German Intrigues in Persia
By A. C. Edwards
[The Yale Review, April 1918]
For ten years previous to the war, Germany had been trying to create interests in Persia: to create interests, not as the term is understood by Americans, whose government only reluctantly follows the path blazed for it by the enterprise of American pioneers in trade and travel. It was the German government which sought to create interests in Persia in advance of German merchants. If the sons of the Fatherland were loath to settle in the country, then, to encourage them, the German government must needs pay every German business man or clerk who came to Persia, under contract for five years, a subsidy of five hundred marks. A concern which was specially organized for trading in Persia was subsidized by the German government and encouraged to extend its operations throughout the country; if this concern opened an agency in a locality where Germany was not represented, the German government promptly appointed the agent of this company as German consul. Until the outbreak of war explained many things, I used to wonder how the agent of one of the largest German manufacturers of dyes could keep two Mercedes cars in which he toured the country from Meshed to Kermanshah, since the cost of their upkeep was many times the profit on his sales. He was one of the most prominent agents of the German propaganda in Persia; we still hear of him from time to time, stirring up this tribe or that to robbery and rebellion.
But in spite of persistent efforts to create and foster German interests in Persia, they never flourished. The very name of Germany was scarcely known to the great body of Persians. After three years of war, Persians often say to me; "How wonderful that a small country like Germany, which no one ever heard of, has held out against such great nations as England and Russia!" When I reply that Germany is one of the most powerful and wealthy nations of the earth, with a population very nearly as large as that of Great Britain and France combined, I am met with a smile of polite incredulity.
When Germany, by one of the most audacious diplomatic strokes in the history of the war, forced Turkey to range herself with the Central Powers, visions arose in Berlin of the swift collapse of Britain's prestige in the East. The first palpable step in the Drang nach Osten had been taken, and taken with seven-leagued boots; the Ottoman armies, reorganized by German brains and led by German commanders, would soon be, it was thought, at the Persian Gulf; the next step would be to rouse Mohammedan Persia. With two out of the three independent Mohammedan powers on Germany's side, little effort would be required to bring the third, Afghanistan, into line. Then the end of Russian dominion over the Mohammedans in the Caucasus and Turkestan and the downfall of British power in India seemed to the Germans in sight.
Germany's first move in this direction was to induce Turkey to send out a trumpet-call to all Mohammedans to join in a Holy War against the Allies. The hollowness of the spiritual authority of the Ottoman caliph over the Mohammedans of other lands was never more thoroughly exposed. A fetwa of the Sheikh-ul-Islam was issued in due course in Constantinople, but those in Persia who heard gave no heed. Yet Germany persisted. If Persia was up moved by the call to a Holy War, other methods, could be employed which in the East had rarely been known to fail.
Early in 1915 the number of Austrians and Germans in Persia was greatly increased by the escape of prisoners from Russian Turkestan. The Russian government had sent a great number of these prisoners to Kraznovodsk on the eastern shore of the Caspian, and to Askhabad, a town on the Trans-Caspian railway, a few miles from the Persian border. They were mostly Austrians, taken during the advance into Galicia; and their Russian jailers were very easy-going with them. In the autumn of 1915, I saw a number of Austrians, natty little fellows in battered field-gray uniforms, acting as porters at the railway station at Askhabad. They handled one's bags much more smartly than the big clumsy Russians. I was on my way to Meshed at the time; and there I heard that numbers of these men had escaped and had crossed the border into Persia, where they were taken care of by German agents. A regular "underground railway" was established between the frontier and Teheran via Meshed. When the fugitives reached the capital, they were immediately drafted into the service of the German propaganda.
It was about this time that Germans with no apparent business in Persia began to appear in different parts of the country; they made friends with the Persians; they spent money freely in the bazaars; they talked largely of the might of the German Kaiser and of his friendship for Mohammedans throughout the world; they intimated that at last the time had come for Persia to shake off the oppression of Russia and Britain. No Persian grandee was too lofty to be approached with offers of money on condition that he would use his influence for Germany; no peasant was too ignorant or humble to be given a few tomans and a German flag to carry to his village, with the news that the German Emperor was coming to free the Persians; in all the principal cities mollahs were hired to preach the jehad (Holy War) in the mosques.
