9 Temmuz 2018 Pazartesi

TNT History Archives: Turkish POW Recounts Capture by Russian Cossacks (July 1916)/Part I

First-hand Account of a Fierce Turkish-Russian Battle on the Caucasus 
Front, July 1916, by Ottoman Lt. Ahmed Ekrem, written in a Russian
prison camp at Satılmış Gedik, near Kars, in August 1916.

Area under Russian control in September 1917 (yellow).
//Ed. Note: Following the calamitous defeat of the Turkish army at 
Sarıkamış in late 1914 and early 1915, on the Caucasus Front at 
the outset of World War I, Russian forces pursued their Turkish 
counterparts ever-deeper into Anatolian Turkey.  From April to 
July 1916, the Russian army besieged and then took Bayburt as
part of this push into the Ottoman heartland. 

First Lieutenant Ahmed Ekrem was a member of the Ottoman 
Army’s 52nd Regiment and commanded a machine gun team.  
Lt. Ekrem was among the Ottoman forces that had been pushed 
west after the Russians took Bayburt and he was taken prisoner 
after a fierce battle with Cossacks north of Şiran in the southwest 
of today’s Gümüşhane province.  

A month after the battle, Lt. Ekrem wrote an account of the event 
while in a Russian prison camp at Satılmış Gedik, near Kars.  He 
described the posturing of forces and the fighting itself in vivid 
detail.  But he also did not spare any sympathy for the Turkish 
units on the front line, whom he accused of cowardice and treachery 
for abandoning their positions in the face of the Cossack onslaught 
and he cited those units as bearing responsibility for the Turkish
defeat and his own capture.  

Herewith Lt. Ahmed Ekrem's account of the battle with Russian 
Cossacks at Zimon, today's Çevrepınar village, in southwestern 
Gümüşhane province in July, 1916.//

Sentimental Memoir
Ahmed Ekrem
Russia: Captivity

After our Army’s defeat at Bayburt, our Division gradually retreated
to the Pulur-Maduma (Gelinpertek) line and occupied a site north of
Şiran and east of the village of Mataracı.  A position was chosen 
north and east of Taşlıca Tepe (Taşlıca Hill) as the main line where 
the forward outpost was situated.  Our regiment was assigned to the 
forward position on the east front (shown as the forward outpost on 
the map).  My company was at the regimental headquarters at 
Çukuralma, together with a reserve battalion.  Trenches were dug at
places for machine guns at the foward position.  Subsequenly, in 
accordance with an order I received from the regimental commander,
I sent a team (the first team was commanded by Second Lieutenant 
Şarya Efendi) to the forward line, which was under the orders of the
2nd Battalion Commander.  When the regimental headquarters was 
established at Zimon (today’s Çevrepınar) village, the company, 
along with its remaining teams, came to that village. 

//Lt. Ahmed Ekrem's hand-drawn battlefield map, above
and English translation, below.///

                                                                                                                        Outpost X
                                                                 X Tuzlu Tepe (Hill)
                         Battalion    52nd Regiment       97th Regiment                 4th Regiment 15th Company
North                    ============================================  
   ^                Pasture            -+- 52nd Regiment    -+- 97th Regiment         =
   ^                                                            Boyun noktası X  (point)      = 4th Regiment 14th Company
   ^                                                                                   -!-                                  =
   ^                4th Regiment 13th Company       -!-     -+- 52nd Regiment    =
   ^                                                                                                                         =
One team from 4th Regiment 13th Company     X Taşlıca Tepe  
    The machine guns came here from further forward during the night                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                         X Çukuralma
                                                                                                                           X Zimon
                                                                                                                      52nd Regiment 3rd Battalion
                                                                                               -+-       -+- 52nd Regiment Machine Gun Team
                                                                                                                      52nd Regiment 2nd Battalion
     Night of 21/22 July:
     4th Regiment 16th Company/Division HQS area       
             Cannon here
                                  Road to Şiran         -------  /      Legend: -%- infantry detachment
                                                                          /                        ==  infantry line
                                                                       /                          -+-  machine gun (with assigned regiment)
                                                                                                   -!-   cannon

There were clashes now and then around the outpost on the Division’s northern front,
but it remained calm on our regiment’s front.  At the same time, our regiment 
fortified the main line position.  The 3rd Battalion’s third company was situated 
on a hill south of Zimon village (another company was with the 2dn Battalion further 
on).  There was a machine gun team with the reserve battalion at Boyun Noktası 
(Boyun Point) that was reinforcing that position, together with the existing engineering
company.  Trenches were dug here, as well, for machine guns, in case they were needed.

On the night of 19/20 July 1332 (1916), a company of the 97th Regiment abandoned an
outpost to the enemy and, in order to re-take it, a company from the 4th Battalion, 4th
Regiment, was sent.  (The head sergeant of the company that abandoned this position 
was sentenced to death by an order from the Division.  When he heard about this he 
sought asylum with the enemy.  The next night the enemy mounted a strong raid that 
led to my imprisonment.  The likelihood is that this raid was executed based on the
information the asylum-seeking sergeant provided to the enemy about our situation.
This sergeant subsequently renounced his citizenship in Russia.)

