THE GERMAN-OTTOMAN ALLIANCE
O Muslims, who are the obedient servants of God! Of those who go to the Jihad for the sake of happiness and salvation of the believers in God’s victory, the lot of those who remain alive is felicity, while the rank of those who depart to the next world is martyrdom. In accordance with God’s beautiful promise, those who sacrifice their lives to give life to the truth will have honour in this world, and their latter end is paradise.1
In Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Sheikh-ul-Islam declared an Islamic holy war against Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro on 14 November 1914. He spoke on behalf of the Caliphate, a combination of spiritual and temporal authority claimed by the Sultan, and justified by the fact that the holy cities of Mecca and Medina fell within the purlieus of his rule. But the reach of the Ottoman Empire, which at its height in the sixteenth century had extended from the Persian Gulf to Poland, and from Cairo to the gates of Vienna, was contracting. In 1914, of 270 million Muslims in the world in 1914, only about 30 million were governed by other Muslims. Almost 100 million were British subjects; 20 million were under French rule, most of them in North and Equatorial Africa; and another 20 million were incorporated in Russia’s Asian empire. Those Muslims in the British, French and Russian empires who opposed the Ottoman Empire’s summons to holy war were promised ‘the fire of hell’. The Muslims in Serbia and Montenegro, who were likely to commit the lesser offence of fighting Austria-Hungary, would merit only ‘painful torment’.
This was a call to revolution which had, it seemed, the potential to set all Asia and much of Africa ablaze, forcing the Entente powers to forget the war within Europe as they struggled to hold on to their empires outside it. The message was translated into Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Tatar. It was carried to the Crimea and Kazan, and through Central Asia to Turkestan, Bokhara, Khiva and Afghanistan; it went to India and China; it extended south-east to the Shi‘ite Muslims of Iran; and in Africa its call was heard in Nigeria, Uganda, the Sudan, the Congo and as far south as Nyasaland. But its reverberations were minimal. The First World War may have been a war in which men were motivated by big ideas, but that of Islam failed to override the loyalties of temporal rule.
For many the true author of holy war was not the Sheikh-ul-Islam but Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. In 1898 Wilhelm had visited Jerusalem and Damascus. His love of uniforms and military ceremonial, which looked faintly ridiculous to the cynics of the liberal West, struck a chord in the East. He was dubbed ‘Haji’ Wilhelm, implying that he was a ’saint’ who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. His reaction when he heard of Britain’s warnings to Ger-many on 30 July 1914 was to write angrily: ‘Now this entire structure must be ruthlessly exposed and the mask of Christian peacefulness be publicly torn away ... Our consuls in Turkey and India, our agents, etc., must rouse the whole Muslim world into wild rebellion against this hateful, mendacious, unprincipled nation of shopkeepers; if we arc going to shed our blood, England must at least lose India.’2 Moltke, the chief of the general staff, agreed with him. On 2 August he wrote to the Foreign Ministry calling for revolution in India, the heart of the British Empire, and in Egypt, which connected Britain’s eastern empire to London via the Suez Canal.
In November 1914 Cemal Pasha, the Turkish naval minister, took over the command of the Ottoman 4th Army, based in Palestine and earmarked for the invasion of Egypt Two Turkish attacks on the Suez canal, Britan’s vital route to the east, were repelled, in February 1915 and August 1916.
Here was the articulation of Germany’s strategy for world war: it would weaken the Entente powers by attacking them indirectly through their empires. Moltke’s problem was that the German army and German weapons were all fully committed to the war in Europe. He had no rifles he could send to those who might rise against British, French or Russian rule, and certainly no troops. And, even if he had had them, British naval supremacy meant that he could not send them by sea. The Ottoman Empire could confer two strategic benefits on Germany: its army could provide the troops for overseas deployment and its land mass could open the overland routes to Central Asia and Africa.
In some respects the Ottoman Empire bore a superficial resemblance to its western neighbour, Austria-Hungary. Like it, it was a multi-national concern in an age of nationalism, and it also possessed a monarchy in need of reform. In 1914, the empire was still geographically extensive, running from the Caucasus in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south, and from Iraq in the east right across North Africa in the west. For practical purposes, however, it had lost its grip west of the Sinai Desert, except in the case of Libya, where it was actively supporting the local population in their continued resistance to the Italian invasion of 1911. In Europe the Balkan wars had left it with no more than a toe-hold in Macedonia. It seemed that before long this once-mighty multi-national empire would be shorn of its outlying possessions and reduced to the Anatolian heartlands that constitute modern-day Turkey. None of the great powers necessarily wished to initiate this final collapse, but all were preparing themselves for the eventuality.
Germany, Britain, Holland, France, Italy and Austria-Hungary were represented on the Ottoman Public Debt Commission, an attempt to consolidate Turkey’s overseas borrowing, which by 1878 consumed 80 per cent of Turkish state revenues. But none of the powers intended to be marginalised from other forms of profiteering within the Ottoman Empire through this process. The privileges given to foreign businessmen in the days of Ottoman might - exemptions from Turkish law and taxation, called ‘capitulations’ - prevented any increase in tariffs to protect nascent Turkish industries from cheaper imports or the generation of state wealth from exports. Between them Britain and France controlled most of the Ottoman Empire’s banking and financial system as well as its debt.
