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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.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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