British Reinforcement Fails at Siege of Kut.
Russians Advance in Caucasus; Covert War in Persia.
Special to The Great War Project
(29 February-3 March) “Like a vision of hell.”
That’s the way one German general describes the wounded German soldiers streaming past his headquarters on the battlefield at Verdun on the Western Front, 100 years ago.
That’s precisely what Franz Marc is seeing as well. Marc is a painter and one of the leaders of the German Expressionist Movement. He writes on 3rd March…
“For days I have seen nothing but the most terrible things that can be painted from a human mind.”
On the following day, writes historian Martin Gilbert, Marc is hit by a French artillery shell and killed instantly.
There are new developments on the Russian front in the Caucasus. “On the night of 3rd March,” reports Gilbert, “during a bayonet charge at the height of a snow blizzard,” the Russians seize Bitlis, a strategic town in southeast Turkey.
Bitlis is a largely Armenian town, but is purged of Armenians during their expulsion from eastern Turkey in 1915. Hundreds of thousands died.
The fighting in Bitlis is savage, sometimes hand-to-hand. When the Russians seize the town, a thousand Turkish prisoners fall into their hands.
The Ottomans attempt to move reinforcements to the Russian front, but they are in “total disarray,” according to historian Eugene Rogan.
The Russians also press steadily westward with gains on the shore of the Black Sea. “A political gain for Russia,” observes Gilbert, “during that first week of March was Britiain’s agreement to allow a southward expansion of the Russian influence in Persia.”
Persia is divided into spheres of influence. The Russians control northern Persia. The British take the southeastern sector of Persia.
Britain and Russia wage a largely covert war against the Germans in Persia. The Germans infiltrate secret agents, seeking to spark a holy war that would destroy Britain’s hold on Persian territory and spark a holy war that could leave Afghanistan and British India vulnerable to invasion.
There are also developments in desert Mesopotamia – now known as Iraq — where a British defensive force in the city of Kut on the Tigris River, is under Ottoman siege.
The Germans reinforce the siege at Kut with troops moved quickly from the Gallipoli Peninsula in western Turkey. There after a long fight, the Ottomans defeat the British. At this moment in the war, the last of the British force in Gallipoli is gone.
In Mesopotamia, reports Gilbert, “the British tried once more to break through to their besieged soldiers in Kut. The relief force had steadily worked its way forward to within sight of the minarets of the besieged town.”
“But the attack….only two miles from Kut failed; 3,500 of the attackers were killed or wounded.”
“The relief force fell back. The siege of Kut continued.” It is now into its third month.
The general in command of the British relief force is sacked.
With each passing week, writes historian Eugene Rogan, the British soldiers in Kut “grew weaker and sicker due to shortages of food and medicine.”