At the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916. The Caucasian army was forced to take a series of major offensive actions aimed at preventing a possible revitalization of the enemy, including assisting a British ally. The desire of the Stake to save reserves for the European front in reality was not a success. Already after the Sarykamysh operation, that is, at the beginning of the 1915 of the year, it became clear that there was a need for a strategic reserve for the Caucasian army, which needed to be concentrated in Kars or in Sarykamysh. As a result, after overcoming the crisis, the V Caucasian Army Corps was immediately formed as part of the 1 and 2 of the Kuban Plastun Brigades and the 3 of the Caucasian Rifle Division. However, back in March 1915, the corps was transferred to Sevastopol and Odessa to prepare for a possible strike on the Bosphorus. Thus, the Straits depleted forces from the Caucasus in much the same way as Galicia and Poland then diverted the same troops from the Bosporus operation. Nevertheless, the number of the Caucasian army was slowly, but still growing. If at the beginning of the year it totaled 1915 106 battalions, 222 356 and hundreds of guns, by the beginning of June of the same year - 112, ¾ battalion, hundreds 213, 20 engineer companies, 43 8 militia and volunteer brigades, squadron 2, 348 guns.
At the end of 1915, the Headquarters, in spite of the difficult situation with the supply and technical support of the European front, allocated for the Caucasian army another squad of 10 aircraft and 150 trucks. These forces greatly contributed to the capture of Erzerum. And the attack itself on the Turkish fortress, according to the gene. N.G. Korsun was also taken on the initiative of the headquarters headquarters, who insisted on an offensive on the Turkish front in December 1915. Gene. Alekseev pointed out that the expected evacuation of the Allies from the Strait region, as well as the failures of the British in southern Mesopotamia, would cause the strengthening of the Turkish group acting against the Russian army in Asia Minor.
The headquarters of the Caucasian army in the middle of November 1915 received information that most of the Turkish troops liberated under Gallipoli would be deployed against it. With their arrival in late February - early March 1916, the Turkish army, and so superior to the Russian, would have already received a double superiority in forces. The Turkish command expected to use the winter period, which was extremely inconvenient for operations in the mountains of Asia Minor, in order to develop its success against the British, and in the spring to collapse with all its might against the Russians. In the spring and summer of 1916, the Russian Caucasian Army had the opportunity to meet with the combined forces of the Caucasian, Gallipoli, and Mesopotamian Turkish armies. Even in this situation it was impossible to count on the support of the Stavka - all that remained was to go on the offensive itself before reinforcements approached the Turks.
These arguments were not unfounded - the chief of staff of Glavkoverhaha not only did not think about supporting the Caucasian army, but was also not averse to using its units at the European theater of operations. Further failures of the Entente, in Alekseev’s opinion, could worsen the situation of Russia in the South and even affect Romania’s accession to the number of its opponents: “In this situation, every division, even if temporarily seconded from the Caucasus for the upcoming Russian operation in the West, could give the latter decisiveness and to expand its results, why the chief of staff of the commander-in-chief and asked the commander-in-chief of the Caucasian front to discuss the overall strategic position, weigh the possibility of success on the Western front and express what way The Caucasian army could take part in the struggle, because from a military point of view it was impractical to have 150 000 rifles only for surveillance and surveillance. "
In January, 1916, Nashtawerh, offered the Allies a simple and effective means of defense of the approaches to India, that is, Persia and Egypt. The Russians and the British were supposed to start moving to Baghdad from the side of Kermanshah and Basra. After taking this point, the Allies could organize an attack on Mosul and further to Anatolia. “In general, instead of the passive defense of Suez in the unlikely Egyptian campaign of the Germans,” he wrote, “it is better to create a strong allied group at Mosul, which would establish a common action with the left wing of our Caucasian army; too dangerous would create a situation for the Turks, the Allies would not have troops inactive, what might be the troops now assembled in Egypt. ”By the end of 1915, about 85 thousand people were gathered here. against 40 thousand, which the Turks had in Palestine. However, Alekseev’s proposal was not supported - both the Russians and the British continued to act actively, but without any agreement between them. Russian troops independently launched an attack on Erzerum.
Before the start of the Erzerum operation against her, Nikolay Nikolayevich Jr., supported the gene. F.F. Palitsyn. The Grand Duke did not want to take risks - he remembered the failure of the assault on Przemysl. However, the Stavche still preferred to listen to the arguments of the NN headquarters. Yudenich, who developed a plan of attack. It should be noted that this plan was originally aimed exclusively at the destruction of enemy personnel. The main blow was dealt to the main position of the Turks in 150 kilometers east of the fortress. In the Caucasus, they did not attach greater importance to the fortresses than they deserved. It should be noted that the headquarters of the Caucasian Front was very different from others not only in this.