While the great powers exploited the empire, they also staked out their claims in anticipation of its demise. France jockeyed for position in Syria and Palestine. Britain had interests in Iraq, both as a buffer for India and because of the discovery of oil: its first oil-fired battleship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was laid down in 1912. Italy had already taken the opportunity of Turkey’s troubles in the Balkans to seize Libya and the Dodecanese in 1911-12. And although Rome’s hold in North Africa was shaky, its actions were condoned by Britain and France for fear of driving Italy back into the embrace of Germany and the Triple Alliance. Turkey’s most inveterate enemy, Russia, with which it had gone to war three times since 1828, lacked economic and maritime clout, but because it, too, was now linked into the security system of Europe through the Entente neither France nor Britain was likely to oppose it in its Ottoman policy. It wanted control of the Dardanelles, through which a third of its exports (and three-quarters of its grain) passed, and it seemed to sponsor the nation alisms not only of the Balkans but also of the Caucasus. Georgians, Armenians and Tatars straddled the frontier and threatened the stability of both empires: Russia’s solution, Russification, was defensive, but that was not how it looked to Turks, concerned for the survival and even promotion of Turkish culture.
Each of the main actors, with the exception of Russia, had managed to secure a holding position. The British became advisers to the Turkish navy in 1908, and the French administered the gendarmerie. The Germans had a military mission, although the defeats in the Balkans had dented its - and its parent army’s - reputation. But in the desperate circumstances of the Balkan wars, the Turks could not afford a change of style and ethos, and in 1913 they invited Germany to send a fresh military mission. Its head, Liman von Sanders, had been passed over for the command of a corps in Germany, but was determined that he would enjoy in Turkey the status and pomp which such an appointment would have conferred on him at home. Initially, he was not disappointed. He was asked to command Ottoman I Corps in Constantinople. The Kaiser told him to Germanise the Ottoman army, and to make Turkey an instrument of German foreign policy and a counterweight to Russia. The Russians were outraged. But they mistook the Kaiser’s rhetoric for the substance of German foreign policy. The purpose of the mission was to recoup the German army’s image of professional excellence and to secure the market for arms sales, especially Krupp’s quick-firing artillery. It was not to prepare the ground for Turkey’s entry to a European war as Germany’s ally. Hans von Wangenheim, Germany’s ambassador in Constantinople, saw an accommodation with Russia as a more important priority than an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. On 18 July 1914 — with the German foreign ministry all too aware of the Austrians’ designs for war in the Balkans - Wangenheim reported that, ‘without doubt, Turkey is still an unsuitable alliance partner. They only want their allies to take on their burdens, without offering the slightest gains in return ... The policy of the Triple Alliance must be to shape relations so that, if the Turks should after years finally become a major power, the threads will not have been cut.’3
If Turkey had any appeal as an ally it lay in its military prowess. The Janis saries had taken Islam into Europe and North Africa, but military excellence now seemed, on the evidence of the defeats in the Balkans, to be firmly in the past. Only weeks before the outbreak of the war, on 18 May 1914, Moltke concluded that ‘any expectation that Turkey will be of value to the Triple Alliance or Germany in the foreseeable future must be counted as entirely wrong’. Germany’s ambassador had just reported that recovery from the last Balkan war and the completion of the reforms required would take a decade to effect: a new war before then could only put the whole programme in jeopardy.4
Germany did not want Turkey as an ally, but Turkey desperately needed an ally somewhere, to reconstruct its position in the Balkans, and it sought an alliance with Bulgaria in order to isolate Greece. It could not hope to achieve that without the patronage of one of the great powers. There was no obvious candidate. Each increasingly tended to subordinate its Turkish policies to its perceptions of the needs of the alliances of which it was a member. The French and British were pro-Greek, and yet the King of Greece was a Hohenzollern and so related to the Kaiser. Austria-Hungary was interested in establishing a new Balkan league around Bulgaria, to the extent that it risked war with Serbia to achieve it. Therefore Austrian and Turkish interests in the Balkans might converge. But Germany was opposed to Bulgaria. The fact that Russia did not possess a viable Black Sea fleet (not a single up-to-date battleship was ready to take to the water) did give Turkey some freedom of manoeuvre. It even sounded the Russians out as possible allies in May 1914. Sergey Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, was so taken aback that he did not know how to respond. In July 1914, the Turkish naval minister, Ahmed Cemal, attended the French naval manoeuvres off Toulon, and took the opportunity to float an alliance with France. But the French were too conscious of Russian sensitivities to respond. Thus, in the months immediately before the war the Turks were more open to an alliance with a member of the Entente than of the Triple Alliance. Britain was not approached largely because Turkey had proposed the idea three times in recent years - in 1908, 1911 and 1913 - and been rebuffed on each occasion.
