AUSTRALIANS IN TRANSCAUCASUS
The most adventurous experience of any portion of the A.I.F. was probably that of the 670 Australians who, in scattered units or as individuals, took part in the operations of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force on the Upper Tigris and Euphrates and among the valleys and villages of Kurdistan, or who served with the "Dunsterforce" in Persia, Russia, and Armenia around the Caspian Sea.
Very little has been heard of
the work of Australians in
The plan adopted by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet (led by Lord Curzon), as an alternative to any attempt to guard Persia with British troops, was to send a handful of British officers and N.C.O's of picked quality to organise and lead any elements of the Russian forces or of the civilian population in Trans-Caucasia that were ready to continue resistance to the Turks. An endeavour to effect the same object with British forces might well have required the despatch of an additional army.
Not unnaturally, the War Office
had no very clear understanding of the feeling then animating the Russian
soldiery, particularly towards any stranger who urged them to continue a
hateful and trying war which their government had formally ended. It was
not, however, from the Russian Army, as such, that the War Office was sanguine
of obtaining effective help, but rather from the Georgians, Armenians, and
Assyrians— Christian inhabitants who had been fighting for the Russians and
who had everything to fear from the entry or re-entry of the Turks into their
countries, an event which, for the Armenians at least, would mean wholesale
massacre. The British mission, therefore, was to make its way to
SELECTION OF THE
The choice of the picked leaders
who were to compose the mission was left largely to Colonel Byron, who had
fought in the South African War, and who decided to make the selection chiefly
from the dominion forces. The project was kept a close secret — for months
the mission was known as the "hush-hush" party. So it was that on
Colonel Byron, who brought this
letter himself, pointed out that, with the collapse of the Russian Caucasus
Army, both sides of the
In the A.I.F. the appeal, made
by Birdwood in a secret letter to each of his five divisional commanders
On January 10th there reached
Birdwood a request for forty N.C.O's of "relatively similar qualities." He
objected that he was already short of reinforcements, and the. War Office
consequently reduced the Australian quota to twenty. These were sent to
The party in
The leader of the expedition,
whom the main party had not yet seen, was Major-General Dunsterville. The
original of "Stalky" in Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co., he
had pursued a patriotic and adventurous career in the East. He was widely
travelled, and a fine linguist with a keen friendship for the Russians. The
call had come to him when serving on the north-west frontier of
DUNSTERVILLE’S PRELIMINARY DASH
It was with a view to the, carrying
out of the tasks of this
The rapid diminution of the Russian
Army's resistance caused the spearhead of Turkish activity again to be directed
towards the Caspian, where Turks and Germans each wanted to seize
This task, as it turned out, fell
largely upon the Dunster-force. In the first place, General Dunsterville
with his handful of officers and Ford vans, found it, for the time being,
impossible to reach
One of the Dunsterforce parties on the move. In the upper right corner - General Dunsterville
The party then pushed on along
the last bare, barren watershed, that of the
Here Dunsterville was first faced
by a circumstance which handicapped him greatly throughout. His duty was
to take no side in the revolution and merely to support and organise the
local people in resisting the invasion of the Turks and Germans. But the
British Government had refused to recognise the Bolshevik Government, and
in consequence the Bolsheviks were hostile and inclined to suspect that Dunsterville
was working for their overthrow. The local Bolshevik committee in charge
at Enzeli at once asked him to explain the presence of himself and his men,
and, though he assured them that he had no counter-revolutionary aims, he
knew they were hostile. His intelligence staff, the efficiency of which throughout
was marvellous, discovered within a few hours that Kuchik Khan was pressing
for the party's arrest. He also found that the full object of his mission,
supposed to be so closely secret, was perfectly well known to the Bolshevik
committee, which had orders to stop him at all costs. After carefully ascertaining
the position through his intelligence staff, and reluctantly rejecting a plan
of seizing a steamer and going on to Baku despite the Bolshevik gunboats,
Dunsterville decided that, as his success depended entirely on securing the
goodwill of the Trans-Caucasians, his only wise course was to withdraw along
the road by which he had come, organise (with his main party, which would
soon be arriving) the local " front" in Persia, and wait for a possible further
chance of reaching Tiflis. He cleverly escaped arrest, withdrawing his party
very early on February 2Oth, and returned to
– TO PACIFY
Both General Dunsterville and
General Marshall knew at this time that it was hopeless to look to Baratov's
Russians to safeguard the Persian road; Bicherakov's Cossacks were the only
part of that force which was prepared to go on fighting, and it was said
that even of these a third was pressing to return home. Bicherakov on February
11th flew to
To establish British influence
among the local Persians— into whose country neither he nor the Russians,
Turks, or Germans had any legal right to intrude — General Dunsterville chose
the typically British method of undertaking to relieve the disastrous famine
which, partly as a result of the campaigns of the Turks and Russians through
At the end of March, when the
Russians, except Bicherakov at
CHANGED SITUATION IN SUMMER, 1918
When the main body of the Dunsterforce reached
Both Sir Henry Wilson and the
Commander-in-Chief in India were of opinion that the summer—the worst campaigning
time in Mesopotamia, but the best in the Caucasus— should be used for supporting
Dunsterville with reinforcements as strong as the supply problem would permit.
