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.

7 Things You Might Not Know About Mario Lopez

Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley
Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley

While several of the actors featured in the 1990s young-adult series Saved by the Bell have fared well following the show’s end in 1994, Mario Lopez is in a class by himself. The versatile actor-emcee can be seen regularly on Extra, as host of innumerable beauty pageants, and as the author of several best-selling books on fitness. For more on Lopez, check out some of the more compelling facts we’ve rounded up on the multi-talented performer.

1. A WITCH DOCTOR SAVED HIS LIFE.

Born on October 10, 1973, in San Diego, California to parents Mario and Elvia Lopez, young Mario was initially the picture of health. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. In his 2014 autobiography, Just Between Us, Lopez wrote that he began having digestive problems immediately after birth, shrinking to just four pounds. Though doctors administered IV hydration, they told his parents nothing more could be done. Desperate, his father reached out to a witch doctor near Rosarito, Mexico who had cured his spinal ailments years earlier. The healer mixed a drink made of Pedialyte, Carnation evaporated milk, goat’s milk, and other unknown substances. It worked: Lopez kept it down and began growing, so much so that his mother declared him “the fattest baby you had ever seen in your life.”

2. HE STARTED ACTING AT 10.

A highly active kid who got involved in both tap and jazz dancing and amateur wrestling, Lopez was spotted by a talent scout during a dance competition at age 10 and was later cast in a sitcom, a.k.a. Pablo, in 1984. That led to a role in the variety show Kids Incorporated and in the 1988 Sean Penn feature film Colors. In 1989, at the age of 16, he won the role of Albert Clifford “A.C.” Slater in Saved by the Bell. By 1992, Lopez was making public appearances at malls, where female fans would regularly toss their underthings in his direction.

3. HE COULD PROBABLY BEAT YOU UP.

Lopez wrestled as an amateur throughout high school. According to the Chula Vista High School Foundation, Lopez was a state placewinner at 189 pounds in 1990. (On Saved by the Bell, Slater was also a wrestler.) He later complemented his grappling ability with boxing, often sparring professionals like Jimmy Lange and Oscar De La Hoya in bouts for charity. In 2018, Lopez posted on Instagram that he received his blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Gracie Barra Glendale instructor Robert Hill.

4. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYGIRL.

Lopez’s active lifestyle has made for a trim physique, but he’s apparently unwilling to take off more than his shirt. In 2008, Lopez said he was approached to pose for Playgirl but declined. The magazine reportedly offered him $200,000.

5. HE WAS MARRIED FOR TWO WEEKS.

Lopez had a well-publicized marriage to actress Ali Landry, but not for all the right reasons. The two were married in April 2004 and split just two weeks later, with Landry alleging Lopez had not been faithful. Lopez later disclosed he had made a miscalculation during his bachelor party in Mexico, cheating on Landry just days before the ceremony.

6. HE APPEARED ON BROADWAY.

Lopez joined the cast of Broadway’s A Chorus Line in 2008, portraying Zach, the director who coaches the cast of aspiring dancers. (It was his first stage appearance since he participated in a grade school play, where he played a tree.) His run, which lasted five months, was perceived to be part of a rash of casting choices on Broadway revolving around hunky performers to attract audiences. The role was thought to be the start of a resurgence for Lopez, who had previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars and has been a co-host of the pop culture newsmagazine show Extra since 2007.

7. HE BELIEVES HIS DOG SUFFERED FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.

In 2010, Lopez and then-girlfriend (now wife) Courtney Mazza had their first child, Gia. According to Lopez, his French bulldog, Julio César Chavez Lopez, exhibited signs of depression following the new addition to the household. Lopez also said he used his extensive knowledge of dogs to better inform his voiceover work as a Labrador retriever in 2009’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas and 2010’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.

The Legend of Cry Baby Lane: The Lost Nickelodeon Movie That Was Too Scary for TV

Nickelodeon, Viacom
Nickelodeon, Viacom

Several years ago, rumors about a lost Nickelodeon movie branded too disturbing for children’s television began popping up around the internet. They all referenced the same plot: A father of conjoined twins was so ashamed of his sons that he hid them away throughout their childhood. (This being a made-for-TV horror movie, naturally one of the twins was evil.)

After one twin got sick the other soon followed, with both boys eventually succumbing to the illness. To keep the town from discovering his secret, the father separated their bodies with a rusty saw and buried the good one at the local cemetery and the evil one at the end of a desolate dirt road called Cry Baby Lane, which also happened to be the title of the rumored film. According to the local undertaker, anyone who ventured down Cry Baby Lane after dark could hear the evil brother crying from beyond the grave.

Cry Baby Lane then jumps to present day (well, present day in 2000), where a group of teens sneaks into the local graveyard in an effort to contact the spirit of the good twin. After holding a seance, they learn that the boys' father had made a mistake and mixed up the bodies of his children—burying the good son at the end of Cry Baby Lane and the evil one in the cemetery. Meaning those ghostly wails were actually the good twin crying out for help. But the teens realized the error too late: The evil twin had already been summoned and quickly began possessing the local townspeople.

