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Australians in Transcaucasus

 
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Tandorini



Geregistreerd op: 11-6-2007
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BerichtGeplaatst: 02 Aug 2008 22:36    Onderwerp: Australians in Transcaucasus Reageer met quote

The most adventurous experience of any portion of the A.I.F. was probably that of the 670 Australians who, in scattered units or as individuals, took part in the operations of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force on the Upper Tigris and Euphrates and among the valleys and villages of Kurdistan, or who served with the “Dunsterforce” in Persia, Russia, and Armenia around the Caspian Sea.

Very little has been heard of the work of Australians in Mesopotamia, less by reason of their small numbers than because they were, mainly technical troops. That indeed was the sole reason for their presence. India, in spite of its immense population, was astonishingly short of modern technical resources. For example, it contained only four aeroplanes at the beginning of the war, and the pilots and pupils of the local aviation school, from which an Indian flying corps was to have, been recruited, were given up to the British War Office. When, therefore, the War Office, months later, was able to send out two aeroplanes for the Indian Government’s expedition in Mesopotamia, that Government had to borrow pilots and mechanics from Australia and New Zealand. It was a similar difficulty, in providing wireless apparatus and experts that necessitated the, presence of Australian signallers in Mesopotamia.

The plan adopted by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet (led by Lord Curzon), as an alternative to any attempt to guard Persia with British troops, was to send a handful of British officers and N.C.O’s of picked quality to organise and lead any elements of the Russian forces or of the civilian population in Trans-Caucasia that were ready to continue resistance to the Turks. An endeavour to effect the same object with British forces might well have required the despatch of an additional army.

Not unnaturally, the War Office had no very clear under­standing of the feeling then animating the Russian soldiery, particularly towards any stranger who urged them to continue a hateful and trying war which their government had formally ended. It was not, however, from the Russian Army, as such, that the War Office was sanguine of obtaining effective help, but rather from the Georgians, Armenians, and Assyrians— Christian inhabitants who had been fighting for the Russians and who had everything to fear from the entry or re-entry of the Turks into their countries, an event which, for the Armenians at least, would mean wholesale massacre. The British mission, therefore, was to make its way to Tiflis, the capital of Georgia (where Lieutenant-Colonel Pike was attached to headquarters of the Caucasus Army), in order to organise a force to replace, the main part of that army. Baratov’s weakened force in north-west Persia would be supplemented by a separate Persian force, to be raised under the orders of General Marshall of the’ Mesopotamian force.

SELECTION OF THE MISSION

The choice of the picked leaders who were to compose the mission was left largely to Colonel Byron, who had fought in the South African War, and who decided to make the selection chiefly from the dominion forces. The project was kept a close secret — for months the mission was known as the “hush-hush” party. So it was that on the 3rd of January, 1918, the commander of the Australian Corps, General Birdwood, and the Canadian, New Zealand, and South African leaders received from the War Office a request to assist Colonel Byron, who was being sent to France o secure officer volunteers for “a very important and difficult mission”. “We well realise,” said the letter to Birdwood, “how difficult it is for you to spare good officers, and especially the kind of officers we want, but from Colonel Byron’s explanation you will realise what a big question is involved—nothing more or less than the defence of India and the, security of our whole position in the East. If we can only stem the rot in the Caucasus and on the Persian frontier and interpose a barrier against the vast Geman-Turkish propaganda of their Pan-Turanian scheme, which threatens to inflame the whole of Central Asia including Afghanistan, our minds will be at rest as regards Mesopotamia and India, the latter of which is practically bled white of Indian troops.”

Colonel Byron, who brought this letter himself, pointed out that, with the collapse of the Russian Caucasus Army, both sides of the Caspian Sea and the way across it, from Baku to Krasnovodsk, and thence to Central Asia, were open to the enemy. But it was believed that, with clean, daring, resourceful leadership, parts of the local forces could be reorganised sufficiently to hold their ground with ease in view of the poor quality of the forces that the Turks were directing to those regions. It would probably be impossible to keep open communication with the contingent; if it managed to pass the Persian road from Baghdad to the Caspian, and thence through Baku to Tiflis, the gates might close behind it. It must expect to be left to do the best it could; but it would be given a leader of the quality required, and a capable staff of British officers experienced in the East. It was expected that a call for officers for “what may be a hazardous enterprise, requiring initiative, resource, and courage, and power of dealing with and managing men “would keenly appeal to many officers, of whom from twelve, to twenty were required from the A.I.F. in France, a similar number from the Canadians, twelve from the New Zealand force, and a number from the South Africans.

In the A.I.F. the appeal, made by Birdwood in a secret letter to each of his five divisional commanders on 3rd January, 1918, brought instant response. Birdwood asked for men of “exactly” the class of Major “Harry” Murray, the most famous fighter in the force (who, he suggested, might himself care to volunteer). About four were required from each division, and by January 8th the names were in. A number were interviewed by Byron. To four outstanding men — Major Murray, Captain Jacka, and the brothers Captains A. M. and D. S. Maxwell, all of the 4th Division— Birdwood, in spite of his own previous suggestion and Byron’s urgency, refused leave; but the twenty chosen, with one or two exceptions (due, to insufficient insistence upon qualities other than mere daring), were “the cream of the cream” of the Australian regimental leaders. On January nth they were ordered to London.

On January 10th there reached Birdwood a request for forty N.C.O’s of “relatively similar qualities.” He objected that he was already short of reinforcements, and the. War Office consequently reduced the Australian quota to twenty. These were sent to London by the 2Oth. Here the, twenty officers had already reported on January I4th to the Tower of London, where they joined some 14 Canadian, 10 New Zealand, and 12 South African officers, as well as 20 British (mostly from Klondyke, California, and other distant parts). In Palestine also General Chauvel, Birdwood’s deputy in the A.I.F. command there, had been asked to furnish a fraction of a quota to be sent by Allenby’s force. Chauvel, adopting different principles of selection, detached two officers and five N.C.O’s of the Light Horse.

The party in London had to live near the Tower and report daily, meanwhile buying the required outfit; but the secret of their destination and duty was perfectly kept until January 28th, the day before they sailed, when Colonel Steel, of the General Staff at the War Office, fully explained it to them. Until they reached the Persian Gulf, the N.C.O’s, who left London on January 29th with the officers, knew nothing of their destination except that the Mission was sometimes entitled the “Baghdad Party”. With them went 11 Russian officers and one Armenian. After travelling across France and Italy to Taranto, and thence to Alexandria, they were joined by another quota of 20 officers and 40 N.C.O’s from Palestine and Egypt. Going by Suez, and Koweit, they reached Basra on March 4th, whence they moved in two batches to Baghdad, and by March 28th were occupying their camp at Hinaidi, four miles from the city. Here sightseeing ended, and intensive training commenced; lessons in Russian and Persian had been begun on the voyage.

The leader of the expedition, whom the main party had not yet seen, was Major-General Dunsterville. The original of “Stalky” in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co., he had pursued a patriotic and adventurous career in the East. He was widely travelled, and a fine linguist with a keen friendship for the Russians. The call had come to him when serving on the north-west frontier of India. He had reached Baghdad on January 18th, and his staff—chosen mainly from British officers in India and Mesopotamia—and also the local quota for his force, now officially known as the “Dunsterforce”, began to arrive at once.