In order to maintain activity on its chief front, the Mesopotamian force
had struck the. Turks very hard in (March on the
There followed a rapid and adventurous advance by the cavalry (Brigadier-General Cassels) and armoured cars (Lieutenant-Colonel Hogg) in an effort to rescue the British air force commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Tennant, who, with another officer, had been shot down and captured by the enemy on the eve of the attack. With the armoured cars went an improvised Australian wireless station (No. 39) in a van. After an exciting pursuit of sixty miles past Haditha to Ana, where the Turkish commander and staff were captured, No. 39, on setting up, found itself beyond wireless range, and had to return to Haditha. The armoured cars went on, and next day overtook the fleeing escort and recaptured the officers over 100 miles behind the front which had been broken two days before — a truly remarkable achievement.
On his other flank General Marshall
safeguarded the Mesopotamian end of the Persian road by driving back in April
the 2nd Turkish Division, whose proximity to the road had been creating much
unrest among the Kurds and Persians. At the, end of April five columns pushed
out into the low-ridged plateau between the Jabal Hamrin and the mountains
On being informed by the War Office
that it desired him to push this advance to
NEW MOVE TO CASPIAN
The War Office was meanwhile pressing
At this juncture the Trans-Caucasian
Bolsheviks, now thoroughly alarmed by the, threat to
The threat to the road came partly
from the Turkish forces 200 miles to the north-west of it, at
The danger to
Dunsterville, in touch with him
and with the Armenian National Council in Baku—a very capable body—was pressing
for a brigade of infantry and artillery to be sent so that he could show
a British force in Baku if opportunity arose, but Marshall, firmly in opposition,
informed him that he, could look for no increase in his force. The 1,000
mobile infantry—two companies each of the 1/4th Hampshire and 1/2nd Gurkhas,
two mountain guns (21st Battery), and supplies, all in 500 Ford vans—came
along the Persian road towards the end of June, and the road was now taken
over from the Russian road company and guarded by the British as far as the
former Jangali headquarters at Resht. Posts were established, and tolls collected
for road upkeep; and travel became, almost as safe as in
But both Sir Henry Wilson and
the British Government now complained that the efforts to close the Caspian
Fortune soon favoured his plan. On July 25th 2,500 Jangalis attacked the small garrison of Hampshires and Gurkhas at Resht and were most thoroughly beaten. Ten days later, after securing correspondence proving that the Bolshevik Committee at Enzeli was intriguing with the Jangalis against the British, Dunsterville arrested and removed the, committee, basing his action on grounds so good that he was afterwards able to satisfy the authorities in Baku as to his action. At the same time he seized the Enzeli wireless station, and Australian operators were brought up from Kazvin.
Meanwhile the awaited change had occurred in Baku. The Turks were now advancing on the oilfields; and the attempts of Bicherakov and his Cossacks (together with four armoured cars attached to him by Dunsterville) to stop them at a distance from the town had been rendered useless by the indiscipline and intrigues of the Red troops. Finally on July 25th the best of the Red leaders came to Bicherakov and promised to reorganise. The, following day the local Bolshevik leaders resigned and the Social Revolutionaries formed a "Centre-Caspian" Government, gave Bicherakov the military command, and called in British help. The fleet was for Bicherakov, and transports had already been despatched to Enzeli.
