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Turks Defeat Brits at Hanna

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 221st installment in the series. 

January 21, 1916: Turks Defeat Brits at Hanna 

While trench warfare ground on in Europe with little to show for either side, in other theatres, where the “war of movement” still prevailed, the tide of battle could turn very quickly indeed. Nowhere was this truer than Mesopotamia, as the British advance up the Tigris River came to a sudden halt just short of Baghdad in December 1915, and the would-be conquerors soon found themselves under siege. 

After a string of easy victories in the spring and summer of 1915, at the urging of theatre commander General Sir John Nixon, Charles Townshend’s force of 10,000 Anglo-Indian troops made one final leap towards Baghdad in November—only to finally find itself overextended. Confronted with stiff resistance by the reinforced Ottoman Sixth Army at the Battle of Ctesiphon, Townshend led the Indian Expeditionary Force’s 6th (Poona) Division back downriver to the town of Kut-al-Amara, hoping to regroup and resupply here. 

This proved to be a fatal mistake: the Ottoman Sixth Army, commanded by the venerable German officer Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, pounced on Townshend’s exhausted force and encircled the 6th Division at Kut – a task made easier by Kut-al-Amara’s relatively isolated location in an oxbow-shaped loop in the Tigris River.  In fact, with the neck of the peninsula subject to seasonal flooding, at times Kut-al-Amara was almost an island.

With the British cut off at Kut, after a few failed attempts to retake the town by force the Turks dug in on the opposing river banks and beyond the flood plains – and waited. Townshend’s supplies were running low, so it was only a matter of time before the threat of starvation would compel his force to surrender. 

The news that thousands of Anglo-Indian troops were under siege in Mesopotamia, coming on top of the humiliating defeat at Gallipoli, sparked panic and calls for an immediate rescue operation in Britain and India. On January 4, 1916 Nixon ordered Lieutenant General Sir Fenton Aylmer to lead a new relief force drawn from the IEF in southern Mesopotamia, numbering 19,000 men including the 7th (Meerut) Division, north to raise the siege at once. 

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But this proved easier said than done: for one thing the Turks, realizing a major victory was within their grasp, also brought up reinforcements as quickly as they could to ensure there was no breakout and fend off any attempt to raise the siege from outside. They had also established a barrage of strong defensive positions down the Tigris River, held by detachments from the Sixth Army, which the British had to overcome one by one. 

After heavy fighting, Aylmer scored a tactical victory and ejected the Turks from their first fortified position at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad from January 6-8, but the majority of the enemy forces simply withdrew upriver to another new defensive position at a place called Wadi. Aylmer ordered his tired, bloodied force to pursue them, but once again failed to encircle the Turks at the Battle of Wadi on January 13, losing even more men in the process. Here the poet Robert Palmer, who would shortly be killed in battle, described his first burial duty in a letter home:

I had never seen a dead man and rather dreaded the effect on my queasy stomach; but when it came to finding, searching and burying them one by one, all sense of horror--though they were not pleasant to look upon--was forgotten in an overmastering feeling of pity, such as one feels at the tragic ending of a moving story, only so oppressive as to make the whole scene like a sad and impersonal dream… 

The next position was at Hanna, where the Turks had created a series of entrenched lines stretching north from the river to a nearby swamp, as well as south from the river towards Wadi. Even worse, they outnumbered the British by three-to-one, with 30,000 Ottoman troops facing Aylmer’s Anglo-Indian force, now dwindled to about 10,000. 

But the situation was desperate, and Aylmer was under intense pressure from his superiors to raise the siege. Just two days after Nixon was relieved and replaced by General Sir Percy Lake on January 19, reflecting the British high command’s growing alarm about the unfolding debacle at Kut, on January 21 Aylmer attacked the heavily fortified Turkish defenders at Hanna – and unsurprisingly suffered a severe defeat. 

Following a brief bombardment that failed to do serious damage to the enemy lines, the 7th (Meerut) Division embarked on a suicidal dash across almost half a mile of flat, muddy terrain, where they presented easy targets for the defending Turks. Aylmer’s small force received 2,700 casualties with no immediate access to medical care, whose sufferings were made worse by a downpour and freezing temperatures on the night of January 21-22. One British officer with an Indian unit, the 4th Hants, later recalled: 

The fighting on the 21st was a pure slaughter. It was too awful.... The troops from France say that in all their experience there they never suffered so much from weather conditions. We were wet to the skin and there was a bitter wind coming off the snow hills. Many poor fellows died from exposure that night, I am afraid; and many of the wounded were lying out for more than twenty-four hours until the armistice was arranged the following day. 

