Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Battle of Baku, August, 1918

During the Summer of 1918, Turkey created its “Army of Islam” con-sisting of the 5th, 15th Divisions, later the 10th also joined. Having been defeated in Palestine, the Turks looked for easier prey and this was the Trancaucasus-Caspian area of Azerbaijan. This newly formed country asked Turkey for protection from the Bolsheviks, which also wanted the area. The Reds were defeated in late June but they remained in control of Baku until mid July. At that time, the Reds were ousted and fled. The Armenians and White Russians under Bicherakhov now controlled the oil-rich area of Baku-which was the objective of all warring parties. Turkey, like the British, saw Baku’s worth in its oil and ordered its army to march hundreds of miles to seize it despite Germany’s strong protests (who wanted it also through political means). By the end of July, the Turks were fast approaching Baku. This prompted the British to send Dunsterforce, 1000 men, to Baku, all arrived in the nick of time. The situation for the British was dire from the start. The White Russians amounted to not more than 1300 men. The Armenian Army of Baku consisted of 23 battalions, maybe 7000, but totally unreliable and worthless militarily. This opposed a Turk army of 12-14,000 men.

Despite the odds in Turkish favor, its commander, Pasha, was leery of several things: the Germans, who might cut their supply route; the British and their actual numbers, which he did not know, and the return of the Bolshevik. This apprehension was called a “miracle” by the British and allowed them to prepare some sort of defense. The British knew that the Turks could take Baku anytime they chose to. For weeks, the Turks did nothing and then began an attack at Mud Volcano on the 26th. They were repelled five times before they took it, a few miles NW of Baku. On the 31st, they attacked again with small numbers at Binagadi Hill, routing an Armenian unit but stopped by a British battalion.

From Sept 1-13th, nobody did much. On the 14th, the Turks sent 6000 men at Wolf’s Gate, the gateway through the cliffed ridges that protected Baku and held by the British. Fighting at 10 to 1 odds, somehow, the Turks only managed to reach the top and no further, now the British mission turned from defend Baku to evacuation in a costly withdrawal type battle until all British troops evacuated. This was done by 10 p.m.

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