Russian propaganda poster depicting their victory at Sarikamish

Beginning with initial maneuvers on December 22, 1914, Ottoman troops prepared a large scale attack on the Russians in the Caucuses. In many ways, the battle was to be a distraction: by deliberately threatening the mostly Orthodox region around Kars Oblast, the Ottomans hoped to draw Russian strength away from more important strategic goals. The Russians, judged the Ottomans, felt a strong moral obligation to defend their Orthodox brethren in the region, and would fight intensely to defend it.

The Ottomans were right, though in their attempt to exact a high cost form the Russians, the Ottomans, too, would be taking significant risks . . . sending their army into the Allahüekber Mountains in the dead of winter not being the least of these risks. Even more questionably, the Ottoman commander, Enver Pasha, had settled upon a complicated plan of encirclement in order to defeat the Russians. On a selected battlefield measuring approximately 932 miles from end to end, coordination would be very difficult, if not impossible. Thousands died of hypothermia just from the long marches into the assigned battle positions.

Turkish soldiers in their winter gear

The Battle proper got underway on December 29 with an assault all along the line, bent especially on taking the city of Sarikamish. These attacks were remarkably unsuccessful, and Russian counterattacks and movements quickly threatened to encircle the Ottoman forces. By January 6, it was evident that the Ottomans would have to retreat . . . three of their divisions had already been captured. The Battle’s end is usually placed at January 17, with the Russians finishing the task of clearing up the remaining Ottomans.

Russians gather up frozen Turkish soldiers

The Russians knew that their Southern flank (in the Caucuses) was secure for the time being, and the Ottomans had suffered another miserable defeat. Enver Pasha remained War Minister, but he never again commanded troops in battle.


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