Armeno-Georgian War of 1918

and Armeno-Georgian Territorial Issue in the 20th Century



By  Andrew Andersen and Georg Egge





The Battles of Ekaterinenfeld and Shulavery;

Georgian Counter-offensive


Ekaterinenfeld Operation


During the second half of December, while the piece negotiations were nearing the final stretch in Tiflis and Karaklis (see above), the hostilities went on in the areas of contact between Armenian and Georgian troops. The most fierce fighting was taking place near the German colony of Ekaterinenfeld (now part of Bolnisi). On December 19, Armenian troops and rebels approaching from Vorontsovka entered the village Bolnis-Khachen (now also part of Bolnisi) to the south of the colony. Meanwhile, predominantly Armenian-speaking villages of Belyj Klyuch, Samshvilde and Daghet to the north of Ekaterinenfeld turned into one more zone of anti-Georgian uprising. The armed rebels that were in control of the above three villages were, in fact, the Armenian vanguard stationed at the closest distance to Tiflis. And although that direction was not the major one, but nonetheless, a possible Armenian advance from Daghet - Ekaterinenfeld area could represent an additional threat to Georgian capital. Thus, situated on the banks of the river Khrami Ekaterinenfeld became a strategically important point on the way of the Armenian vanguard in the direction of Tiflis from the west.


As early as on December 18 (on the day when the government of Georgia finally issued mobilization order) all the Georgian troops deployed in Ekaterinenfeld were put under command of National Guard officer Vladimir (Valiko) Jugheli, while General Akhmetelashvili was appointed the commander of the newly formed army.  At the dawn of December 19, a 600 men strong contingent of Georgian National Guard from Tiflis under the command of Jugheli was deployed in the village of Ekaterinenfeld in order to block any Armenian expansion in the area[1]. However, the first hours of the presence of Jugheli’s troops in Ekaterinenfeld demonstrated poor discipline and lack of organization typical of Georgian National Guard: the camp was not properly pitched, the guard duty was not organised and the artillery was placed not in the second or third echelon where it was supposed to be, but at the forefront, within extremely short distance of the enemy lines[2]. The Georgian troops went to sleep without putting the guard and not knowing that the village had been at dusk surrounded by the Armenians, and the attack was scheduled for the early morning. During the night the Armenians took over the Georgian artillery (8 cannons) and placing their machineguns on the roofs of the tallest houses of the village opened fire at the Georgians. But the seeming Armenian victory was nullified by the actions of Vladimir Jugheli whose personality was marked by both carelessness and bravery: he managed to put the situation under control and led his soldiers and guardsmen into close combat as a result of which the Georgians took over Armenian machine gun positions and later regained their canons thus re-establishing full control over Ekaterinenfeld. At that very moment, a Georgian cavalry unit under the command of Colonel Kakutsa Cholokashvili which unexpectedly appeared at the battle scene, charged the retreating Armenian troops and dispersed them.

Total casualties of Georgian forces in the above battle were about 30 killed and 70 wounded. Armenian forces lost about 100 killed and the same amount taken prisoner.


December 19-20 The Ekaterinenfeld group of Georgian troops got reinforcements and started preparing for an offensive in northern direction against the rebel enclave in Daghet-Samshvilde area in order to secure their rear. The offensive started in the morning on December 23 from Ekaterinenfeld. The Georgian troops when Georgian forces crossed the river Khram near the village of Karakend-Kosalari and advanced westwards and north-westwards towards Daghet. The Georgians were opposed by some 500 rebels firmly entrenched in rocky terrain. However, the Georgian attack was supported by the fire of artillery, deployed on the right bank of the river Khram, near the hill of Kanonenpickel. On December 24 the rebels were outflanked from the north and on December 25 the village of Daghet-Khachen fell to the Georgians. Three days later, on December 27, the Georgian troops took the village of Samshvilde - this time without any fight, and the whole rebel enclave north of Ekaterinenfeld was thus liquidated and pacified.




