Monday, February 27, 2017

With the Russian Army in the Caucasus Mountains (1916)

On February 16, 1916, Russian troops captured the fortress town of Erzurum in eastern Turkey. The Russian attack across the Caucasus mountains had taken the Turkish army by great surprise. Erzurum was the lynchpin of Turkish defenses in eastern Anatolia. Its fall was a disaster for the Turks, undermining their whole position in this sector. The hasty retreat from Erzurum allowed the Russians to capture large numbers of guns and military supplies. The Russians also captured several Turkish banners.

Russian soldiers with Turkish banners, captured at Erzurum. Press photograph from New York Public Library

Turkish losses of men were considerable: to the 5,000 men taken prisoner must be added another 10,000 casualties and as many as 10,000 soldiers who had deserted from the army. After the fall of Erzerum, the Russians pushed further into Anatolia, capturing the Black Sea port of Trabzon in April 1916.

Russian war photographer at the front. Copied from St. Louis Post Dispatch, 7 March 1915

Cameramen of the Skobelev Committee

Not surprisingly, the Russian military success in the Caucasus mountains triggered reporters to cover this campaign. The war was also filmed by Russian cinematographers. At the time, the Skobelev Committee enjoyed a monopoly as the sole organization authorized to make official war films at the Russian front. The institution had little support from the Russian government. The committee’s war film department was led by Feliks Karu, who was unfamiliar with this kind of industry, and it lacked human resources. As a result, it had to hire skilled foreign workers from Pathé, such as cameraman Georges Ercole who featured before in this weblog. The Skobelev Committee never obtained the technical and financial means to cover the immense front line, especially as their camera operators were subject to military restrictions on the front.

Same scene, filmed by military cameramen of the Russian army

Despite these problems the output by the Skobelev official cameramen still is impressive. According to the Russian State Film & Photo Archives, since the outbreak of the Great War until 1917 the Scobelev Committee produced about 70 newsreels. From 1914 to 1915 cameramen of the Skobelev Committee produced 21 series of the newsreel Russian Military Chronicle. The footage for this newsreel was also used for separate films released by Scobelev Committee and other film companies.

The films showing this stage of the Great War at the Caucasus Russian front are very interesting and reveal a remarkable high pictorial quality. We have uploaded scenes from these contemporary Russian war films on our YouTube channel.



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