The Ottoman Disaster – The Battle of Sarikamish I THE GREAT WAR Week 23

The Ottoman Disaster – The Battle of Sarikamish I THE GREAT WAR Week 23


Over the past few months we’ve seen battlefronts
all over the world, we’ve seen triumphs and disasters, but this week, as the New Year
rolls in, we see something we haven’t seen, yet the annihilation of an entire army. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War Last week we saw the fighting go quiet on
much of the western front as the soldiers of both sides celebrated a spontaneous Christmas
truce. The rest of the week though, it was business as usual as the French army’s newest
offensive kicked into gear along a wide front. On the Eastern Front it was mostly quiet;
you might be thinking “too quiet” and you might be right as the German, Russian, and Austrian armies regrouped for the new year. And in the highlands of Northeastern
Turkey and the Caucasus, the Ottoman army was marching through the freezing snows to
meet the Russian juggernaut. Here’s how it all went. The French Army’s new offensive was called
the Champagne Offensive and it was now in it’s second week. It would continue well
into the New Year. As much of the rest of the war was, it was
an exercise in futility. The Allies attacking points of tactical importance in concentrated
bursts along a wide front and taking trenches and positions from the Germans, and then the
Germans days or hours later taking those same points back from the Allies. Back and forth, again and again, thousands
of men dying for temporary gains of only few dozen meters. But French General Joseph Joffre
really needed this offensive- see, Germany held a large chunk of the industrial heartland
of France and were only some 60 km from Paris. To keep up morale, he simply had to attack
and couldn’t just adopt a defensive posture and then wait and see what the Germans would
do. So the back and forth continued in frustration and futility, as it would for weeks. So 1915 begins on the trenches of the Western
Front with more of the same, but I’m going to move away from death for a minute and talk
about some more general forces, like economics. Specifically, the British blockade of German
exports. Now, in the past with British wars against, say, Napoleon, what would happen
is that the British navy would completely cut off French trade with the rest of the
world, right? The French would then have to create substitute industries, which were of
inferior quality and took a lot of money, and it would screw up the French economy while
the British overseas trade monopoly generated tons of money with which the British would
pay the Russians and Austrians to do most of the land fighting against the French. That
was 1814. Britain figured that the same idea would work
in 1914; that stopping German exports would stop Germany,
but Britain could not have been more wrong, and when exports were stopped, there was nothing
like the expected riots in Hamburg. Instead, the colossus of German industry adapted well
to refitting for wartime production with no loss of quality and actually, the German economy,
with the blockade, would do better than all of the other warring nations in 1915. There was also a big side bonus for the Germans.
The blockade was a great excuse for any issues with food and other supplies that may happen
to become scarce, so the British were hated for scarcities that were not even of their
making. And they didn’t stop any imports anyhow,
since these could go through neutral ports like the Netherlands and International law
prohibited blocking imports, but the blockade on exports continued. It certainly wasn’t the only blockade anyhow;
all of the seas around Europe were blocked by one party or another in one way or another.
Heck, look at Russian shipping, for example- the White Sea now frozen in the North and
the Black Sea a prison in the south, as they were hemmed in by the Ottoman Empire. And this week, actually, things that had been
building between the Russians and the Ottomans finally came to a head. Okay, last week at Christmas we saw the Ottoman
Imperial Army, nearly 150,000 strong including soldiers and staff, well armed, but poorly
equipped, suffering terribly from exhaustion and hypothermia, marching through the high
mountain passes of northeastern Turkey toward Sarikamis try to knock the Russians out of
the Caucasus. This Turkish offensive was the brainchild
of Enver Pasha, Turkish Minister of War; a modernist who brought the Ottoman Empire into
the war pretty much single handedly and sought to build a new Turkey with a new national
identity. Pasha chose to undertake this specific offensive for several reasons. Its distance