Dunsterville decided to send his chief intelligence officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Stokes, with what troops he could spare, to announce that others were coming—the, brigade of infantry and the artillery for which he had asked were then on the Persian road at intervals back to railhead. Meanwhile on July 29th the Turks again attacked Baku; the local forces retired, leaving Bicherakov's detachment — the only troops who fought — without ammunition or food; and, when the enemy was 3,000 yards from the wharves, Bicherakov decided to fall back to Derbend, 150 miles to the north, where he asked Dunsterville to join him. After his withdrawal, an unexplained panic appears to have seized the victorious Turks. They fled, and the Armenian defenders, taking heart, pursued but allowed them to keep their hold on a strong line about five miles from the, town. Learning that Baku was still held, Dunsterville now sent thither Colonel Stokes and 44 of the Hampshire. Though disappointed with these numbers, the local forces were encouraged by their arrival. Other parties of the 30th Brigade, armoured cars, and artillery were sent on as they arrived at Enzeli. To make sure of transports in case withdrawal from Baku became necessary, Dunsterville and Stokes secured three steamers. Anxieties as to the land communications were lightened when on August I2th Kuchik Khan made peace, to become henceforth one of Dunsterville's best agents for supplies.
DEFENSE OF BAKU
The Dunsterforce — or rather so
much of it as could be spared from urgent duties elsewhere — now entered
on its main task, the attempt to turn the local Armenian and Russian forces
at Baku into an effective army. These troops, of whom there were found to
be between 6,000 and 10,000 divided into 22 battalions controlled by five
independent political organisations, were holding across the Baku peninsula
a line about 18 miles long, the southern 8 miles lying on a line of cliffs,
the rest on lower country, part of which was a salt lake. Between the, salt
lake and the cliffs the defenses included a height known as "Dirty Volcano,"
which was the pivotal point in the right sector. As batches of the 39th British
Brigade arrived from-Mesopotamia, they were put in to hold vital positions
—chiefly in the left sector and at Dirty Volcano; but, when all available
parts of the brigade had reached
Thus on August 26th the Turks took Dirty Volcano, and forced back the right of the line, the handful of British infantry there — and they alone — losing heavily. On the 3ist the Turks drove back the right again—one Russian battalion on this occasion fighting well in the retirement. Dunsterville now told the local "dictators" that, as their troops would not fight, he would, without further warning, withdraw his force whenever it was necessary to save his men from being uselessly slaughtered. Next day he gave them notice that the British would leave Baku that night. The dictators replied that the British could only be allowed to leave at the same time as the local troops and after the evacuation of the women and children; and the Russian gunboats were ordered to fire on the British if the transports attempted to leave port. Dunsterville had faced such threats before, as he faced them later, with success; but this time, owing to the confusion in the town, he decided that it would be unfair to withdraw and leave his "allies" planless. He stayed on, and during the next fortnight the situation became more hopeful. The local troops, especially the artillery, showed signs of improvement. Bicherakov sent down 500 Cossacks, and promised another 5,000 in a fortnight. The Russian colony at Lenkoran (on the Caspian coast 130 miles south of Baku) — to which Dunsterville had sent from Baku Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlinson and a few of the Dunsterforce and Australian wireless operators — had 4,000 men ready to raid the Turkish lines of communication. Moreover increasing dissatisfaction with the dictators had stirred a movement among the citizens to place the management of the town in the hands of the British.
On September I2th an Arab deserter from the Turks at Baku reported that they would attack on the I4th. That morning news of the attack was awaited with more confidence; but the first message received was "that the battle was over, and the victorious Turks were advancing at a run, without opposition, on the town." The local troops could not be induced to press a counter-attack, but the British and Bicherakov's handful hit the Turks so hard that during the day they were held out of the town. Dunsterville, who had kept his steamers ready at the wharf, informed the dictators that he would have to withdraw the British contingent that night. In the general confusion he was told to make what arrangements he pleased. The withdrawal took place after dark, one of the Australians, Captain McVilly, being charged with part of the staff work. At nightfall, when the fighting eased, the dictators changed their mind and tried to prevent the withdrawal. But it had been well managed. The 7th North Staffordshire (the battalion that nearly reached Hill "Q" at Anzac on 8th August, 1915) held the enemy to the last; troops, guns, and ammunition were safely embarked, and though someone of the crew suddenly turned on all the lights of Dunsterville's ship, and the guardship tried to sink her and afterwards six times hit the little Armenian which followed with Colonel Rawlinson and his officers holding the crew to their work with pistols, all the ships and the troops in them got safely away to Enzeli. Two Australians, Major Suttor and Sergeant Bullen, who had only just arrived at Baku and had not been notified of the withdrawal, were left behind, but managed to escape on a ship with refugees across the Caspian to Krasnovodsk. A small British guard at the aerodrome retired with Bicherakov's contingent to Petrovsk.
