Russians Conquer Erzurum, Cameroon Falls

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 225th installment in the series.   

February 18, 1916: Russians Conquer Erzurum, Cameroon Falls 

With one of the biggest battles in history delayed by a sudden blizzard on the Western Front, 2,500 miles to the east the Russian Caucasus Army was pressing their surprise attack on the Ottoman Third Army in arguably worse conditions, pursuing the retreating Turkish forces across rugged mountain terrain towards the ancient cities of Erzurum and Muş in Eastern Anatolia. 

After defeating the Turks at the Battle of Koprukoy from January 10-19, 1916, the Russian Caucasus Army, about 165,000 strong, laid siege to the battered Ottoman Third Army, now probably numbering 50,000 men or less, while the Ottoman commander, Mahmut Kamil Paşa, hurried back from Constantinople – but it was already too late. On February 7 the Russians captured Hinis, south of Erzurum, cutting the defenders in the city off from potential reinforcements in Muş, which soon fell to the Russians. 


On paper the Turkish defenses at Erzurum were formidable: surrounded by two rings of forts dominating strategic mountain passes, the main citadel was located in a plain on a high plateau and protected by over 200 pieces of artillery – but in reality the outnumbered Turks didn’t have nearly enough troops to man all these defenses. 

The Russian bombardment opened on February 11 (above, smoke rises on the outskirts of Erzurum) and by February 14 Russians had captured two forts and occupied the strategic heights above the city, extinguishing any hope the city could be held (below, Russian soldiers in front of captured Turkish artillery). The following day Kamil Paşa ordered the remaining forts evacuated, and on February 16 the Ottoman Third Army – now diminished to just 25,000 men – began evacuating the city itself. The road west, including to the strategic port city of Trabzon, now lay open to the Russians; to the south, the conquest of Muş opened the way to Bitlis. 


The winter weather in the mountains continued to be a serious threat to both sides: in fact the Russians suffered almost as many casualties to frostbite as they did to combat (4,000 versus 5,000). A British correspondent, Philips Price, described the stark scene in the Russian positions outside Erzurum: 

The sun was setting, and every living thing that stood above the snow could be seen for miles, silhouetted against the white. Long trains of camels were sailing up from the northeast to the sound of deep-toned bells. Little camps of round Asiatic tents clustered under some bare willow-trees beside a frozen stream. The smoke of fires rose up, and soldiers could be seen huddling around to keep themselves warm. Bunches of black objects dotted about the plain showed the existence of villages half-smothered in snow. A few black dots languidly moving round their outskirts proved to be the pariah dogs, the sole remaining inhabitants. They were fate and puffy. No wonder, for they had had plenty to eat lately. The sights we had seen earlier in the day, the half-eaten carcases of camels, and the torn bodies of men, had shown us that war means a rich harvest for the Asiatic pariah dog. 

Price also described Russian Cossack units harassing the retreating Turks after they abandoned Erzurum: 

As our wagons slowly wound up the narrow roads that lead across the chain, we became aware that we were in the rear of an advancing army. Immense quantities of stores and ammunition and columns of infantry reserves were on the road ahead of us, so our pace was slowed down to theirs. As we crossed the last neck of rising ground before sinking down into the Euphrates plain, we heard the rumble of artillery, and far in the distance, with the aid of glasses, we could make out detachments of retreating Turks fighting rear-guard actions. The dark lines moving like worms across the snow-fields were the pursuing Cossack columns. 

Cameroon Falls to Allies 

The war in Africa was conducted on a scale as small as the European war was large, at least in terms of manpower, as opposing forces of just a few hundred men pursued each other across vast, sparsely inhabited stretches of wilderness. However the outcome of these strange campaigns was never really in doubt: even at this small scale, the German colonial militias were hugely outnumbered by the Allied forces sent against them, and defeat was only a matter of time. German Togoland capitulated at the beginning of the war, in 1914, followed by German Southwest Africa (today Namibia) in July 1915. 

On February 18, 1916, another German colony finally fell, with the surrender of the tiny German force holding out at the siege of Mora mountain in northern Kamerun (Cameroon). The German force, originally consisting of just over 200 mostly African native troops, had held out for an astonishing year and a half while surrounded by around 450 Allied troops (150 British, 300 French, mostly colonial troops from neighboring British Nigeria and French Central Africa). 

In the first half of 1915 the German troops endured thirst and near-starvation, with small scouting units sneaking through Allied lines to forage for food. The Allies redoubled their efforts in September 1915, inflicting more casualties on the dwindling German force, but the latter were still able to repel repeated infantry assaults. 

