article should be read as the continuation to the Article: ‘The East Persia
Cordon and the Sarhad Operations 1915-1917’.)
The Central Powers in the Caucasus
to 1918 Germany and Turkey had despatched missions to Afghanistan from Baghdad
that travelled through Persia. To
counter these attempts by the Central Powers to influence Afghanistan to join
the Jihad or Holy War against the Allies, Britain and Imperial Russia had
established the East Persia Cordon. This
cordon ran from Baluchistan in the south up to the Russian border in the north,
and was mostly on Persian soil, just west of the Persia-Afghanistan
border. The Cordon worked reasonably
effectively as a barrier until the Russian Revolution in 1917 led to the
dispersal of the Russian cavalry who secured the northern stretch of the
Cordon; these Cossacks decided to go home.
Britain then used units of the Indian Army to secure the whole length of
the Cordon. In
March 1917 British forces in Mesopotamia seized Baghdad, forcing the Turks
further northwards, and denying them their previous entry route into
Persia. However the Turks still had an
Anatolian border with Persia but far more importantly the collapse of Imperial
Russian rule in the Caucasus led to a new route being opened for the Central
Powers to use. Starting at Batum on the
eastern shore of the Black Sea a railway led to Baku, an important oil-producing
city and port in Azerbaijan on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Across the Caspian Sea was Krasnovodsk, a
very important export port for Turkestan cotton; from Krasnovodsk the Central
Asian Railway led to Tashkent and then joined the Siberian and Trans-Aral
Above: Map of Transcaspia
took advantage of its Bresk-Livotsk treaty with revolutionary Russia to
infiltrate purchasing agents as far as Orenburg, north of the Caspian and Aral
Seas, whilst in the Caucasus German troops moved from Batum to Tiflis
ostensibly to support the breakaway state of Georgia that did not wish to
remain in revolutionary Russia. The
German mission in Orenburg travelled down to Baku and made arrangements to
purchase Azerbaijani oil and Turkestani cotton; both commodities were
desperately needed by Germany and now they could be transported westwards
through the Caucasus or the Ural mountains by pipeline or rail. The cotton could be shipped from Krasnovodsk
to Baku or to Astrakhan at the north-west of the Caspian where Bolshevik
revolutionaries ruled. The cotton was a
vital component for the German factories that produced ammunition and
the Turks had political ambitions of their own.
Knowing that it had probably lost its Arab possessions for ever, Turkey attempted
to expand its influence eastwards into the Turkic regions of Central Asia, and
the apparent disintegration of the former Russian Empire provided an
opportunity for action. For a time Turks
and Germans worked against each other but in the end Turkey infiltrated troops
across the eastern end of its Caucasian border and into Azerbaijan where they
advanced on Baku. In Azerbaijan
Bolshevik revolutionaries at first prevailed but the Azerbaijanis as a whole
wanted to be independent and they resisted the Turkish advance.
The threat to British interests and
saw that both Germany and Turkey could now move through the Caucasus, cross the
Caspian Sea, and enter Afghanistan through its northern border; a railway
branch-line ran from Merv on the Central Asian Railway to Kushka on the Afghan
border where a massive arsenal of former Imperial Russian weapons and
ammunition was located. Afghanistan
could be pushed into a confrontation with British India that might inflame
anti-colonial and religious passion in the sub-continent. The validity of this threat was demonstrated
in 1919 when Afghanistan, under a new ruler, did attack India. But the important British aim in early 1918 was
to stop the Central Powers from using the Russian railway system to send oil
and cotton to Europe.
deployed a small mission into Georgia that was expanded in January 1918 into a
training mission of 200 officers and 200 senior ranks, mostly selected from
Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African units. This unit was named DUNSTERFORCE after its
commander Major General Lionel Charles Dunsterville CB, Indian Army. There were no British brigades or divisions
available for use in the Caucasus, and it was hoped that Dunsterville’s men
could recruit and train Caucasian units that would keep German and Turkish
hands off the Baku oil and Transcaspian cotton.
DUNSTERFORCE entered Persia from Baghdad and was very successful at
stopping Turkish advances through northern Persia. Dunsterville and a small force got to Baku
and defended it from Turkish attack.
However the British theatre commander in Mesopotamia, Lieutenant General
W.R. Marshall KCB, denied Dunsterville reinforcements and Baku had to be
evacuated by the British in mid-September 1918 (1). The Turks seized the port and the adjacent
oilfields. Right: Major General Wilfrid Malleson
The response from India – the
second British Mission was sent into the region from India. Major General Wilfrid Malleson, Indian Army,
moved from Quetta up the East Persia Cordon and arrived in Meshed in
north-eastern Persia in July 1918. At
that time the only troops available for the General’s use were those serving on
the Cordon, and the most effective of those were the 28th Light
Cavalry and the 1st Battalion 19th Punjabis (1/19th
Punjabis). General Malleson, like
Dunsterville, was a linguist and he had others attached to his staff. The tasks of the Malleson Mission, known as
MALMISS, were to closely observe events in Transcaspia, to rebuff enemy agents
attempting to enter Afghanistan or Baluchistan from the west, to report on
Afghan political developments in Herat, and to deny the Turks use of the
Central Asian Railway should they seize Baku.
This last task became more significant when the Turks did seize Baku in
was resupplied by a new rail line pushed through northern Baluchistan from
Quetta that was to terminate just inside the Persian border. From there a good but long motorable road was
being constructed northwards to Meshed.