Before the war, the German government had consuls in only a few cities of Persia. Now German consuls appeared in the most out-of-the-way places. Persians who had been ignorant of the very existence of Germany were made suddenly aware of it through the appointment of a German consul in their town. In several cases, these officials were not Germans but German Swiss, already established in Persia and familiar with the country. Their sympathy with the German cause led them to further German ends in exchange for German-money.
The first concern of these new consuls was to gather recruits. Now, a foreign consul in Milwaukee who should try to hire a guard of one or two hundred Americans and to go through the streets surrounded by a band of fifty of them armed with Mauser rifles, would soon find his consular career abruptly terminated. Yet this is what took place in half a dozen places in Persia. Agents who were accredited to the tribes of Kurds and Lurs that inhabit the mountainous districts of the western border of Persia, went still further. I was told by an American missionary doctor who was in Kurdistan at the time that the German agent issued frequent handbills announcing German victories, although he confessed to the doctor that he had been entirely cut off from news from Germany for months. In these communiqués., the Kaiser was referred to as "Hajji Wilhelm, Emperor of Germany." By bribing the chiefs and paying a monthly stipend, the German agents succeeded in raising several armies of these lawless freebooters, who were ordered to stand ready to fight for the German cause when the time came. Fortunately, when the time did come, these armies did not prove very formidable, and were a great anxiety and disappointment to their organizers. The Persian tribesman is ready to fight for any cause if there is sufficient prospect of plunder; but once he has secured as much as his horse will carry, his one thought is to sneak off and get home with his booty.
Though the call from Constantinople to a Holy War had failed in the first instance, every effort was made to play on the easily awakened religious fanaticism of the Persians. German agents took part in the religious processions dear to the followers of Ali and Hussein; some of them even went so far as to profess Mohammedanism and to attend services in the mosques. And the motif of the Holy War was used with endless repetition and variation. It was not long before the mollahs were openly preaching in the mosques against the British and Russians.
The inevitable result of such methods was soon apparent. In half a dozen places, attempts were made on the lives of British consuls; employees of the Imperial Bank of Persia heard bullets whistle past their ears while going about their lawful occupations; the British Consul-General at Isfahan was wounded while out riding, and one of his escort was shot dead; in Shiraz, the British Vice-Consul was murdered. It was evident that the lives of Christian residents in many of the towns were no longer secure.
The only body of native troops of any military value which existed in Persia at this time, and which might have been employed to suppress disorders was the gendarmerie—the force that had been founded by Mr. Shuster in 1911. At the invitation of the Persian government, Sweden had lent Persia some twenty army officers to act as instructors for the gendarmerie. By their energy, capacity, and enthusiasm, these men had succeeded in organizing a constabulary of ten thousand native troopers. The object of this force was to put an end to brigandage, protect the trade routes, and to give the central government a small but well disciplined army on which it could rely in the event of trouble in any of the outlying provinces. Had the original officers lent by Sweden been in Persia at this time, the results of German intrigues might have been different. Unhappily, the first contingents had been recalled by Sweden on the outbreak of the European war; and the Persian government engaged in their places a number of Swedes of a different type, not officers of the regular army. Many of these men were irresponsible adventurers and soldiers of fortune such as are found in every country. The efforts of the German agents were now; directed to winning them over to their side; for they grasped the fact that if the officers of the gendarmerie declared openly for Germany against Russia, the rank and file would readily follow, and there would be no force in Persia to frustrate their designs.
It is only fair to the Swedes to say that four or five of them refused to listen to the blandishments of the Germans. The rest hesitated; but finally German gold, the filibustering spirit, and their traditional antagonism to Russia carried the day, and when the critical moment came, the gendarmerie under its Swedish officers declared for Germany. The crisis was reached in the autumn of 1916, The European communities in Persia, consisting principally of British, had left the towns of Kermanshah, Hamadan, Sultanabad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yezd, and Kerman. The whole of Persia, with the exception of the seaports and the northern cities, Teheran, Tabriz, Meshed, and Kazvin, was abandoned to German intrigue.
Still, the Persian government hesitated to throw in its lot with Germany. In October, 1915, there had come from Turkey a clear indication of the road which the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress expected Persia to follow: Enver Pasha, Minister of War, sent to the Minister of War at Teheran a present of a Koran and a Mauser automatic pistol. The astute Persian who received these significant gifts merely remarked that he did not consider it appropriate to keep them for himself, and therefore handed them both to his Majesty the Shah.
