This excellent work is one of the earliest accurate general maps of the Baghdad region. It was made early in 1915 on the orders of the General Staff of the Indian Army and was pushed in Calcutta by the Survey of India, as part of its revolutionary ‘Degree Sheet’ series of maps of Iraq and Persia. It is predicated upon the very best available information, including Ottoman and German surveys, as well as maps made by Sir William Willcocks, the world famous Anglo-Indian irrigation engineer who in the years before the war was hired by the Sublime Porte to reorder the Euphrates and Tigris water systems to improve agrarian development. Importantly, the present map was principal operational map used by General Townshend and his senior officers during their ill-fated advance upon Baghdad in November 1915.
The work is a highly developed topographical map featuring all details necessary to aid military movement. The ‘Reference’, in the lower left margin, explains the symbols used for: Roads passable for wheeled traffic; Tracks; Telegraph Lines; Telegraph Offices; Mountains (Arabic, Jebel); Mounds (parts of ruined cities, Arabic Tel); Rivers (Shatt); Marshy Lakes (Khor); Dams (Sidd); Muslim Shrines; Open Plains (Desht); Mud Forts (Kasr); Islands (Jezirat); and Date Gardens (usually with Mud Wall enclosures). Additionally, there are innumerable details concerning archaeological sites and abandoned canals, remnants of the numerous great civilizations that once thrived in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin.
‘Bāghdād’, with its ancient ‘Mud walls party destroyed’ appears on the banks of the Tigris in the lower centre of the view. Innumerable sites are labelled in and around the city, including the ‘British Residency’, train station, ‘Citadel’, various city gates (Bāb), ‘Nasrat Pasha’s House’, ‘Zobeyda’s Tomb’, and the ‘Horse Tramway’ to Kadhimain.
Notably, the already-completed Iraqi portion of the Baghdad Railway is shown to run northward in the direction of Samarra, 120 miles away, where it terminated. The Baghdad Railway was an epic project designed to by German engineers that aimed to connect Istanbul with Baghdad. While never finished during the war, its existing lines line permitted Ottoman troops to travel from Istanbul to Baghdad in only 21 days, reducing a journey time which previously took as long as three months.
To the south of Baghdad, near a great bend on the Tigris, is the ruins of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, the capital of Sassanian Empire (224 – 641), with the map marking an ‘Arched façade, prominent landmark’, being the Archway of Chosroes, which is still one of the Middle East’s great historical monuments. The site, also called ‘Sulmān Pāk or Sulmān Farsi’, after Salman the Persian (568 – 653), one of the Prophet Muhammad’s key companions, who is thought to be buried there, was the scene of the Battle of Ctesiphon (November 22-25, 1915), whereupon Townshend’s army was repelled during the first British attempt on Baghdad. The ‘Saltpetre Factory’, located across the river form Ctesiphon, would have been a key target that the British would have hoped to capture, or if that was not possible, destroy.
The upper right of the map is taken up by the ‘Dīālalah’ (Diyala) River, with the key city of ‘Ba’qūbāh’ (Baquba). The major road shown running up from Baghdad through Baquba and beyond was during the times of the Abbasid Caliphate (750 -1517) called the ‘Khorasan Road’, a key stretch of the Silk Road provided connections to Persia, Central Asia and China. Notably, it was near where the Diyala and the Tigris rivers met that British forces broke the Ottoman lines and proceeded to take Baghdad on March 11, 1917.
