ON AUGUST 4TH, 1914 GREAT BRITAIN DECLARED WAR ON GERMAN AND HER ALLIES AFTERGERMAN TROOPS CROSSED THE FRONTIER INTO NEUTRAL BELGIUM. OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS AND 4 MONTHS OVER 8 MILLION SOLDIERS FROM 21 DIFFERENT NATIONS WERE KILLED IN ACTION OR DIED OF WOUNDS OR DISEASE.THE EXACT NUMBER OF IRISH SOLDIERS WHO DIED IS UNKNOWN. HOWEVER IT IS ESTIMATED AT APPROXIMATELY 35,000. 13,431 MEN SERVED OVERSEAS WITH THE CONNAUGHT RANGERS DURING THE COURSE OF THE WAR. APPROXIMATELY 2,500 NEVER RETURNED.THEY LIE IN 22 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES IN EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT. THOUSANDS MORE WERE WOUNDED AND NEARLY A THOUSAND HELD AS PRISONERS OF WAR IN GERMANY, BULGARIA AND TURKEY.THE CONNAUGHT RANGERS SERVED IN MANY THEATRES OF WAR BETWEEN 1914 AND 1918. FOUR BATTALIONS OF THE CONNAUGHT RANGERS SERVED OVERSEAS AND TWO REMAINED ON HOME SERVICE SUPPLYING DRAFTS OF MEN TO THE BATTALIONS AT WAR.ON NOVEMBER 11TH 1918 WHEN THE ARMISTICE WAS DECLARED ONLY TWO OF THE FOUR BATTALIONS SENT OVERSEAS REMAINED- THE OTHER TWO HAD CEASED TO EXIST DUE TO MASSIVE CASUALTIES.
THE WESTERN FRONT FRANCE & FLANDERS 1914-1915.
All four battalions of the Connaught Rangers served in France and Flanders during the course of the War.On August 14, 1914 the 2nd battalion arrived at the port of Boulogne in France, to cheering French crowds, as part of the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During the opening phase of the War they took part in the: The retreat from Mons. August 1914. Battle of Coup De Soupir Farm. September 1914 Battle of the Aisne. September 1914. First Battle of Ypres. October – November 1914. On December 2nd 1914, due to mounting casualties, the 2nd battalion was disbanded and amalgamated with 1st battalion Connaught Rangers at Le Touret in France. On September 26, 1914 the 1st battalion of the Connaught Rangers arrived at the Port of Marseilles having left the port of Karachi on the Indian subcontinent a month before. Throughout 1914 & 1915 they took part in: The First Battle of Messines. October 1914. The Battle of Festubert. November 1914. Battle of Neuve Chapelle. March 1915. Second Battle of Ypres. April 1915. Battle of Loos. September 1915. On December 11, 1915 the 1st Battalion returned to Marseilles and left for Mesopotamia (Iraq). BACK TO TOP THE WESTERN FRONT FRANCE & FLANDERS 1916-1918. On December 18, 1915 the 6th (Service) battalion Connaught Rangers arrived at the Port of Le Harve in France.This battalion served in France & Flanders all through 1916, 1917 and into early 1918. They took part in: The Battles of Guillemont and Ginchy on the Somme. September 1916. Battle of Messines. June 1917. Third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) August 1917. On March 21st 1918 the 6th battalion Connaught Rangers was caught in the middle of the great German offensive and suffered such heavy casualties that the battalion could no longer be sustained and was disbanded in April 1918. On June 1, 1918 the 5th (Service) battalion Connaught Rangers arrived at the Port of Marseilles from Egypt.After a period of segregation to prevent the spread of malaria they took part in the final Allied offensive in which the tide of the War was turned in the favour of the Allies with the participation of the army of the United States. The 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers took part in two major actions France in October 1918. Serain Le Cateau. At the Armistice on November 11th 1918 they were the only battalion of the Connaught Rangers on the Western Front. BACK TO TOP GALLIPOLI – THE ATTEMPT TO INVADE TURKEY On April 25, 1915, Allied troops – Anzac (Australian and New Zealand), British and French landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to Take Istanbul and put Turkey, a strong ally of Germany, out of the War. Turkish resistance to the invasion proved formidable and Allied troops failed to take the high ground. The Gallipoli campaign turned into a disaster and in August 1915 a second offensive began in an attempt to break the stalemate and get the Allied troops of the beaches and move inland. Fresh, mainly newly recruited soldiers were drafted from Britain including the 5th battalion Connaught Rangers. The 5th Connaught Rangers landed at Anzac Cove on the Peninsula in the early hours of August 6, 1915. For the next seven weeks the Ranges fought desperately in the heat and misery of the Gallipoli Peninsula and took part in actions at Lone Pine. Sari Bair. Hill 60 & Kabak Kuyu. Two all out attacks on the Turkish strong points on Hill 60 on August 21 and 28, resulted in very heavy casualties for the battalion.On September 29, 1915 the 5th Connaught Rangers were withdrawn to the Island of Lemnos in Greece.During the Gallipoli campaign the 5th Connaught Rangers suffered over 70% casualties with 22% fatalities. 686 officers and men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. 220 officers and men were listed as killed or missing in action. The Gallipoli campaign had ended in utter failure and the Peninsula was evacuated in late December 1915.