Under Yudenich, only the “field headquarters” headed by the quartermaster-general Gen.-m. P.A. Tomilov. It consisted of 4 − 5 officers of the General Staff. During the operation, each of them was supervised by one of the corps, and constant communication was maintained with the units (Yudenich paid special attention to this). The officers were required to get acquainted in detail with the units, their commanders and the situation, the readiness for the report was to be constant - 24 hours per day. Yudenich's desk was in the operational department room, where the chiefs of the operational and intelligence departments were constantly present. In the middle of the room was a table with a front map - each of the officers had the right to speak out and defend their point of view when discussing the operation. Yudenich did not interfere in the details, but demanded their knowledge from his subordinates - special attention was paid to aerial reconnaissance data and the testimony of prisoners. The most important of them were immediately sent to the front headquarters by car, for personal interrogation. This leadership style, traditional for the Caucasian army, was one of the important component successes of Yudenich.
The Chief of Staff of the Supreme Commander agreed to an attack on Erzerum on the condition that it would start no later than December 1915, otherwise Alekseev was ready to remove units from the Turkish front and transfer them to the German-Austrian one. In addition, the High Command had to take into account the possibility of exacerbating the situation in Persia, where Turkish and German agents launched a very successful propaganda of the “holy war” against Russia and England (especially among the Kurds, in the region of Lake Urmia, that is, in the zone of Russian influence) taking advantage of the sympathy and sometimes direct support of the local gendarmerie, which was largely under the control of the Swedish officers-instructors.
At the very beginning of 1916, the Russian attack on Erzerum began. Yudenich well prepared the operation - first of all, the complete secret was observed. Before the offensive began, the departure of any and all telegrams and letters without exception from the Sarykamysh-Kars area was prohibited. In order not to arouse suspicion, they were accepted but not dispatched, and departure was prohibited under the pretext of overloading the railway, which allegedly could not cope with the transport of troops from the rear. Teams were sent to Tiflis from the front to buy Christmas trees for the Christmas holidays. These measures were a success - rumors about the weakening of the Caucasian army began to spread everywhere, and no one, including its officers and soldiers, expected action. As a result, the Russian offensive, which began on New Year's Eve, caught the Turks off guard. Already on the first day, December 30 1915 (January 12 1916), prisoners and trophies were captured, while the casualties were very high.
The offensive was carried out in the most difficult conditions, its participant recalled: “Here is a heap of treeless ridges. The deepest snow. Brutal frosts. The stubborn resistance of the Turks. ”By the morning of 1 (14) in January of 1916, the offensive resulted in complete success - the Turkish army was rolling back to Erzerum. On the night of January 4 (17), under the influence of news of the appearance of Russian troops in the rear, this retreat turned into an irregular flight, which made it possible to distinguish brilliantly the valiant Siberian Cossack brigade. Having captured in the shortest possible time about 1 thousand prisoners, she littered the road to Erzerum with enemy corpses. Panic and disorganization reigned among the Turkish troops. 6 (19) in January The headquarters reported a successful offensive - at a front width up to 100 versts, the Turks rolled back to the Erzerum plain: In places, this retreat is in the form of a panicky flight. ”
“As far as the Turks were not prepared for our offensive,” the front correspondent of Rech noted, “it is clear from the fact that now during the retreat they leave in our hands their artillery and food depots and large reserves of fuel, so valued in those places. There are few forests and local people use dung for heating. But the war forced the local population to leave their homes and go away from the area of military operations, so it’s difficult to get manure here. In view of this, the reserves of fuel harvested by the Turks can be considered very valuable booty for our troops. The Turks did not manage to take anything out of the warehouses. They abandoned ammunition, equipment - all this indicates a disorderly retreat, it is not a retreat to the shelter of the forts of the fortress, but an escape under the onslaught of our troops. ” 9 (22) January, Russian artillery began shelling the advanced forts of Erzerum.
At this moment Nikolay Nikolayevich-ml. He advocated the suspension of the offensive on the Kiprekei positions, in two passages from the fortress. Back in November, 1915, here, at a key point in front of the fortress, the Russian troops were forced to stop and retreat once after the hardest fights with the Turks who were actively attacking them. But in mid-January 1916, the situation was different. Russian advanced units at that time were already under the city. During the 2 week of fighting in the most difficult conditions, they fought more than 60 versts on mountain roads, seized numerous Turkish food and fodder depots. The word “road” itself was applicable to the realities of this theater of military operations very conditionally.