DUNSTERVILLE’S PRELIMINARY DASH

It was with a view to the, carrying out of the tasks of this Mission that General Marshall had just pushed out his posts to guard the nearer part of the Persian road from which the Russians had retired.

Marshall was frankly opposed to the whole undertaking, which he regarded as a “mad enterprise,” devised by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet to meet purely imaginary dangers, and hampering the conduct of his main campaign. However, as it was ordered, he had to assist. Dunsterville, on arrival at Baghdad, decided that, in view of the increasingly uncertain conditions in the whole region, it was urgent for him to gain touch with the British representa­tives in Tiflis without delay. Accordingly on January 27th— two months before his London party reached Baghdad—he started with his first party, drawn from Mesopotamia and India, of n officers, 2 clerks, and 41 drivers in 41 Ford vans. The advanced detachments of Marshall’s army newly posted along the road watched this party going through.

The rapid diminution of the Russian Army’s resistance caused the spearhead of Turkish activity again to be directed towards the Caspian, where Turks and Germans each wanted to seize Baku for their own purposes, while both renewed their efforts to enter Persia. It is true that, partly owing to quarrels between these allies, their progress towards the Caspian was exceedingly slow, while farther south, after April, the resistance of Armenians, Assyrians, and a few Russians stopped their advance near Urmia, 250 miles from the Persian road, so that only agents and single emissaries got through to Persia. Persia, however, was fermenting with democratic feeling, which enemy agents were using for their own purposes, and, if trouble was to be avoided in India, it was urgent to steady the nation.

This task, as it turned out, fell largely upon the Dunster-force. In the first place, General Dunsterville with his handful of officers and Ford vans, found it, for the time being, impossible to reach Baku, though he succeeded in getting 600 miles on the way. After leaving the last British outpost on the Pai Taq heights, he passed, despite, great difficulties on the route, the three large Persian towns of Kermanshah (where were Bicherakov and his group, with Australian wireless men), Hamadan, and Kazvin — each of roughly 50,000 people.

The party then pushed on along the last bare, barren watershed, that of the Elburz mountains, on the other side of which the road plunged through amazingly different country—the jungle which led down to Re.sht and the neighbouring port of Enzeli on the Caspian. These slopes were the home of the Gilani or Jangali people, among whom a genuine patriot, Mirza Kuchik Khan, had raised revolution with the cry of “Persia for the Persians.” He was being advised by German and Austrian officers, who were using his earnestness for purely German ends; and, though they were letting through thousand upon thousand of Saratov’s disbanding and undisciplined Russians, it was uncertain whether the road would be open to a British party. But, although heavily armed warriors were passed near Resht, no opposition was offered, and on February I7th Dunsterville and his small party reached Enzeli, which was in the hands of a Bolshevik committee.

Here Dunsterville was first faced by a circumstance which handicapped him greatly throughout. His duty was to take no side in the revolution and merely to support and organise the local people in resisting the invasion of the Turks and Germans. But the British Government had refused to recognise the Bolshevik Government, and in consequence the Bolsheviks were hostile and inclined to suspect that Dunster­ville was working for their overthrow. The local Bolshevik committee in charge at Enzeli at once asked him to explain the presence of himself and his men, and, though he assured them that he had no counter-revolutionary aims, he knew they were hostile. His intelligence staff, the efficiency of which throughout was marvellous, discovered within a few hours that Kuchik Khan was pressing for the party’s arrest. He also found that the full object of his mission, supposed to be so closely secret, was perfectly well known to the Bolshevik committee, which had orders to stop him at all costs. After carefully ascertaining the position through his intelligence staff, and reluctantly rejecting a plan of seizing a steamer and going on to Baku despite the Bolshevik gunboats, Dunsterville decided that, as his success depended entirely on securing the goodwill of the Trans-Caucasians, his only wise course was to withdraw along the road by which he had come, organise (with his main party, which would soon be arriving) the local ” front” in Persia, and wait for a possible further chance of reaching Tiflis. He cleverly escaped arrest, withdrawing his party very early on February 2Oth, and returned to Hamadan. His reason for choosing this town as his headquarters was that, by means of the net of wireless stations established by the Mesopotamian force and the Russians, he was there in touch with Baghdad.

INTERIM POLICY – TO PACIFY PERSIA

Both General Dunsterville and General Marshall knew at this time that it was hopeless to look to Baratov’s Russians to safeguard the Persian road; Bicherakov’s Cossacks were the only part of that force which was prepared to go on fighting, and it was said that even of these a third was pressing to return home. Bicherakov on February 11th flew to Baghdad and informed General Marshall that his Cossacks would remain as rear-guard of Baratov’s withdrawing army corps until February, when they, too, would leave; he thought that British troops had no chance of success among the war-weary Russians at Tiflis. General Marshall was reluctant to take the responsibility for safeguarding the Persian road, holding that a thrust to Mosul would be its best protection, but Sir William Robertson informed him that the road must be guarded. General Dunsterville, back in Hamadan, advised that, whatever the. Persian politicians might say, the Persian people would welcome British protection of their frontier, and urged that he himself should stay in Persia and secure the people’s friendship, while, waiting for another chance of reaching Tiflis. A telegram from Sir Henry Wilson (who at this stage replaced Robertson) stated that the Government had approved this policy. The garrison of the road would be increased. The Government, on the advice of General Smuts, who had visited Egypt in order to advise it as to future policy in the Eastern theatre, had decided to remain on the defensive in Mesopotamia, and transfer another division and some artillery from there to Palestine, where the attack was to be pressed. While in Persia Dunsterville would be under Marshall’s orders as regards the command of troops, but in matters of politics must be guided by the British minister at Teheran.

To establish British influence among the local Persians— into whose country neither he nor the Russians, Turks, or Germans had any legal right to intrude — General Dunsterville chose the typically British method of undertaking to relieve the disastrous famine which, partly as a result of the campaigns of the Turks and Russians through north-west Persia, was afflicting the inhabitants there. The Mission was well equipped with money, and by employing the poorer sections of the population upon road work, and facilitating the supply of wheat (which — by customary procedure — was being hoarded by wealthy Persian purveyors) this small force of British officers gradually established among the poorer citizens a firm friendship for the British Empire. The chief opponents were the wealthy wheat owners and the politicians of the so-called “democratic party”, which generally represented aims similar to those of Kuchik Khan, and was similarly supported by German money and propa­ganda. There was a clear possibility that this “democratic” movement might overthrow the Persian Government, admit German influence, and set ablaze Afghanistan and the Indian frontier, which was the German object. The leaders of the movement went to the length of declaring that the wheat supplied by the English was poisoned, and their adherents occasionally fired sneaking shots by night at the houses occupied by Dunsterville and his officers; but the improvement in the conditions of the famine-stricken people at Hamadan through the Mission’s work was so obvious, that the presence of the British became strongly based on the people’s goodwill. Equally effective was the intelligence system established by Dunsterville’s experienced staff. By this means he was kept aware not only of the feeling of the people, but apparently of the contents of all telegrams, not to say of important letters, that passed through the region of the Mission’s activities. The knowledge thus gained gave him an enormous advantage in dealing with any local opposition; and after the move of Bicherakov’s detachment in March from Kermanshah to Kazvin, nearer the Caspian (where the Cossacks barred the road along which the jangalis were threatening to advance on Teheran), this intelligence system enabled the Mission to stop completely the passage of German and Turkish agents. A number were arrested and were guarded as prisoners by the handful of i/4th Hampshire now sent to Hamadan. To assist in policing the roads and similar duties, the Mission raised and drilled Persian “Levies”. It was recognised that these would be useless for any fighting against the Turks, for which purpose a different force was raised. This was recruited from among the warlike tribes in the mountains to the north­west, nearer to the Turkish border, and was known as the “Irregulars.” It was to be used in resisting any Turkish advance from Armenia towards the Persian road. Dunsterville bought from Baratov a great part of the withdrawing Russian Army’s weapons and supplies; but quantities of arms were also sold by the Russian soldiers to the Persian population and to the Kurdish robber tribes in the hills, which had never before been so well equipped for mischief.