Shulavery Operation



By December 22 the Armenian troops reached the river Khram to the north of Shulavery thus coming to the furthest extent of their  main advance aimed towards Tiflis. By the end of the next day (December 23), after the successful breakout of the remnants of General Tsulukidze’s forces from the Sadakhlo pocket, the Armenians could boast de-facto control over the whole disputed portion of the Borchalo county to south of the rivers Khrami and Mashavera, excluding the small area around Ekaterinenfeld.




General Dro (Drastamat Kanayan)



On December 24 General Drastamat Kanayan (“General Dro”), the commander of all Armenian forces in already conquered Borchalo sent an ultimatum to the Georgians demanding the immediate transfer of Georgian controlled  Akhalkalaki county to Armenia. In his message General Dro also threatened the spread of the hostilities to the north of Khrami if the ultimatum was rejected. That was tantamount to the threat of direct Armenian attack on Tiflis[3].


The government of Georgia rejected the ultimatum and decided to switch from purely defensive doctrine to an offensive one. In order to  facilitate the transition to more active military operations an experienced General George Mazniev (Mazniashvili) was appointed commander of all Georgian forces on the Shulavery direction with Generals David Sumbatov (Sumbatashvili) and George Kvinitadze appointed his deputy and Chief of Staff, respectively. In addition, the announced mobilization resulted in the formation of new Army, National Guard and militia units.






General George Mazniev (Mazniashvili)

General George Kvinitadze




Since the Armenian forces still had a considerable numerical advantage on the Shulavery direction and also owned the initiative, the Georgian command sought to pin the enemy troops down by means of active manoeuvres with the existing small forces until the arrival of major reinforcements and thus exclude the possibility of Armenian assault on Tiflis.







In the morning of December 24, Georgian cavalry with the artillery support from the armoured train, crossed the river Khrami and took the station Ashaga-Seral with a surprise attack. Few hours later, detachments of Georgian infantry entered the village of Little Shulavery on the right bank of Khrami and secured control over the railway bridge in the village of Imir[4]. On the same day, one battalion of the Georgian army took over the mountain that separated Ashaga-Seral from Shulavery. That allowed the Georgian Staff to move from the station of Sandar to Ashaga-Seral, closer to the war theatre, where it was stationed until the very end of the war[5].


Now, following Mazniev’s plan, the Georgians were supposed to draw the main Armenian forces away from the Tiflis direction which was the most dangerous one at that moment. In case of an Armenian attack on Tiflis across the river Khrami, the Georgians would be unable to withstand it due to their limited number of troops available until the arrival of significant reinforcements. Following the above situation, the Georgian forces on the right bank of Khrami were ordered to carry out a diversionary attack at Shulavery west of the railway, to attract Armenian forces away from the major direction[6].


Facing the Georgian attack on Shulavery, the Armenian command committed a serious error and acted exactly the way Mazniev expected: practically all available Armenian troops were re-grouped and concentrated for the defence of the town, Colonel Korolkov also ordered mobilisation of all local Armenian men able to fight to present themselves for the service of the Armenian Republic[7]. Meanwhile, new Georgian reinforcements from Kakheti and Western Georgia kept coming by railway to the train station of Sandari. By December 25, Mazniev’s force increased in total by 1000 men[8]. The danger of an Armenian attack on Tiflis was nullified, and the Georgian command began to plan a counter-offensive, the main element of which was to recover Shulavery and destroy the bulk of the Armenian forces deployed therein.








In order to take Shulavery the Georgians undertook deep outflanking manoeuvre from the west with one National Guard battalion and an artillery battery. On December 25, the outflanking group entered the muslim village of Sarachlo whose residents were hostile to Armenians and loyal to the government of Georgia. While the Georgian artillery was stationed at Sarachlo  the  National Guard battalion  fought its way to the top of the dominating mountain to the north of Shulavery. According to Mazniev’s plan the capture of the above mountain that gave the Georgians total control over all the approaches to the town, was to be followed by the general attack. At that moment all Georgian artillery (14 howitzer cannons) launched massive barrages of the Armenian positions[9].  The same day two Georgian airplanes dropped bombs on the Armenian positions near Shulavery[10]. That marked the first use of combat aircraft in the history of Georgian armed forces as well as in the history of all national armies of the South Caucasian states.