Meanwhile, the Germans had extended their intrigues to Afghanistan as well. Soon after the war broke out, a mission crossed the border from Persia, and later a wireless receiving-station was established in Cabul, which, kept the Emir well supplied with stories of German victories. Another mission went to Herat. These two missions succeeded, by methods similar to those practiced in Persia, in obtaining a strong following among the unruly Afghan chiefs. Indeed, there is very little doubt that nothing but the loyalty of the Emir to his treaty with the government of India prevented the active participation of his country in the war against the Allies,
Although Britain and Russia had not been quick enough to prevent the Germans from crossing into Afghanistan, steps were taken, when once the mission had entered that forbidden country, to cut them, off from all communication with the outside world. A cordon of Russian troops and native Persian levies under Indian officers was drawn along the whole length of the Afghan border, a distance of some eight hundred miles; the correspondence of the German mission was intercepted; and at least one caravan of gold intended for them was captured. Before long, the Germans found themselves completely isolated, with no means of getting money, and their prestige waning as their resources dwindled.
It was my fortune to carry across Persia and deliver to the British Minister in Teheran an interesting memento of German intrigue in Afghanistan. This was a present from the Kaiser intenued for the Emir, which had fallen into the hands of the British. It consisted of an eagle, about six inches high, in gold studded with rubies and emeralds. On the whole, not much of a present for an Eastern potentate! But then, the Germans have yet to learn how these things are done.
What had Russia and England been doing in the meantime to counteract these intrigues in Persia? It must be confessed, very little. There is no doubt that the representatives of both powers in Teheran underestimated the effect of Germany's efforts to bring Persia into the war. It was not until German plans had succeeded so far as to drive British and Russian consuls and communities out of one province after another that the Allies awoke to the fact that they stood on the edge of the abyss. If rapid steps had not been taken at the eleventh hour to retrieve the situation, Persia would certainly have joined the Central Powers. And if this had happened, who can say what the result might have been in Afghanistan, Trans-Caspia, and perhaps in India?
Britain was not able at the time to undertake military operations in Persia. The situation in Mesopotamia was too precarious for her to consider embarking on any new enterprises in the Middle East. Russia, because of her comparative proximity to the Persian capital and centres of disturbance, and because of the good military road from Enzeli on the Caspian to the interior of Persia, was clearly the one power of the Entente to tackle the Persian problem. Thus it came about that in the late autumn of 1915 some 20,000 Russian troops crossed the Caspian from Baku and landed on Persian territory. They were just in time.
It has been contended that the intrigues of Germany in Persia were not an open violation of neutrality, and that consequently the upholders of the neutrality of Belgium, by landing troops in Persia, were themselves guilty of an outrage similar to that committed by Germany in 1914. To those who take this view, it may be answered that Russia, previous to the war, had always kept a small force in Northern Persia to police the roads and to protect trade routes. When the war broke out, Russia had no desire to send an army into Persia. And, as a matter of fact, it was Turkey that first violated Persian neutrality by making a raid on Tabriz in January, 1915. The object of this raid was to turn the left flank of the Russian army in the Caucasus; but the Russians quickly crossed the Persian frontier and drove the Turks back. Furthermore, the ultimate aim of Germany was not merely to get Persia on her side, a country without an army and with no resources whatever. The real aim of Germany, as we have seen, was, by bringing Persia into the war, to stir up the Mohammedans of Turkestan, Afghanistan, and India. As the Persian government was powerless to stop German intrigues, even if it had wished to do so, there was no other course open to the Allies but to take action themselves.
So the 20,000 Russian troops disembarked at Enzeli on the Caspian and began to advance into the interior of Persia. This was the occasion, for which Germany had been waiting. It was the holy month of Moharrem, the month of all the twelve when the fires of Shiah fanaticism burn fiercest. The Germans had planned a rising on the tenth, one of the holiest days of Moharrem, From one enxl of the country to the other, German agents proclaimed that Russia was invading Persia. The levies which they had been raising during the previous six months were mustered; these and the gendarmes in the outlying provinces were told that the Persian government had formally joined the Central Powers and had declared war on Russia.
