German Caucasus Expedition
|Battle of Malazgirt|
|Part of Caucasus Campaign in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I|
German Caucasus Expedition
| German Empire
Democratic Republic of Georgia
|Commanders and leaders|
| Friedrich von Kressenstein
The German Caucasus Expedition was a military expedition sent by the German Empire to the formerly Russian Transcaucasia during the Caucasus Campaign of World War I. Its prime aim was to secure oil supplies for Germany and to stabilize a nascent pro-German Democratic Republic of Georgia.
On December 5, 1917, the Armistice of Erzincan signed between the Russians and Ottomans that ended the armed conflicts between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus Campaign of the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. On March 3, 1918, the Armistice of Erzincan was followed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk marking Russia's exit from World War I. Between March 14 - April 1918 the Trabzon peace conference was held between the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Transcaucasian Diet (Transcaucasian Sejm). Enver Pasha offered to surrender all Turkish ambitions in the Caucasus in return for recognition of the Ottoman reacquisition of the east Anatolian provinces at Brest-Litovsk at the end of the negotiations. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk provided some relief to Bolsheviks who were tied up in fighting the civil war. However, the oil fields of Baku were not under control of the Russians and Germany had a high demand for oil.
On April 5, the head of the Transcaucasian delegation Akaki Chkhenkeli accepted the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as a basis for further negotiations and wired the governing bodies urging them to accept this position. The mood prevailing in Tiflis was very different. The Armenians pressured the Republic to refuse. They acknowledged the existence of a state of war between themselves and the Ottoman Empire. Hostilities resumed and Ottoman troops overran new lands to the east, reaching pre-war the frontiers.
On May 11, a new peace conference opened at Batum. At this conference the Ottomans extended their demands to include Tiflis as well as Alexandropol and Echmiadzin; they also wanted a railroad to be built to connect Kars and Julfa with Baku. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall. Beginning on May 21, the Ottoman army moved ahead once again. The ensuing conflict led to the Battle of Sardarapat (May 21–29), the Battle of Kara Killisse (1918) (May 24–28), and the Battle of Bash Abaran (May 21–24). On May 28, 1918, Georgia, signed the Treaty of Poti with Germany, and welcomed the prospect of a German expedition, seeing in the Germans protectors against the post-Russian Revolution havoc and the Ottoman military advances.
The expedition was composed almost exclusively of Bavarian troops and included the 7th Bavarian Cavalry Brigade, reinforced by the 29th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (7th and 9th Jäger Battalions), the 10th Sturm Battalion, 1 machine-gun detachment, and the 176th Mortar Company. It was 3,000 strong and commanded by Major General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein. General Erich Ludendorff was also involved in supervision and organizing the expedition; he personally met Georgian representatives in Berlin, accompanying them to see Kaiser Wilhelm II. Besides the Georgians of Caucasus there were Georgians who served in the Georgian Legion of the German Imperial Army. Many these officers and soldiers were awarded by the Georgian Order of Queen Tamar, issued specifically for the German military personnel. This force was transported by sea from the Crimea to the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti where it landed on June 8, 1918, and was later reinforced by the German troops recalled from Syria and Ukraine for service in Georgia.
The Ottoman Empire had the Third Army in the region.
On June 10, the German force arrived at Tiflis, the capital of Georgia, and held a joint German-Georgian military parade in the city’s main thoroughfare. The German expedition was soon joined by the former German prisoners of war in Russia and the mobilized Württemberg colonists who had settled in Georgia in the mid-19th century. Combined German-Georgian garrisons were stationed in various regions of Georgia, including Poti, Ochamchire, Kutaisi, and Borchalo.
The arrival of the German troops in Georgia coincided with the growing German-Turkish rivalry for Caucasian influence and resources, notably the oilfields at Baku, Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, on the Caspian and the associated rail and pipeline connection to Batumi on the Black Sea (Baku-Batumi pipeline). Early in June 1918, the Ottoman army under Vehip Pasha renewed its offensive on the main road to Tiflis, and confronted a joint German-Georgian force.
On June 10, the Turks attacked and took many prisoners, leading to an official threat from Berlin to withdraw its troops and support from Turkey. The Ottoman government had to concede to German pressure and to halt, for the moment, a further advance into Georgia, reorienting its strategic direction towards Azerbaijan and Iran.
On the way to Baku
Simultaneously, two additional German divisions were moved from the Balkans and Ukraine to advance on Baku. At the same time, Germany turned to Soviet Russia and offered to stop the Ottoman Army of Islam in return for guaranteed access to Baku's oil. According to the August 27 agreement between Russian SFSR and Germany, the latter was to receive a quarter of Baku’s oil production.
The German government requested from Ottoman Empire to stall an offensive into Azerbaijan. Enver Pasha ignored this request. After the Battle of Baku, the Ottoman Army of Islam, on the heels of the evacuating Russian SFSR forces, captured the city on September 15, 1918.
The Russian Bicherakhov detachment and the German Caucasus Expedition led by Colonel Friedrich von der Holtz met on 17 September, along with the forces of the Baku Commune who were leaving the city. Grigory Korganov was a Georgian Communist activist participating in the Battle of Baku, one of the 26 Baku Commissars and Bolshevik Party leaders in Azerbaijan during the Russian Revolution. However, a severe political crisis in Germany, which started later that month, rendered the Caucasus expedition abortive.
On October 21, the German government ordered the withdrawal of all troops from the region. The last ship with German soldiers aboard departed from Poti, Georgia, on December 1918. Thus, it was the last German military formation to return home, in April 1919, from active service in World War I.
The memoirs of General of Artillery Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein were published in 2001 in German language in Tbilisi, Georgia - Editor Dr. David Paitschadse, publishing house Samschoblo, ISBN 99928-26-62-2, online version can be found here
- Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russian Azerbaijan 1905-1920, page 119
- Ezel Kural Shaw History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Page 326
- Richard Hovannisian "The Armenian people from ancient to modern times" Pages 292-293
- Lang, David Marshall (1962). A Modern History of Georgia, p. 207-8. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
- Erickson, Edward J. (2000) Ordered to Die: a history of the Ottoman army in the first World War, p. 233
- Lang (1962), p. 182
- Erickson (2000), p. 186
- Briton Cooper. Busch (1976), Mudros to Lausanne: Britain’s Frontier in West Asia, 1918-1923, page 22. SUNY Press, ISBN 0-87395-265-0
- Erickson (2000), p. 187