However, the attack on Shulavery scheduled for December 26, did not take place because of the following incident: an ill-disciplined National Guard unit that had taken the above-mentioned mountain to the north of Shulavery, left its positions at night, and despite the best efforts of its commander - General Christopher Chkhetiani – to stop that action, went down to the village Sarachlo “in order not to freeze in the trenches, and have some tea"[11]. Early the next morning, the opposing Armenian detachment re-occupied the unguarded mountain. During the day, the Georgians took the mountain back, but again refused to spend the night in the cold trenches, and lost the strategically important position to the Armenians for the third time. When General Chkhetiani, informed the headquarters of those events, he accompanied his report with his resignation application feeling unable to be in command of such an irresponsible and ill-disciplined  contingent[12].











This type of soldier, dressed in slightly modified uniform of the former Russian Imperial Army and equipped with Russian or German weapons, dominated the war on both sides



Georgian (top) and Armenian (bottom) cockades, 1918 - 20. By the beginning of the Armeno-Georgian war of 1918, such cockades had been already designed but not yet widely used.




Thus, the operation scheduled for December 26, was foiled. The next day (December 27) Mazniev attempted to take Shulavery by frontal attack and personally led his troops into the battle, but the assault was repelled by the Armenians.


Then another scheme was developed for the capture of the town and new precautions taken to ensure the success of the planned operation. For example, ill-disciplined National Guard units operating in the north-western section of the front were replaced with regular army detachments. By that moment the reinforcements that had arrived from Tiflis allowed Mazniev’s forces to act in two directions simultaneously: one group was strong enough to finally capture Shulavery at the third attempt while another one could attack down the railway line on Sadakhlo and thus isolate the Armenian forces in Shulavery from possible reinforcements and prevent their organized retreat. Armenian commanders also realized the importance of the Sadakhlo direction, and on December 28 they deployed artillery to the positions south of Ashaga-Seral station, but its fire on the train station brought no tangible results. At the same time, Armenian troops in Shulavewry were reinforced with a Rifle Regiment that just arrived from Baku[13].


The decisive battle for Shulavery started at noon, on December 28. After a two-hour artillery barrage the Georgian troops numbering about 3,500 started general offensive on a 10 km long front line[14]. During the fierce battle Armenian units several times undertook unsuccessful counterattack, but by evening of the same day, the Georgians managed to capture the heights east of Shulavery and thus dominate over the town.


In the morning of December 29, a Georgian detachment manned with the former officers entered Shulavery. The defeated Armenian troops withdrew to the south in two groups:  one group retreated through the village of Sioni while another one tried to reach the railway line through the valley where it was ambushed and scattered by Georgian cavalry. That operation was followed by the Georgian offensive to the south along the railway section Ashaga-SeralSadakhlo, in two columns advancing on both sides of the river Debed, lasted about 24 hours, until finally the station Sadakhlo was taken in the morning of December 30 at the same time with the village Lambalo.


Both Georgian and Armenian commanders were simultaneously developing plans of deep outflanking of the enemy. The Armenian plan was to capture the heights east of Lambalo and after that to attack the Georgian troops in Sadakhlo from the flank and from the rear. The Georgian plan, in turn, consisted of a manoeuvre in the western direction across the Loki ridge and further - down to Sanain station, thus also cutting the enemy off from the rear.


