- Ottoman Army Effectiveness in World War I: A Comparative Study
The Ottoman army was, arguably, one of the most effective military organizations of the Great War, more especially when one considers the weak socio-economic base that supported the Ottoman field army through four years of combat against British and Imperial forces (Sinai, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, Persia, and the Caucasus), the French (Gallipoli and Palestine) and Russia (the Caucasus). Ottoman soldiers launched an amphibious assault across the Suez Canal in 1915, defeated the Allies in three major campaigns (Gallipoli, Ctesiphon/Kut al-Amara, and the first Gaza battles), captured Baku and drove the Russians from the Caucasus in 1918, and went to the Salonika and Rumanian fronts to support German and Austro-Hungarian forces. The Ottoman army was intact at the war's end, providing the Turks with the military platform on which to build their nationalist resistance to Greek aggression, 1919–22, and, excepting the Arab portions of the empire, in territorial control of what would become Turkey after the war. During the war, while desertion had been an endemic problem for the Ottoman high command, there had been no major mutinies in any branch of the armed forces. Finally, unlike Austria-Hungary which by 1918 was being run by the German high command, the Ottomans achieved all of this independently with minimal German military support.
The mass of competing texts on World War I—most of which concentrate on the Western Front—obscures this remarkably successful military history. When the Ottomans (or the "Turks") are discussed it is usually as a footnote or in the context of a patronizing aside about how "Johnny Turk" was always dogged in defense and generally a decent fighter, as though some "Turkish" (should we even read "oriental" here?) cultural characteristic is the best explanation for victory and defeat in battle. The examination of key campaigns such as Gallipoli can be so one-sided and biased that the reader is only left with half of the story (pace the recent work done by Tim Travers in the Turkish archives on Gallipoli). Limited access to Turkish archives and language difficulties associated with reading the Ottoman language of the time help explain these lacunae, but it desperately needs to be filled if we are to understand World War I as a conflict that embraced European states beyond the Western Front.
Edward Erickson is fast developing a reputation as the foremost expert on the Ottoman army immediately before and during World War I. This is [End Page 1262] his third book on the subject, his previous two having dealt with the Balkan Wars—Defeat in Detail (2003)—and the army during the Great War—Ordered to Die (2001). The product of his doctoral dissertation, the volume under review builds on his 2001 volume but uses the concept of "combat effectiveness" (p. 3), to draw together his analysis of the army during the key campaigns at Gallipoli, Kut, and in Palestine. While an appendix looks briefly at other areas of combat, the war against the Russians in the Caucasus is not examined in detail, a pity as we are thus still reliant on W. E. D. Allen and Paul Muratoff's 1952 volume on the subject.
Colonel Erickson differentiates between "military effectiveness"—an examination of the policy and grand strategy surrounding the higher levels of war—and "combat effectiveness" which examines the operational and tactical levels of fighting (p. 3): "the relative relationship between combatants in their ability to accomplish desired objectives." It is the latter which is the focus of this study, making for a tight analysis of events on the battlefield with a special emphasis on Ottoman forces while also comparing them with the British troops with whom they were fighting. With his command of Turkish and use of the Turkish official histories and Turkish General Staff Archives in Ankara, Erickson opens up the military history of the Middle East during World War...