Edmund Candler, a British war correspondent accompanying Aylmer’s relief force, painted a similar picture: “At noon the rain came down. All day and all night it poured, putting the crown upon dejection. One thought of the wounded shivering in the cold and mud between the lines, waiting for the night and the slow miserable train of gridiron-bottomed carts.” During the truce to collect wounded and dead, Candler met a Turkish officer who confirmed that the British artillery bombardments were coming up short:

The bombardment, it will be seen, had little effect on the Turk save to indicate our point of attack… [The Turkish officer] smiled at the idea of being frightened out by “that dust and smoke.” He had seen bombardments in the Dardanelles. “Oh, no, we do not mind your bombardments,” he said; “when you shell our front line trenches we lie low and fire from the second line; and when you shell our second line, we get up again and fire from the first.” 

The results were grim to say the least. According to Candler one British unit, the Black Watch, lost over half its strength (top, soldiers of the Black Watch marching in Mesopotamia): “The Black Watch had gone in 120 strong and came out fifty – twenty-five wounded, twenty-five sound… This for the time being was the end of one of the finest battalions in the British Army…” 

The wounded who managed to survive the night were eventually, painfully loaded on to a “hospital ship” (above, a British hospital ship on the Tigris) – actually just a converted river steamer where they were laid out on the decks in freezing temperatures to endure a voyage of several days back downstream to British-held territory, where there were at least primitive hospitals housed in tents. Candler remembered: 

We had carried many straight from the carts on to the ship, where they lay covering every inch of the deck. Then we began clearing the tents of such as we could move. Some were left out in the rain on the transport carts all night; it was better than the mud… I heard a subaltern say, by way of comfort, searching vainly for some adequate greeting in this grimly impressive scene: “I suppose this is as near hell as we are likely to see, Sergeant O’Malley.” Sergeant O’Malley drew himself up stiffly and answered in his disciplined, matter-of-fact way, as if he had been asked whether the quarter-guard had turned out, “I should say it was, sir.”

Serbs Land in Corfu 

1,500 miles to the west, the first Serbian evacuees from Albania were arriving aboard French ships at the Greek island of Corfu, which had been occupied by the Allies (without the permission of the neutral Greek government) to create a temporary haven for the Serbian soldiers and civilians who survived the Great Retreat (below, Serbian soldiers in Corfu).After a period of rest, recuperation, and resupply, approximately 118,000 Serbian soldiers would form a new army that would eventually be deployed on the new Balkan front created by the Allies at Salonika in northern Greece (again, without Greek permission). In early January Serbia’s King Peter visited Salonika, while the Serbian government in exile was temporarily established in Brindisi in neighboring Italy. 

Conditions on Corfu were hardly ideal, however, as the French and British were slow in delivering food and other supplies (below, Serbs resting in Corfu). And once again, the worst off were the thousands of Habsburg prisoners of war who were lucky or hardy enough to have survived the trek over the Albanian mountains in mid-winter, only to be interned on the barren Italian island of Asinara (literally, “the island of donkeys”) near Sardinia. 

Ironically, after waiting weeks for evacuation many of the exhausted prisoners died on the ships carrying them to their new island home, according to Josef Šrámek, a Czech prisoner. On January 2, 1916 Šrámek wrote in his diary while aboard ship: “Many people die of exhaustion and being seasick. They are just thrown into the sea and that’s it. Nobody cares about their names.” The situation did not improve once they arrived at Asinara, as scores of prisoners were felled by rampant disease and dehydration. On January 7 Šrámek noted: 

Disease is spreading among us. The water is to blame… the stomach starts to ache, diarrhea comes, and as people are weak, sometimes they are dead on the second day. These are the consequences of Albania – all that strain, suffering, etc. People get as far as here and then die. We sleep under tents without blankets, and it’s cold at night… About 140 people died in our camp last night. It is terrible to look at those slim figures. 

January 9 brought another grim entry: 

The disease is identified – it’s Asian cholera brought from Albania. People who lie down healthy are stiff in the morning. We are crammed into tents by five, and the infection spread very quickly. You can see a poor creature in spasms behind every shrub. They are all very thirsty, so they crawl to the sea to drink, and soon they’re dead. Drink water is extremely rare. A few feeble springs in the rocks are besieged by the thirsty all day. 

On January 18, 1916, Šrámek recorded an astonishing death toll:  “Cholera is raging horribly. The number of dead is peaking. Today we counted about 1800 of them. We gather them in piles and then bury them in the same grave. Nobody tries to find out the names of the dead.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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