Basically MALMISS was ‘out on a limb’ and would have to solve its own
problems as there could be no quick response from India to requests for
support. General Malleson was not a
sound field commander, having been sent home by General Smuts from the East
Africa campaign as a failed brigade commander, but he was an experienced
intelligence staff officer and at the time of his appointment Army Headquarters
in Delhi had not forseen that combat operations would occur in Transcaspia.
Malleson quickly deployed intelligence agents across both the Afghan and Transcaspian
borders and used their information to build up an accurate picture of what was
happening in both regions. The
Bolsheviks held a firm base in Tashkent, but in Transcaspia the Russian railway
workers and the local Turcoman tribesmen had rejected the high-handed actions
of the Bolsheviks and had formed their own provisional government based on the
socialist ideals of Menshevism. Thus
there was in Transcaspia a Menshevik government fighting against Bolshevik
attacks down the railway line from Tashkent.
The Menshevik government was based in Ashkhabad and it controlled the
Central Asian Railway from Krasnovodsk to Bairam Ali, east of Merv, where the
spearhead of the Bolshevik forces was operating.
fighting was done along the railway line and both sides used improvised
armoured trains; operations in the Kara Kum desert on either side of the line
were not feasible because of the lack of water.
The Menshevik soldiers were Russian ex-officers manning the armoured
trains, field guns and a cavalry squadron, some Armenian and Turcoman infantry,
and 500 local Turcoman cavalrymen.
Colonel Oraz Sirdar, a Turcoman officer of the former Tsarist army, was
the Menshevik commander. Sadly he could
not discipline his Turcoman cavalry who were unreliable and motivated by
self-interest and loot.
Bolshevik army in Tashkent contained many German and Austro-Hungarian former
prisoners of war (2)
who had been kept in camps in Central Asia until the Russian Revolution, when
they were told that they could go home if they first fought their way through
the Mensheviks, as an Austro-Hungarian Mission was waiting in Tiflis to
repatriate them. These Germans and Austro-Hungarians
provided the professional element that the Bolshevik forces needed. Other men drafted into the Bolshevik army were
former Imperial Russian soldiers, railway men and Russians living locally. The Bolsheviks were not short of weapons as
they had seized the arsenal at Kushka. As
the fighting developed both sides could generally get one military aircraft
into the air each day for reconnaissance duties; the Mensheviks flew a
Henri-Farman biplane until it crashed whilst the Bolsheviks flew a
Morane-Saulnier monoplane plus a Henri-Farman.
agents reported that the Mensheviks in Ashkhabad wanted assistance from MALMISS
and Captain Reginald Teague-Jones (3),
Indian Army Reserve of Officers, was despatched to be a MALMISS liaison officer
in Ashkabad. Sub-units of the 28th
Light Cavalry and the 1/19th Punjabis were moved up to the
Persian-Transcaspian border area, and on 8th August 1918 Delhi
authorised Malleson to provide limited military and financial assistance to the
Transcaspian government. As MALMISS only
had the finance to cover its own needs there could be no immediate cash contributions
to the Menshevik government treasury, but two days later a rifle company and a
machine gun section from the Punjabis crossed into Transcaspia and occupied
Artik, a station on the Central Asian Railway.
From there the machine gun section under Lieutenant W.F. Gipps was sent
forward to Bairam Ali accompanied by Major W.H. Bingham (4), 1/69th
Punjabis, as a liaison officer.
Above: Baku & Transcaspia map
British hostilities with the
15th August the Bolsheviks attacked Bairam Ali, advancing on both
flanks. The Menshevik Armenian infantry dispersed
and leaped on trains to ride back 100 kilometres to Dushak. But the Menshevik No. 1 Armoured Train, manned
by Russians and supported by the Punjabi machine gunners under Havildars Imam
Din and Nand Singh, stood its ground until nightfall when it withdrew to
Tejend. The Bolsheviks were held at
Tejend the next day by a combination of firepower and track demolition, then
No. 1 Train steamed back to Dushak.
Havildar Nand Singh and one sepoy had been wounded and the whole machine
gun section was exhausted and affected by fever, so it was withdrawn to the
The actions at Kaakha
Menshevik high command decided to withdraw and make a stand at Kaakha, so the
armoured trains moved back. The
arrangement made between MALMISS and the Transcaspian government permitted British
troops to come under Menshevik tactical command, but the senior British officer
present could request discussion of any order that was judged to be
inappropriate in the prevailing circumstances.
As it was now apparent that British support had to be in greater
strength to be of any use at all, No. 2 Company 1/19th Punjabis,
under Captain G.E.F. Shute, also moved to Kaakha. The remainder of the Punjabis concentrated at
first Bolshevik attack on Kaakha on 26th August petered out without
Captain Shute’s company having to move out of its reserve position. However the situation was serious as the
Bolsheviks had come forward with several trains full of troops, and Lieutenant
Colonel D.E. Knollys, the Punjabi commanding officer, advanced the remainder of
his battalion to Kaakha. Colonel Knollys
was not impressed with the Menshevik appreciation of and use of ground and he
did not allow his battalion to be distributed in penny packets around the
battlefield. The Menshevik Russian
gunners and crew of No. 1 Train fought well as usual, and with Punjabi fire
support held back the Bolsheviks. This
train crew included a Russian lady, the widow of a Tsarist officer who had been
killed by the Bolsheviks. However the
Turcoman cavalry did not attempt to interfere with the main enemy attack that
entered Kaakha Village. Meanwhile the
Punjabis were using their Lewis light machine guns for the first time in
action, and Sepoy Natha Singh had an excellent shoot from the roof of a hut
before he was wounded by enemy machine gun fire (5).