Some German officers (even if their concentration levels could be higher) make the effort to learn Turkish, but the language was not standardised and it was not common to the whole Ottoman army
Germany now began to look less unattractive than anybody else. Germany was not a major player in Asia Minor; it could not threaten Turkey’s coastline or its interior; and it had no Muslim colonies to create a clash of interests with Islam - at most about 2 million Muslims lived under German rule. Thus the initiative for a Turco-German alliance came from Turkey, not Germany, and the fact that the offer was made on 22 July 1914 - the day before Austria-Hungary delivered its ultimatum to Serbia - was fortuitous. It had no connection to the July crisis proper but it did have one feature in common with it: the driving force was the situation in the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire hoped that an alliance with Germany would boost its appeal to Romania and Bulgaria, and so provide the basis for a new Balkan bloc.
If Turkey’s aims were long-term, regional and unrelated to the war that was about to engulf Europe, Germany’s response most emphatically was not. Again, Wilhelm was the driving force. A Balkan grouping of the sort to which Turkey aspired would transform the position of Austria-Hungary and the balance of forces on the eastern front. Moltke’s military nonentity suddenly became capable of attacking Russia. Liman von Sanders reckoned that the Ottoman Empire would soon have four or five corps ready to take the field. On 2 August a deal was struck. But Turkey did not enter the war.
In 1908 a group called the Young Turks had staged a revolution in Turkey which in many respects was no revolution: the Sultan had stayed on his throne, and the Young Turks did not themselves seize power. They were in origin a group of westernisers and liberals, many of them émigrés, but within Turkey they were mostly army officers and civil servants. The two elements united under the umbrella title of the Committee of Union and Progress. The professional grievances of the army officers, motivated particularly by promotions from the ranks, were deepened in 1909 when a battalion based in Constantinople mutinied. The officers dressed up the rising as a counter-revolution. Under the guise of restoring order, the army, orchestrated by Mustafa Kemal (the future Atatürk), declared martial law, consolidated the hold of the Committee of Union and Progress, and replaced the Sultan.
The Committee of Union and Progress was an amorphous body, and the course of Turkish politics ran no more smoothly after 1909. By 1912 the Unionists seemed to be a spent force. They were saved by the crisis of the First Balkan War. As the army fell back towards Constantinople in December, it seemed that the government would accept the loss of Adrianople (modern Edirne) in a bid to get peace. On 23 January 1913 a thirty-one-year old officer, Enver Pasha, stormed into a cabinet meeting at the head of a group of soldiers. The minister of war was shot dead and the grand vizier forced to resign. Enver asked the Sultan to form a coalition government under a senior general, Mahmut evket. An attempted counter-coup and evket’s assassination in June allowed the Committee of Union and Progress to consolidate its hold on power. Adrianople, which had been lost in March, was recovered in July. Even success in foreign affairs seemed to flow from the Unionists’ assumption of power.
The Kaiser was as strong a supporter of the Turkish-German alliance as was Enver But Wilhelm’s belief in monarchy made him suspicious of a man who had challenged the powers of the Sultan
America’s ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, described Enver as ‘almost dainty and feminine ... but always calm, steely, imperturbable’.5 In January 1914 he became minister of war. During the course of the year he expanded the ministry’s responsibilities by placing under it the Committee of National Defence, which had interests in the state’s social and economic mobilisation, and ranged from industry to education. Enver had made his reputation in organising Libyan resistance to the Italian invasion, and from that experience he forged a secret service, the Tekilât-i Mahsusa, answerable only to him. It engaged in propaganda, subversion, sabotage, and terrorism. It was the agent of political conformity to his will at home and of revolution abroad. Enver joined Cemal and Mehmed Talât in government; these three constituted the triumvirate that took the Ottoman Empire into the First World War and guided its destiny during it.
The immediate beneficiary of the Unionists’ grasp on power was the army. The appointment of Liman von Sanders’s mission was part of a wider package of reform. Older officers were forced out in a major purge, and political unity imposed. New equipment was ordered from Germany. German methods were also evident in the adoption of a regional corps organisation and a new recruitment law which widened the obligations of military service to embrace all non-Muslims who did not pay taxes; in the past only Muslims had been required to serve. The size of the army was now projected to rise to 1.2 million. But this was a long-term programme: in February 1914 Enver reckoned it would take five years before the army was fit for war. And he meant a Balkan war, not a world war. The army lacked a common language and was short of 280 guns and 200,000 rifles. It lacked horses for its cavalry and pack animals for its transport. It was mobilised in August, following the alliance with Germany, but the process was still not complete in October. Reservists were sent home again because they could not be fed. But in the latter month the British military attaché, Francis Cunliffe-Owen, filed a report which suggested that Enver’s reforms had begun to take effect: ‘There is no doubt that very considerable progress is being made in [the Ottoman army’s] efficiency, and that it will be far superior to that in existence before the Balkan war. The continuous training ... and the time which has elapsed for the deliberate organisation of mobilisation and administrative arrangements must cause the Turkish forces to be now regarded as a factor ... to be taken seriously into account.‘6
What worried the British more than the Ottoman Empire’s army was its navy. The absurdity of Britain’s naval mission in Turkey was that, if it were successful, it would create a body to counter the Greeks and the Italians in the Aegean, and the Russians in the Black Sea. The former may not have been allies, but the British rather wished they were, and the latter most certainly were. The British advised the Turks to acquire torpedo boats for coastal defence, but, after the humiliations at the hands of the Italians and Greeks in 1911 and 1912, the Turks wanted super-Dreadnoughts. They ordered two from British yards. Legally, the terms of the contract allowed the British to take over the vessels, and they did so on 29 July 1914. Strategically the decision was the right one; politically the outcome was a gift to Young Turk propaganda, because the purchase of the ships had been funded by a high-profile public subscription.