Existing paths were swept by snow, the depth of which reached the chest of a person or the belly of a horse. In view of the fact that the horses could not move in such conditions, the road ahead was made by people who cleared the aisles and were dragging everything they needed, including tools and shells. For the passage of the mountain artillery forward, they alternately expelled a battalion, which trampled down the path in deep snow. 13 (26) of January Russian troops occupied the Kara-Bazar plateau, in the most difficult conditions creating a springboard for a further attack on the city. “Above there is a two-five-degree frost,” recalled the participant of the fights on the plateau, “there is usually a snowstorm in the morning, and when it is cloudless, the skin breaks from the sun and the snow blinds. Under the rays everything thaws, at night it freezes and clothes are covered with ice crust. A scorching wind, picking up lumps of dry snow, hurls them in the face, clogs them under the floor. Heaters do not help: hold - palms warm, and frosting on top. On the fifth shot, the fingers get numb. No roads, go virgin. Landslides and landslides. The undulating area of the plateau is studded with large stones breaking shovels. ”
Artillery, as well as ammunition, had to be lifted by hand - the steepness of the slopes from the Russian side reached 45 degrees. Food stocks, taken at the beginning of the movement, was not enough. Normal power supply troops failed to provide. “People have lost every soldier’s appearance during this period. - I remembered the gene. F.I. Nazarbekov. - Their faces were exhausted from overwork, and most importantly from continuous malnutrition. Ate only by local means. When they found flour, they baked cakes, or simply wheat. ” Meanwhile, until January 29 (February 11), the troops had to repulse the enemy’s counterattacks and at the same time accumulate forces for a decisive blow to the Turkish fortress. Extremely difficult these days were for the enemy. His command clearly did not cope with the organization of the retreat. The escape route of the Turks and Kurds was thickly littered with the corpses of dead and frozen Askers and dead pack animals.
For further action, Yudenich needed about 8 million rifle cartridges, which only the commander-in-chief of the army could single out from the reserve of the Kara Fort. Realizing that it would be impossible to recover these reserves in the near future, he feared that in the event of a Turkish counter-offensive, the Caucasian army would remain without ammunition. The new “great retreat” Nikolai Nikolayevich could not afford. The Grand Duke did not understand that the best guarantee of the passivity of the 3 Turkish army would be its final defeat. In the headquarters of Yudenich with the order from the commander arrived gene. Palitsyn. He considered the assault madness and adventure. As a result, after a direct telephone conversation between Yudenich and Nikolai Nikolayevich, the commander-in-chief allowed the assault under the personal responsibility of his subordinate. "Epic hero" and "valiant leader" once again showed their real qualities. Visited the Caucasian army gen.-m. Charles Colwell quite accurately determined that the real leader is Yudenich, and the Grand Duke only seems to them, and that - at first.
Erzurum mattered historicalas an ancient city, whose history was directly connected with the vast region of the Ottoman Empire, political as the administrative center of the region, symbolizing the power of the Ottomans, economic as a crossroads of historical trade routes from the Black Sea to Persia and Mesopotamia, and from the Caucasus deep into Anatolia, strategic - as the center of military command of the entire Russian-Turkish front and the base of the 3rd Turkish army. The Turkish command considered the fortress to be completely reliable and expected it to delay the advance of the enemy by at least several months. After 1878, this stronghold was strengthened by English engineers, who were replaced in the 1890s. their German colleagues. Before the war, it was armed with about 700 guns of various systems and calibers, a significant amount of which was later taken to strengthen the fortifications on the Dardanelles. In 1914, the fortress was renamed the Erzurum fortified zone, which had 16 forts in a central position and two flank groups of two forts. They could not withstand the shelling of modern guns - there were practically no concrete structures in Erzurum. In service there were 4 150-mm. guns, 20 150 mm. howitzers, 18 120 mm. howitzers, 102 87 mm., 34 80 mm. and 18 75 mm. field guns, 39 quick-firing 90 mm. Krupp guns - a total of 235 barrels (not counting the artillery of the troops defending the position).
On the night of January 30 (February 12), the 3 Battalion and two companies of the 4 Battalion of the 153 Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Daniel-Bek Pirumov captured the night storming of Fort Dalangez. The next day they fought off the Turkish counter-attacks, and defended the position. From January 31 (February 13) the shelling of the Erzerum forts began to intensify. One of them managed to cause significant damage. On the night of February 2 (15), a Turkish artillery officer ran over to the Russian side with detailed plans for the deployment of enemy troops and artillery. The defector appeared on time - in the afternoon of February 2 (15) under the fortress were to complete the installation of the 16 heavy guns arriving from Kars. It should be noted that, with all the value of this man, Yudenich did not hide his attitude towards him. It was expressed in the following words: “Take this bastard with you, let it help our artillery with your instructions ...” On the same day heavy shelling of Turkish fortifications began. He was very effective, which had a positive effect on the troops preparing for the attack. On the night of February 3 (16), the assault began, from the very beginning it developed successfully.
