1918 – September 15

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.

1918 – September 5

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.

1918 – September 1

Well Baku still holds out though truly it is just a prolonged miracle – there is no order or discipline in the town, the 5 Dictators Yermakov, Lemlin, Verluntz and 2 others are as weak as water, they are all young, about 25 to 30 and I do not believe in councils without grey-beards. There is no order, discipline or organisation among the troops. They retire whenever the enemy attack, and my troops are annihilated owing to failure of support. I told some Armenian troops to occupy a position already prepared and they entrenched because the enemy were about to attack it. They refused to go, because the enemy were about to attack it. Alice in Wonderland again. Yesterday a regiment was ordered to the front. They held a meeting to decide whether to go or not. The votes were 30% for and 70% against. The 30% were real stout fellows, and opened fire on the 70% to punish them or compel them to go. The bullets whizzed near one of our armoured cars who telephone to the Commander: “If they don’t stop I shall open fire on the lot of them.” The Commander replied “Please do!”

The town is shelled a good deal by day and night, but the inhabitants are getting accustomed to it and the small shell do very little harm except making a big bang and the sickly swains and their haughty little girls continue their nightly promenade undisturbed. My steamer on the wharf is the point most aimed at, but it is at the very end of their extreme range and the shells fall short in the town and mostly in cemeteries when the old dead are killed once more. One shell destroyed a ship’s boat just behind the stern – a very good shot. I did not like the risk of the big ammunition dump on the wharf just outside my porthole, so I wrote an urgent note for its removal. While writing, there was a bang, and a shell exploded absolutely in the middle of it, smashing open a case of shells and wounding slightly 2 sentries and nothing more. The Commander in Chief, General Dokuchaev, is a good fellow, not strong, and in a most difficult position. His Chief of the Staff Avelisov (Armenian) is weak, ill, and useless. I have asked them to kick him out and put in Stokes instead. The next Staff Officer, Van der Fless is not bright. The Minister of War, Bogratuni, Armenian, has just had his leg amputated. He is clever but not a forceful character.

To-day the Turks captured Diga* without much difficulty, though Diga was a strong point as had promised to put up a stout defence. They go from success to success and God only knows why they do not walk straight into the town. They must be quite rotten, and if only I had troops for a counter-attack I could destroy the whole lot of them. Unless they have the bad luck to come against a detachment of my brave 900 (Warwicks, Worcesters, Nr. Staffords, Gloucesters) they just come through without casualties. In vain I point out the harmlessness of artillery-fire except when it is used in the intensity of the French front which the Turks can never do. Casualties from Artillery are so far almost nil. The question is how to save the wretched population from the impending massacre – all these women and children (some 80,000 of them, I suppose) all promenading every evening on the boulevards by the electric light and quite unconscious that in any hour’s time they may be having their throats slit by the Turks. So I called a meeting in the Hotel d’Europe, of the Dictators, the Fleet, the Army, and the Armenian National Council and I exploded on them the following bomb:-

“It is time to come to some final decision regarding the fate of Baku. Surmises and hopes must be placed on one side and only facts considered. The facts are as follows:- My troops alone fight, they are only 900 and no more reinforcements are coming. The Turks are in every attack victorious and can enter the town whenever they have the pluck to come straight in. The town troops go from bad to worse – I was present at a War Council last night when the General’s plans were overridden by a common sailor. Plans of that sort are valueless – I was present this morning at the front when Binagardi Hill was taken. At the moment when a small counter-attack could have retaken the Hill. I found the entire citizen army loafing back into Baku with their hands in their pockets and their backs to the enemy. I then again visited the C-in-C. and discussed his future plans. I have since thought the matter quietly over and my final advice to you is this: Why study the map and discuss the value of positions when you know from experience that your troops, when ordered to attack, invariably retire? That being the case, why needlessly prolong the agony and risk the lives of all your noncombatants? I will no longer throw away in vain the lives of my brave soldiers. I am about to withdraw my troops entirely and leave Baku to its fate – I will go to Krasnovodsk and start a fresh and more useful movement in Turkestan [Turkmenistan]. I will hold on till to-morrow to give you a chance of negotiations. Send at once a flag of truce to surrender the town to the enemy and suggest the following terms (but strengthen your line first with every available man): If you will give us 48 hours to remove all our women and children and our forces from Baku we will surrender the town to you intact. If you refuse we will fight to the bitter end. Your losses will be heavy and we shall destroy all the electric power stations and the irreplaceable machinery that pumps the oil to Batoum and which is the only thing that makes the town worth capturing – you want the oil for the railways and for the Black Sea fleet – and you will be foiled in that attempt and your efforts will have been in vain.”

There was a great hubbub and excitement among the members. Each knew that what I said was true, yet none had dared, up to now, to put it in words. The town has been twice saved by a miracle sent direct from God. On July 26th and August 5th. We cannot expect a third miracle. After a little talk in which rather bitter remarks were thrown at my head, I left them to talk among themselves and went off to see the C-in-C., then I returned and begged them to stop their silly talk – how they love talking – and to act. I then went to see the War Minister who agreed with me. They talked till 8.30 p.m., and then agreed to my decision and promised to act. But they went on talking all night and eventually changed their silly minds. The Navy finally said: “We object to this cowardly plan. We control the situation. You must never yield. If a single ship tries to have the harbour we will sink her and then we shall turn our guns on to you on shore.” All very well for the brave Navy to say this when being on the water, their own safety is quite secured. So we continue the defence. I am glad, because every day we hold out is of great value to the Allies – I only fear for the civil population in the dreadful sauve-qui-peut which I foresee. Help from outside seems impossible. Will God really give us a third miracle? I have taken up my quarters ashore now, in the Hotel d’Europe, because they might think my remaining on board ship a sign of cowardice.

* I cannot identify where Diga is, though I suspect it is somewhere in the vicinity of Baku, like Binagadi is.