On 20 July serious clashes occurred in the vicinity of the outpost.  A mountain 
cannon team at Boyun Noktası provided help with fire from that location.  The 97th 
and 99th Regiments were positioned on this front.  But the situation deteriorated.  
Consequently, the detachment commander (52nd Regiment Commander) spent the 
night at Boyun Noktası and during the night the northern front detachment was 
withdrawn to the main line.  The night passed peacefully.

On the morning of 21 July, there was fierce rifle fire on the eastern front, our 
regiment’s front.  After defending the position as much as possible, our 2nd 
Battalion and the 3rd Company, which were both there, retreated.  Because another
mountain team had come to Boyun Noktası during the night, it was positioned in the
east. The enemy occupied the hills where our forward-line detachments were situated.
At this time our cannon began directing fire there.  Nevertheless, the enemy 
advanced relentlessly and in a scattered fashion.  Based on an order I received from 
the Regimental Commander, I put my two machine guns in trenches facing east.  The
2nd Battalion retreated in an orderly manner and occupied the main line.  Four days
before, the First Machine Gun Team had been pulled back to the hill where the 3rd 
Battalion was situated.  (the main line situation is shown on the map.)

The enemy was relentlessly advancing from the east.  Both the first and second 
machine gun teams were prevented from advancing because of the firing from the 
enemy side.  However, since the terrain was wooded and irregular, the enemy, too,
had trouble advancing so the impact was reduced. Finally, a battle began in the east
and the north with infantry and cannon.  Based on an order received before 9 o’clock,
a machine gun was positioned at a spot facing north, on the west side of Boyun 
Noktası.  The enemy was quiet on the northern front and firing in the north diminished.
But our trenches facing north were impacted more by the enemy cannon in the east
 because they were completely vulnerable, based on the direction of fire.

At around 2 o’clock in the afternoon the cannon teams and the 4th Regiment’s 16th 
Company, which were in reserve, were moved from Boyun Noktası to Taşlıca Tepe.
All the while they came under enemy cannon fire both from the north and the east.
The fighting was localized and there was only exchanges of fire.  After 4 o’clock I 
obtained intelligence to the effect that the enemy was approaching step by step from 
the east, hidden in the forest.  So our infantrymen left their trenches and began to 
wait for the enemy in the rear.  Since we could not see the enemy from our position,
 I appealed to the 14th Company Officer of the 4th Regiment and explained the 
problem.  In truth, I learned that the enemy was approaching but our soldiers were 
positioned in front of their trenches in order to mount a counterattack against any 
attack on the area behind the trenches.    I was able to make eye contact with the 
infantrymen there.  The Regimental Commander is the Detachment Commander 
and he was at Taşlıca Tepe. 

I understood that the enemy wanted to make a raid tonight, so in order to get the 
attention of the Regimental Commander I asked him about the machine guns, 
saying “where shall I place the machine guns tonight?”.  In response, his order was 
to “the order has been sent  and it is next to the ?.... ambush site?. It will be 
distributed there.”

When night fell, a detachment order came from the position commander – the 97th 
Regiment Commander – written as follows: “Certain re-positionings of detachments 
will take place tonight.  At nightfall, the 52nd Regiment’s machine gun team at Boyun 
Noktası will move to Taşlıca Tepe and occupy the position they previously prepared 
there.  Besides this, no unit will change position without an order to do so and anyone
 who does will be punished with the most severe penalty.”

Based on this order, I gathered up my team and had them eat some cooked food.  
When night had completely fallen , so the enemy couldn’t see us, I moved to Taşlıca 
Tepe, which is big and steep, resembling a conical-shaped tent.  As the name implies, 
there are very sharp stones and rocks, separated by extremely slippery grass that 
makes  passage by both man and beast very difficult.  We made it to the summit 
only by taking  three steps forward and one back the whole way up.  I spoke with 
the detachment commander and informed him that we had come.  The detachment 
commander ordered me to occupy the previously prepared position on the rocks 
200 meters northeast of the summit.  In response, I said that the hill was not 
conducive to the need for cover and that  I could not shelter the animals there.  The 
detachment commander replied “then just take  the guns and ammunition. Leave
 the animals here with me.”  I asked whether I would have infantry support and 
was told that there were 150 soldiers of the 13th Company of the 4th Regiment 
there.  Consequently, I took the guns and the ammunition down and sent the 
animals up.  I told the sergeant I left there that in addition to instructions already
given, he should act according to the commands of the detachment commander, 
in the  event of an enemy raid.

I saw the squad of infantrymen in the trench ten feet away from us, at a spot 
where the rocks came together.  The corporal said that they were members of the 
13th Company and that the company commander was 200 meters away, at a spot 
where there was a small fire.   I learned that a team from the company was around 
the rock we occupied and that there was also an officer reconnaissance team
 in the rear of the pasture.  I sent word to the company commader that “the
machine guns have been brought to the rocks.” 

The trenches we had previously dug here were facing east.  Since it was necessary 
to dig a trench in the direction of the pasture, I told reserve officer Rıza Efendi and 
the gunners to dig the trench tomorrow morning before it got light because (the enemy) 
couldn’t see the ground in the darkness and direct fire there.  I had the guns put in the 
old trenches and since the soldiers hadn’t slept in two nights, I had them lie down next 
to the guns to sleep but I cautioned them to have someone keep watch.


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