Battle of Karboğazı
|Commanders and leaders|
Georges Journois (POW)
|44 Kuva-yi Milliye men||700 Soldiers|
|Casualties and losses|
over 500 prisoners,
~1.000 different weapons,
8 machine guns,
The Battle of Karboğazı (Turkish: Karboğazı Savaşı) was a minor ground engagement fought between the Turkish nationalists and the French battalion on Toros Mountains during the Turkish War of Independence. Karboğazı literally means Snow Pass.
Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, the Ottoman army was disarmed according to the Armistice of Mudros. Although the Ottoman Empire had to agree to give up vast territories including most of Middle East, the Allies further retained the power of controlling what was left of the Ottoman Empire, namely Turkey. In this context, Allies occupied Mersin on 17 December 1918, just 47 days after the armistice. Soon, France occupied most of southeastern Anatolia. Since the southwest was under Italian control, Turkey lost the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea.
French plan to control the mountains
France tried to control the sea coast and the alluvial plains like Çukurova (Cilicia of the antiquity). But the control of the small settlements on Toros Mountains was difficult. Moreover, because of the nationalistic opposition, which would ultimately end up in Turkish Republic, the Gülek Pass, Cicilian Gates of the antiquity, which is the main pass from Mediterranean coast to Central Anatolia, was under continuous threat from the Turkish nationalists forces (Turkish: Kuva-yi Milliye). A battalion under Major Mesnil was commissioned for the task of securing French presence around Gülek Pass. The headquarters of the battalion was in the village of Pozantı, now a district center, and a small hospital in the nearby village of Belemedik was established under the supervision of Mesnil’s wife. Mesmil’s assistant was Georges Journois, who would fight against Germany as a brigadier general in the Second World War. Mesnil also had a group of guides, who were actually local Armenians. However, in the spring of 1920, Turkish nationalists began controlling the railroad from Pozantı to the south, and Pozantı was effectively blocked from Çukurova.
After receiving approval from General Duffieux through messages dropped by warplanes, local commander Mesnil decided to evacuate Pozantı, and to return to French lines by a surprise retreat during the night of the 26–27 May. According to official reports, the unit consisted of 9 officers, 696 soldiers, 4 cavalrymen, 19 wounded officers and soldiers, 44 civilian Greeks and Armenians as well as 39 Turkish prisoners of war. Mesnil also left some wounded soldiers back with a letter written to Turkish commanders asking for fair treatment for them. However, the villagers from the village of Yaylaçukuru, now called Gülek, sighted the battalion and they informed Kemal Bey, later Kemal Ekin, the local militia chief of Kuvai Milliye. Kemal Bey with some members of Aydınlı tribe and villagers waited for the battalion in ambush. They had taken up positions on the two opposite sides of the valley called Karboğazı. The French had the advantage in numbers and superior artillery, but the nationalists had the advantage of cover. Early on 27 May, the shootings began from both sides of the valley. French soldiers tried to escape to open space towards Pozantı. But they ran into a third group of nationalists. Towards the evening, after heavy casualties, the battalion surrendered. They were led to Yaylaçukuru, where they signed the protocol of surrender with Lieutenant Hasan, later Hasan Akıncı, nicknamed Kara Afet. The prisoners of war received bulgur, a cereal food, with meat and ayran, a cold yogurt beverage. They were held captive until 25 September 1921.
POW and other casualties
The total number of prisoners of war was 530, including Mesnil and Journois. Also 2 cannons, 8 machine guns and more than 90 mules were seized by the nationalists. The death casualty of the French side was heavy. Although a website about the Cilician Campaign veterans  gives the number as half the battalion, about 400, this figure seems to be somewhat exaggerative under the light of the figures given above. The exact figure is not known.
The battle in Karboğazı was relatively small. But it effectively ended French plans to seize Toros Mountains. In 1921, France agreed to withdraw from Turkey by the Cilicia Peace Treaty and Accord of Ankara.
- Türk-Fransız mücadelesi: Orta Toros geçitleri, 1915-1921, Süleyman Hatipoğlu, page 83 (Turkish)
- Website of Gülek municipality, Karboğazı Savaşı (Battle of Karboğazı) (Turkish)
- State archives (Turkish)
- Photos of the operation
- A site about Karboğazı by historian Cezmi Yurtseven (Turkish)
- A website dedicated about Cicilian campaign of France.