THE URMIA CRISIS
The Baku section was not the only part of the Dunsterforce which, in the end, came in for fighting of a most desperate nature. Shortly before Dunsterville started for Baku, a British airman flew across to the Christian Assyrians (locally named the "Jelus") and Armenians who were then successfully resisting the 5th and 6th Turkish Divisions at Urmia. These were under an Assyrian leader, Aga Petross; the airman carried an offer from Dunsterville to assist by sending northwards from Bijar a party with machine-guns, ammunition, and money. Aga Petross was to detach part of his force to break through the besieging Turks south of Lake Urmia, meet the convoy, and escort it to Urmia. The party, which started from Bijar on July 19th, was under Captain Savige (of Bullecourt fame), but was escorted by a squadron of the I4th Hussars under Colonel Bridges. Savige's party included five officers and fifteen sergeants of the Dunsterforce (half of them Australians or New Zealanders) and three British batmen. The convoy, which carried £45,600 in Persian silver, twelve Lewis guns, and 100,000 rounds of ammunition, was under Major More.
On July 23rd, the appointed date, the party reached the place for the meeting, Sain Kala, but there was no word of the Assyrians. Two days later, there still being no news of them, Colonel Bridges decided that he must withdraw on account of the shortage of grain for his horses. To Savige's party this decision caused intense disappointment, and its officers at once volunteered to get through to Lake Urmia and obtain news of the Assyrians — "I thought we were not giving them a chance," he writes. The proposal was not approved; but by the time the withdrawal had reached Takan Tepe, fifty miles back, Savige had succeeded in obtaining permission for his party and convoy to stay there (a proceeding which afterwards saved many thousand lives), the cavalry squadron being left by Colonel Bridges as their escort. From this place, Savige judged, they would still have a chance of reaching the Assyrians if these broke through after all; meanwhile the party would organise a local force with which it hoped itself to break through and reach Urmia.
The raising of this force had barely begun when, on August 1st, a native arrived with news that a great battle was being fought south of the lake. Savige realised that this was the attempt promised by Aga Petross, and next day he heard that the Christians were coming. He moved forward immediately, and on the evening of August 3rd the Assyrians rode into his camp—a magnificent spectacle, troop after troop of cavalry, each preceded by its white cross on a red banner, before the finest of which rode Aga Petross himself. The march towards Urmia began next morning. At dusk, when again coming in view of Sain Kala, Savige, leading the column, was surprised to see ahead a crowd of women in brightly-coloured dresses — a sight unknown in Mohammedan villages. Aga Petross, coming up, was obviously struck with horror. "My God," he said, "here are my people!"
The crowd, when questioned, said that the Turks had broken into the city, and they themselves had been forced to flee. They knew nothing more. There had been 80,000 of them at Urmia, and many, if not all, were obviously on the road driving their flocks and herds along with them. It was then too late to take action that night, and Savige had to wait for dawn and further news.
At dawn (August 5th) Savige and Captain Reed, riding forward, were appalled to see the. crowds coming ceaselessly southwards. These said that the end of the multitude was some miles away, covered by a rear-guard formed and inspired by an American missionary, Dr. Shedd, in an effort to hold back the Kurds and Persians who constantly raided the rear of the column, murdering the fugitives, and carrying off the young girls for sale for Turkish harems. On Savige's return, as .the higher commanders did nothing, he begged for and obtained leave for his party (which volunteered) to go out and fight as rear-guard while the cavalry protected the main body. Savige chose for the rear-guard two officers (Captains Scott-Olsen — an Australian — and Nicol — a New Zea-lander) and six sergeants (comprising one Australian, Sergeant Murphy, two Canadians, a New Zealander, and two British sergeants), with three Lewis guns and six days' rations. Aga Petross promised to furnish 100 men, but, seeing the day wasted without action, these had gone off to guard their families. At dawn Savige and his companions rode on without the promised support.
After riding fifteen miles through crowd after crowd, who wildly hailed them as deliverers, Savige's party realised that they were, reaching the tail of the retreat. Wounded women and others, abandoned by their families, struggled past as best they could. In some vehicles were Mrs. Shedd and several of the mission workers, making all possible efforts to encourage and help the withdrawing people; and, lining a ridge ahead, was Dr. Shedd with twenty-four armed refugees waiting for the next arrival of the raiders. Savige relieved him, but took on his refugees, and pushed forward to check the enemy in some rougher country farther on. Six miles ahead they came on a village (either Karawaran or Miandoab) outside which they saw the tethered horses of the Turks who were looting it.