On reaching Kazvin, the Russian troops divided: a portion of the army was retained there to bp sent later against the gendarmes and German levies, who were mustering in Hamadan; a larger force marched towards the capital, intending to proceed thence further south, and to deal with the pro-German forces in Koum, Kashaii, Sultanabad, and Isfahan. In the meantime, there was being enacted in the capital a drama on the dénouement of which hung the fate of the whole Mohammedan East. As the Russian army approached Teheran, excitement ran high in that city; every conceivable effort was made by the German, Austrian, and Turkish ministers to persuade the young Shah to abandon his capital, retire to Isfahan, and declare war on the Entente. Now, the Shah is a young man of twenty, intelligent, and for a Persian well educated; but enormously fat and inclined to indolence. He hesitated. The Russian army continued its advance until it reached Keredj, a day's march from Teheran; there it encamped and waited.
The frantic pressure of the Germans and their coadjutors o£ this fat and indolent young man grew in intensity as the Russian army approached the capital. At last he gave way; orders were issued to pack up the; goods and chattels of the royal household; the gendarmerie was mustered to act as his bodyguard; at the palace gate his carriage stood waiting. The Shah, of Persia was ready to throw in his lot with the Germans, abandon his capital, and start for Isfahan. Then the British and Russian ministers called at the palace.
What took place at that historic interview has not yet transpired, yet at the eleventh hour the might of Britain and Russia prevailed. It is said that what caused the Shah finally to see the light was the threat of Russia to trot out his father and put him on the throne again. It may be added by way of explanation that since this autocratic monarch attempted, in 1909, to overturn the Persian constitution and was forced to abdicate, Russia has granted him an asylum, and, from that time on, she has held him, as it were, up her sleeve, as a sort of hostage for the good behavior of his son. Wisely, therefore, the young Shah countermanded the order for his carriage. The advance guard of the gendarmes under their Swedish officers had already set out for Isfahan, and the rest followed in disgust when it became known that the Shah had changed his mind.
This was a diplomatic victory of the first magnitude for the Allies: they had prevented Persia from throwing in her lot with the Central Powers. Henceforth Trans-Caspia and Afghanistan were safe for Russia and England. An early recognition was made by the British government of the services of her minister in this crisis: a knighthood was conferred on Charles Marling.
The Russian army now continued its advance southward. When it reached Teheran, instead of marching through the city, the order was given to go round, so that the Shah might be spared the indignity of a military occupation of his capital. Koum, Kashan, Sultanabad, and Isfahan were successively cleared of Germans and their dupes.
Meanwhile, the other section of the Russian army was advancing from Kazvin along the main road to Hamadan. It encountered a force of gendarmes and native levies under Swedish and German officers at the Aveh pass, half way between Kazvin and Hamadan. The hostile force was easily defeated, and Russian troops occupied Hamadan on December 12, 1915. From Hamadan, the Russian advance continued west towards the Turkish border, so that what was originally intended as an expedition to clear Persia of Germans, developed into a threat against the Turkish lines in Mesopotamia.
At the same time, Britain had been laying plans to do her share of the Allies' work in Persia. In the spring of 1916, Brigadier-General Sir Percy Sykes, a distinguished traveler and author of the standard history of Persia, who had been successively Consul-General in Kerman and in Meshed, landed at Bunder Abbas with a few British officers and a small force of Indian troops. He began at once to raise recruits for a new native gendarmerie, which was to be called "The South Persian Rifles." Very soon, he was able to move forward and drive the Germans out of Kerman. From there, with a force of seven hundred mounted Indian and Persian troopers, Sykes marched north to Yezd and Isfahan, and then turned south again to Shiraz. His entry into Shiraz marks the end of Germany's first attempt to bring Persia into the war. By this time, most of the Germans and Austrians in Persia had been taken prisoners; at least two of the most prominent officers had committed suicide; the rest either were driven back into Turkey or took refuge among the tribesmen of Kurdistan and Fars.
The country was now securely held by Russia and England. There was no hope for Germany to obtain her ends by a continuation of her previous methods. Unless she was prepared to abandon her Persian projects altogether, a military expedition was necessary; and the burden of this expedition obviously had to fall on Turkey. The Turks, heartened by their capture of nine thousand British and Indian prisoners at Kut-el-Amara, were eager for the adventure. They were assured, it seemed, by their German masters, that peace was in sight; and when the time came to discuss terms, if they were in occupation of Kermanshah and Hamadan, who would put them out? They remembered that the large population of Sunnite Mohammedans in Persian Kurdistan had always looked across the frontier for protection against the Shiite Persians, It happened, too, that a number of prominent Persians who had joined the Germans on their first attempt were in Bagdad at the time; and they assured the Turks that their country would rise and drive out the Russians and British, if help came from without.
