Left with Hoskyn and Bray to Kasvin.
Settling up with my Russian friends and handing over – A last bathe in the Caspian.
A wire telling me to return to Baghdad. I am not offended. I have done excellent work under trying conditions, and produced very good results out of nothing in spite of apathy and misunderstanding of War Office and Baghdad. But after my telegrams they had no course but to relieve me and to try me, I suppose by Court Martial. Thank God Rawlinson and his little steamer arrived all well after having run a heavy gauntlet of fire. Armenian refugees a great problem.
I am always on the move on Sundays. Here we are, on the Kruger, steaming back to Enzeli with the remnant of the brave 39th Brigade. At last the crisis, so long waited for, has come and gone, and God has been good to us. The final assault of the Turks began at 4 a.m. yesterday, by 11 a.m. they were holding the heights above the town and soon after were driving in our right. Our troops, the Staffords, Warwicks and Worcesters, fought magnificently and their 800 rifles coupled with our artillery and the local artillery under our control – about 40 guns – bore the whole brunt of the battle against, perhaps, 7000 Turks – the armoured cars too, did splendid work. At 4 p.m. I learnt that the Baku troops were, as usual, retiring, instead of fighting, and leaving my troops exposed. Bicherakov’s men and his artillery did splendidly – the Armenians were no use. I, accordingly, sent Bray with a note to the Dictators informing them that now the situation was definitely lost, I proposed to take my troops on board as soon as it was dark and sail for Enzeli. He found the Dictators in a state of bewilderment and they practically said “Do what you please.”
At 10 p.m. we were just ready to sail, when 2 Dictators came on board, Lemlin and Sadovsky, with orders for me to send my troops back to their positions and not to sail till I got their permission. I decided to risk it with lights out, so ordered each ship to move off independently for Enzeli and if pulled up by superior force (a gun-boat for instance) yield and parley. So far, I do not know the fate of the others. At 1 p.m. I was on the bridge with the Captain, the Commodore and Hoskyn – we tried to creep by the guardship, but she twigged us and gave three whistles to stop, we answered 3 whistles which meant assent; and then went full speed ahead. She was at anchor so unable to chase, but she opened fire as long as we were in range and effected nothing. Brave sailors! Three pompom shot came over the bridge and the man at the wheel dropped the wheel and ran like a hare. The Captain an A1 fellow, took the wheel and we carried on. And here we are in this beautiful scenery, moving merrily with a light breeze over a rippling sea as if there were never any wars in the world. In the meantime Persia has tumbled to pieces – Urmieh has fallen, the Turks are advancing in Hamadan and Kasvin, and goodness knows what lies ahead of us – chased from pillar to post. I sent a very strong wire to Baghdad and the War Office, pointing out that their policy was a bad one, but even then I could have got through if they had not run even their “bad” policy badly. They object to my impertinent criticisms, and state they would remove me from my command if they could do so, but they cannot. My conduct will be gone into later – so I suppose I shall be tried by Court Martial.
Both yesterday and the day before they shelled my H.Q. offices in the Hotel d’Europe very heavily, and very well, one high explosive burst in the room next the hall where we were all standing, blew everything to smithereens and killed no one.
I think the intention of the Baku Government was, after we had done all the fighting for them, to use us as one of their pawns for securing good conditions: “we will surrender to you British General Staff, etc etc.” It would have been a great asset to them. While the fight was in progress I visited Gen. Dokuchaev, Russian C.-in-C. at intervals throughout the day. He was driven mad by allowing himself to be worried by all sorts of nonentities and spent most of his time answering telephone calls – good fellow, but useless. I found Vosskresensky, whom I regard as quite a worthless youth – actually holding him by the lappels of his coat and shaking him, and I had to interfere and V. out of the way.
I was very anxious indeed about the other boats’ adventures and thanked God very deeply when I found all in the harbour except the little Armenian with which Col. Rawlinson had left loaded up with ammunition from the Arsenal.
Providence throughout guided us. The wharf from which I had originally planned the evacuation, was, I now see, quite unsuitable, under shell-fire, and in full observation of the town, who would have mobbed my soldiers. I was driven by circumstances to the new wharf which was on the edge of town and extraordinarily suitable for the purpose.
A woman was shot by her lover on the next wharf at lunch time and her screams were dreadful – it was regarded as an ordinary occurrence. These wicked Armenians never cease their Mahomedan atrocities. Last night they raided a Tartar house and when Russian soldiers went to restore order, the Captain’s son was shot and the ship is in mourning to-day – No shelling yesterday. A nasty lull. After many interviews I met, in the evening, for the first time, a representative of the Daghestani-Mahomedans, who put the Daghestani point of view very clearly before me. We have restored order in the Arsenal and have the ammunition supply well in hand. Machine guns and Artillery also – the present supply can be made to last 6 months.