Meanwhile the rest of the colony had fallen to the Allies, as about 1,000 German soldiers, 6,000 native African soldiers, and 7,000 camp followers fled to neighboring Spanish Rio Muni, then sailing to the Spanish island of Fernando Po (technically in violation of Spanish neutrality, which clearly meant little by this time). With food once again running short and more Allied forces becoming available to join the siege, by early 1916 the German situation was getting desperate.


To bring the standoff to an end the British commander, Brigadier General Frederick Cunliffe, offered the German commander, Captain Ernst von Raben, generous terms of surrender: all the German Askaris (native troops) could return to their homes and the European officers would return to Europe for comfortable prisoner of war camps in Britain. Cunliffe also agreed to give Raben money to pay his loyal Askaris. On February 18, 1915, 155 German troops finally surrendered to the Allies (above, a British native soldier waves a flag of truce; below, British troops in Yaounde, the German capital of Kamerun). 


After the war the British and French partitioned German Kamerun, with most of the territory going to form the new French colony of Cameroun, while a strip of territory along the old border went to British Nigeria (see map below; boundary disputes between Cameroon and Nigeria, centering on the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, continued until 2006, and some Nigerian lawmakers rejected the agreement transferring the peninsula to Cameroon). 


See the previous installment or all entries.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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HBO Max: Everything You Need to Know About the New Streaming Service

What will you binge-watch first?
What will you binge-watch first?
WarnerMedia

This week, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max, the long-awaited streaming platform that the company hopes can compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+. But with HBO GO and HBO NOW already in existence, the addition of a third platform for HBO content has caused no small amount of confusion among both prospective customers and current HBO subscribers. Here are answers to all your burning questions about the buzzworthy new service.

What is HBO Max?

HBO Max is a direct-to-consumer streaming platform that you can download as an app or access through your cable or internet provider. Just like Apple has Apple TV+ and Amazon has Prime Video, WarnerMedia now has HBO Max.

How is HBO Max different from HBO NOW and HBO GO?

hbo max streaming platform
This user's viewing habits are eclectic, to say the least.
WarnerMedia

Before HBO Max, WarnerMedia had two different apps with the same library of HBO series and certain Warner Bros. films. HBO GO is for viewers who already pay for HBO through their cable TV provider, which is why you have to log in through your TV provider. HBO NOW is for independent subscribers who pay $15 a month for access to the same content. In other words, HBO GO is for customers with cable, and HBO NOW is for those without it.

Like HBO NOW, HBO Max is an independent subscription service that you don’t need a TV provider in order to access. The main difference comes down to content: While HBO NOW and HBO GO only include HBO series and some films, HBO Max offers tons of additional shows and films licensed from other distributors—plus new, exclusive originals (more on that in a minute).

How much does HBO Max cost, and how do I get it?

You can sign up for HBO Max here. Your first seven days will be free, and it will cost you $15 per month after that.

Do I already have access to HBO Max?

If you’re already an HBO NOW subscriber, your app should have automatically updated to the HBO Max app (if you don’t have automatic updates enabled, make sure to update it manually), and you can log into HBO Max using your existing HBO NOW credentials. Your recurring monthly payment of $15 will also now automatically start applying to HBO Max instead of HBO NOW.

If you watch HBO through your TV or mobile provider, there’s a good chance you can access HBO Max at no additional cost, too. Apple TV channels, AT&T TV, DIRECTV, Hulu, Spectrum, Verizon FIOS, Xfinity, and many other providers are included—you can see the full list here.

Which platforms will HBO Max be on?

You can stream HBO Max on your desktop on HBOMax.com, or you can download the app through the Apple app store, Google Play, or Samsung TV. You can also access HBO Max content on your TV through any of the providers listed here.

What's playing on HBO Max?

hbo max channel hubs
Elmo and James Dean in the same place, at last.
WarnerMedia

HBO Max boasts 10,000 hours of content that includes all HBO shows, many Warner Bros. films from the past century, new Max Original series, and other programs from CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, TCM, Adult Swim, and more.

To name a few highlights, the service currently offers all eight Harry Potter films, all 10 seasons of Friends, an exclusive selection of Studio Ghibli classics like Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) and Spirited Away (2002), and 2019’s Joker. The first few episodes of some highly-anticipated Max Originals are also available, including Anna Kendrick’s rom-com series Love Life, the voguing house reality competition Legendary, and Sesame Workshop's The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (featuring guests Kacey Musgraves, John Mulaney, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, and more—so far).

Will I get to see the Friends Reunion?

Yes, the Friends reunion will definitely debut on HBO Max, but no air date has been confirmed yet. Production was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re tentatively hoping to film it sometime this summer. (But hey, at least you have access to all the other Friends episodes to help you pass the time.)