From The Navy in Mesopotamia
by Conrad Cato
Published in 1917
"The voyage of the Julnar was never anything more than a forlorn hope. She was a twin-screw steamer and faster than most of the river craft, and if any vessel at all could slip through the blockade she was that vessel. In order to gauge her chances we must appreciate the nature of the task in front of her.
First of all, she had to face the ordinary difficulties of navigation - a winding river with hairpins and occasional shoals, which even in the flood season were capable of pulling up a heavily-laden vessel. Secondly, she had to face these difficulties in the dark, for to make the attempt by daylight was, of course, out of the question. Thirdly, she had to run the gauntlet of the Turkish guns on both banks from Annaiyat to Kut - a distance of over twenty miles by river - to say nothing of a possible fusillade by rifles and machine guns. Fourthly, there was the possibility that the Turks might have sown a minefield, or, what was more probable, have stretched a wire hawser or some obstruction across the river, in anticipation of the attempt being made.
Aeroplane reconnaissance was made, and the airmen reported that they could see no signs of minefields or obstructions, but the waters of the Tigris are muddy and it was more than possible that objects beneath the surface would escape detection. Turkish prisoners, however, were unanimous in declaring that no obstructions had been prepared. This information, however, if it could be relied on, only served to emphasise the first two difficulties - the negotiation of the sharp bends in the river and the ticklish job of navigating in the dark. The Admiral himself said that he had very little hope of the success of the undertaking, for the odds against it were too great.
A journey to Kut by a naval vessel had been suggested some weeks previously by a member of the Army Commander's Staff and debated at the highest level of the Army and Navy in Mesopotamia and was at first considered to be out of the question. But the beleaguered garrison was, by now, nearing the end of its tether. The fate of some 900 officers and men as in the balance and the Army had appealed to the Navy for help. The appeal was not made in vain. The Admiral sent out private letters to the officers of the Mesopotamia squadron asking for volunteers for the command of the Julnar. There was no need to point out to them the dangers of the enterprise, or the slender hopes upon which the mission finally had been sanctioned.
Most of the officers went in their names and the Admiral's next problem was that if making the selection. His choice fell upon Lieutenant Humphrey O B Firman, RN and to support him, Lieutenant Commander Charles H Cowley, RNVR was chosen; his intimate knowledge of the river gained in the service of Messrs Lynch Brothers who ran the steamer tours that attracted thousands to the region in times of peace. Mr Reed, another of their employees, volunteered to accompany the expedition and was given a temporary commission as an Engineer Sub-Lieutenant. The crew consisted of one engine-room artificer, one leading stoker, three stokers, one leading seaman and six able seamen - all were volunteers drawn from the gunboat flotilla.. The Admiral said of them: "They are under no misapprehension as to the dangers they will run."