the enemy advanced through the village the Punjabi Quartermaster, Lieutenant
F.W. Stewart, organised a detail of administrative sepoys and followers and
blocked the enemy advance. This
defensive action allowed Colonel Knollys to launch his No. 1 Company in a flank
attack on the enemy advance; the Pathans and Punjabi Mussulmans of No. 1
Company wielded their bayonets with vigour and drove the Bolsheviks back into
the village where a two-hour long fight succeeded in ejecting the enemy out of
Kaakha and capturing four of their machine guns. During the fighting the Turcoman cavalry were
totally ineffective. Lieutenant Francis
William Stewart, 1/19th Punjabis, was awarded a Military Cross:
conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when the enemy got round the flank
and rear of camp. He collected all available odd men, and by prompt
dispositions and gallant leading held off the enemy until reinforcements
arrived, thereby averting complete disaster. Although wounded he continued
fighting, and throughout showed great pluck and tenacity.
Above: White Russian reinforcements arrive at Ashkabad
The Punjabis had won the day for the Mensheviks but at
a cost, as 4 sepoys were dead and 15 wounded.
Captain Teague-Jones and Lieutenant Stewart were wounded, and a liaison
officer, Captain K.H.W. Ward, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, later died of wounds. Medical support was provided by a section of
a Combined Field Ambulance under Captain J.A. Sinton VC (6) assisted
by Lieutenant M. Nawaz, both of the Indian Medical Service. The Bolsheviks appeared to have taken up to
40 casualties, most of them wounded.
Several sepoys had been shot from behind as during the fighting in the village
it was extremely difficult to recognize which Russian troops were Bolsheviks
and which were Mensheviks as the uniforms were similar, and the Bolsheviks had
taken advantage of this to operate in the Punjabi rear.
On the following day a company of the 1/4th
Hampshire Regiment (120 rifles) arrived at Kaakha having been sent across the
Caspian Sea from Enzeli in northern Persia to Krasnovodsk, and then onwards by
rail into Transcaspia. On 5th
September a section (two guns) of 18-pounder field guns from 44th
Battery, Royal Field Artillery, also arrived from Enzeli via Krasnovodsk. MALMISS had been authorized to raise a local
levy from the Hazara Shiite population around Meshed, and 50 of these levies
were sent to Kaakha. The Menshevik military
situation was considerably improved.
This was largely due to DUNSTERFORCE having seized much of the shipping
on the Caspian Sea to place it under the command of Commodore D.T. Norris CB (7), Royal
Navy, who mounted guns on most of his new fleet. With the Royal Navy controlling the southern
Caspian waters the sea route from Enzeli to Krasnovodsk was secure.
Left: Menshevik Turcoman troops
Bolsheviks attacked again at Kaakha on 11th September and used ten
field guns to support their infantry, however the British 18-pounders broke up
the attack so accurately that the enemy withdrew. Once again the Turcoman cavalry declined to
ride down the withdrawing enemy. Seven
days later the final Bolshevik attack on Kaakha was launched, this time
supported by 15 guns, but again shrapnel fired by the British and Menshevik
gunners deterred the enemy infantry from assaulting the British and
Transcaspian defensive positions, and the Bolsheviks withdrew. On this occasion
an enemy cavalry unit got behind the Kaakha position and ripped up railway
track, tore down signal cables and burned a wooden bridge before
withdrawing. Yet again the Turcoman
cavalry declined to participate. But a sound
cavalry force was on the way as on 21st September ‘C’ and ‘D’ squadrons
of the 28th Light Cavalry from Meshed, under Major J.A.C. Kreyer,
joined Colonel Knollys at Kaakha.
Left: Wrecked Bolshevik armoured train at Dushak
The Battle of Dushak
Menshevik Headquarters ordered an advance against the Bolsheviks and plans were
made for an attack on Dushak.
Reconnaissance patrols from the 28th Light Cavalry went out
and two in particular, commanded by Lance Duffadars Ganga Singh and Tek Chand (8), had
contacts with the enemy and came back with useful information. The Menshevik advance was in two columns that
left Kaakha on 9th October 1918.
The left column consisted of the Punjabi Nos. 2 and 3 Companies and both
sections of machine guns, the British field guns escorted by the 50 Hazara
levies, four Russian-manned guns and around 800 Turcoman and Armenian
infantry. The right column was composed
of the two Indian cavalry squadrons; the Turcoman cavalry was tasked
independently with getting behind the enemy position and cutting the railway
line to prevent the withdrawal of the Bolshevik trains. The Punjabi No. 1 Company and the Hampshires
remained in reserve at Kaakha and at the British railhead of Arman Sagad.
four days of marching and waiting that was confused by various orders and
counter-orders from the Menshevik Headquarters, the left column approached
Dushak just before first light on 14th October, but two Punjabi
patrols fired at each other in the darkness and the enemy was alerted. Unfortunately in the ensuing disorder several
machine and Lewis gun mules broke away from their handlers and their loads were
not recovered until later. Nevertheless
the left column attacked Dushak Station at dawn, trying to capitalise on what
advantage of surprise still remained.
