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Category: The Enemy

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The Sultan's Army: Turkish Troops & German Methods

It is the misfortune of the Turkish army that it was made in Germany. The Ottoman Turk, who swept into Europe on the heels of the Christian Empire of the East, had no need to learn the art of fighting from any man. In the fifteenth century, when the eyes of Europe were turned Westward to new Worlds beyond the Atlantic, the Turkish advance from the East was steadily victorious. Asia Minor was wholly Turkish, the Black Sea became a Turkish lake, and the Balkan lands were gradually included in the area of Turkish control.          

In its last offensive return upon Europe the military power of Turkey reached the gates of Vienna five years before James II was removed from the English throne. 

The Turkish effort now became stationary, and it was necessary for its armies to protect against the returning effort of European states the territory that had been won from them. 

It was at this stage of Turkish history that foreign aid was first called in to increase the efficiency of Turkish troops; the business of warfare had already become so complex that western ingenuity was a desirable addition to Oriental courage. 

The first foreign advisers of the Turkish army came from France, since it was at that time the policy of France to cheek the development of Russia, and Turkey became the convenient and docile instrument of French policy. The Turkish soldiers, who ejected the Austrians from Belgrade just before the first victories of Frederick the Great had been trained by Bonneval and were officered by Frenchmen; and this tradition continued until the end of the century. 

In the year 1795, a young French general, whose career had been jeopardised by the course of French politics, contemplated accepting a position in Constantinople as instructor to the Sultan's artillery. Since he knew a great deal about guns and was something of a politician, it was an appointment that might quite well have changed the history of the Near East; his name was Napoleon Bonaparte. During his reign as Emperor of the French Turkey continued to be dragged in the train of French policy and obediently went to war with Russia in the year 1807 upon orders received from Paris.  

But the stream of French military instructors was now diverted to Egypt, where it built up the army of Mehemet Ali, and Turkey was compelled to look elsewhere for the training of its troops.

 Prussia was at this date a kingdom in Central Europe, occupying a position of distinctly secondary importance, and the appointment of Prussian instructors evoked as little protest in Europe as the selection of Swedish officers for the command of Persian police. 

It was about this time that an unprosperous young Prussian, named von Moltke, was attached to the Turkish army and saw service with it in the Syrian campaign against the invading armies of Egypt. 

The artillery commanded by him, was the last portion of the Turkish army to run away. 

The Prussian connection, which was thus established, was intermittently maintained through the nineteenth century, and it entered upon a period of real activity after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. It was now necessary to reconstruct the Turkish army and the fortifications upon which its operations were to rest. 

The ring-fortress of Adrianople, the coast-forts of the Dardanelles, and the lines of Tchataldja were constructed under the directions of German engineers and armed with the most popular of all German exports, Krupp guns. 

The reconstruction of the Turkish army itself proceeded with varying degrees of sucess itntil the appointment, in 1883, of the distinguished soldier and military historian, von der Goltz.

This officer came to Constantinople with a reputation which had been gained in the Franco-Prussian War.

It was maintained by a series of admirable books, but when he left it in 1898 he was regarded as a creator of an army second only to Carnot, the Organiser of Victory. 

The Turkish army is the creation of von der Goltz Pasha, and its first achievements against the disorganised Greek forces in 1897 appeared to justify the promises, which had been made on its behalf. The force was organised upon purely German lines with a conscription, which provided it with first‑line troops, two bans of Landwehr and a Landsturm. It was accompanied in the field by numerous German instructors, and the more promising among its own officers were attached for training to various units of the German army in Europe.  

With its strong flavour of German education the Turkish army entered confidently upon the Balkan War of 1912. The causes of its defeat were peculiarly Teutonic. Its German field artillery was outclassed by the Creusot guns of the Balkan Allies, and its system of supply and supports, which had been organised in anticipation of a victorious advance upon Sofia, collapsed completely under the strain of a retreat upon Constantinople. 

It is the weakness of the German system that it requires for its proper working an immediate victory. When the Bulgarians at Lule Burgas and the Serbians at Kumanovo declined to provide this for the Turks, the Turkish army was forced to fall back in starvation and rout upon the breakdown of its supplies and the disappearance of its supports. 

It was to the direction of this defeated army that General Liman von Sanders was called by the Turkish government last summer, and the organisation of the force placed under his command must have been strangely familiar to his Prussian eye. Military service, which begins at the age of nineteen, lasts for three years with the colours in a Nizam regiment of the first line. The conscript then passes for six years to the Ichtiat or Reserve, for eleven years to the Redif, which composes two bans of the Landwehr, and for a final two years to the Mutafitz, or Landsturm. The infantry is armed with Mauser rifles and Maxim and Hotchkiss machine guns; the artilley of all calibres is Krupp, including some Krupp 4.7 inch field Howitzers, with the single exception of a few batteries of French‑made Creusot mountain-guns.

The Russian offensive in Armienia is confronted by 90,000 men of this service, under the command of Hussan Izet. The Turkish force can hardly hope to do more than delay the advance of the Russians across the exceedingly difficult mountain country in a winter campaign; the snow has already begun to fall and the operation will inevitably be slow. But unless General von Sanders has succeeded in reforming the Turkish army in six months, it may be anticipated that the operation of his field‑army will be gravely hampered by the inadequacy of its supply. Unless he is able to win a battle in the field, the Turkish defensive will be confined to the fortress of Erzerourn.

The Turkish soldier, whose courage is undoubted, cannot win battles on an empty stomach; but he can at least defend fortresses, and it may well he that in the winter campaign of 1914 he will add the name of Erzerourn to those of Plevna and Adrianople.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces