Settling up with my Russian friends and handing over – A last bathe in the Caspian.
4.30 p.m. we have just fought the first naval battle of the Caspian, and not very nobly. Never got to Derbend at all. Just off Derbend a suspicious looking vessel, probably Bolshevik, signalled to us to come alongside. The Captain asked me for orders – I said is she any sort of ship with authority to make such a demand. He said, No, it is the Usbeg*, long since in Bolshevik hands – whereupon I said “full steam ahead!” On this the steamer opened fire with some small gun, probably a 3 inch, fired some 4 or 5 shots for a period of a quarter of an hour all round us, and close, but no hits and we, being able to steam faster, got away. Changed course and now steam back to Baku to insist on mounting guns on all ships – otherwise we shall get done in some day by one of these pirates.
* I cannot identify this vessel but it is worth noting that Usbeg can mean a ‘member of a Turkic people of Uzbekistan and neighbouring areas’ (definition from here).
Now the time has come to cross the Caspian Sea we get on to stormy weather and we shall all be very sick. The mail boat was unable to leave last night and we sail to-night.
Looks as if I might still have a chance of saving Baku from Turks and Germans. The Bolshevik power has been thrown out and I am going to try and get across the Caspian at last. I have frequent interviews with the Bolshevik leaders and the Social Revolutionaries. The former came to lunch – the latter are more amenable.
The War Office wire absolutely forbidding me to go to the Caucasus at the present time, so the Germans will get the Baku oil, the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Caspian Sea. It is very hard and disappointing. I am to look after Persia only. I suppose Percy Sykes‘ troubles in Southern Persia make them anxious, then Kuchik Khan at Resht, the Turks in Tabriz, the hopelessness of the civil war in Baku and the financial cost – they cannot produce the money. I wired estimated minimum cost 5 million sterling a month.
* for information about the significance of the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Baku oil-fields, see here.
Is this to be another case of “too late”? – if nothing has yet happened I honestly believe it is as much due to my policy of ingratiating myself with the people as anything else, that they are quiet so far – But it is vile being helpless without troops. German and Austrian Agents plot against us, the town is full of Turks, the Bolsheviks or Red Guards have a plot to seize the Bank and I could not stop them with my 40 chauffeurs. It is just all bluff, my 40 Ford cars – which are an appalling element of weakness – strike the inhabitants as death-dealing machines, and my brave chauffeurs, who hardly know one end of a gun from another, look like fine soldiers. But distances are enormous – we are over 300 miles from Baghdad – Persia on the verge of a revolution with the cry “kick out the Europeans” and no troops. I have done my best, in sending fierce cables, and the War Office are at last awake to it, but Baghdad is very lethargic. The War Office want me to obtain command of the Caspian Sea – I’ve thought of that all the time – I could seize the gun-boats with a small force, but can’t they see I must have at least one port? If I can get Bicherakov to capture and hold the Menjil Bridge, Resht and Enzeli I might do something – but he is not up to it.
Owing to the secrecy of my arrangements, I am called the Commander of the “Hush, Hush Army”. I blossomed into a Major-General yesterday – as it was obviously foreseen Daisie had made the holes for the new resplendent stars. After fixing up all plans to start, I get a wire to say that Enzeli, my destination on the Caspian Sea, has been seized by some horrid fellows called Jangalis (a very suggestive name) who are intensely anti-British and are in the pay of Germans. It will have to be plot and counter-plot.
These long journeys are full of dramatic change. I am just waiting to jump off into darkness and eternity for a space, with a fair hope of emerging on the far side, and here I have a pantomime with string band and as I stand on the verandah at night, the romantic Tigris flowing as it has flowed for many thousand years, and the moon-light on the water, and everything good the world holds except Daisie to share the beauty and romance of it – but women have no romance!