The significance of the British action was compounded by British naval incompetence. When the war broke out, Germany had two cruisers, Goeben and Breslau, under the command of Wilhelm Souchon, in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Fleet detached four armoured cruisers under Rear-Admiral Ernest Troubridge to track the Germans, but Troubridge’s guns could not match those of the Goeben, and, in tears, Troubridge broke off an action round Cape Matapan. He had instructions from the Admiralty not to engage ‘superior force’, which almost certainly meant not the Goeben but the Austro-Hungarian navy in case it sallied out from its Adriatic base to shepherd the German cruisers to safety. In the same vein the remainder of the Mediterranean Fleet failed to support Troubridge, but guarded against the Germans breaking back to the Adriatic or even the western Mediterranean. Only the light cruiser HMS Gloucester, although out-gunned, continued the pursuit. Goeben’s boilers gave her problems; ‘the coal-dust, irritating, penetrated the nostrils, caking the throat. The lungs only inhaled with great difficulty under the pressure of the frenzied effort. A crust of coal formed in the throat causing a dry cough.’7 Boiler tubes burst, sending scalding water over the stokers, and killing four of them. But as the German vessels entered the Aegean, Gloucester gave up. She was running out of coal, her crew was exhausted and the Greek archipelago provided too many opportunities for a German ambush. In London both the Admiralty and the Foreign Office knew by now that the eastward course plotted by the German cruisers was not a feint, but they did not correct the misapprehensions of their vessels in the Mediterranean. At 5 p.m. on 10 August the two German ships anchored off the Dardanelles and were then ushered into the safety of Constantinople.
In March 1916 August von Mackensen, fresh from his conquests of Poland and Serbia, was fêted in Constantinople He inspects the German crews of the Coeben and Breslau, now in Turkish service
Their arrival should have forced Turkey out of its neutrality. That was what the Germans hoped, not least because in some senses they replaced the two Dreadnoughts due from Britain. In practice the replacement was almost too direct, as they became Turkish ships and the German crews were taken into the Ottoman navy. The crew struck the German flag, put on fezes, and observed Friday, not Sunday, as their day of rest. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, felt humiliated and treated the Turks as enemies henceforth. He told Troubridge to sink the Goeben and Breslau,whatever flag they sailed under. Britain’s respect for international law and for neutrality had its limits. It blockaded Turkey, which given the latter’s reliance on coastwise communication deepened its economic woes. The foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, tried to build a pro-Entente Balkan alliance around Greece, and its implicit enemy could only be Turkey. And the India Office worried about the Persian Gulf, where Arab revolution threatened the status quo and therefore the outer ramparts of the defence of India. An Indian division, or Indian Expeditionary Force D as it became, was readied for Mesopotamia from late September, ostensibly to secure the Admiralty’s oil supplies.
Ideally, Britain would still have preferred to keep the Ottoman Empire out of the war rather than push it in, but nothing it did served that aim. Those in Turkey’s government who espoused neutrality found little to support their policy. Although outnumbered in the cabinet, the triumvirate was eventually able to engineer hostilities. On 29 October the Turkish fleet, including the German ships, and commanded by Souchon, attacked the Russian Black Sea ports in obedience to secret orders from Enver. The Ottoman Empire had entered the First World War.
The Germans thought it had done so in order to pursue their agenda; in reality it had its own. The Young Turks, as remodelled and refined by Enver and his ilk, were modernisers. Their goals were administrative efficiency. What attracted them to Islam was not religion but expedience. The summons to holy war did not call on the Muslims under German or Austro-Hungarian rule to rebel; Italy, whose invasion of Libya and the Dodecanese had given the greatest recent offence to Ottoman interests, was not mentioned, in the hope that it would still honour its obligations to the Triple Alliance. Politics were more important than faith, and nationalism than Ottomanism. The loss of territory had modified the multi-nationalism of the Ottoman Empire. As Anatolia became more obviously the heartland of the state, so pan-Turkism flourished. Pan-Turkism defined nationalism in terms of culture and sentiment more than ethnicity or even geography. So a movement whose origins were linked to the contraction of frontiers became a voice for their expansion. Turkic peoples were identified in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Turkestan, Persia and Afghanistan. ‘For the Turks’, wrote Ziya Gokalp, professor of sociology at the University of Istanbul, ‘the fatherland is neither Turkey nor Turkestan; their fatherland is a great and eternal land: Turan.’8
The rhetoric of pan-Turkism pulled the Ottoman army towards the Caucasus. Across the mountain range lay a polyglot population of Georgians, Armenians and Tatars, whose shifting loyalties had generated Russia’s most persistent frontier problem throughout the nineteenth century. Russia’s solution was both military and political: conquest had been accompanied by Russification and by the forced repatriation of Osman Turks. Here the Ottoman army could pose as both the liberator of oppressed Turkic peoples and the instrument of jihad. Moreover, it would not only unite these ideological strands but would also fulfil its alliance obligations. Offensive operations here would prevent Russia redeploying its three Caucasian corps to the Central Powers’ eastern front.