The stand made by Savige and his eight companions that evening and during half of the next day against hundreds of the enemy thirsting like wolves to get at the defenseless throng was as fine as any episode known to the present writer in the history of this war. For full details the reader must be referred to Savige's own account; here it can only be said that the marked feature of the fight was that every Dunsterforce, man knew that he could rely on each of his fellow members, however far they were separated, to carry out his part whatever the cost. Savige's handful, with twelve refugees, drove, the enemy from the village, and after pushing forward, arid punishing 100 tribesmen who raced on horseback about the valley ahead, fell back six miles and spent the night in another village. The fleeing Christians had murdered and raided in these villages as ruthlessly as the enemy had raided the Christians. At dawn—with the retreating wagons still in sight down the valley—the fight began again. While the rear-guard was about to take an early meal, 150 horsemen approached from the enemy's direction, and others were seen advancing over the hills behind both flanks. While the mules were being loaded, Savige rushed his main party to a ridge behind the village to keep the Kurds back. A Canadian sergeant, W. T. Brophy, emptied the drum of a Lewis gun into 200 who had approached in ignorance, and set horses and men rolling and kicking on the ground. In the village the pack-mules were shot; Sergeant Murphy left the place last, galloping out with his Lewis gun on the saddle. Captain Nichol, who had walked back to the village to help, was killed and brave efforts to retrieve his body failed.
From that time onwards hour after hour the, rear-guard just succeeded in keeping the pressing enemy away from the slowly retreating column. A very few refugees still stayed with Savige and "fought magnificently," but most of them dropped the Lewis gun drums and disappeared. Many of the strongest men among the Christians, and the best armed, were leading the flight miles in rear. During the weeks of dreadful retreat that followed, they persistently seized the best mounts, leaving behind their women and children to struggle on foot and often to fall into the hands of the Kurds. They had fought stoutly enough in the defense of Urmia, but now that they were in British protection Aga Petross had little influence, with them; even some Russian mountain gunners with their guns pressed on among the fugitives.
On this first day Savige and a native leader once, by threat of shooting, induced a dozen armed Christians to charge with them at the Kurds pressing the column. Savige shot one raider with his revolver and they were temporarily scared away. Meanwhile a message had been sent asking the officer of the Hussars to reinforce; and after seven hours of desperate fighting, now driven back on to the tail of the column, the rear-guard heard English shouts behind, and saw twelve cavalrymen lining the next ridge in rear. They were not the whole force that Savige had asked for, but a party that had been policing the road along which the crowd was streaming. Their sergeant happened to intercept Savige's message, and; on reading it, came with admirable decision straight to help the party, which was almost completely exhausted. This reinforcement, with its well-controlled fire, had immediate effect. Later the arrival at last of fifty of Aga Petross' men caused the Turks to make off, and enabled Savige's party to be relieved. Reeling in their saddles, they rode into the night's camp just as the main body of cavalry, for whose assistance they had been praying, rode out to assist.
On the same day Dr. Shedd, relieved of his long anxieties, had reached the British camp with "a buoyancy," says his wife, "that I had not seen for months." Two hours later he became ill. The retirement could not stop, and after a terrible night he died by the road, of cholera.
From that day onwards the protection of the refugees and the retiring convoy did not call for such desperate fighting, though before all the refugees reached, safety they were raided many times, the Kurds on the flanks trying like wild dogs to dash in among them and secure loot or cattle and escape amid the hills before the escort could reach them. Of the escort itself they were, now shy. The cavalry were sent to guard the money, while Savige's party again brought up the rear. Their greatest distress lay in the necessity for leaving behind to the Kurds many weak and wounded women and children, who, abandoned by their men, could not keep up. To have stayed and died with them would merely have meant leaving the rest of the refugees at the mercy of the enemy. The kindness of killing them, civilised custom refused. Before the crowd reached Bijar a big raid projected by 400 tribesmen from the hills flanking the route was averted by a demonstration with Aga Petross' horsemen. After perhaps the most dreadful retreat in the war, on August 17th the rear-guard reached Bijar. What with overstrain and sickness Savige's party was at the end of its tether; only four of its members, it is said, were able to serve again in the war. The further retreat was guarded mostly by others. Of the 80,000 Christians that fled from Urmia, some 50,000 eventually reached the Persian road, their path to and along which was lined with the corpses of the weaker members that died by the way.
