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.

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

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