The city was doomed. “His fall was inevitable, but the fact that this could be accomplished so soon, it was already a surprise for us. - I remembered the participant of the assault. - February 2 finally quivered the Turks, lit part of Erzerum and began to retreat from Erzerum. February 3 in the morning 7 already our troops were in Erzerum. " 4 (17) February, the Turks began to prepare a general withdrawal. This could be judged by the explosions of the fortifications remaining in their hands. The recently wavering Nikolai Nikolayevich sent the following telegram to the Highest Name: “The Lord God rendered so overwhelming the troops of the Caucasian army such great help that Erzerum after an 5-day unprecedented assault was taken. Indescribably happy to bring this victory to Your Imperial Majesty. ”In fact, the city has not yet been taken, but the Russian army already controlled 3 / 5 of its fortifications. The fate of Erzerum has already been decided.
On the night of February 5 (18) a general assault was undertaken, and in the morning of this day the Elizavetpolsky regiment took a key position - Fort Chaban-grandfather, but the battle for the second line of the forts was delayed for several more days. Only 9 (22) February 1916, parts of the 1st Caucasian Corps entered the city. Russian losses during the capture of the fortress amounted to 14,5 thous. killed, wounded and missing, more than 6 thousand people. of this figure was frostbitten. The fall of Erzerum, a first-class fortress in Asia Minor, was accompanied by the indiscriminate retreat of the enemy, great human and material losses. A number of Turkish battalions lost from 90 to 98% of its composition. North-west of the city were surrounded and captured by the remnants of the 34 Turkish division, on the Erzerum highway one of the retreating enemy regiments suffered the same fate.
On the main defensive line of the forts, 197 serviceable guns of various sizes were captured, and in the central wall of the fortress - another 126. 235 officers and 12 753 lower ranks were captured. During the pursuit, 79 guns were also captured. The nature of the demoralization of the Turkish army could be judged by the number of Russian trophies. On the first day of the assault, the enemy's 6 guns were captured, 2 was captured in 7, 3 in 29, 4 in 70 and 5 in 200. A large amount of ammunition, gunpowder, food, and livestock was left at the forts and in the city by the enemy. “The demoralized remnants of the Turkish army,” noted the Military Collection, “retreated in disarray to the west, and in some three-division corps there were 3 − 5 thousands of bayonets with several guns”. 6 (19) February 1916. The Headquarters of the Supreme Commander also reported on the capture of the cities of Mush and Akhat.
Despite the obvious success, immediately after the capture of Erzerum, the rearmament of its fortifications began - 65 steel cannons were left from the captured guns, in addition, 312 guns were transported from the Kara fortress, to which 16 siege guns that participated in the preparation of the assault were attached. The forts damaged by the Russian artillery were also put in order. About 1,5 thousand laborers were hired to work on fortifications in Kars and the region. They were paid 45 rubles. per month (minimum) with the provision of three meals a day and shelter. At first, the labor force had to be brought from Russia - the outskirts of Erzerum, which had almost 70 thousand people before the war, were almost deserted. Works in the city were urgent and large-scale - his sanitary and hygienic condition was terrible. To this we must also add the constant threat of epidemics - in Erzerum about 40 thousand of typhus patients were seized, the mortality in their ranks was terrible - up to 50 − 60%. The city had to be urgently put in order - to clear the streets, create disinfection centers, bathhouses, etc.
It should be noted that Erzurum practically did not suffer from the shelling during the assault, but after the events of 1915, he was in a depressing state. “The pise houses are ravaged, without roofs, without doors. - Noted Russian military journalist. “Fifty of the surviving buildings (out of three thousand) are carefully numbered.” In addition to the terrible state of the city, the Turks left a very familiar, typical picture of destruction to the Russian troops. This was the second, and, as it turned out, the last destruction of this city. In 1827, the population of Erzerum was about 130 thousand people, after the Armenians left it followed the Russian troops in 1829 it became empty, in 1835 there were no more than 15 thousand people living here. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian population accounted for about a quarter of all residents of the city. Now about 25 thousand Armenians Erzerum disappeared, they were almost completely cut. The same thing happened in Mush. The city had a predominantly Armenian population, after the massacre, about 50 families of Muslims remained here.