It was decided to enlist at Bijar a number of Aga Petross' soldiers with the object of retaking Urmia; but Lieutenant" Colonel McCarthy, a South African, who was sent up with the Assyrian leader to make, the attempt, found these warriors leading the retreat, and no orders or exhortation could check them.: He returned to Hamadan to "stop them even if I have to use machine-guns to do it." Outside Hamadan the strongest men were "enlisted", according to one account, by sending a platoon of the 1/4th Hampshire in extended order thifough their camp with fixed bayonets to round them up. The remainder — whose transport crowded the Persian road just when clear communications were needed for the crisis at Baku — were sent to a concentration camp at Baquba near Baghdad, The recruits were formed at Abshineh, near Hamadan, into the "Urmia" (or "Native Christian") Brigade of some 2,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry, commanded by Captain Hendersonand staffed and trained by other Dunsterforce officers or N.C.O's, Captain Latchford (A.I.F.) being staff-captain. Among the tasks of the staff were those of stopping the native Christians from leaking to Baghdad, or "robbing and killing the neighbouring Persians; of trying to satisfy G.H.Q. as to the precise numbers of the force, of which the keeping of a daily tally was beyond all possibility; and of satisfying the visiting Relief Commission. The inspecting officer from G.H.Q., fortunately, was understanding. “All right, my boy, do your best," he told Henderson. "I'll explain things down below, but, for, goodness sake, don't shoot anybody! The Archbishop of Canterbury is interested in these people, and we must look after them as best we can." The Relief Commission told G.H.Q. that the brigade was in good hands, but noted that no arrangements were made for the men to have a hot bath!
The methods of discipline, employed by the Dunsterforce officers and N.C.O's had an oversea directness in them, and Latchford likens the keen training methods to those of "young sheepdogs practising on the fowls." The native officers were given blue arm-bands, the native N.C.O's red. But they were still far from understanding their elementary responsibilities, when the threat of a Turkish thrust in the direction of the Persian road caused two of the battalions to be hurried to distant stations, the third following in October to Bijar.
Their story may here be traced to its end. When, owing to Allenby's progress in Palestine, the threat to Persia died away, they were brought back to Mesopotamia to refit with the object of retaking Urmia. The armistice caused this project to be abandoned, and the Brigade was disbanded. After the war an attempt at repatriating some of the Assyrians failed. Others enlisted in the Iraq levies employed by the British during their control of the country under mandate. This increased the Assyrians' tendency to arrogance, and enmity arose between them and the Iraquis. Consequently when, in 1932, the British left Iraq, this section of the Assyrians became the victims of another massacre. The surviving 20,000 were gathered into a refugee camp at Mosul, and the League of Nations, after exploring the possibility of settling them in Brazil and British Guiana, accepted the offer of the French Government to allow their transplantation in Syria.
MIANEH AND LENKORAN
To return to the time of the, Baku crisis — in conformity with their advance on that vital centre the Turks also pushed forward, 2,000 strong, from Tabriz and on September 5th drove back the posts of the Dunsterforce from beyond Mianeh. After occupying that place, they advanced towards the Kazvin road. Parts of the 39th Brigade and of the artillery intended for Baku had at the end of August been diverted, despite Dunsterville's urgency, to Bijar, and a column (Sweet's) was now hastily organised and sent from Hamadan to Zenjan, setting out on September I4th, the day on which Baku was evacuated. Australian wireless stations in Persia were at this time being replaced by British stations whose apparatus was in motor lorries; but No. 9 station, just relieved in Hamadan, was called on to accompany this column, and, though it was a "wagon" set, it made the difficult journey by routes fit only for pack animals.
The evacuation of Baku also rendered most difficult the position of the handful of the Dunsterforce and Australian wireless men in Prisheb near Lenkoran, where the Russians naturally felt themselves "let down." The local troops under Major Hunt beat back one raid by the Tartars, but on October 18th Hunt had to save his party by making a bolt with it to Enzeli in a stolen Russian motor lorry. The Australian operators stayed on at Enzeli and worked the wireless there until February 1919.
With the evacuation of Baku General Dunsterville's command ended, his force in north-west Persia now becoming part of the. "Norperforce," commanded (under General Marshall) by Major-General Thomson, under whom the efforts to secure naval control of the Caspian continued. At this juncture the situation was entirely changed by the great victories following General Allenby's attack of September 19th in Palestine, and by the continuous advance of the Allies begun on September I5th in the Salonica theatre. The Turkish army which Enver had been wasting in the Caucasus and Persia was the only Turkish reserve; divisions had to be constantly withdrawn, and danger of further advances of the Turks towards the Persian road speedily vanished.
