The Russians needed a few weeks to feed more units into Iran for an off ensive against the provisional government. In the meantime, Russian Cossacks conducted raids on some nationalist- held cities while the Persian Cossack Brigade was designated a division and filled out with more Russian offi cers and NCOs, hastily recruited Iranians, and a few more Russian artillery pieces and machine guns. Despite the new leadership and equipment, the Persian Cossacks were held back for policing missions behind the front lines, especially aft er the nationalists chased local Cossack detachments out of Hamadan and other cities.
At the same time, the Jangalis in Gilan began skirmishing with Russian Cossacks to delay the Russian advance. The nationalists also established a small band of mounted irregulars under the command of a German military advisor to upset Russian rear area operations. By the end of November, however, General Baratov, the senior Russian commander at Qazvin, had twenty thousand men ready to march. The main column headed toward Hamadan to disperse the nationalist army there while a smaller secondary column moved to outfl ank the National Defense Committ ee in Qom.
In the holy city the democrats and their German advisors were supervising the preparation of defensive lines while the German military mission deployed Gendarmerie units along the route through the strategic Sultan Bulaq Pass between Hamadan and Qazvin. The nationalist forces built trenches and fortifications in a front stretching from the town of Avah, north of Qom. Around 3,000 Gendarmerie and a litt le more than 1,500 mounted fi ghters under German commanders defended this Avah front against nearly 15,000 Russian soldiers through early December. Many of these fighters were funded by the German mission, which also arranged for the manufacture of uniforms and other supplies for the defenders.
Weapons and ammunition, however, had to be laboriously delivered to the front on pack animals over mountain trails. While both armies had to contend with severe cold in the high mountain passes, the bulk of the Iranian forces had no winter clothing. In addition, the nationalists’ defensive works off ered insuffi cient protection against the artillery and dogged assaults of the more numerous and heavily armed Russians. The Iranians eventually were forced back and left the Russians in control of the Sultan Bulaq Pass. Leaving a small rearguard in place, the Gendarmerie and tribal forces withdrew to the mountain passes to the west and south of Hamadan. By mid- December, Hamadan had fallen to Baratov’s army.
After several more defeats north of Qom, the nationalist forces followed the Committ ee of National Defense southwest to Kermanshah. At German urging, Nizam al- Saltanah reestablished the provisional Iranian government with himself as leader and continued to build an army. Despite the earlier setbacks Iranians from all walks of life flocked to the nationalist banner, and the Iranian leader recruited four thousand to fi ve thousand tribal fi ghters to help approximately three thousand gendarmes defend the mountain passes leading to Kermanshah. Hismat Nisari’s mujahedin, who had spent much of the past year inciting Kurdish and other tribes against the Russians, added a few hundred more experienced fighters to the provisional government’s army. The Gendarmerie continued to recruit and train local volunteers in other cities held by the nationalists.
Despite being pushed out of Qom and Hamadan, the nationalists controlled, if only briefl y, all of southwestern Iran except for the Persian Gulf ports and the oil fi elds of Khuzestan. In addition, a small number of Turkish units were starting to arrive around Kermanshah to support the nationalists. The Germans, whose arrogance was a serious detriment to collaboration, still took a dim view of the situation. In January 1916 Field Marshal Colman von der Goltz, the German commander of the Ott oman army, reported aft er a visit to Kermanshah that Iran was in a state of anarchy. He complained that Germany’s vast expenditures were not generating the desired results in diverting British resources and protecting the Turkish fl anks against a Russian push into Iraq.