10/6/1918 Vorontsovka: Germany and Turkey come to blows

Germany and Turkey are allied to each other, but their goals are starting to diverge. Turkey’s leaders see the collapse of Russian power in the Caucasus as an opportunity for expansion; they have sent their troops racing to occupy territory lost to the Ottoman Empire in previous wars. Enver also hopes to expand Turkish power into central Asia, where he anticipates a warm welcome from the Turkic peoples there. The Germans however want to set up friendly client states in the Caucasus, to serve as buffer between Soviet Russia and the Turks; they have already recognised Georgia as independent and despatched a small force there under Kressenstein.

The problems caused by Germany and Turkey’s divergent goals come to a head today. Turkish forces advancing into Georgia clash with a combined Georgian and German force at Vorontsovka. The more numerous Turks have the upper hand, driving away their opponents and taking several German prisoners. As news of this incident filters back to the German high command there is outrage at this gross impertinence on the part of their supposed allies.

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map (Kafkasya Cephesi’nde Osmanlı-Alman Rekabeti – Ottoman-German Competition in the Caucasus Front)

26/5/1918 Georgia exits the Transcaucasian Federation #1918Live

Last month a new country joined the family of nations: the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic, uniting Georgians, Azeris and Armenians in a federal union, together with members of other smaller ethnic groups. Today, barely a month after its formation, the Federal Republic begins to disintegrate.

The odds were stacked against the federation from the start, with internal ethnic divisions exerting a strong centrifugal force. More immediately threatening is the continued advance into the Caucasus of the Turkish army, with Enver Pasha determined to restore Turkish prestige by re-absorbing long-lost territories back into the Ottoman Empire. Georgian leaders fear that the federation is too weak and internally divided to resist the Turks, so now they declare independence. A German force under Kressenstein has already arrived in Tbilisi. The Germans declare Georgia to be under their protection, preventing the Turks from overrunning this new state.

With Georgia gone, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic is effectively dead. Mutual hostility between the Azeris and Armenians mean that they will not be able to peacefully coexist in a single federation. It cannot be more than a few days before the federation is formally dissolved.

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Meeting today of Georgia’s National Council (Wikipedia: Democratic Republic of Georgia)

21/5/1918 Ludendorff’s gaze turns to India #1918Live

Ludendorff is preparing a diversionary offensive against the French in the Chemin des Dames sector, after which he plans to attack the British in Flanders. He hopes that this will see the British driven into the sea and the French forced to make peace. But he is concerned that the destruction of their army in France and Belgium may not be enough to force the British to agree to peace terms. With their naval dominance they will be able to rest secure in their homeland and continue to strangle German trade.

How to force Britain’s surrender? Ludendorff thinks he has the answer. Today he writes to Hans von Seeckt, German chief of staff of the Turkish army. Outlining his concerns, he reveals to Seeckt his solution: Britain will have to make peace if threatened in India. Accordingly Seeckt is to prepare the Turkish army for an overland march to attack the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown.

Ludendorff takes for granted that the Turks will gladly allow their army to be used for this grandiose adventure.

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Erich Ludendorff (The Soldier’s Burden – Die Grosse Schlacht in Frankreich: Events leading up to the 21st of March 1918)

Hans von Seeckt (Wikipedia)

4/5/1918 Turkey in the ascendant as the British retreat across the Jordan

British and Australian forces have crossed the Jordan and established themselves in the town of Salt, preparatory to an attack on Amman. But the Turks are somehow wise to their plans, counter-attacking the Allies in great numbers. The British have been hanging but are in increasing danger of being cut-off and forced to surrender. Realising there is no longer any prospect of taking Amman, Allenby gives his men permission to withdraw. They slip back across the Jordan, abandoning Salt to the Turks.

The balance of forces in Palestine and Transjordan now seems to be moving in favour of the Turks. Allenby has to send his best troops to France, where they are needed to meet the German spring offensives. The failure at Salt has discredited the British, as has the publication by Soviet Russia of the Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the Middle East. With the Turks now in the ascendant they see a surge in enlistment from the Arabs of Transjordan as local notables send men to join the winners’ army.

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Retreating across the Jordan (Wikipedia: Second Transjordan attack on Shunet Nimrin and Es Salt)

30/4/1918 Another British attack across the Jordan goes awry #1918Live

In Palestine Allenby has been ordered to prepare his best troops for despatch to the Western Front, where they are needed to face Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. However the British general is determined to have one last crack at Amman in Transjordan before he has to go on the defensive. Today Australian and British troops cross the Jordan and secure the town of Salt, in preparation for an attack on Amman itself.

But then things begin to go wrong. German and Turkish forces materialise out of nowhere to launch an unanticipated counterattack of unexpected strength. Liman von Sanders, the German commander of Turkey’s forces in Palestine, has somehow got wind of Allenby’s plan, through treachery or the interception of British wireless messages.

The Australians and British find themselves heavily outnumbered and in danger of being cut off. Reinforcements are quickly sent across the Jordan to their aid, but there is no longer any prospect of capturing Amman: the expeditionary force is fighting for its survival.

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map (Wikipedia)

22/4/1918 The Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic joins the family of nations #1918Live

Today a new country emerges from the ruins of the Russian Empire: the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic. The new nation seeks to unite Armenians, Georgians, Azeris and other ethnic groups of the region into one federal state. The new state’s leader is Prime Minister Akaki Chkhenkeli, a socialist Georgian from the anti-Bolshevik Menshevik party.

The new Transcaucasian Republic faces desperate problems. Aside from internal tensions between its different peoples, it also faces the external threat of Turkey, whose forces are expanding into Transcaucasia in an effort to maximise Turkish power there. In the future the wayward region may also need to worry about efforts by Soviet Russia to bring it to heel.

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Akaki Chkhenkeli & 1903 map of Transcaucasia (Wikipedia: Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic)

18/4/1918 Transjordan: Arab failure at Ma’an

Arab rebels have been attacking the Turkish-held town of Ma’an in the Transjordan region. French artillery support for the rebels has been ineffectual but al-Askari, the Arab commander, has nevertheless pressed the attacks over the last few days, capturing the railway station and several lines of Turkish trenches. The fighting has been tough on both sides, with the Turkish defenders unnerved by being cut off from the outside world: some of garrison’s officers suggest that the time has come for a negotiated surrender. However the Turks’ hand is forced by the town’s civilian population, who fear pillage the hands of the Bedouin followers of the Arab rebels. They arm themselves and join forces with the Turks, revitalising Ma’an’s defence.

Al-Askari now decides that enough is enough and calls off the siege of Ma’an, ordering a retreat before his army is completely shattered. The losses he has endured have been heavy, with his force suffering nearly 300 casualties, a drop in the ocean of blood on the Western Front but losses of an unprecedented scale for the Arab rebels. The blow to Arab morale is considerable.