The start line was 1.5 kilometres distant from the Station and the
ground to be covered was very open, being a flat plain with vegetation growing to
a height of 60 centimetres. One or two
nullahs crossed the plain and these soon attracted many of the Turcoman and
British and Menshevik guns came into action efficiently in the open but the
Bolshevik guns were also well manned and fired over open sights at the
advancing sepoys, using percussion shrapnel and grape shot; the Punjabi
casualty figure quickly rose. By now the
Menshevik infantry had gone to ground and the Punjabis were fighting forward
alone in short rushes, using their machine gun sections and Lewis gunners to
cover the flanks. As soon as a charge
could be made the Punjabis concentrated fire on the enemy machine guns and went
in with the bayonet, quickly over-running 6 enemy field guns and 16 machine
No. 440 Havildar Imam Din, 1/19th
Punjabis, was awarded an Indian Order of
Merit (2nd Class):When in
charge of a machine gun, brought into action under very heavy gun and rifle
fire, he successfully silenced one of the enemy’s guns. When finally severely wounded and unable to
move, he refused all assistance and ordered his gun back into safety. He had previously done exceedingly well on
with his gun on 11th August (9) on which occasion he commanded the section in the absence of his officer.
Above: 19th Punjabis
reached the Station the Punjabi advance continued into the railway yards
beyond. At this time the officer
commanding No. 1 Company, Lieutenant James Eliot Stephen, and Subadar Mehdi
Khan, both of the 1/19th Punjabis, were killed in action. Officer casualties quickly mounted, Lieutenant
Gipps being hit in the leg and Captain G.E.F. Shute in the shoulder; both were
in No. 2 Company. Undaunted Subadar Bal
Singh took over as company commander and was awarded an Indian Order of Merit (2nd Class):In an
attack on the enemy he led his platoon with great dash and bravery under very
heavy machine gun fire. He took command
of the company when the British Officer had been wounded and by his coolness
and power of command, ensured the retirement being conducted in an orderly
the fighting in the station yard and village that lay beyond Captain G. Pigot,
commanding No. 3 Company, was wounded in the throat and evacuated; Subadar
Major Isa Singh took over command of the two Punjabi companies, and he was later
admitted to The Order of British India (OBI). Captains George Eric FitzGerald Shute and
Geoffrey Pigot, both 19th Punjabis, and Lieutenant Mohamed Nawaz,
Indian Medical Service, were all awarded Military
Indian Orders of Merit (2nd
awarded to No. 2532 Sepoy Dalel Singh: He
carried messages throughout the day for his company commander regardless of
personal safety and finally delivered an important message after being severely
wounded. And to No. 1352 Lance Naik
Muhammad Akbar, 19th Punjabis: He
showed great bravery and initiative when in command of a Lewis gun on the 14th
October 1918. He climbed onto the roof
of a house with his gun, 40 yards in advance of all other troops and in spite
of heavy fire and his exposed position, kept up a concentrated fire on the
enemy. Later, from the same position, he
fired on one of the enemy’s trains and forced it to retire.
the two 28th Light Infantry squadrons in the right column heard the
heavy firing at Dushak a decision was made to proceed there mounted to support
the Punjabis. An enemy armoured train
opened fire on the sowars but fortunately most shells were High Explosive and
not shrapnel. The squadrons were ordered
into ‘half squadron column’ at 100 metres interval and they galloped to the
station; on the way they met scattered groups of hostile Bolsheviks and killed
around 60 of them, mostly with the lance.
Unfortunately during one of these skirmishes Jemadar Basanta Ram was
killed in action.
of the last shells fired in the battle by the British 18-pounder guns detonated
three enemy railway ammunition trucks in a siding; the ensuing explosion
flattened the surrounding area and killed many Bolsheviks. Sadly an enemy waggon load of horses was
burned to death in the fire that followed the explosion. However the Bolsheviks were reluctant to
withdraw as some of their armoured trains were trapped on the railway line west
of Dushak station. Bolshevik
reinforcements arrived by train from Tejend and Merv, proving that the Turcoman
cavalry had not cut the line to the east, and the Menshevik commander ordered a
withdrawal. At this time the two 28th
Light Cavalry squadrons were east of the station with the British guns and
Hazara Levies, and the Punjabis were re-grouping west of the station with the
Menshevik guns and the remaining 40 Russian and Armenian infantry who had not
by now disappeared from the
battlefield. The Turcoman cavalrymen
were out of sight on their way home, laden with loot from Dushak station and
village, and from damaged or wrecked Bolshevik trains.
dismounted cavalry covered the Menshevik withdrawal; the Bolsheviks quickly got
machine guns into action and hit around 30 of the cavalry mounts that were
being led to the rear. By now the
Bolshevik artillerymen were shaken and although they engaged the withdrawing
sowars they did not inflict casualties.
After withdrawing to the Menshevik railhead at Arman Sagad the infantry
and gunners were railed back to Kaakha whilst the cavalry marched, arriving
there at dawn on 15th October.
the fighting at Dushak the 28th Light Cavalry lost 1 Indian officer
and 7 sowars killed, 12 sowars wounded and 60 horses killed and wounded. The 1/19th Punjabis lost 1 British
and 1 Indian officer and 45 sepoys killed, 3 British officers, 1 Indian officer
and 135 sepoys wounded. The Hazara
Levies lost 5 sepoys missing believed killed.
The withdrawal from Dushak in the face of an enemy counter-attack was
initially a disappointment to those who fought there, however the Bolsheviks
had been so shaken by their experiences and the loss of over 500 men that soon
they withdrew eastwards all the way to Merv.
The Mensheviks, thanks to the courage and audacity of their Russian crew
on No. 1 Armoured Train, quickly advanced and established a new railhead east
of Tejend. This move was followed by a
joint force of 28th Light Cavalry and Turcoman cavalry demonstrating
their ability to appear to the east of Merv, causing the Bolsheviks to withdraw
even further to the east of Bairam Ali.
Right: The personnel of No. 1 Armoured Train
Punjabis were re-grouping and training up key personnel to replace casualties;
the only British officers left were Colonel Knollys and the Adjutant, Captain
R.F.G. Adams (10);
Indian officers commanded the companies.