In reality divisions between the allies were evident from the outset. The Germans sponsored Georgia’s independence, not its incorporation in the Ottoman Empire, and favoured a limited attack, not the advance on Afghanistan and India about which Enver was grandiloquently speaking by the end of November. ‘In December’, according to Felix Guse, a German staff officer with the Ottoman 3rd Army in the Caucasus, ‘there are heavy falls of snow, which last three to seven days, and which leave behind snow one to two metres deep in the valleys and three to four metres deep on the mountains, totally blocking many roads.’9 The Ottoman base for operations was Erzurum, almost 100 km from the frontier and ten times that from the railhead linking it to Constantinople. Guse favoured short leaps after careful preparations; Enver decided on deep envelopment with immediate effect. He argued that the more exposed the route, the more it would be swept clear of snow. His aim was to encircle the Russians at Sarikamish on Christmas Day 1914, and he directed his left hook on Ardahan, almost 100 km further on. His units were short of boots and groundsheets, and those with the deepest snow to traverse were instructed to leave their packs and greatcoats behind. The mildest temperature in the entire operation was -31°C. The Turks’ supplies ran out on 25 December. The Russians held Sarikamish and then counterattacked in the first week of the new year. The 3rd Army was shattered. Its total casualties were at least 75,000 men, and some estimates rise as high as 90,000. The majority fell not in battle but to the terrain, the climate, the supply situation and the lack of medical care. The blow to the notion of holy war, at least in this quarter of the Ottoman area of operations, was devastating, and that to pan-Turkism scarcely less so.
The Ottoman army mustered about 800,000 on mobilisation, or only 4 per cent of the total population The burden fell disproportionately on the Anatolian peasants, and the orphans of those killed were trained to carry on from their fathers
By 23 January 1915 the 3rd Army mustered 12,400 effectives, or possibly 20,000 in all. The Turks tried to recoup the situation by striking out to the east, towards Persian Azerbaijan and Tabriz, hoping to provoke the Kurds into rising against the Russians. But they, not their enemies, were to prove more susceptible to the uncertain loyalties of the region.
Russian intentions for the spring were limited: to push from Kars in a southerly direction, west of Lake Van, and so secure their Persian flank. Six provinces of eastern Anatolia contained populations which were Armenian and therefore Christian, although in none of them were they in a majority. Indeed, the forced migration of Turks from Russia had reduced their profile proportionately, while at the same time elevating the affront they presented to both militant Islam and pan-Turkism. In 1894 — 6 Armenian revolutionary activity had culminated in violence which had been bloody and protracted. Moreover, it was a movement which enjoyed Russian patronage. In 1914 both Sazonov, the foreign minister, and the governor-general of the Caucasus sketched out plans to foment revolt. At least 150,000 Armenians who lived on the Russian side of the frontier were serving in the Tsar’s army. Enver persuaded himself that his defeat at Sarikamish had been due to three units of Armenian volunteers, who included men who had deserted from the Ottoman side. The Ottoman 3rd Army knew of the Russian intentions and anticipated problems as early as September. Its soldiers began murdering Armenians and plundering their villages in the first winter of the war. On 16 April 1915, as the Russians approached Lake Van, the region’s Ottoman administrator ordered the execution of five Armenian leaders. The Armenians in Van rose in rebellion, allegedly in self-defence. Within ten days about 600 leading members of the Armenian community had been rounded up and deported to Asia Minor.
Armenian victims many photographs of the Armenian massacres were taken by Armin Wegner. a German medical officer, who took up Armenia’s cause after the war Unfortunately he was not precise as to places or dates
In the confused and uncertain situation on the ground, the issue of immediate responsibility for what followed is now almost impossible to unravel. The Ottoman army’s discipline, already weak, was not best served by defeat on the battlefield and inadequate supply arrangements. Looting and pillaging were aids to survival as well as instruments of terror. It was operating in conjunction with Kurds, who were as ready to spill Armenian blood as any Anatolian Turk. On the other hand, any fears they may have had of an enemy in the rear, not uniformed and ready to operate in an underhand way, did not lack foundation. The best that could be said of the Armenians’ loyalty to the Ottoman Empire was that it was conditional. The responses of their community leaders in 1914 were characterised by attentisme, and the possibility of a rising in the Turkish rear was one which the Russians were ready to exploit. Significantly, the first note of international protest was prepared by Sazonov as early as 27 April, although it was not published until 24 May. In it he claimed that the populations of over a hundred villages had been massacred. He also said that the killings had been concerted by agents of the Ottoman government.
