Sarikamis | 26 Dec 1914

Back to that lovely war. Hurrah. Well, mostly. There are some areas of the Western Front where good feelings can’t be dispersed so easily with a few disapproving orders from some remote brass hat.

Western Front

Perhaps the most successful exchange of good feelings has happened in the section of line held by the 1/6th Gordon Highlanders. As their name suggests, they’re a Territorial unit. They’ve also found themselves opposite a particularly friendly German unit (with a high number of men who’d lived in England before the war), and the truce continues in full flow. The battalion war diary records several cases of the filthy, unshaven men sitting quiescently in a shell-hole as a German barber gives them all a quick haircut and shave.

In many other areas, British and French, fighting resumes in name only. Bombardments and fusillades are deliberately aimed high or short. The French high command, desperate to get on with the war, is laying plans to renew the offensives. The rains have laid off for the past couple of days, and they’re missing a valuable chance to, erm, capture a couple of villages and liberate a windmill or two. Reinforcements are sent to Perthes and Carency.

Sarikamis

Cheerfully ignoring the pessimism of their generals, the Russians holding Sarikamis are in aggressive mood. Before dawn, the Frontier Guards and some odds and sods march off towards the Bardiz Pass, at the end of the Top Yol. They install themselves on top of a likely-looking hill, and wait for the enemy to arrive.

When the freezing, hungry, exhausted Turks drag themselves into sight, they immediately come under heavy sniper fire. Constantly taking casualties, they press forward. The snipers fall back under covering fire to the next hill, and repeat the exercise. The Turkish advance grinds to a halt. When night falls, the Russians head back to their beds in Sarikamis. The Turks are again left to sleep in the open. All along the road behind them, exhausted men are being forced to do the same thing.

The Turks’ effective rifle strength is plummeting so sharply that another stroke of terrible fortune actually ends up working in their favour. A Russian cavalry patrol somewhere in the mountains has captured the 28th Division’s chief of staff. It should be no surprise that he’s carrying a complete set of orders and dispositions for the attack. When the orders percolate through to Russian headquarters, they’re taken exactly at their word. Commanders become convinced that the Turks are advancing exactly on time and in full strength all round.

Ardahan

While all this is going on, a separate Turkish force has marched to the north and occupied Ardahan. Today, the Siberian Cossack Brigade sets out from Tiflis on the four-day journey to do something about it. There’s very little in the relevant archives about the Battle of Ardahan, even for speakers of Ottoman and Russian. Information about it is very hard to come by. I’ll do my best.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Artois (First Artois)
Battle of Champagne (First Champagne)
Battle of Sarikamis
Battle of Ardahan

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