from the Eastern Front was important, of course; it would be hard for Russia to reinforce the
Caucasus all the way from Poland, and the Russian Caucasus army had been stripped of
a lot of men who’d been sent north in the first place, but there was another big thing;
Pasha really believed this would have an emotional importance not only to Turks, but other peoples
as well. Russian rule in the Caucasus had been imposed,
often brutally, for over 100 years on the various peoples living there. Pasha thought
that when he attacked they would rally to his cause, but the problem was that by 1915
they were waking up to their own national identities. Within the past 40 years a bunch
of nations had actually been liberated from the Ottoman Empire- Serbia, Albania, Romania,
and so forth, and the Arabs and Kurds saw this and had their own national agendas, and
actually Kurds in the Ottoman army sometimes even deserted and joined the Russians, having
themselves been often brutally repressed by the Ottomans, so thing weren’t at all in
reality as Pasha believed them to be. And the scene of the battles is a bad place
to attack geographically in general, but Pasha compounded this. He attacked in winter, when
temperatures can drop below -20 even at lower altitudes, but during the campaign were far
lower. There was only a single railway and the roads were covered in snow, so his supply
line was complete chaos and most artillery couldn’t get through. It also didn’t help
that Enver Pasha though the Russians were retreating to Kars. They weren’t. Still, the Turks persevered and the actual
clash with the Russians at Sarikamis finally took place December 29th. Two army Corps,
over 10,000 strong, attacked, but failed to break into the city and lost about half their
numbers. Over the next week, the Turks would keep pressing
against Sarikamis to no avail, even as the Russians brought in more troops and began
their counter attack. Turkish units on their way to the battle literally melted into nothing,
as many soldiers froze to death. Reinforcements were unable to arrive and one report has a
division losing 40% of its troops in a snowstorm. Pasha himself got information that the Russians
were attempting to surround the Turks, but continued the attack anyway. By January 2nd, Pasha’s field leaders said
they were too weak to continue the assaults. Pasha insisted they do so anyhow, but the
Russians now had the Turks in a semi-circle and were closing the net. An entire Turkish
corps surrendered and by January 4th, the Turkish army was in retreat toward Erzurum,
with the Russians now on their heels. The retreat and counter attack would continue
for another two weeks but I’m going to go ahead and throw some numbers at you right
now. According to John Keegan, by mid January only 18,000 of the 95,000 Turks who actually
fought the campaign survived, but it may have been even worse. Pasha’s hands-on offensive
had been a complete disaster, and his army was totally, totally destroyed, but his failures
were so obvious- I mean, how many thousands of his men- more than half- weren’t even
killed by the enemy, but froze to death in the snows long before they’d even gotten
to the battle? Such a colossal waste. So that’s where we stand as 1915 begins.
Constant, never-ending attacks and counter attacks on the western front, the Russians
moving into positions to attack the passes in the Carpathian Mountains in the East, and
an entire army destroyed, needlessly wasted- poorly supplied, marched to exhaustion, and
finally freezing to death far from home in the snows of eastern turkey and the Caucasus. Pasha never led in the field again after Sarikamis,
but he did retain his position. We’ve spoken before of Enver Pasha, and his dreams for
a modern Turkey, but we’ve never seen the staggering scale of his incompetence, or his
willingness to sacrifice huge numbers of his countrymen to achieve his nebulous goals.
Actually, the deviousness with which he brought the Ottoman Empire into the war in the first
place should have sent off warning signals that this man was capable of anything, but
only now, as the new year begins, do we begin to see the results. It’s not going to get
better and I’m going to end this episode with one more statistic: thanks in large part
to Enver Pasha, during the first world war, one quarter of the entire population of Turkey
would die. If you’d like to see more about Enver Pasha
and how he brought the Ottoman Empire into the war in the first place, you can check
out that episode right here. And like us on Facebook to see all sorts of cool extra stuff.
See you next week.