The Hampshire company garrisoned Merv and the 28th Light Cavalry
accompanied the Menshevik armoured trains now located east of Bairam Ali. The occupation of Tejend and Merv was critical
for the Menshevik government, as the agricultural land around those two oases
provided the food that was needed in Ashkhabad.
A winter lull
Bolshevik withdrawal from Dushak allowed the sepoys and sowars on 18th
October to recover and bury or cremate the bodies of their comrades who had
fallen on the battlefield. At the end of
that month Turkey signed an armistice and ceased fighting, followed by Austria-Hungary
and Germany. This soon made the
politicians in London and Delhi question the future of MALMISS, and whilst this
subject was debated General Malleson was ordered not to take any further
offensive action against the Tashkent Bolsheviks without receiving prior authority,
but his force could fight defensively.
In late 1918 the various White Russian armies that were fighting against
Bolshevism appeared to be reasonably competent, and it was hoped that the White
Russians would contain and destroy the Reds.
Mesopotamia General Marshall, who had previously overseen the fall of Baku to
the Turks by refusing reinforcements to the DUNSTERFORCE units fighting around
that city, had to send British troops back to Baku to enforce the armistice
terms on the Turks there, to maintain law and order, and to secure the
oilfields. The British control of Baku
port allowed the White Russians to send units of Caucasian Daghestan Cossack cavalry
across the Caspian to reinforce the Ashkhabad Mensheviks. As the Ashkhabad government was perpetually
facing dissent from within the Transcaspian population these Cossacks were
retained in Ashkhabad for a time as an internal security force, but as the Daghestanis’
favourite pastimes were to gallop madly around town and loot the bazaars they
were soon sent to the Bairam Ali front. Rifle companies from the 9th
Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment moved into barracks in Krasnovodsk
and Ashkhabad for security duties.
Above: Sketch of the Central Asian Railway
British Army of the Black Sea, under General Sir G.F. Milne KCB, KCMG, DSO, the
former British commander in Salonika, extended its garrisoning of the Caucasus
and took control of the railway that ran from Batum to Baku. This led to the handing over of MALMISS from
Delhi to London, resulting in the Line of Communication for MALMISS being
through the Caucasus and over the Caspian.
As this route used ships and railways this was in fact a more efficient
arrangement than the previous overland camel-convoy and motor route up the East
Persia Cordon, or the alternative Persian route from Krasnovodsk to Enzeli and
then overland to Baghdad.
in Transcaspia brought heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures and initially both
sides concentrated more on survival than on fighting. MALMISS propaganda aimed at the German and
Austro-Hungarian former prisoners of war fighting for the Bolsheviks offered
repatriation to them if they crossed over to the Menshevik lines. This worked well for a time with up to 20 men
per night crossing over until the Menshevik Turcoman cavalry realised what was
happening; the Turcomans then intercepted the ex-prisoners of war in the desert
and murdered them for their clothing.
This stopped the flow of enemy troops seeking repatriation to Europe.
Above: 28th Light Cavalry on parade, Transcaspia
Malleson had asked Delhi for a Brigadier General to be sent to command the
British troops in action in Transcaspia, as Colonel Knollys who had been doing
that job as well as commanding his battalion was over-tasked. Lieutenant Colonel (Temporary Brigadier General)
G.A.H. Beatty DSO & Bar (11), 9th
Hodson’s Horse, was selected and he travelled up the East Persia Cordon to
arrive at Meshed on 9th November.
He was accompanied by a small brigade headquarters and his principal
staff officer was Major J.P. Thompson (12), 35th
Scinde Horse. For a few weeks Malleson
retained Beatty in Meshed whilst various conferences and debates took place,
but in early January 1919 General Beatty crossed the border and took up his
command appointment at Bairam Ali.
The appearance of the Guides’ patrol
January Captain L.V.S. Blacker and 16 men of the Queen’s Own Corps of Guides
(Lumsden’s) appeared at the Menshevik railhead at Bairam Ali. On 7th February 1918 this mounted
patrol had moved from Kashmir through Gilgit, Hunza and then Kashgar in Chinese
Turkestan; from there permission was eventually granted to visit Tashkent in
Russian Turkestan. The patrol was escorting Sir George Macartney who was on a
diplomatic mission to learn what he could of the political situation in Bolshevik-governed
Tashkent. Then, moving on a
reconnaissance mission, Blacker and his men went back through the Kunlun
mountains and the Muztagh Pass to Yarkand and on to Merv. The patrol contained specialist linguists,
topographic scouts, weapons specialists, a signaller and a carrier pigeon
expert, a first-aid man and veterinarian.
Three Hazara men of this patrol actually owned land at Merv, obtained by
their families in Tsarist times
at Bairam Ali the Guides trained the soldiers of the Menshevik army in basic
military skills, familiarising them with the Lee-Metford rifles that MALMISS
was supplying to the Ashkabad government.
