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 – May 28

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.

1918 – March 25

These are terrible times, indeed, with all the awful anxiety here – not for myself, but for my work and my responsibilities – we get the very worst war news. The big battle on the French front has begun [the first battles on the Somme] and we are being pushed steadily backwards – please God we are preparing a counter-blow somewhere else, but from our point of view in Persia the news comes at the very worst time. Famine relief too, has broken down, it is impossible to control the poor starving wretches, and officers giving out tickets are mobbed – and order cannot be kept so it has to stop. The strong fight for the tickets and resell them to others. A dull gloomy day with sleet and wind, and no aeroplane arrived.

I have issued a proclamation in the town in Persian warning the people that the agitation against the British is only got up by the politicians, that we do all we can to help the people, and our wheat purchases are not local so do not affect the famine.

1918 – March 17

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.

1918 – March 13

Fine day, but March winds and everything looking just like an English spring. At last an important cable from Home facing facts and altering everything. I am now no longer on a Mission to the Caucasus. They recognise, as I suggested, that Persia must be held first. So I am no longer independent. I am under Baghdad, and they are told to shove troops up here as soon as they can, and as far as I am concerned, the sooner the better. But Baghdad are very sticky and take a long time to get a move on – I asked for armoured cars a month ago, and now they “contemplate” sending them. Until the troops arrive things are dangerous as the population are naturally in a ferment and that is the time for the political agitator to get to work. I wanted to see the Persian Governor but he was too ill to see anyone which simply means that he is quite well, but “lying up”.

1918 – March 1

No cables yet from the Home Government – situation in Persia is dangerous and I have to be ready to meet attack. Revolutionaries in the town and social democrats trying to stir up the people against us. To-day is the first and I hope not the last fine day, a beautiful blue sky and quite a spring feeling. Coming over the Asadabad Pass yesterday, a Russian convoy of ammunition lost 30 mules and 6 men froze to death – glad I was not as bad as that.

* The diary records this entry as 29th February, but there was no such date in 1918, so I am assuming this is actually 1st March.

1918 – February 26

What comfort in the nice house of the Mc.Murrays – such a sleep and such a rest – The vile weather continues and it snows again. I hear Barttelot had to abandon his cars and ride from Kermanshah, likewise Offley Shore – it is a marvel how I have brought these 40 cars over this 1000 miles of bad road and 7 snow passes without losing one. Now we are permanently blocked with heavy snow on the passes each side of us.

Sent many cables home, but no reply yet. As what I have suggested amounts to a change of policy in Persia, I suppose they have had to have a Cabinet Meeting* about it and that will cause the delay. They want me to go by the Tabriz road** – how little they understand the situation. I should have to be taken prisoner or shot the first day, or take a force big enough to fight. The people we are out to help seem a worthless lot and cannot pull together. The Armenians and Georgians hate each other and the Tartar hates them both. I shall never cease to marvel at our escape from Enzeli – I expect they are now cursing their foolishness in letting us go. Each was trying to get the other to fire the first shot and neither dared, but the Red Guards who arrived from Baku just as I left, would doubtless have done it, and they had us cold. If I had stayed another 24 hours it would have been all up. Thanks be to God! The situation all round is bad, but here, at least, we can put up a fight – I have implored Baghdad and London to send troops, but they take no notice.

* The involvement of the British Government’s Cabinet Office gives some indication as to the significance of this mission.

** The map below shows the location of Tabriz (I couldn’t get it to stop saying Pars Hotel) to demonstrate the alternative route that the War Office in Baghdad wished Dunsterville to take.

Map showing Tabriz, Iran