This became the crux. On 25 May 1915, Mehmed Talât, the minister of the interior, announced that Armenians living near the war zones would be deported to Syria and Mosul. His justifications for the decree were rooted in the needs of civil order and military necessity, and it was sanctioned by the Ottoman council of ministers on 30 May. The latter included provisions designed to safeguard the lives and property of those deported. But three days earlier the council had told all senior army commanders that, if they encountered armed resistance from the local population or ‘opposition to orders ... designed for the defence of the state or the protection of public order’, they had ‘the authorisation and obligation to repress it immediately and to crush without mercy every attack and all resistance’.10
British landing craft, designed for amphibious operations against Germany in the Baltic, were not released for the Callipoli landings on 25 April 1915. but were made available in August Most men went ashore by lighter
It is impossible to say precisely how many Armenians died. Part of the problem is uncertainty as to how many were living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 in the first place. Calculations range from 1.3 million to about 2.1 million. The difficulty of dispassionate analysis is compounded, rather than helped, by the readiness of Armenians and others to use the word ‘genocide’. In terms of scale of loss such a word may be appropriate: estimates approaching a million deaths are probably not wide of the mark. In terms of causation the issue is more complex. The initial violence was not centrally orchestrated, although it was indirectly sanctioned by the pan-Turkish flourishes of Enver and others. Once it had begun, it did, however, provoke the very insurrection that it had anticipated. The violence of war against the enemy without enabled, and was even seen to justify, extreme measures against the enemy within. By this stage - late May 1915 — the Turkish leadership was ready to give shape to the whole, to Turkify Anatolia and to finish with the Armenian problem. It defies probability to suppose that those on the spot did not take the instructions from the council of ministers as carte blanche for rape and murder. The hit squads of the Tekilât-i Mahsusa set the pace. This was most certainly not a judicial process, and it did not attempt to distinguish the innocent from the guilty or the combatant from the non-combatant. The American consul in Erzurum, Leslie Davis, reported from Kharput, the principal transit point, in July that ‘The Turks have already chosen the most pretty from among the children and young girls. They will serve as slaves, if they do not serve ends that are more vile’.11 He was struck by how few men he could see, and concluded that they had been killed on the road. Many thousands of Armenians also succumbed to famine and disease. Mortality among the 200,000 to 300,000 who fled to the comparative safety of Russia rose to perhaps 50 per cent, thanks to cholera, dysentery and typhus. The Ottoman Empire, a backward state, unable to supply and transport its own army in the field, was in no state to organise large-scale deportations. The Armenians were put into camps without proper accommodation and adequate food. Syria, whither they were bound, was normally agriculturally self-sufficient, but in 1915 the harvest was poor and insufficient to feed even the Ottoman troops in the area. The situation worsened in the ensuing years of the war, the product of the allied blockade, maladministration, hoarding and speculation. By the end of 1918 mortality in the coastal towns of Lebanon may have reached 500,000.
Moreover, in 1915 eastern Anatolia was not the only area of the Ottoman Empire subject to invasion. Indian Expeditionary Force B had moved beyond Basra in a push up the Tigris towards Baghdad, and in the west the capital itself was under threat as the Entente mounted an attack on the Dardanelles. Suspect peoples were moved from other potential combat zones: the Armenian population in Cilicia, which was canvassed as the target of an Entente amphibious operation, and the Greeks along the Bosphorus were also deported. The Turkish army was engaged in a desperate defensive battle on three fronts. Ostensibly it had the strategic advantage of interior lines. Its enemies were approaching from different points of the circumference, were a long way from their home bases, and were having to operate on sea lines of communication. The Turks, by contrast, could move troops and supplies along the chords within the circle. But such logic assumed that the Ottoman Empire had a satisfactory system of internal transport. It did not. The Berlin-to-Baghdad railway was not complete. It had still to cross the Taurus and Amanus mountains in southern Anatolia, and the track from Aleppo to Baghdad had barely been begun. The Mesopotamian front was even more isolated than the Caucasian, and insurrection anywhere in the interior could only result in the collapse of the entire system. Desperate situations begat desperate responses.
As the battle of Sarikamish had reached its crisis, on 1 January 1915, the Russians appealed to the British to launch a diversionary operation against the Turks. Lord Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war, was not optimistic, not least because the small British army, depleted by the fierce fighting at Ypres on the western front in November, was fully committed in France. But he recognised that if such an operation were to be mounted its best choice of target would be the Dardanelles, ‘particularly if ... reports could be spread at the same time that Constantinople was threatened’.12 Kitchener had opened a door wide enough for his counterpart at the Admiralty to force entry.