The Georgian command was not timely informed by their government on the ceasefire scheduled to begin at midnight December 31, and planned to launch a new offensive on the first of January. The Armenian commanders possessed an advantage in this respect, having been clearly informed on the time frame left for the warfare and used it on December 30, concentrating all Armenian troops retreating from Sadakhlo together with the fresh reinforcements, near the station Ayrum, and preparing a counter-offensive on Lambalo. While the Georgians began to re-deploy most of their troops from Sadakhlo to the west, concentrating around the villages of Sioni and Opreti, in order to subsequently move across the Loki Range the Armenian command, knowing that December 31 was the last day for possible combat operations, were preparing the recapture of Sadakhlo. The attack began at dawn on December 31. The Armenians were advancing in two columns from Ayrum - along both sides of the river Debed. The left column stormed the village and station Sadakhlo, while the right moved towards the village Lambalo and the mountain Tana-Dag. The left column had no success: after hours of fierce fighting, the Georgians managed to knock the Armenian detachments out of Sadakhlo. The right column of the Armenians acted more successfully captured Lambalo, despite several Georgian counterattacks with their reserves that came from the village of Mamay.


The disposition of the opposing parties, as of the end of December 31, can be determined accurately enough on the existing document, signed by the commanders of both Georgian and Armenian forces in the area of the conflict:


«As of December 31 / 24:00, the territory under control of the Georgian forces includes: the village Opreti, the village Khojorni, the village Gulli-Bagh, the village Sadakhlo, the village Lambalo, the ridge to the north of Sadakhlo station  from the Height 1554 to the north-east uop to the Height 2660, and further to the graffiti saying “the Spring” which is to the north of Kaji-Kala[15].

Original signature: General Mazniev.

Note: As of December 31 / 24:00, the village Lambalo and the Height 2660 were under my control and were evacuated by 8:00 of January 1, exclusively following the Letter Nr.139 fromGeneral Mazniev dated by January 1, 1919, in order to exclude direct contact between our forces and Georgian units and thus avoid unpredictable consequences. On the other clauses agreed.


Confirmed by: Colonel Natsvalov»[16]


One could add to the above that the delimitation line, as specified in the above quotation, is almost identical to today's state border between Georgia and Armenia in the disputed area.










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[1] Чачхиани, стр.245

[2] Georgian National Guard (also known as “People’s Guard”) was a paramilitary force formed according to the territorial principle and initially subordinate to the Social Democrat-dominated “People’s Councils”. Since February, 1918, National Guard obtained an official status and was regarded by the Social Democratic government as a protagonist of  new democratic armed forces” where discipline and subordination would  be replaced with conscious self-discipline of the “citizen-warriors”. According to Kvinitadze, Mazniashvili and Palacios-Fernandez, National Guard units were much better equipped and uniformed than regular armed forces of Georgia but at the same time, were marked with low discipline of soldiers and lack of professionalism of the officers. (Auth.)


[3] Чачхиани, стр. 153,

    ЦИАГ, ф.1864, оп.1,  д.32, л.1

[4] Giorgi Mazniashvili, Mogonebani  1917-1925  (Batumi 1990), pp. 125-126

[5] Ibid., p.126

[6] Mazniashvili, p. 125

    Квинитадзе, стр. 61

[7] Чачхиани, стр. 156

[8] Hovannisian, Vol. I, р. 114

[9] Чачхиани,, стр. 157

[10] Там же, стр. 159

[11] Квинитадзе, стр. 98

[12] Там же, стр. 98

[13] To understand that re-deployment one should remember that from May to September 1918, various Armenian detachments retreating from the Caucasus front of the First World War were fighting the Turks and Azerbaijanis around and in Baku. After the fall of the oil city they retreated further to Daghestan and stayed there awaiting the surrender of Ottoman Turkey. When the British Expeditionary Corps replaced the Turks in Baku on November 17 of the same year, no Armenian troops were allowed to return to Baku. Instead, they were ordered to withdraw  to Armenia. (Auth.)

[14] Чачхиани – стр. 160

[15] Описание дается по двухверстовой карте (Авт.)

[16] ЦГИА 1864-1-39-21