The Allied war against the Turks had swung favorably. British and Imperial forced gained momentum at the beginning of 1917, overrunning Ottoman outposts near Gaza and then, in Mesopotamia, the ancient Persian capital of Ctesiphon. The ultimate objective of Britain’s Palestine campaign was Jerusalem, on March 11 they completed another historic victory to the east when Baghdad fell.
The last Turkish defenders, under Khalil Pasha, evacuated the city that day, ceding it to 45,000 triumphant British and Indian troops, who entered the city with General Maude riding at their head. German officers blew up the radio station before they left, although the British did capture six brand new airplanes, freshly delivered to the Turks.
The Imperial soldiers entering the ancient city received a bewildering reception: “Persians dressed like Joseph in long silken coats of many colours; red-fezzed oriental Jews in misfit European clothing; handsome Armenian refugees who had spent the night huddled in Christian churches, fearful of their fate if any of the fleeing Turks learned of their existence; lordly turbaned Muslims in black flowing robes - all turned out to cheer them as they tramped in through the Southern Gate. It was a gala display a fiesta - something that had not taken place when Townshend’s men had tottered painfully through the same streets.” Townshend’s forces had been captured at Kut the year before and led on a painful death march to Anatolia, where those who survived still languished.
Englishmen ignorant of history must have been astounded by the city, but others far off reckoned the symbolic value of their victory. “That’s the end of the German dream of domination in the Near East,” recorded British orientalist Gertrude Bell. “Their place is not going to be in the sun.”