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).
I attended the Russian Church Service yesterday and I’m afraid the people looked more at me than at the holy images. To-day I was cinematographed, so my features go down in history.
To-night I sail for Derbend. The situation here is critical from a military point of view, but good from a political. But changes come rapidly and the present Government may be thrown out any minute. Bicherakov is doing splendidly and I feel I deserve credit for the one thing that I have trusted him throughout against everyone’s opinion. The War Office cable me not to trust him, the Baghdad people do the same, all Russians do the same. Had I not fought against their views the fat would, indeed, have been in the fire. Bicherakov has been magnificently successful so far, and all my success has been due to him. I am teaching the people here to understand him. The Chief of Staff, Avitisov, hates him, however, we have sent the Chief of Staff off on sick leave and things will be better. Bob [Keyworth, Stalky’s brother-in-law] does very well in command here and the scheme is one of those rare ones where an artillery man is the best man. Got wireless on board and sailed at 9 p.m. for Derbend, weather fine. We heard Alexiev had taken Astrakhan which was good news, now we hear not A. but anarchist sailors from the Baltic which is bad news. I am always being cinematographed and to-day I was filmed while addressing some refugees on board a ship going to Krasnovodsk. Baku is terribly weak and I hope it will not fall during my absence.
* I cannot identify Alexiev or Avitisov; if anyone else can I would be very interested to know more.
Very hot. We bathe in the Sea every morning at 6.30 a.m. I interview people all day long. Complications increase frightfully. Delays are terrible, no convoy ever arrives when expected and Baku just hangs on a thread – all the cars break down and everything seems against me. In addition to all the Persian strings, I have Baku, now Krasnovodsk begs for troops, and Lenkoran, and Bicherakov at Derbend, and the Russian colony at Meshed-i-sar and the Jangalis threaten to attack here, and everyone is against us – but God is with us. My temperament is a calm one or I should go mad. Baku and all the others begin to think I am leaving them in the lurch. I am left in the lurch myself by Baghdad and by the motor-cars. And I run all this with one half size Brigade – it’s worse bluff than any game of poker!