The Survey of India’s ‘Degree Sheet’ Series: Modernizing the Mapping of Iraq and Persia
It should, at this point, be noted that Britain’s interests in the Persian Gulf came under the auspices of the British Raj (the Government of India), although Whitehall retained the right to directly intervene whenever it so chose. For decades, the Indian Navy and Army played key roles in surveying the Gulf region, with the resulting maps being edited and published by the Survey of India. The Indian Government and the Survey of India’s interests in the Gulf intensified in the early 20th Century, due to oil exploration and the rise of Ottoman-German cooperation which threatened British hegemony. The Survey of India thus sought to develop a series of maps of the Gulf, Iraq and Persia, executed to high scientific standards and uniform scales sufficient to aid both strategic commercial and military use. Colonel Sidney Burrard, who served as the Surveyor General of India from 1908 to 1919, was one of the most driven and visionary modern holders of the office. He decided to expand the highly regarded ‘Degree Sheet’ surveys of the Indian Subcontinent to include Persia and Iraq (his predecessor had authorized the mapping of Kuwait in this fashion in 1899). As the name suggests, these surveys were comprised of adjoining map sheets that each covered a rectangle of exactly one degree of latitude by one degree of longitude (for instance, the present sheet depicts the area between 33° and 34° N and 44° and 45° W). While such parameters for survey sheets were not novel, they proved highly popular in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), and the Survey of India started producing degree sheets covering India beginning in 1905.
In 1912, Burrard, with the sponsorship of the General Staff of the Indian Army, initiated the publication of the ‘Degree Sheet’ surveys of Iraq and Persia under the title Turkey in Asia and Persia, with the sheets done to a scale of 1:253,400 (1 inch to 4 miles). This scale was ideal for both military and civilian strategic planning, clearly depicting all key details of a given district, producing maps sheets of a size as to be conveniently portable for use in the field. The sheets were accordingly updated and reissued as new mapping and intelligence arrived, either at the Survey’s headquarters in Calcutta (as here) or at the main field office in Dehra Dun. While the sheets of the Turkey in Asia and Persia series were made to be able to be joined to form ever-larger maps, the sheets were issue separately and were considered to be standalone publications in and of themselves. Importantly, the maps of the series were, as noted on the present map, classified ‘For official use only’, as they featured militarily and commercial sensitive information. The map sheets were intended for high-ranking military officers, senior government officials, and the principals of major British commercial entities and they were never to be sold of otherwise publicly distributed. Unless you were pre-authorized to receive the sheets, you would have had to apply to the Chief of the General Staff of the Indian Army in Simla to gain permission to receive examples.
A Note on Editions and Rarity
All the map sheets of the Turkey in Asia and Persia series were classified and published in only small print runs exclusively for high level official use, while the survival rate of the sheets, which tended to be heavily used in the field, would have been very low. Not surprisingly, all issues of all the sheets are today extremely rare. The present map sheet (labelled as being No. 2 C. of the series) is marked as a ‘Rough Provisional Issue 2nd Edition’, with the imprint date of 1915. As a ‘provisional’ issue, created shortly before the British made their first attempt on Baghdad, it would have been rushed out with whatever updates which had recently arrived by express courier at the Survey of India’s headquarters in Calcutta. We have no record of the supposed first edition, which likely appeared earlier in 1915; other editions likely followed the present issue. We cannot definitively trace the location of any other examples of any of the editions of the map. However, the Bodleian Library (Oxford University) and the University of California at Berkeley hold collections of Iraq Degree Sheets dating from 1921 to 1936 that may contain later editions of the map.
Historical Context: Britain’s Two Attempts to Take Baghdad
Iraq has forever been the geostrategic keystone of the Middle East, and for this reason conquering the country from the Ottoman Empire was one of Britain’s top priorities during World War I. In what became known as the Mesopotamian Campaign, British forces mostly deployed from India, invaded Iraq. They had a relatively easy time seizing southern Iraq, being most of Basra Vilayet, late in 1915. However, this early success proved to be a curse, as it made the British high command incredibly overconfident; they severely underestimated the abilities and zeal of the Ottoman forces and elected not to give their own armies the resources their commanders had requested.
After fighting their way against determined resistance up the Tigris basin, in November 1915 the British force came within striking distance of Baghdad. While the commander of the British forces, Major General Sir Charles Townshend, had reservations about trying to take Baghdad, Whitehall was desperate for a big victory to overcome the humiliation of that summer’s defeat at Gallipoli. They pressured Townshend to strike Baghdad before he felt ready.