These considerations influenced the government in Constantinople to order Halil Pasha to set aside the most elementary rule of strategy and to divide his forces in the face of the enemy. An army of some twenty thousand Turkish regulars, strengthened by gendarmes and Persian tribesmen, all under the command of Ali Ihsan Bey, crossed the frontier in May, 1916. They encountered the Russian army, which, as we have seen, had driven Germans and gendarmes before it out of western Persia, securely entrenched in mountainous country, some severity miles from the Turkish frontier. Although the position was an ideal one for defense, the Russians found themselves outnumbered, five hundred miles from their base, with poor communications behind them while malaria and sunstroke had decimated their ranks. They fell back, and Kermanshah was occupied by the Turks on the twenty-ninth of June.
I had returned with my wife to Hamadan shortly after the Russian occupation. Having fully made up our minds that German intrigues in Persia were done with, we prepared to settle down once more to business and household affairs. But towards the end of June, there were rumors that the Russian army, which had been advancing towards Bagdad, had suffered a reverse. My wife, who keeps a daily record of events, wrote on June 20, 1916:
The news does not trouble us much, because we feel that the political advantage gained for the Allies' cause by the defeat of the German plans in Persia is so important that it mil be maintained at any cost. This view is confirmed by Captain W., a British officer who has arrived in Hamadan on his way back from the front. He tells us that although the enemy is in great force at Kerind, our allies hold such strong positions there that the Turks cannot advance any further into Persia.
The gallant captain proved a false prophet, as ten days later the enemy had advanced to within ninety miles of Hamadan. We accordingly began a second time to make plans to take up our household gods and flee.
The Turks halted for a month in Kermanshah. It was the month of Ramazan, the month of fasting; and this was said to be the cause of their failure to move forward. The truth is that the troops were exhausted by their rapid march from the frontier and were far ahead of their supplies. They needed time to rest and refit. By the middle of July they were ready to go on. A spirited rearguard action was fought by the Russians on the Karasou River east of Kermanshah. After that, they continued to retreat slowly. Baratoff had insufficient forces to hold the position on the Elvend chain of mountains to the west of Hamadan. This position is naturally very strong, but it can be turned to the southward, and he had barely troops enough to hold the main line of advance. He continued to retreat, using his cavalry to hold off the Turks. Here are several extracts from my wife's journal:
July 15. A Russian officer has been to call. I think he came to give us a tip on the situation. He said that the Turks are trying to surround Hamadan and cut off the Russian retreat. One force is advancing from Kermanshah, another from Burujird, and a third, with Kurdish tribesmen, from Senneh. His regiment had been ordered to advance and hold up the force from Senneh and guard the Russian flank. He did not have any expectation, though, of holding them for long; only of retarding their advance, to give the army time to retreat. He advises us to pack up our things and get away as soon as possible. He was very angry with the British for doing nothing in Mesopotamia. "There they sit," he said, "and do nothing but drink whisky and eat conserves, enjoying themselves, while they leave all the work for us. If they would only do their part, we should not have to retire."
July 16. We neither of us had much sleep last night. The Sahib lay awake, thinking of his stock of carpets, his yarns, his factories, his staff; while my mind ran on questions of what I must take and of how on earth I could get everything done and be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
July 18. The Sahib has had a brilliant idea for saving our furniture. Yesterday afternoon, we had everything carried down to a large room in the cellar, and after dark a friendly mason was brought in and instructed to brick up the entrance to this room. The work has been so cleverly done that no one walking through the dark cellar passage would ever dream that there has been a door there. We did not wish to have bricks brought into the compound; so the mason got his supply by prying them off the top of the garden wall in the dark.
July 19. You should see this house! Except in the dining-room, there is not a stick of furniture left in it. In the dining-room, the sideboard and dining-table are left, because they are too big to move. We are sleeping on mattresses on the floor. We have sent three trunks, containing clothes, table linen, and bed linen, enough to last us at a pinch for a year to Kazvin. We are living with just what we can get into a couple of small bags. The Sahib has shipped off all his rugs and handed all his archives to the American missionaries for safe-keeping. We have bags of money ready to hand, a stable full of horses, and could leave at an hour's notice if necessary.
