The Battle of Sarikamish, 1914-15

On the 17th of January, 1915 CE, the Battle or Operation of Sarikamish ended with a disastrous Ottoman defeat in World War I. The hostilities were opened by the Russians, therefore, on December 21, 1914, Enver Pasha personally led the Third Army in a counterattack against the Russians. In the middle of winter, the Ottomans lost around 70,000* soldiers.

The Ottoman forces were deployed in difficult terrain in the middle of winter. Around 25000 Ottoman troops died because of frostbite (an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues) even before the battle started. After the military fiasco in Sarikamish, the entire eastern Anatolia was left open to Russian attacks.

Hostilities were opened by the Russians, who pushed across the Ottoman border on November 1, 1914, though the Ottomans stopped them and pushed them back a few days later. On December 21 Enver personally led the Third Army in a counterattack.

Russian trenches in the forests of Sarikamish | Wikimedia

Enver aimed to cut the Russian lines of communications from the Caucasus to their main base at Kars and to reoccupy it along with Ardahan and Batum as the first step toward an invasion of the Caucasus.

Key to the envelopment operation was the border town of Sarikamish, which lay astride the main route from Kars to the north. The Ottomans managed to occupy the town on December 26, but the Russians then retook it.

A subsequent Russian counteroffensive in January caused the Ottoman army to scatter, with over three-fourths of the men lost as they attempted to find their way back to safety. Ottoman morale and military position in the east were seriously hurt.

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