100 Comments on "The Ottoman Disaster – The Battle of Sarikamish I THE GREAT WAR Week 23"


  1. Please do a video about Caucasian front in general. I am very interested in the role and participations of Armenians, Azeris and Georgian in WW1

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  2. Enver tried to invade Turkey with soviet support during the Turkish war of independence. He envied the Mustafa Kemal and his leadership of the new Turkish nation state. In the end, people around Enver that time convinced him to not take action and divide the Turkish people fighting the Allied nations. He is still admired in Turkey for his efforts of modernization and establishing roots of the modern Turkey, but despised as a military leader.

    Reply

  3. Can you do a segment on Belleau Wood? It was a pretty big moment for the U.S. Marines as we got the nickname Devil Dogs from this battle.

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  4. "Turkish units on their way to battle literally melted into nothing, as many soldiers froze to death."

    How is that literally melting? More like the literal opposite.

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  5. Enver Pasha it's pretty mush like any other dictaor ruller etc he whas like hitler and stalin both of them will send man to battle with the beliff that all it takes to win is the iron will of a soldier without carrying for their lifes.. in case of pasha he whas unlucky and pretty much an idiot. All war whas like that and still is..! BUT the others generals this is importang they had a brain and use that for strategic reasons to win a battle.

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  6. You would think by now nations know to not attack Russia in the winter… Even more so as how they were going into the mountains which few dared to attack in the past.

    At least Ottomans get to redeem themselves later ;P

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  7. Perhaps one of the easiest lessons in all military history: When you fight in the winter, particularly in Russia, BRING SOME GODDAMN WINTER CLOTHING!

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  8. Enver Pasha and Conrad Von Hotzendorf should've gotten together sometimes – to discuss battle tactics.

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  9. I never knew there was anyone else in history similar to Hitler until watching this – foolish attack on Russia, not properly prepared for winter, refusal to retreat, leading to disaster then vent all the frustration on religious minority with genocide.

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  10. Sarıkamıs is a sad memory for the people of Turkey because of the fact people died without fighting due to stupidity of their leaders
    Enver Pasha:we need to attack russia
    Normal commanders : but the army we have there is from hot temperature places they don't have winter clothes
    Enver pasha:attack anyway

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  11. The comments about Naloleonic wars makes me wish there was a similar channel about those wars that would cover them weekly.

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  12. Completely off topic, but where did you get the desk you sit at? I Love Your Channel.

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  13. And this is what happens when you go into a war with large numbers of troops, but without considering the logistics of how to supply them. To quote Tywin Lannister, "Madness. Madness and Stupidity."

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  14. How is that each of the Central Powers' architects of war were so completely incompetent???

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  15. Enver Pasha was obsessed with the Turkic union. After everything ended when the modern Turkey formed he went to war in Turkmenistan for independence againts Red Army. He was not a bad guy but he had dreams he would try to achieve blindly no matter the cost.

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  16. Yeah me too. Watching one after the other to get caught up. Do you guys have a store to buy shirts or anything?

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  17. i thought conrad was a bigger douche seeing what pasha done..atleast conrad has his men killed in battle than letting them freeze.

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  18. Holy shit these numbers of the dead are astounding….previously mentioned that 60% of Serbian men between the age of 15-55 died and 1/4th of the Turkish population died in this war….my god. How the hell did these countries recover from this? I know other nations obviously suffered great losses but for these small nations, just…how? How do you recover?

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  19. It's official.
    I am binge watching.
    I plan to casually listen to the entire series……THEN listen to it again and take NOTES!
    I plan to visit my local High School and show a History Teacher this series!
    They might not be able to teach it in class….but they can encourage extra credit by having kids watch this!

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  20. Dear Pasha.
    You are an incompetent idiot to say the least.
    You WASTED your countries precious resources (your own people) and instead of modernizing your country, you possibly damaged it so bad the people STILL have strife and problems to this day.

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  21. Austria-Hungary had Hötzendorf .
    Italy had Luigi Cadorna .
    The Ottoman Empire had Enver Pasha .
    The most important thing is to learn something beneficial from the mistakes .
    For Peace and Freedom .

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  22. wait were they or were they not blocking imports? how did the turnip winter happen if they could get food through neutral ports as you say

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  23. Kinda wish you mentioned the Battle of Broken Hill/ Picnic train attack, the first terrorist attack on Australian soil.

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  24. I don't know, but forcing your own country to go to war by attacking other country sounds like treason.

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  25. Kurds did not really have any nationalist sentiments during this time. They still associated primarily with Islam and saw the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as a legitimate Caliphate. Tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting for the Ottoman Empire in WW1 and were crucial in the fight against the Russians.

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  26. As a turk and as a human being, thank you. Thank you for telling people about their history in an objective matter. Hope you continue your projects.

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  27. Hi Indy. I just wanted to say how much I love watching your channel and also suggest it to my friends. Watching your videos grew my interest in history . not just the war but also their culture and background. but i also wanted to say that ,calling Ismail Enver Pasa by Pasa confuses me. Because there were two Pasa in WW1. One was Enver Pasa and the other was Mustafa Kamal Pasa. And Pasa wasn't their real name either . It was given to a ottoman military officer when they reached the major general rank. That's all guys. Sorry for my bad English .

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  28. "We will cut off German trade, then they will have to rely on their own engineering alone!"
    Come on guys, that's the one thing the Germans are known for aside from beer and Hitler (and he wasn't a big thing back then).