July 20. Among the refugees from Kermanshah are a doctor and a nurse of the American Red Cross, who have been attached to the Russian Red Cross for a year and a half. Dr. M. is now working in the American Mission Hospital here, which the Russian Red Cross has taken over for surgical cases. Since we packed up our belongings, housekeeping has been reduced to its lowest terms, so that I have plenty of time on my hands; I have therefore asked Dr. M. if I can help in the hospital.
July 22. I have spent the last few mornings in the dressings room. It is good to feel that one can do something, even so little, for these splendid Russian soldiers. On the first morning, I helped Dr. M. as he took out a bullet from a man's thigh. The real Russians are wonderfully brave—not so the Armenians and Georgians. If, as sometimes happens, a Russian groans when his wounds are being dressed, the doctor has only to whisper in his ear, "You are not a Russian, you are an Armenian," and he is quiet at once.
There is a man with a recently amputated arm who does not make a sound when his stump is dressed. A little trembling of the body and a quick intake of his breath are the only outward signs of the pain which he suffers.
I have got so that I answer readily to the call of "Sestreetsa," Little Sister, from the patients on all sides. And I am becoming terribly familiar with all the different ways in which a man expresses pain.
July 25. They are wonderfully brave, these Russians. It is so much worse, therefore, when, as happened to-day, one of them goes to pieces completely and sobs on my breast. I was holding his head against me to support him and keep him quiet while the doctor worked at his shoulder. He lost his nerve, and I pretty, nearly lost mine.
August 5. The town is full of rumors of the Russian retreat, but we really do not know what is happening fifty miles away. We are told that five thousand new Russian troops are on their way from Enzeli with ten heavy guns. We are also told that there are no troops coming, because the Grand Duke has refused to send reinforcements. We hear that General Baratoff is to be superseded by a general who is on the way from Enzeli; we also hear that he has received a telegram of congratulation from the Grand Duke because he has drawn the Turkish army so far into Persia. One takes one's, choice! It is rather like living on the top of a volcano—a volcano which may blow us to Kazvin before we know it.
August 7. Dr. M. has just sent word from the hospital that the Red Cross has received orders to leave this afternoon. The British Consul has also been officially advised that the town is to be evacuated. As soon as I received the doctor's note, I hurried over to the hospital. Most of the supplies had already been sent off. The patients asked for particularly tight bandages that day because they were going out on the road. Then I returned to the house, where there were many little things still to be done. Horses must be freshly shod; horseshoe nails must be bought in the bazaar to take along with us in case any should be lost on the road; bags full of silver money must be counted. The Sahib attended to most of these things, while I went on leisurely enough with my preparations.
We had arranged with the other members of our little community to start early the following morning. At a little after midnight, when we were putting the finishing touches to our packing and were wearily looking forward to a few hours' sleep, a note was brought in from the English bank manager, suggesting that we leave in an hour, so as to get ahead of the crush. At 2 a. m. on the ninth of August 1916, our little cavalcade started from Hamadan on a one-hundred-and-forty mile ride to Kazvin. Our party consisted of four Englishmen—two from the Imperial Bank of Persia, my chief accountant, and myself—one Frenchman, a master in the school of the Alliance Israelite, and one Armenian clerk. My wife was the only woman. There were half a dozen servants in addition to the muleteers who trudged behind the pack animals. The bank had a large caravan besides—some twelve or more animals to carry the records and specie. As we rode through the night, Turkish guns boomed in the distance. Nor had we barely started before a long Irue of ambulance carts with winking headlights passed us. They were bringing in the wounded from the Assadabad pass, twenty miles away, where the Russian rearguard was holding off the enemy to give Baratoff time to get away his stores and clear his hospitals. That afternoon the last Russian troops marched out of Hamadan, and the Turks entered the following day.
Armies on the march have a way of disappearing at night. The highway to Kazvin was completely deserted; for all we saw of the Russians during our night ride, we might have been a thousand miles from the battle front. But with the rising sun, the army appeared; horse, foot, and artillery joined the road until it was crowded with troops and transports of every kind: great motor lorries—made in Detroit—lumbered past long strings of camels, indifferent, contemptuous. There were carts of every size and description; there were pack animals of every kind to be found in Persia. It was not until I saw this whole army on the march that I began faintly to understand the colossal efforts which the warring nations are putting forth. Of all the war fronts, this was perhaps the least important as regards numbers engaged, and yet this army extended in a more or less continuous line for sixty miles.
