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The Battle of Sarikamish

Turkish War Minister Ismail Enver Pasha planned and took command of a winter invasion of Russia in the mountains of the Turkish/Russian border. Poor planning by Turkish commanders and dreadful weather destroyed much of the Turkish invasion force. From December 27, the Russians held off repeated Turkish attacks until counter-attacking on January 2. In the follow two weeks, the Russians destroyed much of what was left of the Turkish army. The caption explains the destruction of three invading armies, each of about 55,000 men in the Battle of Sarikamish. Illustration from The Great War magazine, Part 34.
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The Turkish Rout in the Snow-bound Caucasus - Stragglers Making their Way Back to Erzerum
Inspired by her German advisors, Turkey determined to forestall her troubles; and, applying the axiom that a vigorous offense is the best defence, she prepared two armies of invasion. The one, based in Erzerum, was to cross the Caucasus and invade Russia; the other, based in Damascus, was to cross the Sinai Desert and invade Egypt. Both of these ambitious expeditions were foredoomed to failure. For the Caucasian venture three armies were formed, each of about 55,000 men. The campaign was planned to allow two columns to advance, while a third was kept two days' march in the rear to act as a general reserve. Snow was already thick in the uplands when a start was made, and owing to faulty staff work and the appalling climatic conditions, one of the columns outdistanced the other. In turn both were driven back in hopeless disorder, pursued by the victorious Russians, who struggled waist-deep through the mountain snowdrifts. The arrival of the Turkish reserves synchronized with a terrific snowstorm; and during this the remnants of the Turkish army of invasion, reduced to about a quarter of its original effectives, managed to find their way back to their base at Erzerum.

Turkish War Minister Ismail Enver Pasha planned and took command of a winter invasion of Russia in the mountains of the Turkish/Russian border. Poor planning by Turkish commanders and dreadful weather destroyed much of the Turkish invasion force. From December 27, the Russians held off repeated Turkish attacks until counter-attacking on January 2. In the follow two weeks, the Russians destroyed much of what was left of the Turkish army. The caption explains the destruction of three invading armies, each of about 55,000 men in the Battle of Sarikamish. Illustration from The Great War magazine, Part 34.

Image text

The Turkish Rout in the Snow-bound Caucasus - Stragglers Making their Way Back to Erzerum

Inspired by her German advisors, Turkey determined to forestall her troubles; and, applying the axiom that a vigorous offense is the best defence, she prepared two armies of invasion. The one, based in Erzerum, was to cross the Caucasus and invade Russia; the other, based in Damascus, was to cross the Sinai Desert and invade Egypt. Both of these ambitious expeditions were foredoomed to failure. For the Caucasian venture three armies were formed, each of about 55,000 men. The campaign was planned to allow two columns to advance, while a third was kept two days' march in the rear to act as a general reserve. Snow was already thick in the uplands when a start was made, and owing to faulty staff work and the appalling climatic conditions, one of the columns outdistanced the other. In turn both were driven back in hopeless disorder, pursued by the victorious Russians, who struggled waist-deep through the mountain snowdrifts. The arrival of the Turkish reserves synchronized with a terrific snowstorm; and during this the remnants of the Turkish army of invasion, reduced to about a quarter of its original effectives, managed to find their way back to their base at Erzerum.

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Even as fighting on the Russo-Turkish border seemingly halted for the winter, Turkish War Minister Ismail Enver Pasha planned a winter assault on the Russians on Turkey's eastern border to capture Tiflis, the regional capital, seizing the rail line that ran to it from Sarikamish and Kars, mountain cities of the frontier. Enver began executing his plan in late November when winter had already arrived in the eastern mountains.

Most of the Turkish Army was stationed in the west. To bring adequate forces to bear for Enver's campaign, Turkey needed to move of its army across the country.

Enver went to the border area, and met with his commander of the Turkish Third Army, Hasan Izzet Pasha, who disagreed with the War Minister's plan, as his troops had no winter clothing, and were neither trained nor equipped for a winter campaign in the mountains. Enver sacked his general, and took command.

Enver's first goal was Sarikamish. For the campaign, he had 120,000 to 150,000 men. He sent his primary force, with artillery, 37 miles across a mile-high mountain track. A second force advanced from the Black Sea.

After initial clashes on December 22, the Russian commander was fired upon by Turkish troops. He fled, ordering a general retreat. His second-in-command, General Yudenich, remained, and continued defending the town.

Advancing first in heavy snow then in biting cold, the Turks lost thousands to exposure. From December 27, the Russians held off repeated Turkish attacks until Yudenich counter-attacked on January 2, 1915. In the follow two weeks, the Russians destroyed much of what was left of the Turkish army, the remnants of which retreated to Erzerum.

Estimates of Turkish casualties vary widely, from 30,000 to 90,000 dead, and from 7,000 to many times that taken prisoner. Total Turkish casualties - wounded, dead, prisoner, deserter, missing - may have been 75,000, and Russian casualties 28,000.

1914-12-24

1915-01-15

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The Battle of Sarikamish