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The Battle of Sarikamish

From The Great War magazine, Part 34: Map of the Turkish invasion of Russia in the Caucasus at the end of 1914, ending in defeat at the Battle of Sarikamish.
The Turkish invasion of the Caucasus
Key map of the passes by which the Turkish forces invaded Russian territory. They suffered utter rout at Sarykamysch (or Sarykamish), and at Ardahan.

From The Great War magazine, Part 34: Map of the Turkish invasion of Russia in the Caucasus at the end of 1914, ending in defeat at the Battle of Sarikamish.

Image text

The Turkish invasion of the Caucasus

Key map of the passes by which the Turkish forces invaded Russian territory. They suffered utter rout at Sarykamysch (or Sarykamish), and at Ardahan.

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December 24, 1914 to January 15, 1915

Caucasus Front

Enver's Plan

Even as fighting on the Russo-Turkish border seemingly came to a halt for the winter, Turkish War Minister Ismail Enver Pasha planned and and then took command of a winter assault on the Russians on Turkey's eastern border, a drive on Tiflis (Tbilisi), the Empire's administrative center in the Caucasus, along the rail line from the mountain cities of Sarikamish and Kars. Liman von Sanders, the German commander of Turkish forces, dismissed the plan, but Enver began executing it in late November when winter had already arrived in the eastern mountains.

Defeated in the First and Second Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, losing most of Turkey's territory in Europe to Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro, the bulk of the Turkish Army was stationed in the west, in European Turkey and western Anatolia (mainland Turkey). To bring adequate forces to bear for Enver's campaign, Turkey needed to move much of its army across the country, both by sea and by land.

Enver Takes Command

Enver reached Köprüköy — which the Turks had lost and retaken WHEN? — on December 13 after a week-long journey from Constantinople. Hasan Izzet Pasha, commander of the Turkish Third Army, disagreed with the War Minister's plan, pointing out that the troops, with no winter clothing, were neither trained nor equipped for a winter campaign in the mountains. Enver was not dissuaded, sacked Izzet Pasha, and took command.

To reach his first objective, Sarikamish and its rail line to Kars, Enver sent his primary force including artillery from Köse 37 miles across a mile-high mountain track. Other troops, including some of those who had come by sea, were coming south from the Black Sea to join the offensive. In total, Enver had about 120,000 Turkish troops in the region, with 75,000 for the attack on Sarikamish.

On December 22, the Russian's learned that Enver was in the fortress at Erzurum, which convinced General Nikolai Yudenich, Chief of Staff for the Army of the Caucasus, that the Turks were preparing a major offensive. Word of Enver's presence evidently travelled with his army, as Russian troops came under attack the same day, encountering the Turks at multiple locations, and being driven from the border city of Otlu on the 23rd.

It was snowing heavily throughout the region.

The Panic of General Myshlayevski

On December 24, Yudenich and his superior General Myshlayevski arrived in Sarikamish. While Yudenich took command of preparations for an attack, Myshlayevski visited Russian General Bergmann, who had led the initial invasion of Turkey, at his headquarters. Dismissing the concerns of his staff officers, Bergmann was preparing his own offensive against the Turks. After leaving Bergmann, allowing him to proceed with his offensive, Myshlayevski was fired upon by a Turkish patrol, and panicked, cancelling Bergmann's offensive, and calling for a general retreat to the Russian fortress at Kars.

As some Russian forces retreated on December 25, others held their positions. Two thousand Russian troops with two field guns held Sarikamish itself. The Turks continued advancing on the town from both Köse and Otlu. The weather cleared and the temperature plunged. During the night, the Otlu force lost over 10,000 of its 15,000 men.

On the morning of the 26th, Russian snipers climbed into the mountains to await the Turks, who came under fire when they arrived, and remained there through the afternoon and evening. In their night in the mountains, hundreds of Turks froze to death.

The same day, December 26, the Russians captured a Turkish officer in possession of Enver's plan for taking Sarikamish with 75,000 troops. When the Turks seized the town of Selim, on the rail line between Sarikamish and Kars, Myshlayevski saw his escape cut off. Convinced his troops were being encircled by a much larger force, he fled to Kars, then to Tiflis, nearly 150 miles further on, where he spread his panic to the population with tales of Russian defeat.

Enver's Debacle

While Myshlayevski fled, Enver arrived on December 27, joining the Turks finishing the last six miles of their journey to Sarikamish. As the Turkish forces began their attack on the town, the two Russian guns destroyed three of the field guns the Turkish soldiers had borne from Köse. Turkish infantry struggled through the snow to reach the town, suffering severe casualties. The Russian defenders, reinforced during the day, held off the attack.

On December 28, the Turks awaited reinforcements, but lost more men to exposure. When they attacked on the 29th, it was with only about 6,000 men, even as more Russian reinforcements arrived. Again the Russians held.

Since Myshlayevski had ordered his general retreat on December 24th, Yudenich had tried to prevent Bergmann from acting on the order, and prepared an offensive on the Turkish forces north of Sarakamish. With Bergmann's forces and reinforcements from Kars, Yudenich was ready for a counter-offensive on January 2, 1915. Although Bergmann squandered some of his force on the 3rd, the Russians defeated what remained of the Turkish forces through the next two weeks, taking 4,000 prisoners at Bardiz on January 9, and 3,000 on the 11th.


Having destroyed his Third Army, War Minister Enver Pasha returned to Constantinople on January 9, 1915. He did not lead his forces again during the war.

Before the extent of the Russian victory was known, Myshlayevski continued to let the Russian government know the war in the Caucasus was lost. When word of what was presented as a catastrophic defeat reached St. Petersburg, Russia requested aid from the Allies in the form of a diversionary attack that would draw Turkish soldiers away from the Caucasus. This was one of the origins of what would become the Allied debacle at the Dardanelles and Gallipoli.

Myshlayevski was replaced by General Yudenich who remained in command of Russian forces in the theater through the war.

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.



Events contemporaneous with The Battle of Sarikamish

Start Date End Date View
1914-12-20 1915-03-17 First Battle of Champagne
1915-01-12 1915-01-15 Soissons Offensive and the German Command Crisis