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Battle of Karboğazı
DateMay 27–28, 1920
LocationKarboğazı , near Gülek
37°23′N 34°40′E / 37.383°N 34.667°E / 37.383; 34.667
Result Turkish victory
Belligerents
Kuva-yi Milliye France France
Commanders and leaders
Kemal Bey
Hasan Bey
M.Mesnil
Georges Journois
Strength
44 militia men[1][2] over 700 soldiers
Casualties and losses
>150 killed,
over 500 prisoners,
~1.000 different weapons,[2]
2 cannons,
8 machine guns,
90 mules


Battle of Karboğazı (Turkish: Karboğazı Savaşı) was a clash between Turkish nationalists and the French battalion on Toros Mountains during the Turkish war of independence. (Karboğazı literally means Snow passage)

Background

The Ottoman Empire had been defeated in the First World War. According to the Armistice of Mudros the Ottoman army was disarmed . Although the Ottoman Empire had to agree to give up vast areas (most of Middle East), the Allies further retained the power of controlling what was left of the Ottoman Empire, namely Turkey. In this context, Allies occupied Mersin on 17 December 1918, just 47 days after the armistice.[3] Soon France occupied most of South Turkey. Since the south west was under Italian occupation, Turkey had no access to the Mediterranean Sea.

French plan to control the mountains

France tried to control the sea coast and the alluvial plains like Çukurova (Cilicia of the antiquity). But the control of the small settlements on Toros Mountains was difficult. Moreover, because of the nationalistic opposition (which would ultimately end up in Turkish republic) the Gülek Pass (Cicilian Gates of the antiquity) which is the main pass from Mediterranean coast to Central Anatolia was under continuous threat from the Turkish nationalists forces, also called Kemalist or Kuvvai Milliye. A battalion under Major Mesnil was commissioned for the task of securing French presence around Gülek Pass. The headquarters of the battalion was in the village of (now a district center) Pozantı and a small hospital in the nearby village of Belemedik was established under the supervision of Mesnil’s wife.[4] Mesmil’s assistant was Georges Journois who would fight against Germany as a brigadier general in the Second World War. Mesnil also had a group of guides who were actually local Armenians. However in the spring of 1920, nationalists began controlling the railroad from Pozantı to south and Pozantı was effectively blocked from Çukurova.

The clash

After receiving approval of General Duffieux, the general commander (by airplane messages), Mesnil decided to evacuate Pozantı and return to French lines by a surprise retreat during the night of the 26–27 May. According to official report the unit consisted of 9 officiers, 696 soldiers 4 cavalry man, 19 wounded officiers and soldiers 44 civilian Greek and Armenians as well as 39 Turkish prisoners. Mesnil also left some wounded soldiers back with a letter written to Turkish commanders asking for fair treatment for the wounded soldiers.[5] However the villagers from the village of Yaylaçukuru (now called Gülek) located the battalion and they informed Kemal Bey (later Kemal Ekin), the local milita chief of Kuvai Milliye. Kemal Bey with some members of Aydınlı tribe and villagers waited for the battalion in ambush. They had taken up positions on the two opposite sides of the valley named Karboğazı. The French had the advantage in numbers and superior artillery, but the nationalists had the advantage of cover. Early on 27 May, the shootings began from both sides of the valley. French soldiers tried to escape to open space towards Pozantı. But they ran into a third group of nationalists. Towards the evening after heavy causality, all battalion surrendered. They were led to Yaylaçukuru where they signed the protocol of surrender with Lietunant Hasan (Hasan Akıncı, nicknamed Kara Afet) [2] The prisoners received bulgur with meat and ayran after their surrender.[2] They were held captive up to 25 September 1921.

POW and other casualties

The total number of prisoners was 530 (including Mesnil and Journois). Also 2 cannons, 8 machine guns and more than 90 mules were seized by the nationalists. The death casualty of the French side was heavy. Although a website about Cicilian Campaign veterans [6] gives the number as half the battalion (about 400), this figure seems to be somewhat exaggerative under the light of the figures given above. The exact figure is not known.

Consequences

Karboğazı was a relatively small clash. But it effectively ended French plans to seize Toros Mountains. In 1921, France agreed to withdraw from Turkey by the Cilicia Peace Treaty and Accord of Ankara.

References

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