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.
Latest news leads me to have another try at Baku, so I leave here on Friday, 31st, join up with Bicherakov and his Cossacks at Kasvin and then make war on the Jangalis on the Enzeli road – if we are not delayed we may get to Baku in time to save the town and oil-wells from falling into the hands of the Turks and Germans, who are racing up from Tiflis to get them. Are we to be always too late? It’s not my fault anyway as they refuse me all the troops and aeroplanes I need.
Rode out to see the famous tablets of Darius and Xerxes, his son, yesterday. I get a ride every afternoon now, and am getting to know the country well. General Byron* rides with me as a rule. The War Office refuse to give me any more troops. I asked for a Division, then for a Brigade – and all they give me is 1 Cavalry Regiment and 1 Infantry Battalion to run the country against the Germans, Turks, Democrats and Brigands, from Tabriz, Teheran to Kermanshah, an equilateral triangle with the sides of 400 miles, or a bigger area than the British Isles.
* This is Brigadier-General John Joseph Byron, who was the second-in-command of Dunsterforce. His obituary is available here.
2nd party arrived – called on Governor at 2 p.m. and had the Foreign Office man, Haji Saad-es-Sultaneh there to interpret. He was late and I found I could quite easily get on in Persian with the Governor. We talked of many things. He asked if I trusted him. I know that he has been arranging for Kurds to attack us and turn us out, but I told him I had heard all sorts of wicked things about him, but would not believe them because he was so nice. I told him to advise the Teheran Government to ask for British troops instead of stopping us, otherwise they would have the Germans instead. I also said he might advise the Mejliss [council?] to close its doors for ten years and stop all this rot about politics while they created an Army – politics are no use without soldiers to back the policy.
The aeroplane arrived all right yesterday and gave a good show that impressed the people. To-day the democrats have engineered a run on the Bank – if it goes broke we’re done. Meantime Baghdad will not get troops on the move and things are very serious indeed. To-day I hope to get in a few men of the Hants and there are about 100 of the Cossacks still here if there is a row, but I want a squadron of cavalry and a couple of guns. The Germans and Turks are drilling the Kurds in the mountains close by, with the intention of swooping down on the towns, and I cannot stop them, and the famine is awful. It all makes me feel very, very old. But God is with us always. The news from France is bad, still retiring. Only from Baghdad the good news that we have captured 3000 Turks on the Euphrates.
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.
Heavy snow and everything all buried again in white.
The Enzeli Bolsheviks have come up here to get money from the Bank and other purposes. They are very different people here, the situation being reversed, and they sing very small. They say they love the English and hate the Germans and despise Kuchik Khan. They offer us tons of petrol (which we shall never get) and say that on their return they will insist on Kuchik releasing the Resht Bank Manager (Oakshot) and the Consul (Maclaren) whom he arrested the other day. Mc.Murray says “You allowed Kuchik to loot the bank and now you come to me to cash a cheque. I won’t cash it.” So they are very unhappy as it is a big cheque for 300,000 krans [qirans]. This snow to-day will block the Sultan-Bulak Pass [70 miles/110 km south-west of Qazvin] and they will have a job getting back.
Coming from a Sunni country, India, where the Shiah is a despised worm, it is interesting to live in a Shiah country and see the reverse of the picture. Here they talk of “Mahomedans” meaning Shiahs only – Sunnis are Sunnis and outside the pale of Mahomedanism, the Shiah feeling appears even less tolerant than the Sunni. [Read here about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims]
Such an appalling lunch with the Russian officers – General Baratov made a long speech and I replied in a short one, thinking it was all over. But he made 11 more. He toasted us, the British Army, our wives and families, our regiments, the Baghdad Army, the capture of Baghdad, the Union of the Churches, General Maude, General Marshall and many others, 1.30 to 5.30. My brain was rotted with platitudes, and my interior disturbed with endless food and drink. I was very cautious with the latter, but just sipped some very poor and sour Persian wine. Then Gen. Baratov and I kissed each other, and we were free at last – a whole day wasted – Weather fine – Terrible reports of enemies barring my way down the road. Turks, Germans, Austrians and the Jangali tribe. Well, well – we must just trust in God and see for ourselves. What chaos – the world is a large lunatic asylum – when and how will it all end?
Sent touring-cars unloaded to explore – they took 2 hours doing 6 miles and reported deeper snow – it seems hopeless and I must stay here. Meantime the Turks are beginning to hear about us which is the most unfortunate aspect of the delay – a German plane flew over the Serai at 2 p.m. today, I thought he was going to drop bombs, but he flew on. I suppose he was out to reconnoitre and report and we shall get the bombs to-morrow. It is a hopeless situation, but I am an optimist and never without hope – I feel sure that God will guide us through. Tactical problems are so easy to solve, but these are far greater problems. Shall I start to-morrow? If so, how far can I expect to get? How much petrol expended? Will I be held up in the snow, unable to get forward or backward? One has to make a decision and stick to it, so I decide not to move to-morrow. But every day’s delay gives the Germans more time to arrange to thwart us. What an example of how weather affects military problems. I have realized this all my life, but never hoped to have such a bad actual situation. I am in bed with bad cold on chest. The old one I had in Baghdad which would have been cured but for this vile weather.