Following up a suggestion from the Menshevik military commander Oraz
Sirdar, MALMISS decided to send a 100-camel convoy of weapons and ammunition to
the Emir of Bokhara who wished to remain independent of Bolshevik, Menshevik or
any other kind of rule. Two Guides’ non-commissioned
officers, Awal Nur and Karbali Muhammad, took the convoy around the Bolshevik
lines to Bokhara, where the Emir decorated them with the Star of Bokhara and gave them temporary officer appointments in his
army whilst they trained the Bokharan soldiers on the new weapons. The journey had been dangerous and on one
occasion a Bolshevik patrol was dispersed with rifle fire. In recognition of their achievements No. 156
Company Quartermaster Havildar Awal Nur was later awarded an Indian Order of Merit (2nd Class)
and Temporary Lance Dafadar Karbali Muhammad received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
Above: 28th Light Cavalry at Annenkovo
The battle of Annenkovo
January 1919 the front was on the Central Asia Railway north-east of Merv near
Annenkovo which lay 50 kilometres forward from Bairam Ali. The Mensheviks were dispirited with the
British decision not to advance as it was thought that the Bolshevik forces
would easily fold and that a Menshevik bridgehead could be captured at Charjui
on the east bank of the Oxus River. Such
a move would improve the Menshevik position in Transcaspia considerably. To strengthen Menshevik resolve a half-squadron
of the 28th Light Cavalry and a company (150 rifles) of the 1/19th
Punjabis were stationed at the front at Annenkovo. These British troops were relieved every
eight days or so from Bairam Ali where there were a squadron of 28th
Light Cavalry, the Battalion Headquarters and two companies of the 1/19th
Punjabis and the two British 18-pounder guns.
16th January the Bolsheviks achieved total surprise by attacking
with 4,000 infantry, 8 guns and several squadrons of cavalry. Thick fog covered the ground at daybreak and
the Menshevik cavalry patrols reported nothing unusual. The first intimation of trouble came at 0850
hours when the sepoys and sowars at the front heard the railway line being
blown to the south-west, signalling that the enemy was behind them. Menshevik cavalry patrols then reported that
the railway and telegraph lines were cut and that four squadrons of Bolshevik
cavalry had been observed about five kilometres to the north-west. A prisoner was taken who stated that the
enemy intended to attack from the north.
sowars not out on patrol positioned themselves to fight with the armoured
trains against enemy advancing from the east whilst Captain G. Pigot MC, 19th
Punjabis, now recovered from his throat wound and in command of No. 3 Company,
deployed his men to face the attack from the north. A decisive factor that was going to save the
day for the Indian troops was that the enemy did not prevent the Menshevik
train repair crew from repairing the blown track, and the Punjabis’ No. 1
Company under Major J.G.P. Drummond was equipped and standing by to routinely
relieve No. 3 Company at the front.
Above: Officers of 28th Light Cavalry at Annenkovo
The Menshevik Turcoman
and Armenian infantry advanced north to find the enemy who soon outflanked
them, causing a rapid retreat. Thick mist
still hugged the ground making it difficult to recognise friend from foe. Captain Pigot sent two platoons under
Lieutenant L.S. Ingle, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to 1/19th
Punjabis, to extend the left flank of the Menshevik infantry. This was achieved and the Mensheviks briefly
halted until enemy machine gunners infiltrated in the mist causing the
Mensheviks to withdraw again. Pigot sent
another platoon forward and Louis Sobaux Ingle used it effectively, being
awarded a Military Cross: For
conspicuous gallantry on Bahram Ali Front on 16th January, 1919. He showed
marked ability in handling three platoons with which he was opposing the
enemy's attack. He continually led his platoon forward under heavy fire, though
the enemy were enveloping his flank, to restore order on the right. His cool
courage inspired his men during a critical period, and he kept his company
commander informed of the situation.
Indian officers of the 19th Punjabis were later awarded the Indian Order of Merit (2nd
Class), one being a posthumous award.
Subadar Aziz Ullah’s citation was: This
Indian officer showed conspicuous gallantry and ability in the leading of his
platoon when out of touch with his company commander on the 16th
January 1919. He also behaved with conspicuous bravery on two former occasions. The citation for Subadar Hukam Singh read: This Indian officer led his platoon into
action on 19th January 1919 (13)
with the greatest gallantry and inspired all his men by his fearlessness. He was killed while encouraging and leading
fighting continued throughout the day but at 1500 hours the situation changed
when the train carrying No. 1 Company chugged into the fight. Sepoys de-trained at high speed, and after a
quick briefing from Pigot, Drummond led three platoons of Pathans forward northwards
to halt the Bolshevik advance. The enemy
outflanked them so Drummond sent Lieutenant Cuvelier with No. 4 Platoon out
wide, and a well-sited Lewis gun prevented the enemy from reaching the railway
(Acting Major) James Geoffrey Powys Drummond, 1/19th Punjabis, later received a
Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry on Bahram Ali Front on 16th January, 1919.
When sent to reinforce our troops, who were being heavily shelled, he detrained
his company under heavy fire, and promptly led them forward, though neither our
own troops nor the enemy could be located owing to a thick mist. His prompt
action and bold initiative and leading
resulted in the enemy being driven off with heavy losses.
Pigot had to deal with an attack from the east.
The sowars, using a Hotchkiss gun, had supported the armoured trains in
stopping the enemy moving down the railway line towards them, but at 1730 hours
a strong enemy attack was put in using new troops. Pigot ran down the line with his company
headquarters and remaining platoon just as the Bolsheviks were reaching the
Menshevik armoured trains. A group of
seven Russians from a train counter-attacked the enemy with the bayonet closely
followed by Pigot’s Punjabi Mussulmans who drove the enemy out of the railway
cutting and into the desert. Geoffrey
Pigot received a Bar to his Military
gallantry in action on Bahram Ali front on 16th January, 1919. By his prompt
action and able disposition of the advanced British troops, of which he was in
command, he enabled an attack by the enemy in overwhelming numbers to be held
off till reinforcements arrived. His coolness and decision throughout the
action inspired confidence in all ranks. Throughout the battle Nos. 1
and 3 Companies had not been able to see each other due to the mist, but by
advancing towards the sound of the guns and reacting rapidly to enemy sightings
the company officers had been able to decisively blunt the enemy attacks. The Bolsheviks, who held the advantages of
surprise and superior numbers throughout the action, could have stayed and
probably won the fight, and if they had captured the Menshevik armoured trains
the Transcaspian forces would have been emasculated. But perhaps becoming disillusioned by both
the thick mist that hampered visibility and battlefield control, and by the
arrival of Drummond’s company, the Bolsheviks broke contact and withdrew at
1800 hours. Bolshevik casualties were
estimated at 600 from the fighting and 500 from frostbite due to the bitterly
cold night approach and withdrawal marches.