At the end of March, when the Russians, except Bicherakov at Kazvin, had withdrawn, the flank of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force was extended to Kermanshah, the 36th Brigade becoming responsible for that end of the road. For service beyond Kermanshah Dunsterville borrowed a platoon of the 1/4th Hampshire and a squadron of the I4th Hussars. Despite, the anxiety of Bicherakov and his Cossacks to get home, this most loyal leader had now agreed with Dunsterville to remain until British troops took the place of his detachment. He asked the British to pay only his actual expenses, insisting that he and his men were not mercenaries. It was only his solid force at Kazvin that was overawing the Jangalis, although batches of Dunsterville’s mission now began to reach Hamadan. The second of them — 20 officers and 20 N.C.O’s — arrived by Ford cars on April 3rd. The later parties — each including a number of the Australians — made the journey from the Persian border by marching, each officer camping at night in his own 4o-lb. tent, and the sergeants camping in twos or fours in larger tents. The marches had to be made as in mountain warfare, with flanking parties working over the hills and strong guards for the mule-transport; but, although the third batch—some 60 strong— passed on the road a most formidable looking body of 1,500 standard- and arm-bearing Persian troops, the march was not in any way opposed except by a few wild shots from some Kurds, caught in the act of raiding a party of nomads. The third batch reached Hamadan on May i8th, and the fourth — 80 officers (including the Russians) and 150 N.C.O’s under Lieutenant-Colonel Keyworth — on May 25. The march was a stiff one, and an Australian officer recorded with pride a statement that in the fourth party, of the 14 who completed the journey entirely by foot and without a rest, 10 were Australians.

CHANGED SITUATION IN SUMMER, 1918

When the main body of the Dunsterforce reached Hamadan, the original party had already been at work for Four months, and in that lapse of time not only the local but the general situation had greatly changed. The German victories in France, begun on March 2ist, had resounded, even in Persia. In Trans-Caucasia the cause of the Georgians, whom Dunsterville had hoped to assist, had been taken up by the Germans, who were actually befriending them against the Turks. At the same time the Turks were being welcomed by the neighbouring Tartars. In May the Germans com­mandeered part of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Turks had pounced on an excuse to denounce their terms of peace with Russia, and Enver’s brother, Nuri Pasha, arrived to organise among the Tartars an “Islam Army” for seizing Baku and thrusting into Persia. Both Germans and Turks obviously aimed at the capture of the oilfields at Baku, and the prospect of Dunsterville’s getting to Tiflis appeared to be slight. Yet the position offered compensating advantages. The Turks and Germans were quarrelling. In face of the German pressure, the Bolsheviks asked the British to help in reorganising their Black Sea Fleet, and there now appeared some likelihood that they—as well as the Armenians—would welcome British help in protecting Baku. By defending that town and, if possible, controlling the shipping on the Caspian, the object of Britain and her allies in this region might still be attained. But the tide of Turks eastwards, into the region now undefended by Russian armies, was setting strongly.

Both Sir Henry Wilson and the Commander-in-Chief in India were of opinion that the summer—the worst cam­paigning time in Mesopotamia, but the best in the Caucasus— should be used for supporting Dunsterville with reinforcements as strong as the supply problem would permit. In order to maintain activity on its chief front, the Mesopotamian force had struck the. Turks very hard in (March on the Euphrates. At first the Turkish force there fell back quickly before the advance of the I5th Indian division, abandoning the bitumen fields at Hit. The Turkish commander was thereupon superseded, and, when a fortnight later the same Indian division—together with the new nth Cavalry Brigade and a light armoured car brigade—attacked again at Khan Baghdadi, twenty-two miles beyond, the Turks held on stubbornly and thus allowed the cavalry to reach, by a long detour over the desert ridges, a strong position four miles in their rear. After hard fighting, the infantry seized from the front the successive positions of the Turks, whose whole force of 4,000, after failing to break through the cavalry, surrendered.

There followed a rapid and adventurous advance by the cavalry (Brigadier-General Cassels) and armoured cars (Lieutenant-Colonel Hogg) in an effort to rescue the British air force commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Tennant, who, with another officer, had been shot down and captured by the enemy on the eve of the attack. With the armoured cars went an improvised Australian wireless station (No. 39) in a van. After an exciting pursuit of sixty miles past Haditha to Ana, where the Turkish commander and staff were captured, No. 39, on setting up, found itself beyond wireless range, and had to return to Haditha. The armoured cars went on, and next day overtook the fleeing escort and recaptured the officers over 100 miles behind the front which had been broken two days before — a truly remarkable achievement.

SOUTHERN KURDUISTAN

On his other flank General Marshall safeguarded the Mesopotamian end of the Persian road by driving back in April the 2nd Turkish Division, whose proximity to the road had been creating much unrest among the Kurds and Persians. At the, end of April five columns pushed out into the low-ridged plateau between the Jabal Hamrin and the mountains of Kurdistan. This country in spring, covered with grass and flowers, with many rich crops, was a paradise for the troops. The 6th Cavalry Brigade (with Nos. 8 and 11 pack wireless stations) by a long march towards Tuz Khurmatli tried to place itself astride of the road by which the Turks would retire towards Kirkuk, while the infantry attacked the enemy’s front at various points. But the Turks retired with little fighting through Kifri, and, though some were caught by the cavalry, the rernainder occupied a strong position near Tuz before the cavalry reached it. This was attacked some days later, the cavalry again trying to outflank the enemy despite resistance at the crossings of the Aq Su. The Turks finally made, off, but the cavalry rode down a number, 1,300 prisoners and 12 guns being captured.

On being informed by the War Office that it desired him to push this advance to Kirkuk in order to impress the Persians and Afghans as well as the local population, and to divert part of the Turkish forces from their impending thrusts through Armenia and towards the Caspian, Marshall immediately arranged for a further advance on that town. This began on May 4th. Kirkuk, which was reached on the yth, was found abandoned by the Turks, who left there 600 wounded and sick. Marshall had not sufficient troops or transport for continuous occupation of the town, and, after a. short pursuit, the British withdrew to Tuz and Kifri. The same wireless stations had accompanied this expedition, and they came, in for commendation. All had horses shot. No.11 managed to get touch with No. 2 (Main Headquarters, III Corps) at Baquba, no miles away over hilly country. In April a punitive expedition was also sent against a tribe who were in German pay, the Sinjabis, near the Persian road at Oasr-i-Shirin, and no more trouble came from that quarter.

