by Russell Braddon. Viking, $6.95. It happened early in the First World War, at the wretched town of Kut el Amarah on the Tigris, where a small and stingily equipped force from India was supposed to be keeping the Turks away from Britain’s oil supply. “An apathetic Whitehall, raped by an importunate Simla, had simply decided, it seemed, to lie back and enjoy it. But when the strategy thus unhappily conceived was born, and became delinquent, neither parent proved willing to support it, or was even capable of doing so. Instead, they flung their bastard offspring into the arms of General Townshend and ordered him to foster it.” What this whopper (quite untypical, incidentally, of Mr. Braddon’s normally restrained prose) means is that the authorities responsible for the British-Indian action in Mesopotamia were a gaggle of the stupid, the negligent, the ignorant, and the dishonest, that Townshend was no better than his masters, and that among them they contrived a horrid waste of life and money. Adroitly organizing contemporary letters and diaries, later memoirs, interviews with survivors, and his own research, Mr. Braddon has converted the disaster into a fascinating story and an enraged denunciation of the professional military mind.