After the action nearly 200 enemy bodies were found around the
battlefield, including those of two females; all the corpses had been stripped
of clothing by the Turcomans.
Above: Sketch of the Central Asian Railway
The Mensheviks had suffered around 70 casualties and
the 1/19th Punjabis lost Subadar Hukam Singh and 7 sepoys killed, 2
sepoys died of wounds and 36 were wounded.
One other posthumous Indian Order
of Merit (2nd Class) was awarded to No. 989 Havildar Farid Khan,
1/19th Punjabis: For
conspicuous gallantry on the 16th January 1919 in pressing forward
at the head of his section under very heavy fire. His total disregard of danger on this and
former occasions was of the greatest assistance to his platoon commander and an
example to his men. This
non-commissioned officer was killed in action.
Subedar Nihal Singh and several sepoys received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
the Annenkovo battle General Beatty introduced a new defence plan of wired-in
mutually supporting picquet positions manned by sepoys. The sowars were heavily tasked with cavalry
patrols, having to count the number of Bolshevik trains at the front each night
as well as observing possible enemy approach routes. The enemy was not going to be allowed to
launch another surprise attack.
the sepoys did not know it, 1/19th Punjabis had fought its last
action in Transcaspia; but this was not the case for the 28th Light
Cavalry. Whilst leading a nine-man
patrol in January 1919 No. 1621 Lance Duffadar Bhola Ram of ‘D’ Squadron, 28th
Light Cavalry, found himself cut off by about 25 Bolsheviks. Bhola Ram ordered a charge, and spearing two
enemy his patrol broke through the Bolshevik ranks. Bhola Ram later received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal and
a Russian Cross of St. George (2nd
more serious engagement took place later in early March when No. 2249 Lance
Duffadar Manawar Khan of ‘A’ Squadron, 28th Light Cavalry, found his
13-man patrol surrounded by around 150 enemy cavalry who appeared from behind
large sand hills. Manawar Khan ordered
his Punjabi Mussulmans to close ranks and charge through the enemy, which they
did cutting down 22 Bolsheviks in the process.
Manowar Khan received the only Indian
Order of Merit (2nd Class) awarded to his regiment during the
Great War: For conspicuous gallantry and
dash on the 2nd March 1919; when in command of a patrol of 13 men he
was surrounded by about 150 of the enemy’s cavalry, he without hesitation led
his patrol to the charge and broke through the enemy’s ranks, spearing all
opposed to them. Later when pursued by
the enemy he himself halted, took up a position and opened rapid fire on the
enemy, shooting 3 of them and checking the pursuit, thereby saving the lives of
the remainder of the patrol with him.
2311 Trumpeter Murad Ali killed two enemy with his sword and a third with his
revolver as he galloped away; he later received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal as did another member of the
patrol, No. 2452 Acting Lance Duffadar Fazal Khan. All members of the patrol were awarded the Russian Cross of St. George in a
variety of classes; the regimental history states that the medal ribbons were
received but that the medals were not.
patrol was scattered and trickled back to the Menshevik railhead over the
following 24 hours, except for three sowars who were missing. These three lost their mounts in the fighting
and were taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks, who deserve credit for this act
considering the losses that they had themselves suffered. The three sowars were incarcerated in a camp
at Vyerni, about 800 kilometres north-east of Tashkent. Two men, No. 2391 Acting Lance Dafadar Lall Khan and No.
2663 Sowar (Shoeing Smith) Muhammad Yar Khan, escaped separately. Both men used their initiative in getting
themselves back to their regiment, Lal Khan travelled on train and foot through
Tashkent, Bokhara and Ashkabad to Meshed whilst Muhammad Yar Khan walked from
Vyerni to Kashgar in China, where the British Consul-General forwarded him
through Gilgit to Srinagar. Both men
also received the Indian Distinguished
Service Medal. The third man, No.
2479 Sowar Gulfaraz Khan, was known to be alive when the other two escaped, but
he was never seen again. British intervention in Transcaspia
late January 1919 General Milne, Commander of the Army of the Black Sea, travelled
to Transcaspia and after discussions with General Malleson he visited Annenkovo
to see the front and congratulate the Punjabis, 28th Light Cavalry and British
gunners on their prowess on the battlefield.
However General Milne was not happy to have part of his command extended
so far eastwards into Central Asia with what were by now redundant
objectives. On his return to
Constantinople he advised London that British and Indian troops should be
withdrawn from Transcaspia, and this was agreed. The Transcaspian government was understandably
not happy with this news, and even unhappier were the Turcomans who expected to
get a rough deal from whatever Russian administration came to power. The White Russian General Denikin sent troops,
guns and aircraft across the Caspian Sea and these units took over the front
from the Punjabis, Light Cavalry and British gunners. A considerable quantity of military supplies
was left by MALMISS for the use of the Transcaspian government.