Days are very busy. To-day I saw Lt. Maurice of the French Army about certain secret matters connected with the oil-fields, then Captain Noel about some mills that want shuttles from England to increase supply, we to purchase increased supply and exchange for grain in ports where cash is not accepted – we get back to barter in these days, also about Noel’s plans for the N. Caucasus where Pike has been killed and I propose Noel takes his place. Then Mr. Clarke Head of the Food Control about food supplies for population here, 300,000. Then Gendre the Social Revolutionary about his plots, then Araratiantz the Armenian about Armenian Army Reform, then Chardigny about wiring present situation to Paris – then Ragozin about his plans, Albizzi about the Russian armed cars. In the evening 5 p.m. a Georgian Prince re Tartar affairs and hopes. Then a Committee meeting at the War Minister, Bogratuni, reorganization. Then Captain Colmanautz, re the situation in Erivan, Major Conrans en route to Bicherakov with instructions, Colonel Rawlinson re destruction of bridges.
The enemy have a map of the town and are, of course, accurately informed of my movements. They know I have tea on board the Kruger at 4.30 p.m. And they have a spy observer here to direct their fire. On Saturday at tea-time they began to fire and one could note the careful observation, first shot near the cathedral, next more towards me, and so, one by one till they got one straight between the masts that fell in the sea a few yards away without exploding, then the observer signalled all correct and we got 2 rounds battery fire straight on to the Kruger. But you don’t hit what you aim at, you hit the things near – so two steamers on the next wharves were hit and all started steaming out into the bay. But the Kruger, the cause of all the trouble, remained fast, and the firing ceased, as they are not too well off for ammunition.
I have Captain Noel with me here, a fine fellow. He has been 6 months in prison with Kuchik Khan, where he was in chains and flogged and was released after I had made peace with Kuchik – he seems none the worse for his troubles. I took him out to the front to see the position at Binagardi, and on the way back I found my H.Q. in the Hotel d’Europe heavily being shelled. I couldn’t pull up the car and take cover in front of the fleeing populace, so we just had to head straight into the storm – it was unpleasant with bricks and mortar flying around, and the most terrific bangs, but I was very much watched, so had to sit up and look as if I like it.
As I reached the Hotel, the firing was over – one shell had burst in Wither’s bed-room next my Q. Office – destroyed the room and hit no one. Two burst in the road and smashed all the windows and a balcony, one set a house on fire alongside, but the fire-brigade were out in no time, in very good order and soon got the fire under control. Artillery fire is terrifying, but in a town its effect is very small unless it is the big shells that no one in this country possesses.
Thank goodness and thank God for many mercies. Bicherakov’s first detachment arrived to-day from Petrovsk* and things, for the moment, look very good indeed. London and Baghdad keep on telling me to leave Baku at once and I finally and firmly refuse – so how it will all end I do not know. I have sent the strongest telegrams that have ever been sent, but they contain nothing but what is true and right and what can be substantiated. Both Baghdad and London have been criminal in their outlook on the strategy, and even now they do not seem to realize that the capture of Baku by the Turks is a far bigger thing for them than the capture of Baghdad by us, was for us. In the evening I had to attend an anniversary dinner for the battle of the Marne, given by the Belgian Consul, who is an Armenian. The guests were some 12 prominent Armenians, Col. Chardigny and one French officer, one Russian, and the Armenian priest in full and very picturesque robes. The table was quite a wonderful sight and the guests more so. There were many speeches – too many – and I got away after two hours on a genuine plea of work.
* I can find two Petrovsks, one in central Russia near Moscow and one to the south-east of Moscow on the border with Kazakhstan. I presume it is the latter, but await further confirmation.
Rather heavier shelling last night. Bray was robbed of everything, including gold cigarette case and 6000 roubles, the thief had to pass through my room in and out, and never touched a thing of mine – I am perpetually surrounded with miracles, and God is very good – but when I say that, I feel “smug” as if I were deserving of special protection and Bray were not.
The enemy made no attack? Why? still more miracles.
We still hold the town, I don’t know how, one can only believe in God’s miracles; the time is not yet, but it may be any minute. These Baku troops are terrible. Last night at sunset my Inspecting officer visited the line and found at the most dangerous point and a probably point of attack, no one, when there should have been 1500 men and 2 machine guns. In another place where there should have been a whole Armenian battalion there were 75 men. Water melons cost 20 roubles, a bottle of natural mineral water 4 roubles. 1 egg 2½ roubles – a small meal 50 roubles, just one plate of meat, one plate of pudding, and so on. My day is spent in interviewing and squabbling with different people. I have had two serious rows with the 5 Dictators, who represent the Government, but we love each other now. They, poor fellows, have no real power which is in the hands of the Committees and their position is very difficult indeed.
Shelling the town quite heavily last night. The French Colonel Chardigny [Chief of the French Military Mission in the Caucasus and Tiflis] is very jumpy. I am not naturally brave in the least. But I pray for the courage I have not got, and that is the sort of prayer which meets with an immediate answer, and I am as calm as if I were at Bishopsteignton. I never can believe in the answer to prayer for material things, the other prayers are always answered. Six well aimed shells fired at me personally on Binagardi Hill the other day while I was examining the enemy’s position, left me quite unmoved and the thought of any danger was quite absent from my mind. There being no other firing but these 6 shots one could hear the approach of each shell quite clearly and all one thought of was what a harmless sounding noise it was for an instrument that was on the point of exploding and tearing people to pieces.