THE SALONIKA FRONT- THE BALKAN CAMPAIGN.
In early October 1915 an Expeditionary Force of Allied troops French and British was sent to Northern Greece in an attempt to assist the country of Serbia. On October 6th 1915 a combined German and Austrian army had launched a full-scale invasion of Serbia from the North. On October 8, 1915 a Bulgarian army assisted the invasion by attacking Serbia from the East. King Ferdinand of Bulgaria had opted to join the War on the side of the Central powers. The Serbian Army were no match for the combined invasion force and were soon in full retreat. Greece still officially a neutral country allowed the Allies to use Salonika as a base from which to prepare their operations to cross into Serbia. The 5th battalion Connaught Rangers reinforced after their disastrous Gallipoli campaign arrived at Salonika from the island of Mudros on October 10, 1915. After a month’s training in atrocious weather conditions the Rangers crossed the Greek frontier into the snow covered mountainous region of Southern Serbia. On December 7, 1915 a huge army of Bulgarian troops overran the frozen trenches occupied by the 10th Irish Division near the village of Kosturino. The main thrust of the attack fell upon the part of the line being held by the 5th Connaught Rangers. In the fierce battle, which followed, the Rangers sustained massive losses and were forced to retreat into Greece. 138 Officers and men of the Connaught Rangers were killed in action at Kosturino. A further 130 were taken prisoner. The 5th battalion Connaught Rangers remained at the Salonika Front for a further 2 years with little progress made by either side. The Allied presence in northern Greece prevented the Bulgarian army invading Greece but the inhospitable mountainous terrain and adverse weather, unbearable heat and malaria in summer and ice and snow in winter, made an offensive almost impossible. It also meant huge numbers of Allied troops being tied up in a ‘sideshow’. On September 10, 1917 the 5th Connaught Rangers were transferred to the Palestine/ Egyptian Front and later to France.
THE PALESTINE CAMPAIGN – THE CAPTURE OF THE HOLY LAND.
As hostilities with Turkey continued the Allies remained concerned over the possible threat to the vital Suez Canal. In 1916 British forces opened an offensive against the Turkish controlled Middle East. Arab tribes long hostile against Turkish rule were encouraged to commence guerrilla warfare against the Turkish occupation forces while the British army under General Allenby opened a new front from Egypt across the Sinai desert against the Turks in Palestine. The 5th battalion Connaught Rangers disembarked at Alexandria in Egypt on September 16th 1917 having spent two years on the Salonika Front. Within a month they took part in the third attempt by the Allies to take the fortified towns of Gaza and Beersheba, which protected the entrance to Palestine from Sinai. Gaza fell on October 31st leaving the way open for an advance on Jerusalem, which fell on December 6th 1917. As the combined Turkish and German army retreated north the offensive came to halt through bad weather and the 5th Connaught Rangers spent two months on the Front line north west of Jerusalem. In March 1918 they went into action again talking the enemy held village of Neby Saleh. Offensive operations on the Palestine Front came to an end in April, in consequence of the German break through on the Western Front in France. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine were ordered to send as many troops as possible to France. The 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers embarked at Port Said and left Egypt for the Western Front on May 25 1918.
