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PRIVATE WILLIAM LEE'S DIARY OF THE SIEGE OF KUT

 

The Dorsets storming the redoubts at Kut September 28th 1915

Under the leadership of General Townshend, Kut-el-Amara* was  captured after fierce fighting by the 2nd Dorset Regiment on 28 September 1915. It turned out to be a hollow victory which led to one of the British Army's worst-ever defeats - a siege lasting  for  almost 150 days which ended with the surrender of thousands of starving British troops to the Turkish army.

"Kut" means "fort" - in this case, an ancient fortress which had stood for hundreds of years. William Lee mentions it several times and it was to become the last refuge of the beleaguered British soldiers.

 

4 December 1915

At daybreak, we fell back, and began to entrench ourselves at a place appointed for the first-line defences of the town. After hours of strenuous work we had made a defence line, in which we were destined to hold back the enemy so long. They did not venture to attack us for a few days, and by that time a strong position had been made. The various regiments were placed along the defence line, and continued to dig reserve and second-line trenches as opportunities prevailed. The artillery had by this time placed their guns in temporary positions, and everything was ready for the enemy when they did come.

5 December 1915

This day was the first day that the Turks paid us their attentions and they began by subjecting us to a terrific bombardment along the whole of our positions: their guns literally swept the ground in the vicinity of our first-line trenches, doing little damage, however. It was reported that the enemy boasted of  blowing us out if we didn't give in to them.

6 December 1915

The heavy guns continued to bombard the British position the whole day and part of the night, gradually creeping up nearer, until they were close enough to drop shells on any part of the town.

7 December 1915

Today the bombardment was more intense than it had been, and we also observed the enemy digging themselves in at several points all around us. During the night our front suffered severely from the Turkish artillery prior to an attack from the infantry, which had sapped* up to within 600 to 800 yards. During the three preceding days the number of shells that had dropped inside our lines was roughly calculated at 15,000.

*In military terms, a sap is a trench or tunnel dug to a point near or within an enemy position.

 

Map of the Kut region
General Aylmer, referred to above, was the original leader of the British Relief Army which came from India in a vain attempt to relieve the Siege of Kut. After he was forced to withdraw from Umm-el-Hanna with heavy losses in January 1916, Aylmer was replaced by General Gorringe.

 

8 December 1915

The field hospital had to be removed owing to several shells having dropped among the tents; it was taken into the town.

9 December 1915

Today marked some activity between our guns and those of the Turks, and also a few minor infantry attacks at various points of the line.

10 December 1915

We could plainly see the enemy had entirely surrounded us, and were using all their efforts to build their trenches as soon as possible. The river enables us to keep them out along a good portion. At most points, we held one bank while they held the other. Sniping was carried on by both sides all along the river.

11 December 1915

All along the main front everything was fairly quiet until about 9.30pm when suddenly, without any warning or artillery fire, the Turks made a furious attack on our front line, especially in that position occupied by the Dorset Regiment. The first failed, and they came again and again, until at last, they gave up the attempt to get in that night. In their five or six counter attacks, they were estimated to have lost nearly 2000 killed and wounded in one portion alone.

Two companies of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment and the Hants Regiment were in readiness close behind the Dorsets, and had the Turks gained any hold they would have paid more dearly for it than they did even at this time, for every man was determined to keep them out. In spite of their daring defence in keeping the enemy out, the Dorsets did not lose very many men, although they inflicted such heavy losses on the attackers.

 

The text on this page is the copyright property of Mark Bale

 

 
 
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