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Posted on Dec 19, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Backwater Battles: Unknown Campaigns of the First World War

By Alex Wilson

These problems alone would have been enough to pose serious challenges for even a great commander such as Pershing or Ludendorff, the latter of whom gained a great deal of experience in mountain fighting during WWI when he saw combat on the Italian front. However, the Russians’ and Turks’ problems were magnified due to the fact that both sides had heavily fortified their borders in the region. To avoid each other’s fortifications, both sides were forced to swing their forces east into Persian territory, where they proceeded to overrun Azerbaijan. The Turks ended up moving far enough east that they found they had managed to completely outflank the Russian army, and proceeded to advance, but their offensive was quickly broken as the Russians, upon realizing the threat, suddenly launched a counter-offensive which smashed the Turks at Sufian in late 1914. Soon afterwards another huge Turkish force, led by Enver Pasha, was decimated by the Russians and their old ally, “General Winter.”


Though the Russians won some victories against and ultimately came out ahead of the Turks in 1914-1915, the war in the Caucasus dragged on, see-sawing back and forth between the two belligerents, for three years. It was characterized both by “nineteenth-century” style warfare, with machine-guns and artillery being few and far between, and by both sides constantly stretching their forces too thin and thus incurring defeat after defeat. Perhaps the only significant result of the frontier fighting in the Caucasus was that it tied down a huge number of Russian and Turkish troops, soldiers who would have been far more useful elsewhere.


World War I, though sometimes thought of solely as a long, protracted struggle between monstrous armies sitting in trenches, was more than simply a huge slug-fest in Europe. It was a true world war, and included combat in China (Tsingtao), Africa (Cameroons), and Persia (Caucasus), to name but a few of many places. The three examples of “backwater wars” given in this article are meant to show how the First World War, despite the prevalent images of massive bombardments on the fields of Flanders and the Somme, was truly a war as global as it was European, and, at times, as small as it was grand in scale.

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1 Comment

  1. Another forgotten field of war is the War above the Clouds. This was between Austria and Italy in Tyrol. The rock formations there are metamorphosed at high pressure, so they fracture whenever hit by artillery shells. This was used during this campaign by both sides.


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