Friday, January 16, 2015

January 16th, 1915

- Conrad continues to press Falkenhayn for the deployment of the four new reserve corps on the Eastern Front, sending a telegram today arguing that these formations are urgently required to avoid further setbacks.

- In the Caucasus the Ottoman XI Corps, its flank turned by elements of the Russian II Turkestan Corps, begins today to withdraw westward, crossing the frontier back into the Ottoman Empire.  Its retreat marks the effective end of the Battle of Sarikamish.  Though it has suffered heavy casualties over the past three weeks, at least it still has some semblance of fighting capability.  To the north X Corps has been retreating for the past two weeks, and consists of only three thousand survivors.  IX Corps, finally, has ceased to exist.

The Battle of Sarikamish has been a crushing Ottoman defeat, and while the Russians played a role, ultimately the Ottoman offensive was broken by the terrain and the weather.  Trudging through waist-deep snow along mountain ranges, the Ottman 3rd Army had suffered 25 000 casualties before they even began their attack at Sarikamish.  The bitter cold claimed thousands of lives each night, and on occasion entire encampments would freeze to death, nothing remaining but ice-cold corpses in tent after tent.  After the battle the Russians would find 30 000 frozen Ottoman soldiers around Sarikamish alone.  In such conditions, even the slightest wound was fatal - it is estimated that 20 000 lightly-wounded Ottomans froze to death before medical attention could reach them.  Precise casualty figures for the Ottomans simply don't exist - thousands vanished forever in the remote mountains and valleys of the Caucasus.  Estimates for total Ottoman losses range from 75 000 to 90 000.  In comparison, the remaining effective strength of the Ottoman 3rd Army was less than 15 000 after the battle.

Frozen Ottoman soldiers outside Sarikamish, January 1915.

The Russian victory at Sarikamish has been absolute, and has secured the Russian frontier in the Caucasus.  The battle's importance, however, is far more wide-reaching.  At the start of the Ottoman offensive, Enver Pasha had broadcast that it was the beginning of a great pan-Turkic movement that would liberate all Turkic peoples from the Russian yoke.  Raising the stakes meant for Enver raising the consequences of defeat.  Many Turkic people within the Russian Caucasus had adopted a wait-and-see approach, instead of rising in rebellion, when the Ottomans invaded, and in the aftermath of Sarikamish conclude that loyalty to Russia is their only viable option.  The Russian victory thus not only safeguards the frontier with the Ottoman Empire, but also reduces the need to garrison the interior of the Caucasus, freeing up soldiers to be redeployed elsewhere on the Eastern Front.

Even more than the discrediting of Enver's pan-Turkic appeal is the impact of Sarikamish on the Ottoman effort to unify all Muslims behind their leadership in a jihad against the Entente.  The end of the battle comes just two months after the summons to holy war, and the defeat is interpreted as a sign not only of continued Ottoman decline, but of their inability to transform words into action.  Muslims throughout the British, French, and Russian empires conclude that, given the apparently dim prospects of Ottoman victory, answering the summons to jihad would simply be inviting their own destruction at the hands of their colonial masters.  Sarikamish is thus vital in limiting the potential of Muslim insurrection in the colonial world, and frustrating the German aim of using their Ottoman allies to set aflame the empires of their enemies.  As such, the Battle of Sarikamish is one of the most important and decisive of the entire war.

No comments:

Post a Comment