It was amusing to watch the Russian soldiers riding camels and having all the trouble in the world to manage their strange, stubborn mounts. Most painful to see were the lumbering, springless carts full of; sick and wounded—it was a terrible journey for those poor fellows over the burning plain in the August heat. Many a new wooden cross was added to the little graveyards which have sprung up since the war at almost every stage on the post roads of Persia.
Baratoff continued his retreat along the highway from Hamadan to Kazvin; but the Turks made no attempt to pursue. About half way between the two cities, the road crosses a chain of mountains by a pass over seven thousand feet above sea level. Before he reached this pass, Baratoff halted with the mountains behind him. He had drawn the Turkish army three hundred miles into Persia, and had shortened his own communications by a like distance. The mountain chain where he made his stand might be turned by a wide movement to the east, but it could hardly be taken by frontal attack. He established his headquarters on the Eazvin side of the pass, and his army entrenched among the foothills on the Hamadan side.
Here the two armies lay confronting each other from August, 1916, until the following March. The Turks had reached Hamadan, ragged, bootless, emaciated—wholly unfit to continue the pursuit. By the time they had rested and refitted, autumn was half over, and the bitter Persian winter was at hand. During the autumn months, rumors were rife that the Turks were again advancing. But as a matter of fact, they did nothing. The Russians undertook one reconnaissance in force from Sultanabad against the Turkish right flank. With this exception, there was practically no fighting for seven months. Apparently, Ali Ihsan Bey hesitated to march his army further on its wild goose chase into central Persia. He realized that if he should receive a check, impassable roads, bitter winter weather, and lack of supplies might lead to disaster.
Meanwhile, the British in Mesopotamia had been steadily and surely laying their plans to resume the offensive and to retrieve the disaster of Kut. It shows how ill-informed the Turks must have been as to the true character of these preparations that they did not recall their army from Persia until Kut had been actually recaptured and the Turkish Mesopotamian army defeated with a loss of one-third of its effectives and two-thirds of its artillery. Ali Ihsan Bey, who ten days before had boasted openly in Hamadan of a forthcoming march on Teheran, now suddenly, to the astonishment of the Persians, began a. retreat towards Kermanshah. The Turkish army evacuated Hamadan on March 1, 1917; and the Russians again entered the city on the following day.
It was now the turn of the Russians to pursue. If one may judge only from results, the pursuit was not vigorously prosecuted. Not a gun was taken, and hardly any prisoners were captured. The Turkish rearguard had apparently no more difficulty in holding off the pursuit while they got their transport away than had the Russians during their retreat of the previous summer.
On the tenth of March, the same day the British entered Bagdad, the Russians re-entered Kermanshah at the heels of the retreating Turks. Immediately, the British sent a column to occupy Bakouba on the road between Bagdad and the Persian frontier. It began to look as if Ali Ihsan Bey might be caught before he could make good his escape. Whether or not the Allied generals considered the feasibility of cutting off his retreat, I do not know; the fact is, however, that although the Turks left hundreds of animals dead from exhaustion on the road, they got clean away without losing a gun, and with the loss of hardly any of their supplies. When Ali Ihsan Bey's army crossed the frontier into Turkey, there ended the second attempt of Germany to get Persia into the war on her side. Will Germany make a third attempt? This probably depends on developments in Russia. If the Russians make a separate peace with Germany, a serious effort will be made by the Turkish Mesopotamian army, reinforced by the army of the Caucasus, to recapture Bagdad. A column might then be sent into Persia.. If the Russian troops be withdrawn from the country, the path of Britain is clear. She should then demand that the Persian government inform Turkey that if Turkish troops cross the frontier again, Persia will take it as a casus belli. If Persia refuses to do this and prepares to allow Turkish troops to enter the country without opposition, pressure might be brought on the Persian government by a threat to annex South Persia. The knowledge that a second invasion would lead Persia to declare war on Turkey would be sufficient to prevent the Germans from sending a Turkish army on another fruitless expedition.
Hamadan, October, 1917.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald