Turkish Debacle at Sarikamish

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 162nd installment in the series.

January 6, 1915: Turkish Debacle at Sarikamish

When the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in November 1914, it was a marriage of convenience, with both sides getting something they wanted out of the alliance. The Young Turk triumvirate led by War Minister Enver Pasha secured formal protection from Germany, which they viewed as the decrepit empire’s best chance of long-term survival; meanwhile the Germans were able to close the Turkish straits, cutting off Russia’s maritime supply route through the Black Sea, and also forced the Allies to fight on a number of new fronts including Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Caucasus.

Now engaged in the two-front war they had hoped desperately to avoid, the Germans urged Enver to take the offensive against Russia immediately in hopes of taking some of the pressure off overstretched German and Austrian forces in the east. Enver, who never lacked confidence in his own military genius, eagerly accepted the mission and immediately began planning an ambitious offensive by the Ottoman Third Army against the Russian Caucasus Army, which he would direct personally (from a safe distance, of course). The result was a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Sarikamish, which took place in Russia’s Kars Province from December 22, 1914 to January 17, 1915.


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In some ways this plan made sense. The province, centered on the chief city and capital of the same name, had been part of the Ottoman Empire from 1534 to 1878, when the Russians annexed it following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, so it was a matter of Turkish national pride to attempt to get it back. The failure of Russia’s opening Bergmann Offensive from November 2 to 16, 1914, when the Caucasian Army under General Georgy Bergmann invaded northeastern Anatolia only to be repulsed with heavy losses, boosted the morale of Turkish troops as well as Enver’s faith in their ability to carry out complicated maneuvers.

But the Turks faced even more formidable obstacles, beginning with the terrain itself: the Ottoman Third Army would have to attack the Russian Caucasus Army across the Allahüekber Mountains, towering over 9,000 feet, which meant traversing high-altitude valleys cut by steep gorges over primitive roads in winter conditions. To make matters even more difficult, Enver was planning a complex battle of encirclement, with three Turkish army corps approaching the Russians simultaneously from different directions, calling for carefully coordinated movements despite almost nonexistent communications.

In fact, considering all these challenges the Turkish attack went remarkably well at first. On December 22, 1914 elements of the Turkish Third Army, numbering 150,000 men altogether, began advancing against the Russian Caucasian Army numbering 65,000 men (some Turkish troops remained behind in defensive and support positions). As planned, the right wing consisting of the Ottoman XI Corps attacked the Russians frontally, pinning them down while on the left the IX and X Corps advanced behind the enemy force in order to attack from the rear. By December 25 the IX and X Corps had advanced well north of the Russians, having marched almost 50 miles in three days amid icy conditions, and were beginning to pivot south to cut off the Russian line of retreat and complete the encirclement.

But now the plan began to fall apart. After some initial success keeping the Russians pinned down in front, the commanders of the Turkish XI Corps gave their exhausted troops a break, and the Russian commanders immediately seize the opportunity to extricate their troops and withdraw to new defensive positions near Sarikamish (above, Russian trenches) while Russian reinforcements began arriving by rail via Kars, blocking the advance of the Ottoman X Corps on the left wing. As the New Year dawned Turkish casualties were mounting, including thousands of cases of frostbite, and it was becoming clear that Enver’s plan of encirclement had failed—and things were about to take a turn for the worse.

Bolstered by fresh reinforcements, on January 2, 1915, the Russians launched a counterattack against the left wing, and suddenly the encircling Turkish units were themselves encircled. Over the next few days the Ottoman IX Corps fought a brave rearguard action but was completely destroyed, while the X Corps barely managed to escape, also suffering heavy casualties as ragtag bands of starving, demoralized troops fled through heavy snow back to Ottoman territory.

By January 6-7 Enver’s dreams of glory had ended in complete debacle, although “mopping-up” continued until January 17. The cost was staggering: according to some estimates the Ottoman losses came to 90,000 dead, including 53,000 who froze to death, and thousands more who perished from disease—especially typhus, the great nonhuman killer of the First World War. However if Enver was upset by these losses, he concealed it well; Lewis Einstein, an American diplomat in Constantinople, later recalled, “Even when he returned from the Caucasus, where an entire army had been lost by his fault, he seemed perfectly happy, and went the same evening to a concert.” On the other side the Russians probably lost around 16,000 dead, although some estimates put the figure at double that.

Beyond ending Enver’s dream of raising a revolt among the Turkic peoples of south Russia and Central Asia (at least temporarily), the Battle of Sarikamish would have a far-reaching, and tragic, impact on subsequent events. First, despite the outcome the mere fact that the Turks had taken the offensive at all alarmed Russia and its Western Allies, helping persuade Britain and France to attempt to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war by forcing the Turkish straits and capturing Constantinople—setting the stage for Gallipoli.

For their part Sarikamish, where Armenian volunteer troops fought alongside the Russians, only served to stoke the Ottoman government’s preexisting paranoia about the disloyalty of their own Armenian population. With the Christian Armenians aiding the Russians, the Young Turks feared the possibility of guerrilla warfare and uprisings behind the lines throughout eastern Anatolia, further complicating their already daunting war effort against Russia. Within a matter of months the Turks would decide on a simple, unspeakably brutal solution: genocide.

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Christmasy Movies That Might Not Be "Christmas Movies"

Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Miramax

While action addicts love to extol the Christmas themes of 1988’s Die Hard every time December rolls around, the Bruce Willis-led blockbuster has plenty of company in the no man’s land between “Definitely a Christmas movie” and “Definitely not a Christmas movie.” From romantic comedies to rip-roaring thrillers, here are some other Hollywood hits that you can definitely justify adding to an upcoming holiday movie marathon (whether your guests like it or not).

1. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

The only thing that screams “Christmas movie!” louder than an image of Colin Firth in a Rudolph-themed knit sweater (a.k.a. jumper) is a final scene where the two romantic leads kiss amidst a backdrop of falling snow and twinkling Christmas lights. Renée Zellweger’s classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary has—you guessed it—both those things.

2. Trading Places (1983)

If your conception of Christmas includes a boozed-up, belligerent Dan Aykroyd stealing assorted meats from an upscale holiday party while dressed in full Santa garb, then this ’80s comedy is your quintessential Christmas flick. The plot revolves around a social experiment in which a well-to-do broker (Aykroyd) is unwittingly forced to swap lives with a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy), and the movie’s June release suggests that the filmmakers didn’t intend for its Christmas setting to factor into the public reception of the film in any significant way. In America, it might not have—but Trading Places is broadcast in Italy every Christmas Eve.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

It’s hard to see the snow-covered forests and fields of Narnia without thinking about Christmas, but the White Witch’s meteorological curse isn’t really why the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s universally beloved novel is on this list. (After all, if an unforgiving winter is all it takes to make something holiday-themed, then 1980’s The Shining is also technically a Christmas movie.) Instead, the qualifying factor here is the scene where Father Christmas appears to hand out highly personalized gifts to the Pevensie children. Scored by a carol-esque children’s chorus and complete with a jingly, reindeer-led sleigh, the scene is so magical it makes you forget that the plot of the film is centered around ending Narnia’s endless winter.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

There are so many Christmas trees in Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller that, if you ignore everything else in the film, it could pass for a really festive game of “I Spy.” In addition to the heavy-handed Christmas imagery, Kubrick opens the film with a ritzy holiday party and closes it with a feel-good (at least, relative to the other scenes) shopping trip to Manhattan’s FAO Schwarz. Interestingly enough, the characters in the source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle, were Jewish.

5. Gremlins (1984)

The cackling, spawning, murderous demons make Gremlins a near-perfect contender for a Halloween horror classic—if it weren’t for the fact that all the chaos ensues over the holidays, and the original gremlin was purchased as a Christmas gift. Though Warner Bros. ultimately went with a summer release, the film was initially slated to premiere during the Christmas season, and Steven Spielberg actually considered Tim Burton—the man behind another confusing horror/holiday hybrid film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)—to direct it.

6. Batman Returns (1992)

And, just a year before Burton dove head-first into the deep end of the “Kind of a Christmas movie” pool with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he wrote and produced, but did not direct), he got his feet wet with this follow-up to 1989's Batman, starring Michael Keaton. It’s not exactly overflowing with holiday cheer, but it does contain enough evidence of Christmas to justify making your family watch it this December instead of a traditional old talkie (or more accurately, shout-ie) like It’s a Wonderful Life. In addition to the ill-fated tree-lighting ceremony during which masked troublemakers burst forth from an enormous Christmas gift and wreak havoc across Gotham’s plaza, there’s also a Christmas-themed beauty queen called the Ice Princess, penguins who waddle around with candy cane-like torpedos strapped to their backs, and a pretty unforgettable mention of mistletoe.

7. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Due to a comedy of errors, Sandra Bullock’s character ends up spending the holidays with a coma-ridden Peter Gallagher’s family—who believes her to be his fiancée—and falling in love with his brother (Bill Pullman). But even if this ’90s rom-com didn’t mention Christmas, the big sweaters, snow, and familial love give it a distinctly Christmasy vibe all the same.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

This classic buddy cop film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, has heroin smugglers, hand grenades, prostitution, and plenty of other R-rated, non-holiday content. However, the film opens to “Jingle Bell Rock,” features a drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and ends with a rather heartwarming exchange between the main characters that happens on Christmas Day. Also, it’s written by Shane Black, famed for setting many a movie during the Christmas season—others include The Last Boy Scout (1991), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013), and The Nice Guys (2016).

9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis covers an entire year in the life of the Smith family, so there’s definitely no shortage of spring-, summer-, and autumn-based scenes and musical numbers throughout the film. But not even the sunny atmosphere and vibrantly-colored ensembles of the trolley passengers in “The Trolley Song” can compete with the extravagant Christmas Eve ball, after which Judy Garland’s character, Esther, warbles “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister. It was actually the very first version of the now-classic Christmas song, and it’s also probably the reason that some people consider the movie musical a Yuletide classic.

10. Die Hard (1988)

Lastly: This list would hardly be complete if we didn’t include Die Hard, the internet’s favorite so-called Christmas movie to argue about. Not only was the film released in July, its action-packed plot has nothing to do with Christmas, and Bruce Willis himself actually said it wasn’t a Christmas movie. However, Die Hard does take place between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, contains countless Christmas symbols (plus a few Christmas songs), and, at its simplest, is really about a father trying to reconcile with his family in the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, Die Hard screenwriter Steven de Souza is a die-hard member of the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” camp.

35 Fabulous Facts About Frank Sinatra

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

You know that Frank Sinatra was as talented a singer as he was an actor. That he had a collection of nicknames, from The Voice to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And that he liked to do things “My Way.” Here are 35 things you might not have known about the legendary crooner.

1. Frank Sinatra's birth was a traumatic one.

Born on December 12, 1915, in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was blue and not breathing when he was yanked out of his mother with forceps. Thought to be dead, the infant was laid on the kitchen counter while the doctor attended to his mother. His grandmother picked up the newborn, stuck him under some cold water, and little Frank wailed out his first song.

2. Those forceps caused some damage.

Those forceps left their mark on the left side of Sinatra's face, in the shape of a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line and a cauliflower ear. As a teenager, he was nicknamed “Scarface.” He also suffered a bad case of adolescent acne, which left his cheeks pitted. Self-conscious about his looks as an adult, Sinatra often applied makeup to hide the scars. Even with that, he hated to be photographed on his left side. The physical insecurities didn't end there: Sinatra also wore elevator shoes to boost his five-foot-seven stature.

3. Frank Sinatra was a rather large baby.


By Family photo. - Sinatra.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The future crooner weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds.

4. Frank Sinatra carried his own P.A. system.

When Sinatra was just starting out as a singer, he came prepared: he carried his own P.A. system to the dives in which he typically performed.

