Armoured Cars at Ctesiphon 1915

A look at the early use of Armoured Cars during the campaign in Mesopotamia, focusing on the Battle of Ctesiphon, November 1915.

The impressive arch at Ctesiphon © IWM Q 24446

Back in August 2013, The Tank Museum published an online article by David Fletcher about two mysterious armoured cars that were recorded as taking part in the Battle of Ctesiphon. David Fletcher had stated that no further information surrounding these armoured cars had been found, to which I took it upon myself to delve deeper. The article is no longer available on the Tank Museum website, but at the time of writing, can be found via this link –https://web.archive.org/web/20131031221355/http://www.tankmuseum.org/ixbin/indexplus?record=ART4048&_IXMENU_=news_and_events

At this point, I should probably explain that I have long been interested in the early Mesopotamia campaign 1914-1916, and had written my undergraduate thesis on the subject. I therefore believed I would be able to do some digging and try to solve the mystery. I wrote the following piece back at the time in 2013, but for some reason, it has sat on my hard drive unseen ever since! If time permits, I shall re-visit this post and see if any new information can be found 7 years down the line.

The use of armoured cars in the early Mesopotamian campaign is shrouded in mystery. All that is known from the Official History of the Great War, is that two armoured cars were definitely in use at the Battle of Ctesiphon 22nd – 23rd November 1915 and that these cars were part of the Flying Column. The Column was under the overall command of Major General Sir C Melliss V.C. K.C.B. and consisted mainly of the 6th Indian Cavalry Brigade.

Capt A C H Trevor 24th Punjabis

Step by step, in depth research has slowly revealed more of the mystery surrounding these two armoured cars. I have been able to establish that these vehicles were under the command of Captain Arthur Cuthbert Henry Trevor of the 24th Punjabis. Also under his command, and therefore presumably in command of the second car was 2nd Lieutenant John Collingwood Horwood of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers. From this, we can conclude that the Motor Machine Gun Section (as the cars are referred to) was under the command of the Indian Army and not the British Army or Royal Navy. In fact, the entire personnel for these cars came from men of the 24th Punjabis.

The existence of the Motor Machine Gun Section itself was in fact extremely short lived. Formed as Division Troops (just prior to the first battle at Kut-el-Amara 27th – 28th September 1915) the idea was that sustained fire could be delivered on the move, which was much better suited to the vast open ground of Mesopotamia.

Armoured cars had not gone out to Mesopotamia with the rest of the Indian Expeditionary Force Column ‘D’ in late 1914. The original intention for the campaign in Mesopotamia had never been a mobile one, with the defence of Basra being its main objective. Transport over land quickly proved to be extremely difficult and because of this, very little motor transport had been used in the campaign prior to the fall of Kut (April 1916).

Unfortunately, not much is known about the actual cars themselves, other than that they are certainly recorded as improvised rather than purpose built. It is a possibility that they were constructed locally by the Army from the limited vehicles available to the small motor transport section. The armour coming from whatever could be salvaged locally or by the river transport. What we do know is that they were of a light construction, as the official history records that their axles were bent navigating the rough terrain of the country. It seems unlikely that armoured cars would have been specially brought into Mesopotamia from India. In the unlikelihood that this had been the case though, it is almost certain that they would have travelled up the River Tigris on a barge from Basra to join the Anglo-Indian Force. Regrettably, it seems more and more likely that the only way exact specifications will be verified is if a diary or memoir is uncovered from somebody who was there, as most records from the period were subsequently lost or destroyed on the Fall of Kut in April 1916.

The Motor Machine Gun Section first make an appearance in records during the first battle of Kut-el-Amara in September 1915. Like the armoured cars themselves, very little is known about the role or involvement during this action, other than they were under the overall command of General Delamain in Column A. They had joined the column at 0830 on the morning of the battle and at 1430 they ceased fighting and provided transport for the wounded to the awaiting river barges. After this first engagement, it wasn’t long to wait until they would find themselves back in action at Ctesiphon.

Setting off to Ctesiphon on the 19th November 1915, the armoured cars proceeded with the Flying Column. It was during this advance that the entire Column was continually sniped at by a large concentration of Arabs on the right flank. By midday on the 19th, the armoured cars were sent to eliminate the threat and “were most useful in dealing with them and were well and pluckily handled[1]. Casualties amongst the Column remained low, this had largely been thanks to the speed and effectiveness of the cars. Records for the column show 1 Officer wounded; 1 Other Rank killed; 2 wounded; 3 horses killed and 8 wounded. Without the interception of these vehicles, casualties may have been much higher. During the Battle of Ctesiphon, little is known about the specific role of the Armoured Cars. They are only reported as having “been in action continuously throughout the day and had done very good work[2].

Despite the lack of official records or detail about the armoured cars, we do have a period illustration appearing a month after the Battle of Ctesiphon showing two armoured cars in action during the battle. However, it is quite likely that the illustration bears no actual resemblance to the cars that were in use. To appear in print in Britain just a month after a battle so far away from home, and from an Army ultimately in retreat and besieged would suggest strongly this is only an artist’s interpretation of events described to him.

After the Battle of Ctesiphon, the tattered remains of the Anglo-Indian Force limped back to Lajj on the retreat to Kut. It was at Lajj on the 26th November 1915, that the Motor Machine Gun Section was disbanded. Capt. Trevor and his men returned to the 24th Punjabis but no record of what happened to the cars has yet been found. Presumably they either returned to the Motor Transport Section if that is indeed where they came from, or were destroyed to prevent them falling into enemy hands. They may even have been returned to Basra via river transport and later reused.

Capt. Trevor and 2nd Lieut. Horwood were both taken Prisoners of War at the fall of Kut, presumably along with the rest of the men who were still alive at the end of the siege. Both Officers were mentioned in despatches for their work with the Motor Machine Gun Section and their actions around Ctesiphon.

The two armoured cars and the work of the Motor Machine Gun Section had certainly made an impact on the future campaign in Mesopotamia. As the official history states, “They had done very good work, and proved the utility of motor cars in this country[3]. The campaign in Mesopotamia after the fall of Kut made good use of motor transport, and the construction of roads for them to operate on.

Although the mystery of the armoured cars at Ctesiphon has not been wholly solved, I hope this information has unravelled further thought on the subject to provide a better insight. I would be very interested in hearing from anybody who may have any further information.


[1] The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914 -1918 – Volume 2 (Part of the ‘History of the Great War based on Official Documents‘ series) by Brig Gen F J Moberly 1924

[2] The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914 -1918 – Volume 2 (Part of the ‘History of the Great War based on Official Documents‘ series) by Brig Gen F J Moberly 1924

[3] The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914 -1918 – Volume 2 (Part of the ‘History of the Great War based on Official Documents‘ series) by Brig Gen F J Moberly 1924

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