NEW MOVE TO CASPIAN

The War Office was meanwhile pressing Marshall to support Dunsterville with a brigade of infantrv and a brigade of artillery. Against this Marshall urged that, beyond Kermanshah, 1,000 infantry in Ford cars together with a large force of armoured cars would suffice, to enable the Caspian to be reached by June, after which control of that sea might be gained by arming steamers. If he proved wrong, the force suggested by the War Office could be sent later. The War Office acquiesced and promised him ten additional motor transport companies to help in the supply.

At this juncture the Trans-Caucasian Bolsheviks, now thoroughly alarmed by the, threat to Baku, decided to regard the Jangalis as enemies, and asked Bicherakov to crush them. Bicherakov agreed, provided the British helped. The Bolsheviks reluctantly assented, and this gave Dunsterville the chance which he awaited. Bicherakov, who was straining to reach the Caucasus before it was too late, wanted the, British to control the Caspian; and on May 24th Dunsterville proposed to accompany him with all the available Dunsterforce as far as Baku, starting on May 3Oth. The War Office at first stopped him, and ordered him to secure, the road and try to gain naval control of the Caspian (a small naval force being sent to him) ; but on June 1st it authorised Marshall to permit Dunsterville or others to go to Baku. The guarding of the road, must, however, come first.

The threat to the road came partly from the Turkish forces 200 miles to the north-west of it, at Tabriz and near Urmia, and partly from the Jangalis who were actually on the road at Manjil, between Kazvin and Enzeli. As protection against the former, Dunsterville sent parties of his officers and N.C.O’s to organise, if possible, irregular bodies of local Kurds to bar the two central tracks through arid and mountainous Kurdistan. These parties (accompanied by British pack-wireless stations) made for the two main towns on those, routes, Zenjan and Bijar, about 100 miles north-west of Kazvin and Hamadan respectively; Sehneh, similarly placed on a southern route from Urmia to Kermanshah, remained unoccupied until General Marshall sent thither a column in July. Dunsterville’s parties for Zenjan and Bijar were despatched shortly after the fourth batch of his force reached Hamadan. The Bijar party, under Major Starnes, a New Zealander of fine calibre, included all the, Australian officers that had yet arrived’and most of the New Zealand ones. Both parties started by the route to Zenjan, their destination being kept secret even from their members until they were well on their way thither. The first party, for Zenjan, was, shortly after arrival, sent on another seventy miles to Mianeh, too miles from Tabriz. The second, for Bijar, dropped some of its members at Zenjan and then made for Bijar by a track known to exist, but of which the last British intelligence reports were dated 1842. It reached its goal on June 18th.

BAKU

The danger to Baku had now increased. The only local forces opposed to the Turkish advance were those of the Armenians and Bolsheviks in front of that place—said to be, 11,000 strong (with 100 machine-guns and 33 guns). Bicherakov decided to wait no longer, and although Lenin’s Central Government refused to allow the British to proceed to Baku its influence there was uncertain, and Dunsterville proposed to go on and see what could be arranged. On June I2th Bicherakov moving from Kazvin scattered the ineffective Jangalis at Manjil bridge, and a few days later reached Enzeli. He at once, by steamer, visited Baku, and, by the process of becoming Bolshevik, not only secured leave to embark his troops but was appointed commander of the Red Army in the Caucasus. This achieved, he returned to Enzeli.

Dunsterville, in touch with him and with the Armenian National Council in Baku—a very capable body—was pressing for a brigade of infantry and artillery to be sent so that he could show a British force in Baku if opportunity arose, but Marshall, firmly in opposition, informed him that he, could look for no increase in his force. The 1,000 mobile infantry—two companies each of the 1/4th Hampshire and 1/2nd Gurkhas, two mountain guns (21st Battery), and supplies, all in 500 Ford vans—came along the Persian road towards the end of June, and the road was now taken over from the Russian road company and guarded by the British as far as the former Jangali headquarters at Resht. Posts were established, and tolls collected for road upkeep; and travel became, almost as safe as in England.

But both Sir Henry Wilson and the British Government now complained that the efforts to close the Caspian and Persia to the enemy were insufficiently vigorous, and expressed a doubt whether Marshall realised its importance. Dunsterville was to be asked to say definitely what support he wanted for seizing control of the Caspian and destroying the oilfields — two objectives which the War Office continually impressed on him. Dunsterville was all for pushing on, but not for destroying the fields — a not unnatural attitude since such destruction might reasonably be regarded as treachery by the leaders and people whom he was offering to assist against the Turks. Marshall telegraphed that he was preparing to furnish the 39th British Infantry Brigade and a brigade of artillery, as desired by Dunsterville, who had frequently assured him that such a force could live on the country. Bicherakov now took his Cossacks to Baku. A handful of British troops replaced them at Enzeli, and Dunsterville waited eagerly for word from him that the townspeople or government of Baku had swung towards British intervention. The town had for some time been divided into two parties on this question, the Bolsheviks being opposed to British help, the Social Revolutionaries favouring it, while the local Russian fleet — a number of gunboats — though Bolshevik, tended to be less hostile than the politicians. For Dunsterville the situation was extraordinarily delicate. The government of Enzeli being Bolshevik, any attempt to suppress it would arouse the opposition of the fleet and the Bolsheviks at Baku, and create difficulties for Bicherakov. Yet the War Office — though relying on Dunsterville’s diplomacy to do the work of an army — was suggesting with increasing impatience to the diplomat the measures which he, on the. spot, should take. It mistrusted Bicherakov and was persistently anti-Bolshevik. Dunsterville was to remove the Enzeli government, strike at the Bolshevik influence’ and push on with his plans. The British consul at Baku was as strongly opposed as Dunsterville to this course; but, as the wireless at Enzeli was Bolshevik, it was most difficult for Dunsterville quickly to communicate these views. Wireless sections were to be sent to him as soon as possible, in order to render him independent of Russian assistance in this respect.

Fortune soon favoured his plan. On July 25th 2,500 Jangalis attacked the small garrison of Hampshires and Gurkhas at Resht and were most thoroughly beaten. Ten days later, after securing correspondence proving that the Bolshevik Committee at Enzeli was intriguing with the Jangalis against the British, Dunsterville arrested and removed the, committee, basing his action on grounds so good that he was afterwards able to satisfy the authorities in Baku as to his action. At the same time he seized the Enzeli wireless station, and Australian operators were brought up from Kazvin.

Meanwhile the awaited change had occurred in Baku. The Turks were now advancing on the oilfields; and the attempts of Bicherakov and his Cossacks (together with four armoured cars attached to him by Dunsterville) to stop them at a distance from the town had been rendered useless by the indiscipline and intrigues of the Red troops. Finally on July 25th the best of the Red leaders came to Bicherakov and promised to reorganise. The, following day the local Bolshevik leaders resigned and the Social Revolutionaries formed a “Centre-Caspian” Government, gave Bicherakov the military command, and called in British help. The fleet was for Bicherakov, and transports had already been despatched to Enzeli.

