Ironside having established his command in Qazvin and having secured the passes to Rasht, describes the headache of dealing with Malaria infected soldiers as Malaria was prevalent in the low country around the Caspian, and having to deal with the Persian Cossack brigade and the chaotic political vacuum in Iran caused by the constant conflict between the Shah, the parliament and the corrupt governors. Ironside’s observations of the latter will be subject of another blog. As the Persian Cossack Brigade withdrew from Rasht, Ironside made sure they were shadowed as they came through Manjil Pass and they did not return to Tehran and were camped under British observation in Qazvin (the brigade was shadowed by some thirty of Kuchak Khan's men, including 8 Russian Bolshevik officers, that were bayoneted without firing a shot by Norperforce infantry shadowing the Persian Cossacks). He surreptitiously arranged for removal of the [White] Russian officers commanding the brigade by wiretapping the telegraph communications and issuing false orders to keep the brigade under Norperforce control. The Russians were divided into groups of twenty and left under British guard for Baghdad then given their freedom to go to whichever country was prepared to receive them. The majority went to Vladivostok. Ironside describes going through the brigade’s books and his disdain for the prevalent corruptions of the officers is palpable.
Under pressure by the British, Ahmad Shah agrees to hand over the affairs of the Cossack Brigade to Colonel Smythe who was posted to Iran by the British Army under the Sykes treaty. Later the Shah appoints Sardar Homayoun as the ineffective commander. Below is Ironside’s first description of the state of the brigade of 3000 men, effectively the only national army and his first meeting Reza Khan:
It was clear that the late [Russian] Commander [of the Persian Cossacks] had been maintaining at least 1000 'blank files' for a period of years. How the money was thus embezzled had been shared amongst the various authorities connected with the Cossacks it was impossible to say. The strength of the Brigade was fixed at 3,500 for the fixture and there were to be no additions. A general medical inspection of all ranks was being made, and all unfits and old men drafted out at once.
The Persian Mejliss lost no time in appointing a new Commander to the Brigade. I was still struggling with the despatch of the White Russians to Baghdad when he came to call on me. He was the Sirdar Hamayun, a member of one of the junior branches of the imperial family who had been serving as a diplomat in Europe. Like so many Persians he was so polite that he took a long time in coming to the point, talking away aimlessly and smoking innumerable cigarettes before he told what he wanted. It was for me to introduce him to the Brigade personally. He was quite frank in acknowledging that he was not a soldier, and that he had been appointed to ensure the fidelity of the Brigade to the Shah*. He was sure that I knew that he who commanded the Cossacks was in virtual control of the capital. I promised that I would introduce him co Colonel Smythe the British officer now in control of the administration of the brigade during the process of reorganization.
When I walked round the Brigade with the Sirdar and Colonel Smythe I found everything in a pitiable condition. Neither officers nor men had any winter clothing, and they were literally shivering with cold and fever. Many of the men had no boots and appeared in front of us with their feet wrapped in sacking. Smythe explained that within a week all would be clothed i good Persian coat and breeches made of wool. He was concentrating for the next month on good feeding and simple physical exercises. After that he would know where he was. The little Sirdar was hopelessly at sea. He did not shake hands with any of the Persian officers and he hardly said a word to them. They all bowed ubiquitously to him but he had no cheery word for them. He did not thank them for what they had done down at Resht, nor did he tell them that a better future awaited then now that they would be completely under their own officers. He had no intention of living in the camp or even near them, and it was obvious that he could neither command them nor administer them. Colonel Smythe and I decided that we must find a deputy at once.
It was interesting watching the Persian officers and their work, and I paid several visits to their camp. They were all volunteers and their general health improved they made better impression upon me, now that they were free of their old masters. The weak point lay, of course, in the senior ranks. Who had never been allowed to have an opinion of their own or to take any responsibility their shoulders. For a long time they had behaved like lost sheep. I was told that the most welcome change to them in the new regime was that they received the pay due to them without any reductions. Gradually both Colonel Smyhe and I found our attention was being drawn to the work of the Tabriz** otryaad or troop. There the simple training was always the most advanced. The men were cheery and contented, taking a great interest in the small schemes they were set to do an interest which was mostly absent in the other troops. Their Captain was a man of well over six feet in height with broad shoulders and most distinguished-looking face. His hooked nose and sparkling eyes gave him a look of animation which was unexpected. He reminded me much of the Mahomedan Rajput gentlemen I had met in Central India. His name was Reza Khan. Thus gradually came to notice the man who was to affect the fate of his country so greatly. I remember that the first time I saw him he was shivering from a severe bout of malaria. I marked that he never went sick. We decided to make him Commander of the Cossack Brigade at least temporarily, and at once
As far as I was concerned. one of the most important matters which affected the Cossack Brigade was the date upon which we should loosen out' control of them. It seemed almost certain that the North Persian force would be withdrawn in the spring 1921, and I favoured the loosening process being operated some the actual moment months before we actually went, and not of our departure. I referred the question to the British Mmlster
for his decision.
Source: Highway to Command by Major General Sir Edmund Ironside
(*) Persian Coassack corps was effectively the only national army Iran had. Ahmad Shah viewed as his own bodyguards givim him the confidence in dealing with the parliament and politics in general.
(**) Iranian sources have it as the Hamedan otryaad troop.