Savage Division: heroism of Azerbaijani cavalry division

Savage Division: heroism of Azerbaijani cavalry division

… The Carpathian Mountains covered in snow. The Austrian infantry is shooting from snow-covered ridges. Our mounted troops stand in a column, wearing black cloaks, sheepskin hats on their foreheads, heads down, hands put together in prayer. They are blessed for battle by the mullah. Moving forward on a white horse, he prays for the Sovereign, for the Homeland, for Russia.

Who of them will return from the battle? Everyone! Comrades will carry them alive or dead. They do not leave their comrades behind. Who remembers them today? Who were they? What did they die for?..

On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. In just 3 days, Russia declared mobilization. In just 100 years, 50% of Russians would be unable to name the causes of WWI. According to the WCIOM polling center, 15% could remember that the official casus belli was the murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Only 9% of people questioned knew that the war was started by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 2% named Great Britain, 1% the U.S. 37% believe that WWI was started by Germany.

Adjutant-General Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, the commander of forces of the Caucasus Military District, sent a note to Emperor Nicholas II with Minister for War Sukhomlinov two days before the start of WWI. He proposed the formation of forces from the bellicose Caucasus peoples. The emperor gave approval the next day. He understood that the move would demonstrate the unbreakable ties of the Caucasus and Russia. Besides involving Caucasus peoples in the All-Russian cause, a light cavalry consisting of volunteers would fight in complicated conditions.

Nonetheless, neither the emperor nor his confidants expected the Savage Division to become so famous. Maybe it was some sort of a PR action by the government to demonstrate the successful integration of highlanders into Russian society after the Caucasian War. People forming the subdivision allowed it to combine the best qualities of the Caucasian mentality and the best traditions of the Russian cavalry. The Caucasian warriors were the grandchildren of those who had opposed Russia, yet the division formed from Muslim volunteers served to protect it.

The cavalry regiment formed from ethnic Azerbaijanis in 1914 was named the Tatar Regiment because Azerbaijanis back then were called Trans-Caucasus Tatars or simply Muslims. Volunteers needed to demonstrate fit constitution and discipline. They were aged 21-40.

There were five times more suitable candidates than needed. In just a month, by August 27, the Tatar Regiment had over 2,000 volunteers, despite vacancies for only 400. Recruitment stopped. They went to war free from conscription, bringing their own horses, saddles, uniforms and blades.

In autumn 1914, Nicholas II addressed Muslims: “I express my hearty gratitude to the Muslim population of the Tiflis and the Elisabethpol governorates for such sincere reaction in hard times, proven by the Caucasus Muslim population’s equipping six cavalry regiments as part of the division that went for battle with our common foe under the command of my brother. Send my hearty gratitude to all the Muslim population for their love and loyalty to Russia."

People went to war as though it were a holiday. Seeing them off, people went to mosques with them. They held portraits of the Sovereign. Music was played. People in mosques prayed for the well-being of the emperor and for the victory of the Russian army. Maybe that is why there was not a single deserter in the ranks of the Tatar Regiment.

The Tatar Regiment grew, an infantry squadron joined it. At first, Azerbaijanis wanted to serve in the cavalry, then they started joining the infantry. The structure of the regiment was also enlarged, it received captured machine-guns. Aristocrats were part of the Tatar Cavalry Regiment. Poet and journalist Agamuhammed Gaji Abdusalim oglu, writing under the surname Muhammed Haji, was the mullah of the regiment. The talented orator, a romantic poet with a religious education, he was authoritative among Azerbaijani aristocrats, famous for verses encouraging the fight for the Motherland.

Lieutenant-Colonel Petr Polotsov was the first commander appointed for the regiment. Cavalry Captains Shakhverdi han Ziyatkhanov, Pavel Sverev, Duke Alexander Amilokhvari and Duke Levan Magalov were his assistants. 21 Azerbaijani officers ranked from colonel to cornet were serving in the Russian cavalry as of September 1914. Russian officers were assigned to command ethnic armed formations made up of different nationalities. Non-Muslim officers were picked very carefully, they were obliged to respect the language, customs and traditions of their soldiers.

Azerbaijanis were assigned to other regiments of the division. Kerim Erivansky served in the Kabardinian Cavalry Regiment, Cavalry Captain Iskander han Nakhichevansky in the Chechen, Ragim han Nakhichevansky in the Dagestani.

The Tatar Cavalry Regiment had its first major fight in December 1914. In February 1915, it was fighting for the village of Brin. It was the first to enter Tlumach. In Spring, the regiment was engaged in the Carpathian offensive operation of the South-West Front and the attack on Bukovina. In 1916, it was part of the Brusilov Offensive. Artist Vladimirov depicted the attack at Tyshkivtsi in his painting. In the summer, the regiment continued the offensive in the Bukovina Carpathian Mountains, the headstream of the River Prut. It moved towards Romania in autumn.

“The Savage saved the Russian army in Romania; the Savage crushed the Austrians in a rampant strike and led the Russian army through Bukovina and captured Chernivtsi. The Savage broke into Galich and pressed on the Austrians a week a go. Yesterday, saving the retreating meeting column, the Savage rushed forward and got the positions back, saving the situation,” the Utro Rossii paper was reporting.

After the revolution of February, the Tatar Regiment was sent rearwards. Austrians could remember cavalry attacks of the highlanders for a long time. It was a dreadful and an unforgettable sight, witnesses said.