The work of the Dunsterforce proper had now ended. Its officers were given the choice of returning to their former units, of joining Indian battalions, or of continuing to serve with Norperforce. Almost all its Australian members had left for Australia by March IQIQ. Although the Mission had failed in its original purpose, it succeeded in barring hostile agents from entrance to Persia at a critical juncture. The averting of the Jangali menace — a very serious one at the time — was due largely to Bicherakov; but that splendid soldier would not have been there had not Dunsterville established with him the loyal relationship which induced him to remain. The Dunsterforce gave the British a magnificent name through the parts of the Orient in which it operated; and for those to whom British honour is a tradition worthy of maintenance, it must always be a matter for satisfaction that the conduct of the Empire's activities in those regions was in the hands of one so sensitive to its implications as General Dunsterville, As for the other members of his Mission, as things turned out, its duties being largely famine relief and the organisation of supply, a staff skilled in Oriental languages and with knowledge of the country and its people would probably have been more suited for the bulk of the work. But this grand body of fighters adapted itself excellently to its tasks; and, whenever it Came, to taking responsibility in dangerous enterprises, and to desperate fighting as at Sain Kala and Baku, the special quality of the Dunsterforce was fully displayed.
MESOPOTAMIA AFTER BAKU
In Mesopotamia, during the months of the Baku crisis, there were no large, operations. On the contrary, the army there had been used partly as a reservoir of trained troops for employment elsewhere. The cavalry division had been broken up in April, its brigades being afterwards used separately; the Australian signal squadron, whose commander, Captain Payne, had died of smallpox, was employed for expanding the wireless squadron (now commanded by Major White) when the New Zealanders left. General Marshall, whose force now consisted of the i3th British and I4th, 15th, I7th, and i8th Indian Divisions, and three cavalry brigades, was informed on October 2nd by the War Office that, owing to the Allies' victories in Palestine and Bulgaria, the Turks might shortly ask for an armistice. He was accordingly to press forward on the Tigris and possibly also on the Euphrates, where a cavalry raid might help Allenby's cavalry in an advance on Aleppo. Marshall pointed out that his efforts were limited by the fact that nearly all his transport was in Persia, but he would plan an advance up the Tigris. The suggested thrust towards Aleppo, 350 miles from his Railhead, was impossible with the transport available. When the offensive up the Tigris was launched, the Turkish Government had already asked the British Government for an armistice. The position attacked was a line astride Fat-ha gorge, where the great river breaks through the Jabal Hamrin. Lieutenant-General Cobbe (1 Corps) intended to turn the enemy's eastern flank, but the Turks withdrew on October 24th northwards, to Mushak, fifteen miles back, where next day they were found again, near the Mosul road west of the Tigris. The fords of the Little Zab, east of the Tigris, had now been cleared of them by the nth Cavalry Brigade, and on the right flank possible reinforcements from Kurdistan were being kept away by a light force (with No. 8 station) under Brigadier-General Lewin advancing from Tuz Khurmatli to Kirkuk and eventually to Altun Kopri, which the Turks abandoned.
On October 26th, when the new I7th Indian Division attacked the Turks at Mushak, the mobile forces were launched on one of the most difficult and effective cavalry operations of the war. Part of the nth Cavalry Brigade (General Cassels) made a detour through desert country to the east, passing over the, Jabal Hamrin at Ain Nukhaila (where water had been carried fifty miles in Ford vans, and No. 13 Motor Wireless Station with a column under Lieutenant-Colonel Bridges was heavily bombed). After a long forced march Cassels' horsemen crossed the Tigris by a difficult ford above Sharqat, far in rear of the Turks, and at 8 p.m. reported by wireless their position across the Turkish line of retreat. Meanwhile the Light Armoured Motor Brigade (generally known as the L.A.M.B.) also had made a wide detour through the desert on the western flank, accompanied by the famous British political officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Leachman. Thence some of the cars had, in full daylight, run into the Turkish lines from the rear, and were mistaken by the enemy for a friendly unit until they suddenly shot down the mules tethered there. Not content with this, the brigade towed a length of the Mosul telegraph line, poles and all, into the desert. With all these columns went Australian wireless detachments, pack or motor. That under Lieutenant Goodman, with the armoured cars, got touch with Lieutenant Houston's detachment east of the river, attached to Cassels' force, and with distant Baghdad, but through mechanical troubles could not communicate with the station under Captain Hillary at Headquarters of the I Corps, which was making the infantry attack. The gaps in the chain had to be filled in by sending messages by aeroplane.
