponents and then suffer 23,000 casualties, almost twice the effectiveness of the complete remaining Kut regiment, without success. Kut finally fell on April 29, 1916, and Townshend and his 13,000 men were taken prisoner.