Batumi Raids

Russian line infantry during The Russo-Turkish War 1877

Foot Bashi-Bazouk

The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878 had a huge impact both on the countries involved in the conflict and the different nations living there.

The 300 years of the so-called “Ottoman Yoke” did not succeed in killing the Georgian spirit among the population of the Ajarian Sanjak (Ajaristan). Victory in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878 and the reunion of Ajara with Georgia played a vital role in restoring the national self-consciousness of Georgians at the end of the 19th century. Folklore, fiction, social and political journalism demonstrate the joy about Ajara’s reunion with its “motherland” and praise Georgian and Russian soldiers. The same pathos can be seen in the textbooks published for Georgian schools right after the end of the war, as before the war and therefore in the period of Ottoman rule there were no Russian or Georgian schools in Batumi.

Georgian folklore as well as Georgian social and political journalism also show one important issue which was directly connected to the end of Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878: the issue of Muhajirism. Leaving the motherland, close relatives and one’s own house became an unhealed wound which was not mentioned in Soviet textbooks. Only when the perestrojka set in, certain ideological changes and developments in Georgia’s and particularly in Ajara’s sociopolitical situation affected school and university textbooks as well, as they would start to print materials showing the imperial ambitions of Russia and describe that the process of Muhajirism was in favor of both sides – of Russians and Ottomans.

Military operations were mostly carried out in the territories around Khutsubani, Tsikhisdziri, Mukhaestate, Kvirike and Zeniti, Russian and Georgian troops at other times were also stationed at several other places such as Ozurgeti, Nagomar-Orpiri, Mukhaestate and Choloki.

During military operations in 1877 Russo-Georgian forces did not succeed in liberating Batumi and Ajara in general, but it was the success of the Russian army in Anatolia and the Balkans which decided over the final outcome of the war. On 15 November 1877 joint forces recaptured Khutsubani.

In front at Batumi, the Ottomans had an army of 40,000 soldiers, while the joint forces of Russian and Georgians were only 25,000 soldiers.  According to Sergej Meschi: “Only 5,000 of them are militants on the battlefield. Of course they will be the ones to fight but the rest won’t be able to join the battle according to military laws, as unarmed people do not have the right to fight against their enemy.”

On 25 August 1877, Russian forces entered Batumi. They were led by the deputation of the reunited territories – Sherif Khimshiashvili from Upper Ajara and Nuri Khimshiashvili from Shavsheti. On Azizie square (nowadays Gamsakhurdia square) they organized a feast for the commanding Russian officers. Sherif Khimshiashvili proposed many toasts and in the end he said: “This is the toast to the ones who participated in this war to unite old and newly divided Georgians. Let us wish them happiness and that they may live long. Let us or our descendants never forget their deeds.”

(1) Combat operations of the Rioni (from May of 1877, Kobuleti) task force of Russian troops during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. Object-defeating the Turkish Corps of Darwish Pasha, seizing Batum (Batumi) and prevention of the landing of the enemy’s amphibious party in the rear of the Russian troops. The Rioni body of troops (24,000 soldiers, 96 canons) began an attack on April 12 (24), 1877. Moving in the tough conditions of the mountainous-woody terrain and cross-country, the task force managed to overcome stubborn resistance of the enemy and on April 14 (26) seized the heights of Mukhaestate, Khutsubanskoe. and on May 19 (31) occupied the heights of Sameba. The second attempt to seize Batum was undertaken in January of 1878. The Kobuleti force again advanced as far as Tsikhisdziri and again retreated. Its activity tied large forces of the enemy, thereby contributing to the success of the main forces of the Caucasian Army.

It was the last Black Sea port annexed by Russia during the Russian conquest of that area of the Caucasus. In 1878, Batumi was annexed by the Russian Empire in accordance with the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (ratified on March 23). Occupied by the Russians on August 28, 1878, the town was declared a free port until 1886. It functioned as the center of a special military district until being incorporated in the Government of Kutaisi on June 12, 1883. Finally, on June 1, 1903, with the Okrug of Artvin, it was established as the region (oblast) of Batumi and placed under the direct control of the General Government of Georgia.

The expansion of Batumi began in 1883 with the construction of the Batumi–Tiflis–Baku railway (completed in 1900) and the finishing of the Baku–Batumi pipeline. Henceforth, Batumi became the chief Russian oil port in the Black Sea. The town population increased rapidly doubling within 20 years: from 8,671 inhabitants in 1882 to 12,000 in 1889. By 1902 the population had reached 16,000, with 1,000 working in the refinery for Baron Rothschild’s Caspian and Black Sea Oil Company.

In the late 1880s and after, more than 7,400 Doukhobor emigrants sailed for Canada from Batumi, after the government agreed to let them emigrate. Quakers and Tolstoyans aided in collecting funds for the relocation of the religious minority, which had come into conflict with the Imperial government over its refusal to serve in the military and other positions. Canada settled them in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Russian attack 15 May 1877

“The sinking of the boats of the steamer “Grand Duke Constantine” Turkish ship “Intibah” on the Batumi RAID on the night of 14 Jan 1878

(2) Attacks of the Russian mine launches against the Turkish ships at the Batumi Port during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. On the night to December 16 (28), 1877, the ship “Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin” (commander-Captain 2nd rank S. O. Makarov approached Batum covertly, launched 4 boats, of which “Chesma” and “Sinop” each had as armament one Robert Whitehead self-propelled mine (torpedo). After midnight, the mine launches penetrated in the port and attacked the Turkish armor-clad battleship “Mahmudiye” (the Turkish flagship was for many years the largest warship in the world), yet the attack proved abortive as one torpedo, having passed along the board of the battleship, jumped out onto the shore, and the other one hit against the battleship’s anchor chain and exploded on the ground. On January 14(26), 1878, “Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin” repeated a raid on Batum. The launches “Chesma” and “Sinop” by hitting the Turkish armed steamer “Intibah” with two torpedoes simultaneously from a distance of about 80 m destroyed the ship. This was the first in the world recorded successful launch of torpedoes from a torpedo boat.

During 1877–8 the Russians had been providing some torpedo action data during their struggle with the Turks around the Black Sea. The Turkish fleet dominated that sea simply by lying at anchor, as the Russians had no sea-going ironclads and no chance of getting any in while Turkish forts and ships’ guns dominated the narrows to Constantinople; so the Russians had no alternative to using torpedo boats for offensive operations, and they carried out a number of raids by night with specially constructed 15-knot boats some 50 or 60 feet long, carried by mother ships, usually fast merchantmen. However the earlier attacks were made with spar and towing torpedoes, and to get close enough without alerting the enemy with sparks from the funnels and considerable engine noise, they had to drop their speed to walking pace and creep in. Even so they did not escape detection, and were only successful on one occasion when they found the coastal monitor Siefé unprotected by the usual torpedo boat obstructions placed around the Turkish ships. Despite detection by the sentry, they pressed in under her turret guns as they misfired three times and touched a spar torpedo off close by the sternpost; the Siefé sank in a short time. As for the ‘Whitehead’, this was also tried and on one occasion on the night of 25–6 January 1878, the Russians claimed to have sunk a Turkish guard-ship anchored at the entrance to Batum harbour from 80 yards range; although the Turks denied any loss it is possible that this was the first Whitehead success in action. Despite the poor condition of the Turkish fleet and the great resolution of the Russian officers, these were the only effective torpedo attacks of the war. They were modest successes, and it was evident that torpedoes would be little use against an efficient fleet at anchor and guarded as recommended by the British 1875 Torpedo Committee, by nets, lights, Gatling guns and guard boats.