Topic: BatzO - Baku
The Battle of Baku
Azerbaijan, 26 August - 14 September 1918
The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 August to 14 September 1918
[From: Purnell's History of the First World War, 1970, p. 2768.]
Baku, an oil port and town on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, was the scene of desperate fighting between Turkish forces and a special British unit known as 'Dunsterforce' and their Armenian and Russian allies between 26 August and 14 September 1918. In line with its goal of organising resistance to Turkish and German advances in the region, Dunsterforce - under its commander, Major-General Lionel Dunsterville - had attempted to bolster the local forces totalling 6,000 men which were holding a 20-kilometre-long defensive line across the Baku peninsula against some 14,000 Turkish troops. Apart from the small number of Dunsterforce members advising local commanders, elements of the British 39th Brigade were obtained from Mesopotamia totalling about 1,000 infantry, and one artillery battery.
Following the communist revolution in Russia, the task of Dunsterville's mission was an immensely complicated undertaking Russia's formal withdrawal from the war meant that many Russian Army units were disinclined to fight, while Bolshevik sympathies among large sections of the local populace caused the British presence to be widely viewed with suspicion and hostility. Instead of accepting the assistance of Dunsterville's 'advisers' (several of whom were Australians), local authorities largely expected the British to carry the weight of the fighting for them. Consequently, when the Turks attacked on 26 and 31 August, the Armenian levies promptly melted away or failed to give support.
After the first two Turkish assaults succeeded in making significant gains against the right flank of the town's defences, Dunsterville told the local leaders that he would withdraw his troops whenever it was necessary to save them from destruction. When he next advised them that he intended to leave Baku entirely, he was warned that any attempt to sail away from the port would be resisted. Although not intimidated by this, he decided to remain, and was encouraged by an apparent improvement in affairs during the next fortnight. When a deserter from the Turkish lines disclosed that a further assault was to he expected on 14 September, this news was awaited with greater confidence.
In the event, the Turkish attack met with the same absence of fight by the local troops: first reports that morning were of the enemy advancing at the run upon the town. The British, acting with a handful of Cossacks, stemmed the Turkish advance through the rest of the day, but Dunsterville immediately prepared to make good his threat to withdraw once night arrived. The local authorities initially acquiesced in his plans, then attempted to prevent the evacuation. Despite this, the whole of the British force successfully got off under cover of dark and was taken to Enzeli. Two Australians, Major H.B. Suttor and Sergeant A.L. Bullen, although left behind through not being notified of the departure, subsequently escaped in a refugee boat to Krasnovodsk.
Russian armoured car captured by Dunsterforce near Baku, 1918.
[Photo: S. Fallance]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 155-157.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, August 26 to September 14, 1918, Outline