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Charles Vere Ferrers TOWNSHEND (1861-1924)

Known As
General Townshend
Biographical Details

Major General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (1861-1924) was a British soldier who led an overreaching military campaign in Mesopotamia during the First World War, which led to the defeat and destruction of his command.

Charles Townshend was a graduate of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.  Commissioned in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Townshend first rose to fame in 1895, when he was besieged at Chitral Fort in India’s North-West Frontier for six weeks.  His besieged force, numbering around 400 Sikhs, Kashmiris, and local Chitralis, held on to the fort until a large relief force arrived from Peshawar and broke the siege.

After spending the first seven months of the First World War in India, Townshend was put in command of the 6th (Poona) Division in Mesopotamia, tasked with protecting British Empire's oil production assets in Persia from Ottoman Imperial attack.

Following a string of battlefield victories, Townshend preferred to consolidate his gains around Amara and Kut, fearing that an advance towards Baghdad would stretch too thinly the Division’s supply lines. General Sir John Nixon, pressured by the War Cabinet to make up for the loss of British prestige after the evacuation of the Dardanelles, ordered him to march on. Halted at Ctesiphon in November 1915, Townshend fell back to the town of Kut in December. There, Townshend planned to hold his ground, await a relief force from Basra, and provide much-needed rest to his men; almost half of the Division’s officers were sick or wounded. Besieged at Kut, he informed Nixon (in the event, wrongly) that his men had little more than a month’s rations left, putting undue pressure on the relief force to quickly reach the besieged British and Indian soldiers.

Multiple attempts to relieve Townshend at Kut in March and April 1916 were unsuccessful. After failed attempts to bribe the Ottoman army to release British and Indian soldiers in exchange for cannons and cash, Townshend, broken down both physically and mentally, unconditionally surrendered Kut on 29th April 1916.  After Townshend’s surrender – the largest surrender of British arms since Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 – he was held in captivity.

Townshend returned to England in October 1918 and resigned from the British Army in January 1920.  He died in Paris on 18th May 1924.

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