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.

1918 – August 20

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.

1918 – July 10

Rather tired and weary after diarrhoea. We have lost several men from cholera and a good deal of typhus and sandfly fever. The flies are awful. Days are hot but nights quite cool.

The number of situations I have to deal with is enormous. The Jilus and Armenians at Urmieh have long been entirely surrounded by the Turks, but have bravely held out so far. Yesterday I managed to get an aeroplane through to them. The aviator, Pennington, was received with an ovation, could not move for half an hour, people kissing his hands and knees.

As a result, I hope to open up the road to Urmieh from Hamadan and have asked the Jilus to fight their way down to Sain Kale [location unidentifiable] to meet us. This is a new situation. Then, in case the Turks get Baku I am sending a party over to Krasnovodsk to see what can be done on the East shore of the Caspian and in Turkestan [Turkmenistan].

Then I still have the defence of Baku on my hands, and am anxious having had no news of Bicherakov for some days.

Then there is the Turkish invasion situation via Tabriz doing pretty well. The Turks hold Tabriz with 2000 men and I am bluffing them with about 20 and 1 armoured car. Then there are the Persian Levies and the Irregulars which are not a great success. They want pay, but don’t want to fight.

Then there is the internal political situation. At Teheran there is a revolution going on, not very dangerous so far. In the town here all is quiet, but all Persian officials are pro-Turk.

Then there is the Jangali situation, which is doing well so far. We are bombing them by aeroplane again to-morrow. My hands and head are very full. Then I am worried a lot by the question of liquidation of the Russian debts, contracts with the Russian road Company, interviews with Russian revolutionaries and schemes to help indigent Russian officers. 

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.