Dunsterville decided to send his chief intelligence officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Stokes, with what troops he could spare, to announce that others were coming—the, brigade of infantry and the artillery for which he had asked were then on the Persian road at intervals back to railhead. Meanwhile on July 29th the Turks again attacked Baku; the local forces retired, leaving Bicherakov’s detachment — the only troops who fought — without ammunition or food; and, when the enemy was 3,000 yards from the wharves, Bicherakov decided to fall back to Derbend, 150 miles to the north, where he asked Dunsterville to join him. After his withdrawal, an unexplained panic appears to have seized the victorious Turks. They fled, and the Armenian defenders, taking heart, pursued but allowed them to keep their hold on a strong line about five miles from the, town. Learning that Baku was still held, Dunsterville now sent thither Colonel Stokes and 44 of the Hampshire. Though disappointed with these numbers, the local forces were encouraged by their arrival. Other parties of the 30th Brigade, armoured cars, and artillery were sent on as they arrived at Enzeli. To make sure of transports in case withdrawal from Baku became necessary, Dunsterville and Stokes secured three steamers. Anxieties as to the land communications were lightened when on August I2th Kuchik Khan made peace, to become henceforth one of Dunsterville’s best agents for supplies.

DEFENSE OF BAKU

The Dunsterforce — or rather so much of it as could be spared from urgent duties elsewhere — now entered on its main task, the attempt to turn the local Armenian and Russian forces at Baku into an effective army. These troops, of whom there were found to be between 6,000 and 10,000 divided into 22 battalions controlled by five independent political organisations, were holding across the Baku peninsula a line about 18 miles long, the southern 8 miles lying on a line of cliffs, the rest on lower country, part of which was a salt lake. Between the, salt lake and the cliffs the defenses included a height known as “Dirty Volcano,” which was the pivotal point in the right sector. As batches of the 39th British Brigade arrived from-Mesopotamia, they were put in to hold vital positions —chiefly in the left sector and at Dirty Volcano; but, when all available parts of the brigade had reached Baku, the British infantry totalled little over 1,000, and the British artillery one battery. As the Turks were some 14,000 strong, and were already in some of the villages behind the right of the line, the British were far too few to undertake, as the local government hoped (but had never been promised), the whole defence. The issue therefore hung directly upon whether or not the Dunsterforce officers (as advisers to the local commanders) could lick the local infantry and artillery into shape. Eventually the infantry were organised in brigades, each consisting of three local battalions and one British. Several Australians of the Dunsterforce were among the officers engaged in this effort — Captain Lord with the artillery; Captains McVilly, Judge, and Cameron with the infantry. The task proved superhuman. The town-bred Armenians and other local troops talked largely about shedding their blood in defence of their women and children; but when — as happened on August 26th and 31st and September 14th — the enemy attacked, they mostly melted away to the city or failed to support, leaving the British to do the fighting. The aptest summary is furnished by a document presented to Dunsterville by the revolutionary crew of one of the Russian steamers when the episode was over. “We have witnessed with intense admiration the heroic conduct of your brave British soldiers in the defence of Baku. We have seen them suffering wounds and death bravely in defence of our town, which our own people, were too feeble to defend.”

Thus on August 26th the Turks took Dirty Volcano, and forced back the right of the line, the handful of British infantry there — and they alone — losing heavily. On the 3ist the Turks drove back the right again—one Russian battalion on this occasion fighting well in the retirement. Dunsterville now told the local “dictators” that, as their troops would not fight, he would, without further warning, withdraw his force whenever it was necessary to save his men from being uselessly slaughtered. Next day he gave them notice that the British would leave Baku that night. The dictators replied that the British could only be allowed to leave at the same time as the local troops and after the evacuation of the women and children; and the Russian gunboats were ordered to fire on the British if the transports attempted to leave port. Dunsterville had faced such threats before, as he faced them later, with success; but this time, owing to the confusion in the town, he decided that it would be unfair to withdraw and leave his “allies” planless. He stayed on, and during the next fortnight the situation became more hopeful. The local troops, especially the artillery, showed signs of improvement. Bicherakov sent down 500 Cossacks, and promised another 5,000 in a fortnight. The Russian colony at Lenkoran (on the Caspian coast 130 miles south of Baku) — to which Dunsterville had sent from Baku Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlinson and a few of the Dunsterforce and Australian wireless operators — had 4,000 men ready to raid the Turkish lines of communication. Moreover increasing dissatisfaction with the dictators had stirred a movement among the citizens to place the management of the town in the hands of the British.

On September I2th an Arab deserter from the Turks at Baku reported that they would attack on the I4th. That morning news of the attack was awaited with more confidence; but the first message received was “that the battle was over, and the victorious Turks were advancing at a run, without opposition, on the town.” The local troops could not be induced to press a counter-attack, but the British and Bicherakov’s handful hit the Turks so hard that during the day they were held out of the town. Dunsterville, who had kept his steamers ready at the wharf, informed the dictators that he would have to withdraw the British contingent that night. In the general confusion he was told to make what arrangements he pleased. The withdrawal took place after dark, one of the Australians, Captain McVilly, being charged with part of the staff work. At nightfall, when the fighting eased, the dictators changed their mind and tried to prevent the withdrawal. But it had been well managed. The 7th North Staffordshire (the battalion that nearly reached Hill “Q” at Anzac on 8th August, 1915) held the enemy to the last; troops, guns, and ammunition were safely embarked, and though someone of the crew suddenly turned on all the lights of Dunsterville’s ship, and the guardship tried to sink her and afterwards six times hit the little Armenian which followed with Colonel Rawlinson and his officers holding the crew to their work with pistols, all the ships and the troops in them got safely away to Enzeli. Two Australians, Major Suttor and Sergeant Bullen, who had only just arrived at Baku and had not been notified of the withdrawal, were left behind, but managed to escape on a ship with refugees across the Caspian to Krasnovodsk. A small British guard at the aerodrome retired with Bicherakov’s contingent to Petrovsk.

THE URMIA CRISIS

The Baku section was not the only part of the Dunsterforce which, in the end, came in for fighting of a most desperate nature. Shortly before Dunsterville started for Baku, a British airman flew across to the Christian Assyrians (locally named the “Jelus”) and Armenians who were then successfully resisting the 5th and 6th Turkish Divisions at Urmia. These were under an Assyrian leader, Aga Petross; the airman carried an offer from Dunsterville to assist by sending northwards from Bijar a party with machine-guns, ammunition, and money. Aga Petross was to detach part of his force to break through the besieging Turks south of Lake Urmia, meet the convoy, and escort it to Urmia. The party, which started from Bijar on July 19th, was under Captain Savige (of Bullecourt fame), but was escorted by a squadron of the I4th Hussars under Colonel Bridges. Savige’s party included five officers and fifteen sergeants of the Dunsterforce (half of them Australians or New Zealanders) and three British batmen. The convoy, which carried £45,600 in Persian silver, twelve Lewis guns, and 100,000 rounds of ammunition, was under Major More.

On July 23rd, the appointed date, the party reached the place for the meeting, Sain Kala, but there was no word of the Assyrians. Two days later, there still being no news of them, Colonel Bridges decided that he must withdraw on account of the shortage of grain for his horses. To Savige’s party this decision caused intense disappointment, and its officers at once volunteered to get through to Lake Urmia and obtain news of the Assyrians — “I thought we were not giving them a chance,” he writes. The proposal was not approved; but by the time the withdrawal had reached Takan Tepe, fifty miles back, Savige had succeeded in obtaining permission for his party and convoy to stay there (a proceeding which afterwards saved many thousand lives), the cavalry squadron being left by Colonel Bridges as their escort. From this place, Savige judged, they would still have a chance of reaching the Assyrians if these broke through after all; meanwhile the party would organise a local force with which it hoped itself to break through and reach Urmia.