5. Frank Sinatra’s bad boy image was real.

Sinatra's bad boy image began with his infamous 1938 mug shot. The charge? The most Frank reason possible: “seduction.” The charge was reduced to “adultery,” then later dropped.

6. Frank Sinatra was one of America’s first teen idols.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 1940s, Frank—or Frankie, as he was then known—became one of America's first teen idols. “The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening,” Sinatra later recalled of a series of shows he performed in 1942 at New York City’s Paramount Theater. “I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle.”

7. Some of Frank Sinatra’s screaming fans were paid to be screaming fans.

Not to take anything away from his amazing voice and his ability to excite the female throngs, but the bobbysoxer craze Sinatra incited (so called because the coed fans wore Catholic school-style bobby socks, rolled down to their ankles) had a little help. George Evans, Sinatra’s publicist, auditioned girls for how loud they could scream, then paid them five bucks and placed them strategically in the audience to help whip up excitement.

8. A short film got Frank Sinatra tagged as a Communist sympathizer.

In 1945, Sinatra made a short film, The House I Live In, that spoke out against anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Ironically, a decade later, its liberal slant got him tagged as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy trials. (Sinatra never testified.)

9. The FBI had a file on Frank Sinatra.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sinatra’s FBI file had been started by J. Edgar Hoover after a radio listener wrote to the Bureau, saying, "The other day I turned on a Frank Sinatra program and I thought how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass hysteria." Sinatra had also been investigated by the FBI for reportedly paying doctors $40,000 to declare him unfit to serve in the armed services.

10. Frank Sinatra helped introduce the concept album and box set.

In 1946, Sinatra's debut release, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, helped introduce both the concept album and the box set. At a time when long-playing records were still novel, Sinatra issued a set of 78 rpm records with eight songs, all with a theme of lost love. It sold for a hefty $2.50 (the equivalent of about $30 today). But the price didn't prevent it from topping the charts for seven weeks. Two years later, it became one of the first-ever pop music vinyl 10" LPs.

11. Frank Sinatra attempted suicide several times.

Sinatra's star fell hard in the early 1950s. He was so low that he even attempted suicide. Walking through Times Square, he saw mobs of girls waiting to get into a concert by new singing sensation Eddie Fisher. Feeling washed up, Sinatra went back to his apartment, put his head on the stove, and turned on the gas. Luckily, his manager found him in time, lying on the floor, sobbing. Sinatra made three other suicide attempts, all of them in the throes of his volatile relationship with actress Ava Gardner.

12. The Rat Pack didn’t call themselves that.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, Sinatra led the Vegas clique known as the Rat Pack. The name was coined by actress Lauren Bacall years earlier, to describe a Hollywood drinking circle that included her then-husband Humphrey Bogart and Sinatra. The guys in the Rat Pack actually referred to themselves by a different name—The Summit—playing on a 1960 summit meeting in Paris between top world leaders.

13. Frank Sinatra reunited Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In 1976, Sinatra appeared on Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon and surprised the host when he brought out Dean Martin, Lewis’s former comedy partner, from whom he’d been estranged for 20 years.

14. In Hollywood, Frank Sinatra was known as “one-take Charlie.”

Sinatra’s preference for approaching film roles in a spontaneous, rather than over-rehearsed, way earned him the nickname of “One-Take Charlie” in Hollywood.

15. Frank Sinatra threatened to have Woody Allen’s legs broken.

Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow from 1966 to 1968, and the two remained close friends. In Farrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, she shared that when Sinatra learned of Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, he offered to have the filmmaker’s legs broken.

16. A magazine claimed that Frank Sinatra got his stamina from Wheaties.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1956, Confidential magazine disclosed how Sinatra managed to satisfy so many Hollywood starlets—Wheaties! The article stated, "Where other Casanovas wilt under the pressure of a torrid romance, Frankie boy just pours himself a big bowl of crispy, crackly Wheaties and comes back rarin' to go.” General Mills kept quiet as the tabloids talked up Wheaties' power to fuel Sinatra's exploits, and it wasn't long before teenage boys were stampeding the cereal aisles.