The Anglo-Indian force of 11,000 men, supported by two gunboats on the Tigris, advanced upon the Ottoman trenches at Ctesiphon (also called Salman Pak) about 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Baghdad. During what became known as the Battle of Ctesiphon (November 22-25, 1915), the British forces met an Ottoman army of 18-20,000 men under Lieutenant General Nureddin Pasha. While the British forces managed to make some progress against the Ottomans’ forward lines, as soon as the made any advances they found themselves confronting yet another set of enemy trenches and fierce artillery salvos. The losses were horrendous, the British suffered 4,200 men down, while the Ottomans took between 6000 and 9,000 casualties. Realizing that they could not clear all the Ottoman defences, the British decided to retreat southward towards Kut al-Amara, a town strategically located on a bend on the Tigris about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Ctesiphon, with the Ottomans in hot pursuit.
At what became known as the Siege of Kut (December 7, 1915 to April 29, 1916), Townshend’s force was entirely encircled by the enemy. Despite several British attempts to relieve Kut, after 147 days Townshend, in what was one of the greatest military disasters in British imperial history, surrendered to the Ottomans. Only 13,164 of the original 45,000 British imperial troops involved in the siege and the relief attempts survived, and many of the POWs subsequently died during the ‘death march’ to Anatolia that the Ottomans subjected them to.
Britain was determined to recover and avenge their defeat, sending massive reinforcements to Mesopotamia commanded by a vigorous new leader, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude. Maude launched his campaign in December 1916 and earning the nickname ‘Systematic Joe’ he was obsessively methodical and patient, leaving no detail or contingency to chance, not making a move until his forces were as ready as they were ever going to be. While some at Whitehall were initially impatient with the slow speed of Maude’s advance up the Tigris, he delivered results, winning every altercation he fought.
Maude’s army took Kut on February 23, 1917, gaining not only a key strategic point, but restoring some of the British honour lost the year previous. The road towards Baghdad was now open.
Maude, leading 50,000 men, commenced his advance on the Iraqi capital on March 5. He encountered the Ottomans’ outer defensive perimeter on March 9, where the Diyala River met the Tigris. In a brilliant move of deception, instead of directly striking the Ottoman positions, Maude swung most of his army north up the Diyala, towards Baghdad’s unprotected flank. Khalil Pasha, the Ottoman commander, who had a total of only 25,000 troops to defend the city, fell for the trick and moved his main army north to check the British force, leaving only a single Ottoman regiment at Diyala. Maude then moved in to crush the Ottoman positions at Diyala, and Khalil Pasha, seeing that he could not possibly outmatch Maude’s forces, ordered a full retreat to Baghdad.
Baghdad descended into a scene of utter chaos, as 400 years of Ottoman rule was coming to precipitous end. Khalil Pasha ordered the evacuation of the city at 8 PM of March 10, but the situation was so disorderly that as the British marched into the city on March 11, 9,000 Ottoman troops were surprised and surrendered. Maude then proceeded to issue the Baghdad Proclamation which, in flowery language, promised the city’s residents that “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators”. Baghdad was the first great prize gained by the British in the Middle East and its fall dramatically altered the history of the entire region for decades to come. Henceforth, the British continued their conquest northward, albeit slowly. While World War I in the Middle East ended upon the Armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918), in contravention of that agreement, British forces took Mosul on November 14, 1918 (so giving Britain control of Iraq’s most promising potential petroleum region!).
The Treaty of Versailles (1919) led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and made Iraq into Britishcontrolled mandate (essentially a protectorate). The British-backed Turkish Petroleum Company discovered the massive Kirkuk oilfields in 1927. Renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1929, the firm went on to discover many fields, including in the Basra region. While Iraq technically became independent in 1932, Britain continued to dominate its politics and oil production until the July 14 Revolution of 1958, which brought in a nationalist regime opposed to Western hegemony.
References: N / A – No examples of the present edition traced. Cf. [Re: Collections of Iraq Degree sheets from 1921 to 1936 that may include a later edition of the present map:] Oxford University – Bodleian Library: Maps N12487410; University of California – Berkeley: G7610.s253 .S8 / OCLC: 743383533. Cf. Eugene ROGAN, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great war in the Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2015), pp. 230-6, 322-6.