Major General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend KCB, DSO (21 February 1861 – 18 May 1924) was a British Indian Army officer who led the ultimately disastrous first British Expedition against Baghdad during World War I, and was later elected to Parliament.
Background and pre-war lifeEdit
Born a descendant of Field Marshal George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend (his great great grandfather) and educated at Cranleigh School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Townsend was commissioned into the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1881.
He served in the Sudan Expedition of 1884, and the Hunza Naga expedition in 1891. In 1894, while commanding the newly built fort at Gupis, he entertained the visiting George Curzon, "through a long evening with French songs to the accompaniment of a banjo."
He was the garrison commander during siege of Chitral Fort in the North West territories in 1895, for which he was awarded the CB. He transferred to the British Egyptian army and, as Commanding Officer of the 12th Sudanese Battalion, he fought in the Sudan at the Battle of Atbara and the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, for which he was awarded the DSO.
He served in the Second Boer War becoming Assistant Adjutant General on staff of the Military Governor for Orange Free State in 1900 and then transferred to the Royal Fusiliers later that year.
Promoted to colonel in 1904, he became military attaché in Paris in 1905 and then transferred to King's Shropshire Light Infantry in 1906. He went on to be Assistant Adjutant General for 9th Division in India in 1907 and commander of the Orange River Colony District in South Africa in 1908.
Promoted to brigadier general in 1909 and major-general in 1911, Townsend became General Officer Commanding the East Anglian Division in 1911, commander of Jhanzi Brigade in India in 1913 and commander of the Rawal Pindi Brigade in India later that year. With the outbreak of World War I, he was put in command of the 6th Indian Division. This large military force was one of the best of the military units of the Indian Army - though it was under-equipped by the standards of the regular British army. The 6th Indian was sent to Mesopotamia in early 1915.
General Townshend was ordered by his commander, General Nixon, to advance up the Tigris river with the goal of capturing Baghdad. The advance went well initially, Amarah was captured on 3 June 1915 (largely by bluff). The advance resumed three months later and Kut was captured on 28 September 1915. At this point, Townshend suggested halting but Nixon was convinced the Turks were weak and could be beaten. Townshend was ordered to continue to Baghdad.
Around 1 November, the 6th Indian left Kut and marched up the Tigris river. They reached Ctesiphon, some 25 miles (40 km) south of Baghdad on 20 November 1915. Here they met a somewhat larger Ottoman force, under the new command of Baron von der Goltz. Goltz was a German field marshal who had spent 12 years re-organizing the Ottoman army in the 1880s.
Called out of retirement, he had spent most of 1915 as the military advisor to the Sultan Mehmed V. The Battle of Ctesiphon was fought over two days starting in 22 November 1915. The result of the battle was a draw, but Townshend, having lost 1/3 of his strength, resolved to retreat back to Kut, arriving on 3 December 1915. Baron von der Goltz, learning of the British retreat, had turned his battered army around and followed the British, arriving at Kut on 7 December.
Siege of KutEdit
The siege of Kut was a drawn out and bitter affair for the British army. General Townshend sent reports about his supplies to his commander, General Nixon, which (in the event) proved to be false. He reported that he only had supplies for a month at full ration. Actually, his troops finally ran out of supplies near the end of April 1916, almost five months longer than he had reported. This led the British in Basra to hastily send a relief expedition, which was defeated by the unexpected strong Ottoman defences (expertly directed by Baron von der Goltz).
The later relief expeditions fared little better. The British relief forces reached a point just 10 miles (16 km) from Kut but repeated assaults on Turkish positions failed to dislodge the defenders. The last effort---after three weeks of desperate attacks---took place on 22 April 1916, but it ended in failure.
On the other side, the Ottoman commander, Baron von der Goltz, did not live to see his triumph. He died, supposedly from typhoid, on 16 April 1916. General Townshend surrendered 29 April 1916. He himself was well treated by his Ottoman captors. He lived in comfort near Istanbul for the remainder of the war, on a small island. He was given use of a Turkish navy yacht and had receptions in his honour at the royal Turkish court.
He was given the KCB for his command at Kut while he was a POW in 1917. The German journalist and newspaper editor Friedrich Schrader, himself married to a British national, reported that Townshend appeared personally in the office of his newspaper "Osmanischer Lloyd" to receive the cable from London notifying him about the award. At the end of the war, Townshend was involved in the negotiations which resulted in the Turkish armistice in October 1918.
After the war, he resigned from the army in 1920 and wrote a book My Campaign in Mesopotamia (1920). He stood as an Independent Conservative candidate in a by-election in Shropshire and was elected to a term in Parliament as Member of Parliament (MP) for The Wrekin (1920–1922). However, as reports surfaced about how badly his troops had suffered at the hands of the Turks (more than half of the soldiers who surrendered died in Turkish captivity, many of them actually murdered by their captors), his reputation lost all its lustre.
Military experts attacked him for not beating the Ottomans at Ctesiphon, for his passivity during the siege of Kut, and for his inaccurate reports (claiming rations were running low) which lead to the hasty first relief expedition. He died in disgrace in 1924. When his will was published in 1924, Townshend's worldly wealth at the time of his death was found to have amounted to a mere £119.