17. Frank Sinatra had two hits called “New York, New York.”

Sinatra actually had two hits called "New York, New York." The first was in 1949, from the film On the Town, and was written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden. Thirty years later, Sinatra cut "(Theme From) New York, New York," by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Originally from Martin Scorsese's 1977 bomb New York, New York, Sinatra turned it into his signature song and onstage closer. He also angered the lyricist, Ebb, by customizing the words (Sinatra had done this to a few songwriters, most famously Cole Porter), adding the climactic phrase "A-number-one." In 1993, Sinatra recorded the song again, this time as a duet with Tony Bennett.

18. Frank Sinatra hated being called “Chairman Of The Board.”

It’s a nickname he acquired while president at Reprise Records. According to his fourth (and final) wife, Barbara, Sinatra hated it.

19. Frank Sinatra wasn’t a fan of “My Way” or “Strangers In The Night.”

Barbara also maintains “My Way,” one of Frank’s most loved songs, did absolutely nothing for him. But that was a kind assessment compared to “Strangers in the Night,” which Frank called “a piece of sh*t” and “the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard.”

20. “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 people.

Sinatra may not have loved it, but “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 artists, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Sid Vicious. It has also been recorded in various languages.

21. Several people have died after performing “My Way.”

Since 2000, at least half a dozen people have been murdered after (or while) performing the Sinatra classic. Dubbed the “‘My Way’ Killings,” the strange phenomenon has gotten so bad that some bar owners have removed it from the selection list entirely.

22. Frank Sinatra inadvertently helped name Scooby-Doo.

At least according to former CBS exec Fred Silverman, who found inspiration in Frank’s signature “Scoo-Be-Do-Be-Do.”

23. Frank Sinatra directed the first Japanese/American co-production.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1965, Sinatra stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with None But the Brave, which was produced with Toho Studios. It was the first Japanese/American co-production filmed in the United States.

24. Frank Sinatra has a special place in New York Yankees history.

“New York, New York” has closed out every one of the Yankees’ home games since 1980.

25. Frank Sinatra had his own pasta sauces.

The year 1990 was a post-Paul Newman, pre-Marky Ramone time in celebrity spaghetti sauce, and leave it to Frank to fill the zesty void. But despite being inspired by his mother’s very own recipe, the sauce flopped. Thankfully, you can now find Mama Sinatra’s recipe online.

26. Frank Sinatra got first dibs on playing John McClane in Die Hard.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. Because Sinatra had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, he had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

27. Frank Sinatra didn’t like Marlon Brando, and Marlon Brando didn’t like Frank Sinatra.


MGM

Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”

28. Frank Sinatra briefly retired in 19671.

In 1971. Thankfully for you “Send in the Clowns” fans, his self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry lasted less than two years, before he returned for good with his comeback “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.”

29. There's an asteroid named after Frank Sinatra.

The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.

30. Frank Sinatra sang one half of the only father-daughter tune to ever top the charts.


By CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sinatra has a unique distinction in Billboard history: He’s the “father” half of the only father-daughter duet to ever hit number one—thanks to “Something Stupid,” which he sang with Nancy.

31. Frank Sinatra was an honorary tribal chief.

Specifically, the “Order of the Leopard,” the highest honor in Bophuthatswana, a quasi-nation state in apartheid-era South Africa. The honor was a show of gratitude from president Lucas Mangope for Sinatra’s performances at the maligned—and later boycotted—Sun City casino.

32. The Beatles’s “Something” was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite songs.

Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.

33. The last song Frank Sinatra ever performed live is “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

On February 25, 1995, Sinatra sang the song for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are also on his tombstone.

34. Frank Sinatra reportedly took some Tootsie Rolls to the grave.

According to celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

35. A provision in Frank Sinatra’s will helped to ensure it wouldn’t be contested.

In order to ensure that his passing wouldn’t lead to any legal battles, Sinatra’s will included a “no-contest” clause, which essentially says that anyone who contested it would be disinherited completely.

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