The raising of this force had barely begun when, on August 1st, a native arrived with news that a great battle was being fought south of the lake. Savige realised that this was the attempt promised by Aga Petross, and next day he heard that the Christians were coming. He moved forward immediately, and on the evening of August 3rd the Assyrians rode into his camp—a magnificent spectacle, troop after troop of cavalry, each preceded by its white cross on a red banner, before the finest of which rode Aga Petross himself. The march towards Urmia began next morning. At dusk, when again coming in view of Sain Kala, Savige, leading the column, was surprised to see ahead a crowd of women in brightly-coloured dresses — a sight unknown in Mohammedan villages. Aga Petross, coming up, was obviously struck with horror. “My God,” he said, “here are my people!”

The crowd, when questioned, said that the Turks had broken into the city, and they themselves had been forced to flee. They knew nothing more. There had been 80,000 of them at Urmia, and many, if not all, were obviously on the road driving their flocks and herds along with them. It was then too late to take action that night, and Savige had to wait for dawn and further news.

At dawn (August 5th) Savige and Captain Reed, riding forward, were appalled to see the. crowds coming ceaselessly southwards. These said that the end of the multitude was some miles away, covered by a rear-guard formed and inspired by an American missionary, Dr. Shedd, in an effort to hold back the Kurds and Persians who constantly raided the rear of the column, murdering the fugitives, and carrying off the young girls for sale for Turkish harems. On Savige’s return, as .the higher commanders did nothing, he begged for and obtained leave for his party (which volunteered) to go out and fight as rear-guard while the cavalry protected the main body. Savige chose for the rear-guard two officers (Captains Scott-Olsen — an Australian — and Nicol — a New Zea-lander) and six sergeants (comprising one Australian, Sergeant Murphy, two Canadians, a New Zealander, and two British sergeants), with three Lewis guns and six days’ rations. Aga Petross promised to furnish 100 men, but, seeing the day wasted without action, these had gone off to guard their families. At dawn Savige and his companions rode on without the promised support.

After riding fifteen miles through crowd after crowd, who wildly hailed them as deliverers, Savige’s party realised that they were, reaching the tail of the retreat. Wounded women and others, abandoned by their families, struggled past as best they could. In some vehicles were Mrs. Shedd and several of the mission workers, making all possible efforts to encourage and help the withdrawing people; and, lining a ridge ahead, was Dr. Shedd with twenty-four armed refugees waiting for the next arrival of the raiders. Savige relieved him, but took on his refugees, and pushed forward to check the enemy in some rougher country farther on. Six miles ahead they came on a village (either Karawaran or Miandoab) outside which they saw the tethered horses of the Turks who were looting it.

The stand made by Savige and his eight companions that evening and during half of the next day against hundreds of the enemy thirsting like wolves to get at the defenseless throng was as fine as any episode known to the present writer in the history of this war. For full details the reader must be referred to Savige’s own account; here it can only be said that the marked feature of the fight was that every Dunsterforce, man knew that he could rely on each of his fellow members, however far they were separated, to carry out his part whatever the cost. Savige’s handful, with twelve refugees, drove, the enemy from the village, and after pushing forward, arid punishing 100 tribesmen who raced on horseback about the valley ahead, fell back six miles and spent the night in another village. The fleeing Christians had murdered and raided in these villages as ruthlessly as the enemy had raided the Christians. At dawn—with the retreating wagons still in sight down the valley—the fight began again. While the rear-guard was about to take an early meal, 150 horsemen approached from the enemy’s direction, and others were seen advancing over the hills behind both flanks. While the mules were being loaded, Savige rushed his main party to a ridge behind the village to keep the Kurds back. A Canadian sergeant, W. T. Brophy, emptied the drum of a Lewis gun into 200 who had approached in ignorance, and set horses and men rolling and kicking on the ground. In the village the pack-mules were shot; Sergeant Murphy left the place last, galloping out with his Lewis gun on the saddle. Captain Nichol, who had walked back to the village to help, was killed and brave efforts to retrieve his body failed.

From that time onwards hour after hour the, rear-guard just succeeded in keeping the pressing enemy away from the slowly retreating column. A very few refugees still stayed with Savige and “fought magnificently,” but most of them dropped the Lewis gun drums and disappeared. Many of the strongest men among the Christians, and the best armed, were leading the flight miles in rear. During the weeks of dreadful retreat that followed, they persistently seized the best mounts, leaving behind their women and children to struggle on foot and often to fall into the hands of the Kurds. They had fought stoutly enough in the defense of Urmia, but now that they were in British protection Aga Petross had little influence, with them; even some Russian mountain gunners with their guns pressed on among the fugitives.

On this first day Savige and a native leader once, by threat of shooting, induced a dozen armed Christians to charge with them at the Kurds pressing the column. Savige shot one raider with his revolver and they were temporarily scared away. Meanwhile a message had been sent asking the officer of the Hussars to reinforce; and after seven hours of desperate fighting, now driven back on to the tail of the column, the rear-guard heard English shouts behind, and saw twelve cavalrymen lining the next ridge in rear. They were not the whole force that Savige had asked for, but a party that had been policing the road along which the crowd was streaming. Their sergeant happened to intercept Savige’s message, and; on reading it, came with admirable decision straight to help the party, which was almost completely exhausted. This reinforcement, with its well-controlled fire, had immediate effect. Later the arrival at last of fifty of Aga Petross’ men caused the Turks to make off, and enabled Savige’s party to be relieved. Reeling in their saddles, they rode into the night’s camp just as the main body of cavalry, for whose assistance they had been praying, rode out to assist.

On the same day Dr. Shedd, relieved of his long anxieties, had reached the British camp with “a buoyancy,” says his wife, “that I had not seen for months.” Two hours later he became ill. The retirement could not stop, and after a terrible night he died by the road, of cholera.

From that day onwards the protection of the refugees and the retiring convoy did not call for such desperate fighting, though before all the refugees reached, safety they were raided many times, the Kurds on the flanks trying like wild dogs to dash in among them and secure loot or cattle and escape amid the hills before the escort could reach them. Of the escort itself they were, now shy. The cavalry were sent to guard the money, while Savige’s party again brought up the rear. Their greatest distress lay in the necessity for leaving behind to the Kurds many weak and wounded women and children, who, abandoned by their men, could not keep up. To have stayed and died with them would merely have meant leaving the rest of the refugees at the mercy of the enemy. The kindness of killing them, civilised custom refused. Before the crowd reached Bijar a big raid projected by 400 tribesmen from the hills flanking the route was averted by a demonstration with Aga Petross’ horsemen. After perhaps the most dreadful retreat in the war, on August 17th the rear-guard reached Bijar. What with overstrain and sickness Savige’s party was at the end of its tether; only four of its members, it is said, were able to serve again in the war. The further retreat was guarded mostly by others. Of the 80,000 Christians that fled from Urmia, some 50,000 eventually reached the Persian road, their path to and along which was lined with the corpses of the weaker members that died by the way.