The 17th Division's attack was held up, but at night the Turks fell back to Sharqat. There followed two most trying days—in which the I7th Division in difficult country, with part of the 18th on the eastern flank, hung on to the retiring enemy and attacked, while the cavalry and cars, reinforced by some Indian infantry of the 18th Division, after a forced march of thirty-four miles, in critical fighting barred the way on the north. (It was during this fighting that the commander of the Light Armoured Brigade, Major Sir T. R. L. Thompson, tried to repeat his achievement of running into the Turkish lines. He found himself in No-man's Land between Cassels' force and the Turkish rear-guard. His car was disabled by a shell and he was captured. It was known that he had with him the secret list of the Playfair cipher keywords for the following week. An order was therefore immediately sent out to all parts of the force that the complicated emergency cipher must be used. This cipher, however, was known only to the wireless officers and men, and for some time all enciphering and deciphering—usually the duty of staff officers —had to be done by them in addition to their already exacting work with the moving columns. The Australians rose admirably to the crisis, receiving special commendation from the director of signals. Even when, later, the emergency cipher was made available to the general staff, their help was sometimes called in; and the picture of a "digger" sergeant exhorting a despairing junior staff officer (who happened also to be a peer) not to take it to heart as he himself would "fix the … thing" for him (which he forthwith did) is said to be one of the bright memories of the campaign). Meanwhile from farther north a Turkish regiment hurried down in an endeavour to break the investment, but was foiled by the 7th Cavalry Brigade which after brilliantly accomplishing a swift march of fifty miles charged and captured it.
As a result, at dawn on October 29th, the whole of the Turkish Tigris Group surrendered. General Cassels, with a flying column, largely cavalry and armoured cars (accompanied by four Australian wireless stations under Lieutenant Goodman) was ordered to push on as fast as possible to destroy the rest of the Sixth Army, but on November ist, twelve miles south of 'Mosul, it was met by a Turkish party bearing news that an armistice with Turkey had been arranged as from noon on the previous day. Mosul was occupied on November 10th (the Australians took over the relatively powerful Turkish wireless station there). Far north at theCaspian on the I7th the Norperforce in conjunction with Bicherakov reoccupied Baku.
Although active operations had ended, mobile wireless stations were urgently needed by the military administration of turbulent Kurdistan.The Australian Government asked for the return of its stations, but this meant withdrawing at one stroke nearly all the mobile wireless in Mesopotamia. It was eventually arranged that the last troop ("D") furnished by Australia, which had only been at the front for eleven months, should remain for the present, the places of married men being taken by single ones from the rest of the squadron.
On the 1st of February, 1919 "D"
Troop began to operate as a separate unit (Captain Sandars being now senior
officer at headquarters and Lieutenant Goodman in charge in the field). In
May two of its stations moved from
Two columns — Nightingale's and Lumb's — were accordingly organised from the 18th Division, and in August began to operate from Suwara and Zakho respectively (each with an Australian pack wireless station). Nightingale's column, working through mountains 7,000 feet high, surprised one of the ringleaders in his village at Bermaneh; but the Kurds on August I4th boldly attacked Suwara, and, although they were, repelled, the garrison at one time was in considerable danger, Sergeant Rodd working his wireless station to summon help from the column 21 miles away while the Kurds were actually lying under one of the masts of his aerial (which they omitted to cut down) and firing at the, tent in which he was operating.
Lumb's column, after moving against several villages, was raided by Kurds, who managed to enter its lines. Throughout August and September the two columns moved constantly against the elusive Kurds and their strongholds in this wild country, Indian detachments being more than once ambushed, and Lumb's column once, at Quovrak, stubbornly attacked. The wireless had often to be erected on exposed hilltops in order to ensure reception of its messages. Atmospherics were most troublesome, and the three stations had constantly to relay each other's messages. The wireless men did not belie the Anzac reputation, for the Australian sergeant with Lumb's column received from the column commander the following note: "It may interest you to know that the splendid way you and your men have worked has been noted by all of us. Show them this and tell them that I consider that the soldierly conduct of the station has been the example of the whole column."
General Cassels also went out
of his way to express personally his thanks to all the troops, which incidentally
with an establishment for four stations was effectively operating five. The
Australian wireless sections in Kurdistan could not be released until these
columns returned. It was not till early October that the British wireless
squadron raised the necessary reserve stations; and on October 14th the last
of "D" Troop returned to
From C.E.W. Bean.
The Australian Imperial Force In