Winston Churchill had been chafing at the bit since the war’s beginning. Wireless telegraphy had enabled him to intervene in operational matters, not always with the happiest of results, as the fates of Cradock and Troubridge testified. But it had not abated his thirst for battle. To his chagrin, more action had come the army’s way than the navy‘s, and he felt particularly keenly the humiliation the senior service had suffered at the hands of the Turks. Here was an opportunity to right the situation. In its pre-war planning, the navy had considered the possibility of amphibious assaults against Germany on the Baltic coast; to apply these principles to Turkey and the Dardanelles seemed logical not only to him but also to Jackie Fisher, restored in August 1914 as First Sea Lord.
Unable to penetrate inland at Gallipoli, British troops perched on the cliffs close to the sea The scene at Gully Ravine, on the Aegean side of the peninsula in September 1915, is of a military shanty-town
In operational terms the project was guided by a great deal of wishful thinking. When he was commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean in 1904, Fisher had concluded that storming the straits was ‘mightily hazardous’. In 1906 the army’s general staff had studied the problem and the then war minister, Richard Haldane, had reported that ‘there would be a grave risk of a reverse, which might have a serious effect on the Mohammedan world’.13 And in 1911 Churchill himself wrote that ‘it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, and nobody should expose a modern fleet to such peril’.14 Neither the navy nor the army held the key to success. The navy would depend on a sizeable landing — estimates ran between 75,000 and 100,000 men — to deal with the shore defences and so open up the narrower part of the channel, and the army would be reliant on the navy’s big guns to provide it with the fire support it would need to effect a lodgement in the first place.
The operational difficulties did not, however, invalidate the powerful attractions of the scheme in terms of grand strategy. It was an undertaking suited to Britain’s military capabilities — a large navy and an army ill adapted to the mass warfare being played out in western Europe. Kitchener was right: for a diversion to have maximum effect, the Gallipoli peninsula was the place. It was home to the Ottoman 1st Army, essentially the empire’s strategic reserve, and a landing would prevent those troops’ redeployment elsewhere. Moreover, his suggestion that success might open the way to Constantinople with further wide-ranging consequences was not as far-fetched as some of the campaign’s critics have contended. Grey, the British foreign secretary, thought military action might provoke a coup d‘état in the Ottoman capital: given the instability of Turkish politics in the years preceding the war, as well as the divisions on the issue of entry to the war itself, this was hardly an unreasonable expectation. British intelligence offered a bribe of £4 million. Offering cash was not in itself misplaced: the Ottoman public debt was evidence of that. The real difficulty was that the Germans had just handed over £5 million.
Moreover, success at Gallipoli might have repercussions in two directions. Both the Central Powers and the Entente were actively competing for allies in the Balkans. Indeed, the possibility that Greece might side with the British in August 1914, and that therefore its army would be available for use against Turkey, was what had first triggered the Gallipoli idea in Churchill’s mind. Victory in the region would give substance to British approaches to Bulgaria and possibly Romania. For the first time in the war, therefore, the Western allies would give real succour to the hard-pressed Serbs. To the east, forcing the straits would open a warm-water route to Russia. Both the British and the French were convinced of the latent power of the ‘Russian steam-roller’. It seemed to them that Russia had the men to mount the more effective challenge to the Central Powers if only it had the arms with which to equip them. Britain could either provide munitions direct or use its credit in the international market to buy them overseas. Little wonder, then, that many Germans thought the Dardanelles campaign was the most important of the war in 1915. The Foreign Ministry was particularly concerned that its ambitions in the Balkans and Germany’s route to the wider world via the Ottoman Empire would be forfeit. But its worries were shared by some members of the army, even if their focus was more Eurocentric: ‘It seems to me’, Wilhelm Groener wrote in his diary on 9 March 1915, ‘not impossible that the Dardanelles question could give the whole war a different direction.’15 Groener was the general staff’s head of railways. He thought that, if the allies’ supply route to Russia was opened, Romania would join the Entente, and Russia would defeat Austria-Hungary.
These ends outstripped the means the Entente had available. The Anglo-French alliance of 1904 was predicated on an acceptance of the two powers’ respective spheres of influence in the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Dardanelles expedition threatened to undermine this delicate balance by reestablishing British predominance in the Mediterranean, especially given French long-term designs on Syria should the Ottoman Empire implode. The French navy shared the view that the scheme was impracticable, but neither the naval minister nor the French government as a whole was disposed to be left behind if the British were going ahead. The real constraint was the attitude of Joffre, who, as commander-in-chief in France itself, argued that he needed every available soldier, French or British, for the western front. Théophile Delcassé, the architect of the Entente and the French foreign minister, wanted to delay until troops were available, but Churchill would not. The upshot was that the efforts of the navy and the army were conducted in succession, not in combination.