It was decided to enlist at Bijar a number of Aga Petross’ soldiers with the object of retaking Urmia; but Lieutenant” Colonel McCarthy, a South African, who was sent up with the Assyrian leader to make, the attempt, found these warriors leading the retreat, and no orders or exhortation could check them.: He returned to Hamadan to “stop them even if I have to use machine-guns to do it.” Outside Hamadan the strongest men were “enlisted”, according to one account, by sending a platoon of the 1/4th Hampshire in extended order thifough their camp with fixed bayonets to round them up. The remainder — whose transport crowded the Persian road just when clear communications were needed for the crisis at Baku — were sent to a concentration camp at Baquba near Baghdad, The recruits were formed at Abshineh, near Hamadan, into the “Urmia” (or “Native Christian”) Brigade of some 2,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry, commanded by Captain Hendersonand staffed and trained by other Dunsterforce officers or N.C.O’s, Captain Latchford (A.I.F.) being staff-captain. Among the tasks of the staff were those of stopping the native Christians from leaking to Baghdad, or “robbing and killing the neighbouring Persians; of trying to satisfy G.H.Q. as to the precise numbers of the force, of which the keeping of a daily tally was beyond all possibility; and of satisfying the visiting Relief Commission. The inspecting officer from G.H.Q., fortunately, was understanding. “All right, my boy, do your best,” he told Henderson. “I’ll explain things down below, but, for, goodness sake, don’t shoot anybody! The Archbishop of Canterbury is interested in these people, and we must look after them as best we can.” The Relief Commission told G.H.Q. that the brigade was in good hands, but noted that no arrangements were made for the men to have a hot bath!

The methods of discipline, employed by the Dunsterforce officers and N.C.O’s had an oversea directness in them, and Latchford likens the keen training methods to those of “young sheepdogs practising on the fowls.” The native officers were given blue arm-bands, the native N.C.O’s red. But they were still far from understanding their elementary responsibilities, when the threat of a Turkish thrust in the direction of the Persian road caused two of the battalions to be hurried to distant stations, the third following in October to Bijar.

Their story may here be traced to its end. When, owing to Allenby’s progress in Palestine, the threat to Persia died away, they were brought back to Mesopotamia to refit with the object of retaking Urmia. The armistice caused this project to be abandoned, and the Brigade was disbanded. After the war an attempt at repatriating some of the Assyrians failed. Others enlisted in the Iraq levies employed by the British during their control of the country under mandate. This increased the Assyrians’ tendency to arrogance, and enmity arose between them and the Iraquis. Consequently when, in 1932, the British left Iraq, this section of the Assyrians became the victims of another massacre. The surviving 20,000 were gathered into a refugee camp at Mosul, and the League of Nations, after exploring the possibility of settling them in Brazil and British Guiana, accepted the offer of the French Government to allow their transplantation in Syria.

MIANEH AND LENKORAN

To return to the time of the, Baku crisis — in conformity with their advance on that vital centre the Turks also pushed forward, 2,000 strong, from Tabriz and on September 5th drove back the posts of the Dunsterforce from beyond Mianeh. After occupying that place, they advanced towards the Kazvin road. Parts of the 39th Brigade and of the artillery intended for Baku had at the end of August been diverted, despite Dunsterville’s urgency, to Bijar, and a column (Sweet’s) was now hastily organised and sent from Hamadan to Zenjan, setting out on September I4th, the day on which Baku was evacuated. Australian wireless stations in Persia were at this time being replaced by British stations whose apparatus was in motor lorries; but No. 9 station, just relieved in Hamadan, was called on to accompany this column, and, though it was a “wagon” set, it made the difficult journey by routes fit only for pack animals.

The evacuation of Baku also rendered most difficult the position of the handful of the Dunsterforce and Australian wireless men in Prisheb near Lenkoran, where the Russians naturally felt themselves “let down.” The local troops under Major Hunt beat back one raid by the Tartars, but on October 18th Hunt had to save his party by making a bolt with it to Enzeli in a stolen Russian motor lorry. The Australian operators stayed on at Enzeli and worked the wireless there until February 1919.

With the evacuation of Baku General Dunsterville’s command ended, his force in north-west Persia now becoming part of the. “Norperforce,” commanded (under General Marshall) by Major-General Thomson, under whom the efforts to secure naval control of the Caspian continued. At this juncture the situation was entirely changed by the great victories following General Allenby’s attack of September 19th in Palestine, and by the continuous advance of the Allies begun on September I5th in the Salonica theatre. The Turkish army which Enver had been wasting in the Caucasus and Persia was the only Turkish reserve; divisions had to be constantly withdrawn, and danger of further advances of the Turks towards the Persian road speedily vanished.

The work of the Dunsterforce proper had now ended. Its officers were given the choice of returning to their former units, of joining Indian battalions, or of continuing to serve with Norperforce. Almost all its Australian members had left for Australia by March IQIQ. Although the Mission had failed in its original purpose, it succeeded in barring hostile agents from entrance to Persia at a critical juncture. The averting of the Jangali menace — a very serious one at the time — was due largely to Bicherakov; but that splendid soldier would not have been there had not Dunsterville established with him the loyal relationship which induced him to remain. The Dunsterforce gave the British a magnificent name through the parts of the Orient in which it operated; and for those to whom British honour is a tradition worthy of maintenance, it must always be a matter for satisfaction that the conduct of the Empire’s activities in those regions was in the hands of one so sensitive to its implications as General Dunsterville, As for the other members of his Mission, as things turned out, its duties being largely famine relief and the organisation of supply, a staff skilled in Oriental languages and with knowledge of the country and its people would probably have been more suited for the bulk of the work. But this grand body of fighters adapted itself excellently to its tasks; and, whenever it Came, to taking responsibility in dangerous enterprises, and to desperate fighting as at Sain Kala and Baku, the special quality of the Dunsterforce was fully displayed.

MESOPOTAMIA AFTER BAKU

In Mesopotamia, during the months of the Baku crisis, there were no large, operations. On the contrary, the army there had been used partly as a reservoir of trained troops for employment elsewhere. The cavalry division had been broken up in April, its brigades being afterwards used separately; the Australian signal squadron, whose commander, Captain Payne, had died of smallpox, was employed for expanding the wireless squadron (now commanded by Major White) when the New Zealanders left. General Marshall, whose force now consisted of the i3th British and I4th, 15th, I7th, and i8th Indian Divisions, and three cavalry brigades, was informed on October 2nd by the War Office that, owing to the Allies’ victories in Palestine and Bulgaria, the Turks might shortly ask for an armistice. He was accordingly to press forward on the Tigris and possibly also on the Euphrates, where a cavalry raid might help Allenby’s cavalry in an advance on Aleppo. Marshall pointed out that his efforts were limited by the fact that nearly all his transport was in Persia, but he would plan an advance up the Tigris. The suggested thrust towards Aleppo, 350 miles from his Railhead, was impossible with the transport available. When the offensive up the Tigris was launched, the Turkish Government had already asked the British Government for an armistice. The position attacked was a line astride Fat-ha gorge, where the great river breaks through the Jabal Hamrin. Lieutenant-General Cobbe (1 Corps) intended to turn the enemy’s eastern flank, but the Turks withdrew on October 24th northwards, to Mushak, fifteen miles back, where next day they were found again, near the Mosul road west of the Tigris. The fords of the Little Zab, east of the Tigris, had now been cleared of them by the nth Cavalry Brigade, and on the right flank possible reinforcements from Kurdistan were being kept away by a light force (with No. 8 station) under Brigadier-General Lewin advancing from Tuz Khurmatli to Kirkuk and eventually to Altun Kopri, which the Turks abandoned.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 02 Aug 2008 22:42    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