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  29. Recently finished watching 1914 and now starting on 1915.
    Just discovered The Great War channel about a month ago.
    The comprehensiveness and attention to detail is impressive.
    Truly, you should have even more subscribers than currently.
    Wish I would have discovered you earlier, heading over to Patreon to throw in my support.
    Looking back at WWI even now, Europe's fumbling to near-suicide, its astonishing that it went on as long as it did.
    And the seeds it planted for WWII.
    Your passion for the subject shows in every episode.
    Thank You.

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  30. You made a typo, you accidentally said it was supposed to be over Christmas 1915 and not 1914!

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  31. One of the conditions for Ottoman entry into the war was an attack on Russia. Also, Sarıkamış is at the need of a railway and was pivotal for the Russian 1st Caucasian Corps’ communication with Tbilisi. Enver also, despite being the most vocal person for war in Turkey, was not the only one. Said Halim, the Turkish Grand Vizier, was also in favour of war but stalled and was quieter because Halim was actually consulting both sides in 1914. It was a stupid offensive, but not as daft as presented and Enver wasn’t the only person responsible.

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  32. When I was in cadets our COs would tell us about the times Americans would come up to do war games and they'd lose every time since they'd come underprepared for the winter(Canada); I'm not too sure how true it was to be honest, but it always made me think of the Germans attacking Russia.

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  33. I very much like what you're doing here, gents. A great idea to do week-by-week 'on this day' bulletins, which take us in new directions. Excellent.
    Did you look at the Notre Dame de Lorette area offensives yet? I'm new, so may have simply not got to that section.
    Cheers!

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  34. WTF??! When was "the Kurds were often repressed brutally by the Ottomans?".. There is no evidence to such nonsense.

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  35. un dato interesante sobre la economía de Alemania es que Chile (mi país) era uno de los mayores productores y exportadores de salitre del mundo en esa época, Con el inicio de la primera guerra mundial y el bloqueo comercial de Gran Bretaña a Alemania, los alemanes inventaron el salitre sintético, situación que genero que el inicio de la crisis de las salitreras chilenas y una grave crisis económica en Chile. Otro dato interesante es que la marina de gran bretaña amenazo a Chile de declararle la guerra si seguían vendiendo salitre a Alemania (situación que no paso). Muchos saludos desde Chile.

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  36. "The germans were less than a hundred kilometers from paris"

    That is a cool sounding number, but didnt mean much. Until I thought "Wait, that is like if an army was between my state's capitol and my house."

    That's terrifying from a civilian's standpoint.

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  37. Pasha is not a surname. It's like sir in english. There were many Pashas in there, so it's inaccurate to to refer to Enver Pasha as "Pasha"

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  38. Every time Enver or Conrad are mentioned my mind immediately starts playing Grass Skirt Chase By SpongeBob
    Because it seems like all these two can do is make comically bad decisions which do unfortunately cause only harm to the human species at large.

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  39. I'm thin on Galipoli (sp), I have a basic grasp of it. But the unit that was ordered to take the top of a ridge — narrator noted these troops were shipped in from the Western Front and, therefore, trained differently so as to take the trench at the top of the hill and hold it instead of continuing to advance. So this unit is fat, dumb and happy but it was not on the Western Front. So when the Turks attacked, they killed that unit to a man. 200 guys, I think. This is the sort of information you don't get in even in-depth history books. A horrible loss, awful orders, no preparation, but 200 dead in the scope of the dead as a whole at Galipoli

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  40. Hail Enver pasha he wants to crate Turan(big turkish empire) and crate turkistan not invading russia rip enver pasha

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  41. How is it that the people who wanted war the most are also the most inept? I'm looking at you, Hotzenderp and Enver!

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  42. You can say whatever you want about Hotzendorf, Cadorna, Joffre… But nothing NOTHING beats the sheer stupidity of enver pasha.

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  43. only thing about this series i hate, is how he always says waste of life… nothing any soldier has ever done, was a waste of life…. they been putting their lives on the line, since the very first soldier or warrior.. and all for the people that just talk about it……

    no offence it's more of a waste of life talking about this stuff, than taking part in it.

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  44. One quarter of Turkish population of Anatolia? or you mean a quarter of the whole population of the Ottoman empire?

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  45. It is both honoring and saddening to know that my grandmother's grandfather died in this battle.
    May all those perished rest in peace.

    Reply

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