From the most numerous element of Erzurum district - the peasants engaged in tillage, horticulture and carting - not a trace remains. Much of the Muslims went after their troops. By the time of the arrival of the Russian troops, there were about 24 left from thousands of Turks and less than a hundred Armenians - these were surviving “by necessity” artisans, 18 girls escaping the American mission, the 53 man was hidden by the Turks. The rest were deported from the city to Mesopotamia, while most of the men were exterminated along the way. When the Russian offensive began, the Turkish authorities tried to organize a “deportation” of the Greeks, but did not have time to do so. Before the Turks left, all more or less significant buildings belonging to the Armenian church were blown up, in particular the dome of the Church of the Holy Virgin.
It should be recognized that the Turkish authorities ultimately succeeded - in the city basically only the Turkish population remained. Now the Russian authorities were forced to do his salvation. Bringing Erzerum in order were actively involved in the hospital and squad Zemgor. It was a huge task. The head of the disinfection and bacteriological unit, Professor I.I. Shirokogorov in April 1916 reported to the General Directorate of the Red Cross: "Currently, the city is cleared of corpses and dirt, accumulated over many centuries." The units of Zemgor and the Red Cross also began to provide systematic medical assistance to civilians in the city. One of the problems was the absence of women doctors, "... because women of the local population do not apply to men doctors at all." A similar situation exists in Musha, where an epidemic of typhus originating, commanding the gene forces, arose here. Nazarbekov had to make considerable efforts to save the remaining part of the Muslim population from retaliation by the Armenians returning with the Russian army.
The success of the Caucasian army was marked by two-day celebrations in Tiflis - a grateful prayer service was served on the Erivan city square with a huge gathering of people. The Armenian Catholicos ordered to serve him in all Armenian churches, the mass of refugees cheered, hoping to return to their homes. In the mosques were prayers of thanksgiving. In front of the Palace of the Viceroy there were mass demonstrations, which he welcomed from the balcony. In response, “Hooray!” Was heard. A stream of congratulatory telegrams went to Nikolay Nikolaevich Jr., who turned into the main hero of victory. Meanwhile, he only 7 (20) in February departed from the capital of the Viceroy in the taken fortress. Only 15 (28) in February was followed by the awarding of the main commander of the Caucasian Front - N.N. Yudenich was awarded the Order of St. George 2 st.
The Russian victory in Asia Minor had a great international resonance. It was a difficult time for the Entente - the battles on the Western Front were distinguished by a high level of losses without "spectacular" results. In England, the first signs of discontent among the workers appeared. “In February, the epic defense of Verdun began,” the adviser to the Russian embassy in London recalled, “and the only event that was favorable for the common cause of the allies was the capture of Erzerum by Russian troops.” The British press immediately admitted that it had greatly eased the defense of Egypt by the British army. The British ambassador to France, Lord F. Bertie, noted: “Erzerum is magnificent: rumor has it that victory has been achieved with the help of gold.” Obviously, it was a response to a story with a defector. According to the testimony of Liman von Sanders, the defeat at Erzurum shocked the Turkish government and command, who had to hide this news from the population and from Sultan Mohammed V. The Russian offensive on the Turkish front continued until early April - the Turks retreated from the fortress to the distance of 120 kilometers.
Success under Erzurum was developed by new achievements. The pursuit of the retreating enemy continued for 8 days, and stopped with the capture of the city of Bitlis. At this moment, the Russian troops were mostly opposed not by the Turks, but by the Kurds. “The whole area to the Mush valley,” recalled a participant in the offensive, “was abandoned by the inhabitants and their villages were destroyed. The frosts were very strong, and the snow reached the height of human growth.
The enemy resisted weakly, but the struggle with nature and lack of roads took all the forces of the people ”. The situation was aggravated by the lack of food, fodder, and fuel. On the night of February 19 (March 4), a bayonet attack in a blizzard and snowstorm Russian troops captured the city of Bitlis. The city was seized 20 newest Krupp guns. Neither the frost, nor the lack of roads, nor the deep snow stopped the Russian attack. A three-pillar infantry infantry seized positions on the mountains around the city with a sudden bayonet strike, followed by cavalry striking a position near the city. Early in the morning the city was already in Russian hands. 5 thousand people were taken prisoner. There was no serious resistance - obviously, no one expected an attack in such conditions: the loss of the attackers was insignificant - no more than 25 people. 4 (17) March in 90 kilometers from Erzerum was taken the city of Mamakhatun, 44 Turkish officer and 770 soldiers were captured, 5 guns, machine guns and wagons became the spoils of Russian troops.
The new year began with victories that did not change anything in the general situation of the country.