Attacks of the Tatar Regiment in WWI… The Carpathian Mountains covered in snow. The Austrian infantry is shooting from snow-covered ridges. Our mounted troops stand in a column, wearing black cloaks, sheepskin hats on their foreheads, heads down, hands put together in prayer. They are blessed for battle by the mullah. Moving forward on a white horse, he prays for the Sovereign, for the Homeland, for Russia.Who of them will return from the battle? Everyone! Comrades will carry them alive or dead. They do not leave their comrades behind. Who remembers them today? Who were they? What did they die for?..On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. In just 3 days, Russia declared mobilization. In just 100 years, 50% of Russians would be unable to name the causes of WWI. According to the WCIOM polling center, 15% could remember that the official casus belli was the murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Only 9% of people questioned knew that the war was started by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 2% named Great Britain, 1% the U.S. 37% believe that WWI was started by Germany.Adjutant-General Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, the commander of forces of the Caucasus Military District, sent a note to Emperor Nicholas II with Minister for War Sukhomlinov two days before the start of WWI. He proposed the formation of forces from the bellicose Caucasus peoples. The emperor gave approval the next day. He understood that the move would demonstrate the unbreakable ties of the Caucasus and Russia. Besides involving Caucasus peoples in the All-Russian cause, a light cavalry consisting of volunteers would fight in complicated conditions.Nonetheless, neither the emperor nor his confidants expected the Savage Division to become so famous. Maybe it was some sort of a PR action by the government to demonstrate the successful integration of highlanders into Russian society after the Caucasian War. People forming the subdivision allowed it to combine the best qualities of the Caucasian mentality and the best traditions of the Russian cavalry. The Caucasian warriors were the grandchildren of those who had opposed Russia, yet the division formed from Muslim volunteers served to protect it.The cavalry regiment formed from ethnic Azerbaijanis in 1914 was named the Tatar Regiment because Azerbaijanis back then were called Trans-Caucasus Tatars or simply Muslims. Volunteers needed to demonstrate fit constitution and discipline. They were aged 21-40.There were five times more suitable candidates than needed. In just a month, by August 27, the Tatar Regiment had over 2,000 volunteers, despite vacancies for only 400. Recruitment stopped. They went to war free from conscription, bringing their own horses, saddles, uniforms and blades.In autumn 1914, Nicholas II addressed Muslims: “I express my hearty gratitude to the Muslim population of the Tiflis and the Elisabethpol governorates for such sincere reaction in hard times, proven by the Caucasus Muslim population’s equipping six cavalry regiments as part of the division that went for battle with our common foe under the command of my brother. Send my hearty gratitude to all the Muslim population for their love and loyalty to Russia."People went to war as though it were a holiday. Seeing them off, people went to mosques with them. They held portraits of the Sovereign. Music was played. People in mosques prayed for the well-being of the emperor and for the victory of the Russian army. Maybe that is why there was not a single deserter in the ranks of the Tatar Regiment.The Tatar Regiment grew, an infantry squadron joined it. At first, Azerbaijanis wanted to serve in the cavalry, then they started joining the infantry. The structure of the regiment was also enlarged, it received captured machine-guns. Aristocrats were part of the Tatar Cavalry Regiment. Poet and journalist Agamuhammed Gaji Abdusalim oglu, writing under the surname Muhammed Haji, was the mullah of the regiment. The talented orator, a romantic poet with a religious education, he was authoritative among Azerbaijani aristocrats, famous for verses encouraging the fight for the Motherland.Lieutenant-Colonel Petr Polotsov was the first commander appointed for the regiment. Cavalry Captains Shakhverdi han Ziyatkhanov, Pavel Sverev, Duke Alexander Amilokhvari and Duke Levan Magalov were his assistants. 21 Azerbaijani officers ranked from colonel to cornet were serving in the Russian cavalry as of September 1914. Russian officers were assigned to command ethnic armed formations made up of different nationalities. Non-Muslim officers were picked very carefully, they were obliged to respect the language, customs and traditions of their soldiers.Azerbaijanis were assigned to other regiments of the division. Kerim Erivansky served in the Kabardinian Cavalry Regiment, Cavalry Captain Iskander han Nakhichevansky in the Chechen, Ragim han Nakhichevansky in the Dagestani.The Tatar Cavalry Regiment had its first major fight in December 1914. In February 1915, it was fighting for the village of Brin. It was the first to enter Tlumach. In Spring, the regiment was engaged in the Carpathian offensive operation of the South-West Front and the attack on Bukovina. In 1916, it was part of the Brusilov Offensive. Artist Vladimirov depicted the attack at Tyshkivtsi in his painting. In the summer, the regiment continued the offensive in the Bukovina Carpathian Mountains, the headstream of the River Prut. It moved towards Romania in autumn.“The Savage saved the Russian army in Romania; the Savage crushed the Austrians in a rampant strike and led the Russian army through Bukovina and captured Chernivtsi. The Savage broke into Galich and pressed on the Austrians a week a go. Yesterday, saving the retreating meeting column, the Savage rushed forward and got the positions back, saving the situation,” the Utro Rossii paper was reporting.After the revolution of February, the Tatar Regiment was sent rearwards. Austrians could remember cavalry attacks of the highlanders for a long time. It was a dreadful and an unforgettable sight, witnesses sai

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