Battles - Battle of Khanaqin, 1916

Russian machine gun team The sole engagement fought by the Russian Army on the Mesopotamian Front, the Battle of Khanaqin saw a division under the command of Russian General Baratov cross the Mesopotamian border from western Persia to attack Turkish forces stationed at the border town of Khanaqin.

Baratov's force had been involved in a lengthy campaign working west of Tehran since the close of 1915.  Until the arrival of Ali Ishan Bey's XIII Corps into the region in mid-1916 Baratov's division (of 15,000 infantry troops and 7,500 cavalry) had demonstrated steady success - albeit slowly gained - in driving rebel Persian and Arab forces towards the Mesopotamian border.

Early 1916 brought Baratov more rapid progress however.  On 26 February he secured control of Kermanshah (in spite of newly-arrived Turkish reserves), and had reached Kharind some two weeks later, 200km from Baghdad.

Given Baratov's progress the then-British regional Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Nixon, expressed hopes that the Russian force could conceivably aid Sir Charles Townshend's besieged forces at Kut-al-Amara: in the event a forlorn hope, since Baratov elected to remain at Kharind for a further three months before, in June, unsuccessfully storming Turkish positions across the border at Khanaqin (on the Diyala River).

Baghdad commander Khalil Pasha's response was to despatch Ishan's XIII Corps to meet and drive the Russian force back from Khanaqin preparatory to a proposed Turkish sweep through Persia en route to attacking British rear positions.

Ishan did succeed in pushing back Baratov's division, although there were no spectacular successes.  Instead, Turkish progress was slow but sure, until Ishan was abruptly recalled to Baghdad in February 1917 to aid in its defence against a renewed British offensive led by new Commander-in-Chief Sir Frederick Stanley Maude.

As it transpired Baghdad had actually fallen to the British by the time Ishan's forces were underway, although he subsequently placed them to effective use in harrying Maude's forces during the subsequent British advance further north.

As for Baratov, his force occupied Khanaqin once Ishan had left, finally retiring to Kermanshah in June 1917 and serving no further useful wartime role.

Click here to view a map charting operations in Mesopotamia through to 1917.

Photograph courtesy of Photos of the Great War website

"Gas Bag" was a slang term for airships.

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