Battle of Dujaila - Battle


Aylmer's plan split his force into three columns (A, B, and C). Columns A and B were grouped together and placed under the command of Major-General Kemball. Column C, under the command of Major-General Kearny, would be the reserve force. On the night of 7 March 1916, the entire force began crossing the river in preparation for the night march to the Dujualia redoubt. Lacking any real terrain features to help with the night time navigation, each column would have navigate by compass, checking their progress by counting steps, bicycle tachometers, and walking sticks.

In the darkness, things started to go wrong. Columns A and B became separated, losing contact with each other, slowing the advance as they tried to find each other in the dark. The artillery became lost and was almost an hour and a half late reaching their assigned positions.

Despite the two hour delay, the assault elements of Column A and B were in position just before dawn on 8 March 1916. The lead elements of 26th Punjabis (part of 36th Indian Infantry Brigade attached to Column A) pushed forward, entering the Dujalia position to find them occupied only by a few unsuspecting soldiers. The news was reported back to Kemball that surprise had been achieved.

However, despite achieving total surprise, Kemball ordered his units to wait until the pre-planned H-Hour for the assault. He even ordered the Punjabis to withdraw from the Ottoman positions. Three hours would pass before Kemball would allow the 36th Brigade to attack the Dujalia redoubt.

By the time Kemball allowed the attack to go in, all hope of surprise had been lost. As the artillery began its preparatory bombardment, Von Der Goltz began ferrying over the 52nd Division from his reserve on the left bank to reinforce the divisions which were now fully alert and manning the trenches. By the end of the battle, nearly 8,000 men were ferried across the river and brought into fighting positions, effectively doubling the strength of the Ottoman garrison on the right bank.

Although some of Aylmer's assault force was in position, some of it was still struggling to sort itself out from the night march as the barrage began. One unit which did reach its start position on time, the 37th Indian Infantry Brigade, was accompanied by Kearny, Aylmer and Gorringe. Despite finding that there a gap in the lines, the Corps and Column commander, as well as the Corps Chief of Staff, held the 37th Brigade back, ordering it to wait and follow the plan's timetable. The infantry assault, originally planned for 7:15 a.m. did not go in till later.

The artillery, which should have started their bombardment earlier, did not get into action until almost 7 a.m. Paradoxically, once the barrage started, all hope of surprise was lost. Through the day, the Anglo-Indian battalions assaulted the Ottoman positions, only to be pinned down and driven back by machine gun and artillery fire.

Despite the missed opportunities, the fresh reinforcements, and the strong defensive entrenchments, by late afternoon, the British once again were on the verge of a breakthrough. 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force) and 1st Manchester Regiment of the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade succeeded in capturing the first two lines of trenches of the Dujalia Redoubt. However, with no reserves left to exploit the success, the two battalions could do nothing more than hang on to their gains. Slowly but surely, the Ottoman battalions counter-attacked with bayonets and grenades, which were in short supply on the British side, forcing the Manchester's and Rifles to retreat in the early evening. Of the 2,301 men of the 8th Brigade present, 1,174 were casualties by the end of the day.

In all, the Tigris Corps suffered almost 4,000 casualties. Through the night, the British forces fell back to a rendezvous position approximately 8,000 yards from the Dujalia position. When no counter-attack materialized from the Dujalia, Aylmer ordered his troops back across the river, ending the battle.

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