Page 3555

3555 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-THE GREAT WAR.

necessity of defending the strait rendered

it impossible for them to continue their

attempts upon the Suez Canal, and, what

was far more important, it relieved Russia

from the pressure of hundreds of thousands

of troops at a time when her fate hung in

the balance. Notwithstanding, it will go

down as one of the most stupendous failures in all history.

Soon after Turkey entered the war,

the British decided to undertake an expedition to the head of the Persian Gulf

and occupy lower Mesopotamia, perhaps

ultimately to push onward far into the

interior. Several considerations influenced

them in making this decision. Such an

expedition would not only embarrass the

Turks and necessitate their sending large

forces to oppose it, but it would lessen

the danger of Turkish and German aggressions in Persia and diminish the chances

of a movement against India. Furthermore, German eyes had long been turned

toward Mesopotamia, the seat of the

ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia,

as a scene for exploitation. It was believed

that by irrigation the region might be

brought back to its legendary fertility

and be made capable of supporting tens

of millions of people; while petroleum

was known to exist in portions of the

territory. The conquest of the country

would be regarded throughout the world

as a serious blow to German aspirations.

As the Bagdad railway, about which the

world had heard a great deal in recent

years, was far from being completed,

it would be difficult for the Turks to transport and feed large armies in Mesopotamia;

while the British could transport their

troops by sea to the Shatt-el-Arab (the

combined Euphrates and Tigris), and

make use of this great waterway for their

operations.

A force of between fifteen and twenty

thousand men, mostly Indian troops, the