1st April 1919 the British units in Transcaspia had been evacuated
to or through Krasnovodsk whilst the Indian Army units, including Captain Blacker’s
Guides patrol, crossed the Persian border to Meshed where they were employed on
security duties along the East Persia Cordon necessitated by the 3rd
Afghan War. As the White Russian armies
in Russia faltered and lost ground the Tashkent Bolsheviks were able to receive
‘Red Army’ Russian military reinforcements and in May they captured Annenkovo
and Merv, in June they took Tejend, in July Kaakha and Ashkabad fell to them, and
following the British evacuation of Krasnovodsk that port was in Bolshevik
hands in January 1920. The Turkic and
other local inhabitants of Central Asia were subjected to a re-colonisation
from Russia, but one with ruthless socialist ideals rather than Imperial
objectives; seventy years were to pass before Transcaspia re-emerged as an
independent nation titled Turkmenistan, with its capital city being Ashgabat.
Gallantry awards made to Indian Army
units for the Transcaspia operations
William George Broughton Ischia Hawley, 28th Light Cavalry.
(Acting Lieutenant Colonel) Denis Erskine Knollys, 1/19th Punjabis.
John Arthur Claude Kreyer, 28th Light Cavalry.
Light Cavalry: Sowars
2447 Nadir Khan; 2479 Gulfaraz Khan; 2494 Shaikh Abdulla; 2623 Mohammed Yar
Khan; 2722 Taib Khan; 2764 Fateh Khan; 2809 Shabaz Khan; 2823 Mehar Khan; 2826
Ghulam Muhammad Khan; 2813 Fazal Ilahi Khan.
regimental history of the 28th Light Cavalry lists Captain J.A.C.
Kreyer as receiving the Star of Bokhara (1st Class).
same history lists the following recipients of the Bokharan Star: 1911 Duffadar
Quader Khan; 1874 Farrier Abdul Karim; 1894 Sowar Shaikh Fayaz; 1984 Duffadar
Raot Singh; 1640 Sowar Nar Singh; 2642 Sowar Kishore Singh; 2228 Duffadar
Batna; 3336 Sowar Dalipa; 2420 Sowar Basanta.
On Secret Patrol in High Asia names 156
Company Quartermaster Havildar Awal Nur and Temporary Lance Dafadar Karbali
Muhammad, both of the Guides, as receiving the Star of Bokhara.
28th Light Cavalry and the 1/19th Punjabis were awarded
the unique Battle Honour “MERV”.
(most economical shown)
in Persia 1914 – 1919
Official History compiled by Brigadier General F.J. Moberley CB CSI DSO psc (Imperial War Museum 1987). The
Transcaspian Episode by
C.H. Ellis (Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1963 and available on Internet Archive). The 28th
Light Cavalry in Persia and Russian Turkestan 1915 – 1920 by Major J.A.C.
Kreyer DSO and Captain G. Uloth (Slatter & Rose Ltd 1926). History
of the 1st Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment,
Sherdil-Ki-Paltan (Late XIX Punjabis) by an anonymous compiler.(Naval & Military Press reprint). History
of the Guides 1846-1922 by an anonymous compiler (Naval & Military
Press reprint). Faraway
F. James (Leonaur paperback 2007). On
Secret Patrol In High Asia by Captain L.V.S. Blacker (John Murray London 1922
and available free on Internet Archive). Mission
to Tashkent by
Lieutenant Colonel F.M. Bailey (The Travel Book Club, London 1946). History
of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The Forgotten Fronts and the Home
Base, 1914-18 by
General Sir Martin Farndale KCB. (The Royal Artillery Institution 1988). The
Times History of The War Volume XX (The Times, London 1919) Like
Hidden Fire (first
published as On Secret Service East
of Constantinople)by Peter
Hopkirk (J. Murray 1994). The
Spy Who Disappeared by
Reginald Teague Jones alias Ronald Sinclair (Victor Gollancz Ltd 1990). Honours
and Awards Indian Army August 1914-August 1921 (J.B. Hayward &
Sons London). Originally published
in 1931 as Roll of Honour Indian Army 1914-1921. Reward
of Valor. The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918 by Peter Duckers
(Jade Publishing Ltd Oldham 1999). The
Indian Distinguished Service Medal by Rana Chinna (InvictaIndia
fuller story of DUNSTERFORCE and its achievements in Persia can be seen at:
Swedish Red Cross report stated that there were 29,000 Germans and 26,000
Austro-Hungarian former prisoners still living in camps in Central Asia.
Reginald Teague-Jones became a notorious figure as far as the Bolsheviks were
concerned as they believed that he was implicated in the murder of 26 Bolshevik
Commissars from Baku who were shot by the Mensheviks east of Krasnovodsk; he
was later appointed to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
William Henry Bingham was later appointed to be an Officer of the Order of the
British Empire (OBE).
Sepoy Natha Singh, 19th Punjabis, was later Mentioned in Despatches.
Alexander Sinton was awarded the Victoria Cross with the citation: 21 January
1916. At Orah Ruins, Mesopotamia, he
remained on duty and tended to the wounded under very heavy fire. Even after he was shot through both arms and
through the side, he refused to go to hospital.
In three previous actions, he had displayed the utmost bravery.
David Thomas Norris, Royal Navy, was later appointed a Companion of the Most
Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG).
(8) Both Lance Duffadars were Mentioned
(9) This must refer to the first action
at Kaakha on 15th August 1918.
(10) Captain R.F.G. Adams was later
Mentioned in Despatches.
Brigadier General Guy Archibald Hastings Beatty was later appointed a Companion
of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG).
(12) Major John
Pickering Thompson was later appointed to be an Officer of the Order of the British
(13) The action was on the 16th
two medals were auctioned by Dix, Noonan and Webb on 19th September
2003. The Russian medal was officially
numbered 35 313.