Azerbaijan, found in the Caucasus with the Caspian Sea to the east, is one of those countries that is so far away from us, so far away from the open seas, and so far from what we tend to think of as our normal zones of influence that you may think we can’t possibly have invaded it. But if you think that, you’d be wrong.
By mid-1918, after the Russian Revolution, the Caucasus was a surprisingly confusing place. We tend to think of control of oilfields as a modern strategic goal, but already by that time, control of Azerbaijan’s oilfields was vitally important. A surprising number of players were competing for control of the oil, and for control of the Caucasus more widely. Obviously there were the locals and the Russians, but there was also, with the Ottoman Empire still in the First World War at this stage, the Ottoman Third Army trying to push up from the south. There was (bizarrely since you wouldn’t expect Germans here, but then, to be fair, I suppose, equally you wouldn’t expect Brits either) a German Expeditionary Force, independent of the Ottoman forces, that had come across the Black Sea from the Crimea, heading for the region after Georgia signed the Treaty of Poti with Germany. And there was us, with the imaginatively named Dunsterforce, commanded by one General Dunsterville (Dunsterforce does sound a little more crisp and dynamic than Dunstervilleforce, and imagine being an army clerk having to write Dunstervilleforce all the time). This included British and other Empire troops and some armoured cars, which had arrived in the area from Hamadan in what is now Iran.
Their original goal to counter German influence in the region turned into a mission to seize and defend the oilfields around Baku. After a few problems with Bolshevik troops, they made it across the Caspian to Baku, but their problems had only just started. Once in Baku, they were caught up in defending the city against an attacking army of Ottomans (and their allies in the Caucasus). In the ferocious Battle of Baku, lasting from August into September, Dunsterforce was eventually forced to withdraw from Baku in a dramatic night-time evacuation under fire. Probably spectacular to watch, but not much fun to be part of.
But we weren’t gone for long. Elsewhere, the war was going very badly for the Ottomans, and by late 1918, with the Ottoman Empire defeated, it was the turn of Ottoman troops to pull out of Baku and for us to return. British troops under General Thomson arrived in the capital of Azerbaijan on 17 November 1918 and imposed martial law. Gradually we handed over control to an Azerbaijani government, and by August 1919 we were leaving Baku again.