MOVIE OR MYTH?

Parents were appalled that such dark content ever made it onto the family-friendly network, or so the story goes, and after airing the film once the Saturday before Halloween in 2000, Nickelodeon promptly scrubbed it from existence. But with no video evidence of it online for years, some people questioned whether Cry Baby Lane had ever really existed in the first place.

“Okay, so this story sounds completely fake, Nick would NEVER air this on TV,” one Kongregate forum poster said in September 2011. “And why would this be made knowing it’s for kids? This story just sounds too fake …”

While the folklore surrounding the film may not be 100 percent factual, Nickelodeon quickly confirmed that the “lost” Halloween movie was very real, and that it did indeed contained all the rumored twisted elements that have made it into a legend.

Before Cry Baby Lane was a blip in Nick’s primetime schedule, it was nearly a $100 million theatrical release. Peter Lauer, who had previously directed episodes of the Nick shows The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Adventures of Pete & Pete, co-wrote the screenplay with KaBlam! co-creator Robert Mittenthal. Cry Baby Lane, which would eventually spawn urban legends of its own, was inspired by a local ghost story Lauer heard growing up in Ohio. “There was a haunted farmhouse, and if you went up there at midnight, you could hear a baby crying and it’d make your high school girlfriend scared,” he told The Daily.

BIG SCARES ON A SMALL BUDGET

Despite Nickelodeon’s well-meaning intentions, parent company Paramount wasn’t keen on the idea of turning the screenplay into a feature film. The script was forgotten for about a year, until Nick got in touch with Lauer about producing Cry Baby Lane—only this time as a $800,000 made-for-TV movie. The director gladly signed on.

Even with the now-meager budget, Cry Baby Lane maintained many of the same elements of a much larger picture. In a bid to generate more publicity around the project, Nickelodeon cast Oscar nominee Frank Langella as the local undertaker (a role Lauer had originally wanted Tom Waits to play). All the biggest set pieces from the screenplay were kept intact, and as a result, the crew had no money left to do any extra filming.

Only two scenes from the movie ended up getting cut—one that alluded to skinny dipping and another that depicted an old man’s head fused onto the body of a baby in a cemetery. The story of a father performing amateur surgery on the corpses of his sons, however, made it into the final film.

The truth of what happened after Cry Baby Lane premiered on October 28, 2000 has been muddied over the years. In most retellings, Nickelodeon received an "unprecedented number" of complaints about the film and responded by sealing it away in its vault and acting like the whole thing never happened. But if that version of events is true, Nick has never acknowledged it.

Even Lauer wasn’t aware of any backlash from parents concerned about the potentially scarring effects of the film until The Daily made him aware of the rumors years later. “All I know is that they aired it once,” he told the paper. “I just assumed they didn’t show it again because they didn’t like it! I did it, I thought it failed, and I moved on.”

But the idea that the movie was pulled from airwaves for being too scary for kids isn’t so far-fetched. Though Cry Baby Lane never shows the conjoined twins being sawed apart on screen, it does pair the already-unsettling story with creepy images of writhing worms, broken glass, and animal skulls. This opening sequence, combined with the spooky, empty-eyed victims of possession that appear later, and multiple scenes where a child gets swallowed by a grave, may have made the film slightly more intense than the average episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

IMPERFECT TIMING

Cry Baby Lane premiered at a strange time in internet history: Too early for pirated copies to immediately spring up online yet late enough for it to grow into a web-fueled folktale. The fervor surrounding the film peaked in 2011, when a viral Reddit thread about Cry Baby Lane caught the attention of one user claiming to have the so-called “lost” film recorded on VHS. He later uploaded the tape for the world to view and suddenly the lost movie was lost no longer.

News of the unearthed movie made waves across the web, and instead of staying quiet and waiting for the story to die down, Nickelodeon decided to get in on the hype. That Halloween, Nick aired Cry Baby Lane for the first time in over a decade. Regardless of whether the movie had previously been banned or merely forgotten, the network used the mystery surrounding its origins to their PR advantage.

“We tried to freak people out with it,” a Nick employee who worked at The 90s Are All That (now The Splat), the programming block that resurrected Cry Baby Lane (and who wished to remain anonymous) said of the promotional campaign for the event. “They were creepy and a little glitchy. We were like, ‘This never aired because it was too scary and we’re going to air it now.’”

Cry Baby Lane now makes regular appearances on Nickelodeon’s '90s block around Halloween, which likely means Nick hasn’t received enough complaints to warrant locking it back in the vault. And during less spooky times of the year, nostalgic horror fans can find the full movie on YouTube.

The mystery surrounding Cry Baby Lane’s existence may have been solved, but the urban legend of the movie that was “too scary for kids’ TV” persists—even at the network that produced it.

“People who were definitely working at Nickelodeon in 2000, but didn’t necessarily work on [Cry Baby Lane] were like, ‘Yeah I heard about it, I remember it being a thing,'" the Nick employee says. “It’s sort of like its own legend within the company.”

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