On October 26th, when the new I7th Indian Division attacked the Turks at Mushak, the mobile forces were launched on one of the most difficult and effective cavalry operations of the war. Part of the nth Cavalry Brigade (General Cassels) made a detour through desert country to the east, passing over the, Jabal Hamrin at Ain Nukhaila (where water had been carried fifty miles in Ford vans, and No. 13 Motor Wireless Station with a column under Lieutenant-Colonel Bridges was heavily bombed). After a long forced march Cassels’ horsemen crossed the Tigris by a difficult ford above Sharqat, far in rear of the Turks, and at 8 p.m. reported by wireless their position across the Turkish line of retreat. Meanwhile the Light Armoured Motor Brigade (generally known as the L.A.M.B.) also had made a wide detour through the desert on the western flank, accompanied by the famous British political officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Leachman. Thence some of the cars had, in full daylight, run into the Turkish lines from the rear, and were mistaken by the enemy for a friendly unit until they suddenly shot down the mules tethered there. Not content with this, the brigade towed a length of the Mosul telegraph line, poles and all, into the desert. With all these columns went Australian wireless detachments, pack or motor. That under Lieutenant Goodman, with the armoured cars, got touch with Lieutenant Houston’s detachment east of the river, attached to Cassels’ force, and with distant Baghdad, but through mechanical troubles could not communicate with the station under Captain Hillary at Headquarters of the I Corps, which was making the infantry attack. The gaps in the chain had to be filled in by sending messages by aeroplane.

The 17th Division’s attack was held up, but at night the Turks fell back to Sharqat. There followed two most trying days—in which the I7th Division in difficult country, with part of the 18th on the eastern flank, hung on to the retiring enemy and attacked, while the cavalry and cars, reinforced by some Indian infantry of the 18th Division, after a forced march of thirty-four miles, in critical fighting barred the way on the north. (It was during this fighting that the commander of the Light Armoured Brigade, Major Sir T. R. L. Thompson, tried to repeat his achievement of running into the Turkish lines. He found himself in No-man’s Land between Cassels’ force and the Turkish rear-guard. His car was disabled by a shell and he was captured. It was known that he had with him the secret list of the Playfair cipher keywords for the following week. An order was therefore immediately sent out to all parts of the force that the complicated emergency cipher must be used. This cipher, however, was known only to the wireless officers and men, and for some time all enciphering and deciphering—usually the duty of staff officers —had to be done by them in addition to their already exacting work with the moving columns. The Australians rose admirably to the crisis, receiving special commendation from the director of signals. Even when, later, the emergency cipher was made available to the general staff, their help was sometimes called in; and the picture of a “digger” sergeant exhorting a despairing junior staff officer (who happened also to be a peer) not to take it to heart as he himself would “fix the … thing” for him (which he forthwith did) is said to be one of the bright memories of the campaign). Meanwhile from farther north a Turkish regiment hurried down in an endeavour to break the investment, but was foiled by the 7th Cavalry Brigade which after brilliantly accomplish­ing a swift march of fifty miles charged and captured it.

As a result, at dawn on October 29th, the whole of the Turkish Tigris Group surrendered. General Cassels, with a flying column, largely cavalry and armoured cars (accompanied by four Australian wireless stations under Lieutenant Goodman) was ordered to push on as fast as possible to destroy the rest of the Sixth Army, but on November ist, twelve miles south of ‘Mosul, it was met by a Turkish party bearing news that an armistice with Turkey had been arranged as from noon on the previous day. Mosul was occupied on November 10th (the Australians took over the relatively powerful Turkish wireless station there). Far north at theCaspian on the I7th the Norperforce in conjunction with Bicherakov reoccupied Baku.

Although active operations had ended, mobile wireless stations were urgently needed by the military administration of turbulent Kurdistan.The Australian Government asked for the return of its stations, but this meant withdrawing at one stroke nearly all the mobile wireless in Mesopotamia. It was eventually arranged that the last troop (”D”) furnished by Australia, which had only been at the front for eleven months, should remain for the present, the places of married men being taken by single ones from the rest of the squadron.

On the 1st of February, 1919 “D” Troop began to operate as a separate unit (Captain Sandars being now senior officer at headquarters and Lieutenant Goodman in charge in the field). In May two of its stations moved from Kirkuk and Mosul into the heart of Kurdistan at Amadiya and Zakho (on the Turkish frontier) respectively. The garrisons — partly of native Christians—were dangerously weak and weakly posted among turbulent and treacherous Kurdish tribes; and on July 15th, shortly after the garrison of Amadiya had been moved to a better position twenty-three miles away on the Suwara Atika pass (whither the wireless station had followed it on June 28th), news came through that the. British political officer at Amadiya and his staff had been murdered. A column — company of Indian infantry, mountain gun, machine-gun, and wireless station, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Leachman — was at once sent from Suwara, but found the Kurds in position far too strong and had to withdraw again (after the wireless station, under fire, had notified Mosul of the situation). This failure set the district aflame. Somewhat similar troubles had occurred at Zakho, a political officer being murdered.

Two columns — Nightingale’s and Lumb’s — were accordingly organised from the 18th Division, and in August began to operate from Suwara and Zakho respectively (each with an Australian pack wireless station). Nightingale’s column, working through mountains 7,000 feet high, surprised one of the ringleaders in his village at Bermaneh; but the Kurds on August I4th boldly attacked Suwara, and, although they were, repelled, the garrison at one time was in considerable danger, Sergeant Rodd working his wireless station to summon help from the column 21 miles away while the Kurds were actually lying under one of the masts of his aerial (which they omitted to cut down) and firing at the, tent in which he was operating.

Lumb’s column, after moving against several villages, was raided by Kurds, who managed to enter its lines. Throughout August and September the two columns moved constantly against the elusive Kurds and their strongholds in this wild country, Indian detachments being more than once ambushed, and Lumb’s column once, at Quovrak, stubbornly attacked. The wireless had often to be erected on exposed hilltops in order to ensure reception of its messages. Atmospherics were most troublesome, and the three stations had constantly to relay each other’s messages. The wireless men did not belie the Anzac reputation, for the Australian sergeant with Lumb’s column received from the column commander the following note: “It may interest you to know that the splendid way you and your men have worked has been noted by all of us. Show them this and tell them that I consider that the soldierly conduct of the station has been the example of the whole column.”

General Cassels also went out of his way to express personally his thanks to all the troops, which incidentally with an establishment for four stations was effectively operating five. The Australian wireless sections in Kurdistan could not be released until these columns returned. It was not till early October that the British wireless squadron raised the necessary reserve stations; and on October 14th the last of “D” Troop returned to Baghdad. On November 9th the troop reached Karachi, and on the 20th of December, 1919, its homeland, the last Australian unit to have been engaged in fighting connected with the Great War. The Australian and New Zealand signal units in Mesopotamia, though frequently under fire, were so fortunate as to lose no life through enemy action; malaria, smallpox, typhus, cholera, enteric, dysentery, and heatstroke were deadlier, and two officers and eighteen of other ranks of the wireless and signal squadrons died in service overseas.


From C.E.W. Bean. The Australian Imperial Force In France During the Main German Offensive. Appendix No.5. Australians in Mesopotamia. 1937

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