The 2nd Battalion the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

Summary for November 1914 – January 1915

As well as researching the background to the Mesopotamian Front during WW1 our researcher has also summarized the 2nd Norfolk Battalion’s actions quarter by quarter.

Dates and events are given here as related in The History of the Norfolk Regiment, Volume II (1914-1918) by F. Loraine Petre

 

Readers may wish to refer to the map, The Head of the Persian Gulf at the Outbreak of War, contained in the Mesopotamia post on December 5, 2014.  English spellings of Arabic and Turkish names can vary. The 2nd Norfolks fought alongside other regiments in most engagements; it would be too space consuming to name them all in this summary, but F. Loraine Petre’s book is very detailed.

The British may have thought they knew something of Mesopotamia’s people, but they could not deny their ignorance of its physical geography. The expedition was woefully unprepared… Beset by mirages and hampered by lack of cover… when the flotilla pushed up toward Qurna ‘we had only an old rough sketch-map of the river, showing no soundings and affording very little information’… Fortunately, the Ottoman Army was if anything worse informed than the British. When God Made Hell, by Charles Townshend, 2010

 

DATE EVENTS
3 November 1914 2nd Norfolk departed Belgaum (Belagavi) in the hills northeast of Goa for Bombay (Mumbai) in India.
6 November 1914 2nd Norfolk sailed from Bombay on the transport ship ‘Elephanta’ for the Persian Gulf. The strength at embarkation was 23 officers, 5 warrant officers, and 907 other ranks.
13 November 1914 ‘Elephanta’ was off Fao at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab waterway.
15 November 1914 2nd Norfolk disembarked 30 miles upstream at Saniyah and formed part of the 18th (Indian) Brigade.
17 November 2014 2nd Norfolk began the march towards Basra along the palm fringed right bank of the Shatt al-Arab, meeting Turkish resistance and experiencing cold, windy nights, initially without great coats or blankets.

wreck meso

The cargo ship, ‘Ekbatana’, siezed by Turkey and scuttled as a blockship in the Shatt al-Arab on 5 November 1914 (http://www.teesbuiltships.co.uk/gray/turkistan1905.htm for further information)
21 November 1914 2nd Norfolk embarked on the SS ‘Medjidieh’ upstream to Basra. A difficult embarkation avoiding the ships which the Turkish forces had scuttled to block the river. HMS ‘Odin’ and HMS ‘Espiegle’ in support.

mouth basra

The Mouth of the Ashar Creek, the main entrance to Basra from the Shatt al-Arab. Note the low-lying and easily flooded nature of the terrain.
22 November 1914 2nd Norfolk arrived at Basra which had been abandoned by Turkish troops and was in the process of being looted. The rest of November was largely spent in searching neighbouring Arab villages for arms.
3 December 1914 ‘B’ Company joined a force embarked for Kurna at the confluence of the Tigris and the old course of the Euphrates.  The Turks had good cover in the palms and irrigation channels. The village of Mazera was cleared but the force was not strong enough to attempt the capture of Kurna.
5 December 1914 The rest of 2nd Norfolk left Basra by steamer to reinforce the attack onMazera, which had been reoccupied by the Turks, and onKurna, supported by firing from Royal Navy ships on the river.The 2nd Norfolks and the 7th Rajputs cleared Mazera ‘with the bayonet’.  Two officers and two other ranks of the 2nd Norfolks killed, and thirty-five wounded, of whom two died of wounds.
8 December 1914 2nd Norfolk provided cover for the crossing of the Tigris above Kurna. Kurna surrendered the following day.
11 December 1914 2nd Norfolk crossed to Kurna and was employed for the rest of the month on the defences of their camp there.
© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans Picture Library (www.illustratedfirstworldwar.com)

© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans Picture Library (www.illustratedfirstworldwar.com)

The Taking of Kurna: the day after, viewed from the left bank of the Tigris.

The Union Flag is seen flying over the former Turkish Governor’s residence. The ship lies off the angle of the confluence of the Tigris with the Euphrates. From The Illustrated London News, 6 February 1915, drawn by a British officer at the time.

 

N.B. The descriptive terms ‘right bank’ and ‘left bank’ are relative to an observer looking downstream, in which the right bank is to the observer’s right, and vice versa.

 

6 January 1915 ‘A ‘and ‘C’ companies, with the 7th Rajputs, went by steamer up the Euphrates to Cubaish, where they anchored but did not land; they returned next day to Kurna. On the night of the 6 January there was a small attack by Arabs on Norfolk Hill, a small elevation above the Tigris, but the attack was easily stopped by ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies.
19 January 1915 2nd Norfolk returned to Mazera where they acted as reserve to a reconnaissance of the defences on the left bank of the river.
20 January 1915 2nd Norfolk again crossed the Tigris and returned toKurna, where they spent the rest of the month uneventfully.‘The annual floods had commenced ere this, and the whole country about Kurna was practically a swamp, though on the left bank of the Tigris, north of Mazera, the ground was much drier. Kurna was altogether an unpleasant place, though in Mohammedan tradition it is the reputed site of the Garden of Eden.’ 

 

N.B. Mesopotamia has been identified as a possible site of the Garden of Eden by Jewish and Christian as well as by Islamic scholars.

date palms

The ubiquitous date palms which fringed the creeks often as much as one mile in breadth and which provided cover for Turkish snipers

(The text, and images from postcards may be freely used. Copyright and references must be cited as above.)

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