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Debacle at Sarikamish

When the Ottoman empire joined the Central Powers, it was mostly with the hopes that Germany would provide essential protection. It was beneficial to Germany in that it allowed them to close the Turkish straights. At the same time, it opened up a two-front war.

So, Germany urged the Ottomans to take up an offensive against Russia. This would effectively take the pressure off the Germans and Austrians. Enver Pasha accepted quickly and “immediately began planning an ambitious offensive by the Ottoman Third Army against the Russian Caucasus Army” (Source). Pasha would, of course, direct this offensive himself – from safe grounds.

It seemed like a marvelous plan. The land had belonged to the Ottoman Empire until the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, when the Russians annexed it. Also, the Russian failure at the Bergmann Offensive gave the Turks hope that defeating the Russians and winning back their land would be easy.

Though, perhaps Pasha shouldn’t have been quite so overly confident.

Because his offensive did not go as planned.

First off, Enver Pasha sent out Hasan Izzet Pasha with his Turkish Third Army on December 13th, for a week-long journey across Constantinople. However, Izzet Pasha, argued with Enver Pasha, claiming that the troops couldn’t possibly make the journey. After all, They had no winter clothing and they were not trained for a mountain campaign. Enver Pasha didn’t bother to listen. He just fired Izzet Pasha and continued on.

[Below: Turks marching through the snow]

Image result for sarikamish 1918

By the 22nd, the Russians learned of Enver’s location, in the fortress at Erzurum. Later that day, the Russian troops came under Turkish attack, in multiple locations, by the Ottoman IX, X, and XI Corps. By the 23rd, they were driven from Otlu, the border city.

On the 24th, Russian General Nikolai Yudenich and General Myshlayevski arrived in Sarikamish. Yudenich began immediate invasion preparations, while Myshlayevski hastened to General Bergmann’s headquarters. Bergmann, too, was planning an offensive against the Turks.

But, then, as he was leaving Bergmann’s headquarters, Myshlayevski was fired at. Panicking, he called for a general retreat of the Russian forces to Kars. Fortunately, not all of the Russian troops retreated. 2,000 Russians held their ground. Meanwhile, the Turks continued advancing on Sarikamish. That night, though, the temperature plummeted. That night, the Turks lost over 10,000 men.

But the Russians continued advancing towards Karikamish, mostly by rail, “blocking the advance of the Ottoman X Corps on the left wing” (Source). As 1914 drew to a close and the new year dawned, Turkish casualties continued to grow, many of them due to frostbite.

Then, on January 2nd, the Russians finally launched an attack. Enver Pasha’s plan of encirclement had failed. For instead, it was the Turks that were encircled. That certainly didn’t stop the Turkish X Corps from fighting bravely. It lasted for several days.

By January 6, everything really began to fall apart. They continued fighting for another 11 days, though, despite growing casualties. Pasha’s plan had failed completely. And the price was awfully heavy. An estimated 90,000 men had died, 53,000 of which froze to death. Even more from disease. Now, typhoid was running rampant through the ranks. Meanwhile, the Russians lost some 16,000 men.

Pasha didn’t seem overly devastated by the outcome. But his decision did result in “helping persuade Britain and France to attempt to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war by forcing the Turkish straits and capturing Constantinople – setting the stage for Gallipoli” (Source). Pasha’s offensive had very dire consequences, indeed.

[Below: Russian trenches in Sarikahmish]


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