Turkish Armenia Falls to Russia
Russian Army, 320,000
Grand Duke Nicholas, Commander
Turkish Army, 150,000
General Enver Bey, Commander
General Ahmed Fevzi, Erzerum Garrison
The disaster at Gallipoli had convinced the Allies that Constantinople (Istanbul) could not be conquered from the South. An attack from the North, by way of Turkish Armenia, offered the surest promise of success. But first the Turks must be expelled from Erzerum and Trebizond, their two Armenian strongholds. The task was assigned to the Russian Army of the Caucasus, under command of Grand Duke Nicholas. With an army of 320,000, liberally supplied with munitions and food sent from America, Grand Duke Nicholas applied himself to the task. He aimed first at the capture of Erzerum, an almost impregnable fortress, encircled by a chain of concrete defences, carrying 1,000 huge guns of the very latest Krupp pattern. In and about Erzerum was a Turkish army, numbering 150,000 first line troops, directed by Enver Bey.
To take Erzerum by direct assault was deemed impossible; indeed, the fortress had resisted all Russian attempts to capture it during the Russo-Turkish War. Instead, Grand Duke Nicholas planned to invest Erzerum from all sides and, by threatening the communications of the fortress with the nearest railroad 200 miles away, to compel its evacuation. Dividing his army into three columns, and, with Olty as a base, Duke Nicholas advanced upon Erzerum from three directions. The Russian columns began their converging movement on Erzerum in mid-February, 1916. A blinding snowstorm was raging at the time and the temperature was 25 degrees below zero.
Two Turkish Corps Dispersed
At the approach of the Russian Army, the Turks had moved out from Erzerum to block their path. They proved no match for the Russians. The Northern Turkish Corps was quickly flanked and put to flight. Two divisions of the Southern Turkish Corps were similarly disposed of. The Central Corps of the Russian: and Turkish Armies fought a three days' battle at Koprikeui, January 16, 1916 to January 18, 1916, which resulted in a Russian victory. The line of the Araxes was forced and the Turks fled in wild disorder, constantly harassed by pursuing Cossacks. All the roads leading to Erzerum were blocked by discarded equipment, abandoned guns, and half-frozen stragglers.
Turks Evacuate Erzerum
Erzerum itself was still defended by a strong garrison under command of Ahmed Fevzi. The Russian artillery began a terrific bombardment of the outer defenses, continuing five days. Then, in a grand assault, the Siberian troops carried all nine of the outlying fortresses. Erzerum being no longer tenable, the garrison retired to a strongly fortified ridge east of the city. Gen. Yudenitch, the Russian commander, by hauling his heavy guns up the slopes of the supposedly inaccessible peaks to the north, was enabled to flank the ridge, which was subsequently carried by storm. The Turks evacuated Erzerum on February 16th. A rearguard of 12,000, left behind to protect the retreat, was captured, together with 300 guns and a great quantity of military stores.
Trebizond Captured by the Russians
Through the deep snows of a Caucasian winter, the Russian Army marched out from Erzerum in three columns on February 18th to invest the city of Trebizond, the principal Turkish seaport on the Black Sea. The right wing of the Russian Army, on February 23, 1916, captured Inspir, about 75 miles northwest of Erzerum; the Russian Center advanced to Askala, 30 miles from Erzerum, while the Russian left wing on March 2d occupied Citlis. Fresh Russian troops were landed at Atina on the Black Sea, while Russian destroyers took the seaport of Rizeh, and on March 17th, were within 20 miles of Trebizond.
As the Russian armies closed in upon Trebizond, the panic stricken population fled toward Kara-Hissar and Swias. Turkish reinforcements now began to arrive from Gallipoli and the defence stiffened. By March 27, 1916, the Russians had advanced to the Oghene Dere River, between Rizeh and Trebizond, occupying the heights above the stream. A series of strong Turkish assaults failed to dislodge them from this position. Nearer and nearer the Russians advanced toward Trebizond. During the first two weeks in April, the Turks fought desperately to hold them back, especially along the Kara Dere, but all in vain. On April 16th, the Russians were within 12 miles of Trebizond, occupying the village of Assené Kalessi.
New Turkish reinforcements were rushed up from Central Anatolia in a vain effort to stop the Russian advance. That being found impossible, the Turks evacuated Trebizond on April 18, 1916, and the town was occupied by the Russians two days later, after silencing the Turkish guns in the outer forts. The capture of Trebizond gave the Russians possession of a stretch of territory 250 miles in length and 125 miles wide, comprising 31,250 square miles, reaching from the Black Sea on the north to the Turki-Persian frontier on the south, and including the greater part of Armenia.
The Russian pursuit of the Turks was resumed on April 19th toward Erzingan on the west and Diarbeka on the southwest. During April and May many minor cavalry engagements were fought along a battle front 200 miles long, with varying successes, the campaign finally resolving itself into clashes between outposts. The Turkish losses during this campaign were estimated at 60,000.
During the Russian occupation of Trebizond (April 18, 1916 - February 24, 1918), a report was sent from the American Consulate in Trebizond to the Secretary of State in Washington describing the condition of several Greek churches which had been converted into mosques by the Turks. The occupation by the Russians, albeit a short one, allowed for the supervision of these historically significant and beautiful buildings which were being defaced by the Turks. The report was a timely reminder that the Ottoman Greeks were being harshly treated well before any hostilities between Greece and Turkey had begun.