John Nixon (Indian Army officer)

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Sir John Nixon
Sir John Nixon.jpg
Sir John Nixon
Born 16 August 1857
Brentford, Middlesex
Died 15 December 1921
St. Raphaël, France
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Indian Army
Rank Lieutenant-General
Commands held Bangalore Brigade
7th (Meerut) Division
1st (Peshawar) Division
Southern Army, India
Northern Army, India
Battles/wars Second Anglo-Afghan War
Second Boer War
World War I
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Lieutenant-General Sir John Eccles Nixon (16 August 1857–15 December 1921) was senior commander of the British Indian Army. He gave the orders for the ultimately disastrous first British Expedition against Baghdad during the First World War.

Early career[edit]

Educated at Rossall School and then the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Nixon was commissioned into the 75th Regiment of Foot in 1875.[1] He transferred to the Bengal Staff Corps in 1878 and then served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.[1] He also took part in the Mahsud Waziri expedition in 1881 and the Chitral Relief Force in 1895.[1] He was also appointed Chief Staff Officer of the Tochi Field Force in 1897.[1]

Nixon served as a Cavalry Brigade Commander during the Second Boer War and then became Assistant Quartermaster General (Intelligence) in India in 1902.[1] He became commander of the Bangalore Brigade in 1903, Inspector General of Cavalry in India 1906 and General Officer Commanding 7th (Meerut) Division in 1908.[1] He went on to be General Officer Commanding 1st (Peshawar) Division in 1910 and General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Southern Army in India in 1912.[1]

First World War[edit]

Nixon was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Northern Army in India in February 1915.[1] Two months later he became Commander of an Expeditionary Force sent to Mesopotamia.[1] He ordered an aggressive plan to take Baghdad.[1] The British forces in India for nearly a century had operated with little or no direction from London. Following in this tradition, Nixon's aggressive stance in Mesopotamia was not submitted for approval from London. It was approved in New Delhi, and that was enough.

Main article: Mesopotamian Campaign

The advance into Mesopotamia met with initial success. The Ottoman forces, under the overall command of Khalil Pasha in Baghdad and more locally under Nur-Ud Din Pasha were not very well equipped and not well supplied. As far as the Ottoman leader Enver Pasha was concerned, Mesopotamia was the least important campaign in the theatre, so the Caucasus, the Sinai, and the Dardanelles campaigns had priority when men and materiel were being allocated.

From January 1915 until November, the British advanced up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The furthest advance was by General Townshend's 6th Poona division which captured Kut on 26 September 1915. At this point, Townshend's forces were just about halfway between Basra and Baghdad and he wanted to halt. But Nixon ordered a continuation of the expedition and so the 6th Poona division headed up river. By this time the Ottoman Army had brought a retired military expert into command - Baron von der Goltz - and sent additional troops to defend Baghdad.

General Nixon was sufficiently confident to embark with his headquarters company and proceed upriver, hoping to be in Baghdad by Christmas. However, in late November, when news reached him that Townshend's forces had fought an inconclusive battle at Ctesiphon and, too weak to continue, were retreating back to Kut, he turned back. His paddle steamer then came under attack from both sides of the river and ran aground. A sitting target, casualties mounted until the Commander in Chief of Mesopotamia ran up a white flag and invited his attackers to parley. They turned out to be Arabs who had changed sides as the tide of war had turned the Turks' way. Nixon had to pay over a huge sum before he was allowed to continue to Basra. Everyone on board the steamer was sworn to secrecy on pain of death.[2]

Baron von der Goltz with his Ottoman army reached Kut a week behind the British. At this point, Townshend asked for permission to withdraw from Kut and, in another mistake, General Nixon refused. While Townshend's cavalry and some Royal Flying Corps assets were sent down the river, the vast majority of the 6th Poona division stayed and dug in at Kut.

The issue of supplies for the defenders at Kut became critical. Once withdrawal became impossible, General Townshend reported that he only had enough supplies for a month. In fact, his garrison held out for five months, though at reduced rations. The supply problem caused Nixon to rapidly gather his remaining divisions and launch a hasty effort to break the siege.

Main article: Siege of Kut

The relief force, under the local command of General Aylmer began its efforts in early January, 1916. They forced the Ottomans out of two fortified positions (Sheikh Sa'ad and Wadi) while suffering significant casualties. However, the Battle of Hanna was a complete failure. The British troops never even reached the Ottoman defensive positions at a loss of 2,700 casualties.

Nixon had to take the blame for the looming disaster at Kut and the inability of his army to rectify the situation and so he was removed from command (officially it was due to ill-health). He was replaced by General Sir Percy Lake (who would also fail to rescue the garrison at Kut and also be removed from command for his failure).

In 1917, an official commission reported on the failure at Kut. Nixon was found principally responsible for the failure of the Mesopotamian Expedition.[1] This ended Nixon's military career and he died just four years later. He died in 1921.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  2. ^ Eyewitness account of one Albert Maynard, who still believed in his eighties that he could be shot.
  3. ^ First World War Biography

Further reading[edit]

  • Britain, India, and the Arabs 1914-1921 by Briton Cooper Busch, University of California Press, 1971.
  • The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain's Mesopotamian Campaign by A. J. Barker, Enigma Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-929631-86-5

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Barrow
GOC-in-C, Southern Army, India
1912 – 1915
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Scallon
Preceded by
Sir Robert Scallon
GOC-in-C, Northern Army, India
February 1915 – April 1915
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Barrett