A Turkish machine gun being dragged over the mountains near Sarikamish.
December 27, Sarikamish [Sarıkamış]—The Turks finally began their attacks against Sarikamish on December 27, several days later than planned. IX Corps, attacking from the west, had suffered severe losses due to the cold weather in the mountains, and was down to about 10,000 men from its original strength of 25,000. Three (of eight) Turkish mountain guns had also been placed too far forward and had been destroyed by the Russian guns (despite the latter’s limited range and elevation). As a result, Enver decided to wait for the entirety of IX Corps to arrive and for X Corps to finish its march from the north. However, X Corps was still twenty-five miles north of Sarikamish on the 26th. Over the course of nineteen hours on the 27th the X Corps did indeed make that “horror march” of 25 miles through waist-high snow at elevations of up to 10,000 feet, losing 7000 men (more than a third of its strength) in the process. The German chief of staff of X Corps had apparently imagined a leisurely jaunt of no more than six hours. Needless to say, the remains of X Corps would not be in a condition to fight at Sarikamish on the 27th or the 28th.
Meanwhile, the Russians had an intelligence coup on the evening of the 26th with the capture of the chief of staff of the Turkish 28th Division. He revealed to the Russians for the first time the extent of the Turkish plan to flank Sarikamish (including the extended movements of X Corps). The overall Russian front commander, Myshlayevskii (officially the deputy viceroy of the Caucuasus), was already in a panic after being wounded on Christmas. Already far behind the lines in Tiflis [Tblisi, in modern-day Georgia; remember that the Turkish border in the Caucasus was significantly further south in 1914 compared to today], he believed Sarikamish to be lost and planned a full retreat. However, the Russian commanders in the field at Sarikamish, Yudenich and Bergmann, were less shaken, and believed a retreat would only result in a rout. Yudenich held the line against the Turkish XI Corps while Bergmann defended from IX Corps’ attacks, and Yudenich began to plan his own counterattack.
Sources: Hew Strachan, The First World War (Volume I); Randal Grey, Chronicle of the First World War (Volume I).