THE FINAL PHASE OF THE PALESTINE CAMPAIGN
The 1st battalion Connaught Rangers disembarked at Suez, Egypt on April 14th 1918. From May until September they did tours of duty on the Front Line that stretched across Central Palestine between Jerusalem and Nablus. On September 19th 1918 General Allenby resumed his northward offensive to take the rest of Palestine. Caught by surprise and unprepared the Turkish/ German army fell into a disorganised retreat and within 2 days the Turkish HQ garrison at Nazareth was captured. The 1st battalion Connaught Rangers took an active part in this offensive involved in heavy fighting at the taking of ‘Fir Hill’ on the advancing Front north of Jaffa. At the town of El Funduk the Rangers captured a Turkish artillery column intact. It was the 1st Battalion’s final action in the Great War. In late September they were garrisoned at Jenin and later moved in to garrison the Biblical town of Nazareth. The Rangers remained in Nazareth as the battalion was badly affected by a malignant type of malaria later known as the ‘Great Influenza Epidemic’, which took the lives of many men. The retreating Turkish army was followed into Jordan and Syria where they were defeated by Arab armies now in open revolt. Turkey capitulated on October 30th 1918 and brought an end to centuries of the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. On November 11th 1918 the day the Armistice came into effect the 1st battalion Connaught Rangers were still garrisoned in the town of Nazareth. Throughout December 1918 and the early months of 1919 the Connaught Rangers were demobilised and sent home. Their duty done.
MESOPOTAMIA – THE FORGOTTEN CAMPAIGN.
In November 1914 a small British expeditionary force codenamed ‘D’ captured the port of Basra on the southern coast of the biblical land known as Mesopotamia. A lonely outpost of the Ottoman Empire, which hitherto had little contact with the outside world. The objective of this force was to protect the to protect the oilfields at Abadan which were owned by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company were in which the British government was a major shareholder. Mesopotamia was a relatively unexplored biblical land with no infrastructure, made up mainly of desert with little wood or stone. What few towns there were along the rivers. Transportation was solely by water and through marshland. The native population known as Buddhoos were nomadic Arab tribes constantly in rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Through 1915 the Mesopotamian Expeditionary force met with great success moving up the Tigris River the captured the towns of Amara and Kut and by November were only miles from Baghdad. However in November the Turks rallied and defeated the British forces who retreated to Kut and were promptly surrounded. A rescue force made up of Indian and British troops was sent to relieve Kut. On January 10, 1916 the 1st Connaught Rangers, having left the Western Front, disembarked at Basra and were transported up the Tigris River to Kut. Various attempts to reach the trapped British force at Kut met with failure throughout the early months of 1916. Losses among the relieving forces were high as they tired to vain to break through the Turkish lines. Finally on April 28, 1916 short of food and water the garrison at Kut surrendered. Throughout the summer of 1916 the ranks of the Connaught Rangers facing the Turkish lines at Kut were decimated by a cholera epidemic, which claimed many lives. In December 1916 a new offensive was launched against the Turkish lines and Kut was retaken in February 1917. Baghdad fell on March 11, 1917. The Turkish army fled north. Following the retreat of the Turkish army the Connaught Rangers were garrisoned in Feluja and Baghdad. Throughout early 1917 they and other regiments were used to subdue hostile native tribes in the region. Later in the campaign the Rangers manned the front line at Samara facing Turkish armies at Tekrit. The Mesopotamia campaign became increasing frustrating as the Turkish army was constantly retreating, receding like a mirage leaving another stretch of sand and dust to be garrisoned and more hostile Arab tribes to subdue. On April 2, 1918 the 1st battalion Connaught Rangers embarked at Nahr Umar and left Mesopotamia for Egypt having served 2 years and 3 months. During that time the battalion had 286 fatalities about one third victim of disease and heat stroke. About 2,000 Connaught Rangers served in Mesopotamia. On November 1, 1918 the Turks signed an Armistice with British troops 12 miles south of Mosul. The campaign in Mesopotamia continued after the war with huge amounts of British troops deployed to subdue an Arab uprising. Cost to British Government £100,000,000 and 100,000 casualties –one third of which were killed or died of wounds or disease. “I wish we had never gone there.”- Bonar Law in the House of Commons. This Forgotten Campaign has many interesting parallels with the current conflict in Iraq today as history in many ways repeats itself.