The Turks had plenty of warning that a naval attack up the narrows might be a possibility, and with German help had done much to improve their defences. ‘My first impression’, the American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, recorded of a tour of the defences, ‘was that I was in Germany. The officers were practically all Germans and everywhere Germans were building buttresses with sacks of sand and in other ways strengthening the emplacements.’16 As British and French warships entered the straits, they were vulnerable to mines. Therefore the mines had to be swept first, but minesweepers had to cope with the fire from the batteries and a fast current flowing from the direction of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. The result of these interlocking problems was that naval enthusiasm for the scheme waned, particularly that of Fisher and of the naval commander on the spot, Admiral Sackville Carden. However, Churchill remained determined and on 18 March an attempt was made to ‘rush through’ the straits using warships in daylight. Carden fell sick on the morning of the attack, and his deputy, Admiral John de Robeck, described what happened as a disaster. Three ships - two British and one French — were sunk by mines. Churchill maintained - as have others — that if the attack had been renewed on the next day it would have succeeded, because the Turks were running low on munitions. They were not. In any case, de Robeck had not abandoned the idea of a naval operation; gales prevented any action over the next five days. What de Robeck did accept was that the navy should operate in conjunction with the army - so that the batteries could be attacked from the landward side.
The landings on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915 were therefore not seen as the cue for the navy to hand over the attack to the army. The army relied on ship-based artillery support, but the navy confronted considerable technical difficulties in providing it. The maps it was using were inaccurate; the ground itself steep and intersected; and observation of fire inadequate. There were too few aeroplanes in the theatre, and the orders to the navy’s shore-based observers specifically instructed them to direct fire at targets a safe distance from allied soldiers. Despite all this, naval gunfire could be enormously effective. But the Turks learnt to neutralise it by attacking at night or at first light, when observation was difficult, or by keeping their trenches close in to the allied positions to maximise the risk to the British from ‘friendly fire’. On 25 May German submarines sank HMS Triumph and on 27 May HMS Majestic. All capital ships were withdrawn to port, and only destroyers with 4-inch guns remained to support land operations. The navy’s major contribution thereafter was also submarine - sinking the Turkish merchant vessels supporting the troops on the peninsula; the Turks lost half their merchant fleet in the campaign.
Sir Ian Hamilton, the British general given charge of the British, French and imperial forces, was a sixty-two-year-old protégé of Kitchener, who had seen extensive service in colonial wars. He later attributed his failure to insufficient manpower and material. The impression was created that his small force was taking on the might of the Turkish army in its own backyard. But Hamilton did not complain about the manpower situation at the time, and he would not really have been justified if he had.
The Dardanelles area was commanded by Liman von Sanders. He ex-pected a landing at Bulair across the neck of the peninsula. But Hamilton had rejected this option precisely because the aim was to open the passage for the ships, and Bulair was both a long way from the Dardanelles batteries and a difficult place for the navy to give fire support. He therefore chose to put his main forces ashore along the tip of Cape Helles. The French mounted a diversionary attack on Kum Kale on the Asiatic side of the straits. Further north, on the Aegean side of the peninsula, the Australian and New Zealander Army Corps went ashore behind Hamilton’s immediate target, the Kilid Bahr range. Originally slated for Europe, they had stopped in Egypt for training when the war with Turkey was declared. There they earned a reputation for mayhem and indiscipline, mingled with combativeness and high morale, which was to last throughout the war.
A British field battery falls back from Ctesiphon to Kut, November 1915. Its 18-pounder gun, with a calibre of 83 8 mm, was much more powerful than its French or German equivalents, but in 1914 it had no high explosive shell, being supplied only with shrapnel
Gallipoli has been defined as the moment when Australia came of age as a nation. This was largely the work of C. E. W Bean, who managed to get himself accepted as Australia’s war correspondent, rather than as the representative of an individual newspaper. Bean was born in Britain and was educated at the same English public school, Clifton, as Douglas Haig. In being a first-generation Australian he was little different from most of the Anzac soldiers on whom he reported. They fought not for Australia or New Zealand but for the ‘old country’, with which they still had strong ties of kinship and sentiment. Moreover, most of them were city-dwellers, not the bronzed ‘diggers’ from the outback of popular legend. Nor were they necessarily more natural soldiers than any other troops in this war. Morale came close to collapse on 25 April. The landings at Z beach were poorly managed, with too many troops clustering towards the north, in what became known as Anzac Cove. The result was congestion and administrative chaos. Moreover, here the Turkish reaction was vigorous and swift. Disregarding Liman von Sanders’s orders to wait until he could be sure about the direction of the main attack, Mustafa Kemal committed his whole division to holding the high ground above the beaches. ’I knew — I don’t know how, but one guessed from the way those guns were firing at all of ours, that the troops were being very severely tried‘, Bean wrote in his diary of that afternoon’s fighting. ’It was sickening to hear it.‘17 Many unwounded An zacs were making their way back to the beaches, and both the corps’ divisional commanders favoured re-embarkation. They were overruled, not least because the navy said evacuation was impossible. There were tensions, too, at lower levels of command. A New Zealand lieutenant-colonel, William Malone of the Wellington Battalion, thought that the Australian commanding officer commanding the unit alongside his should have been court-martialled and that his men were ’a source of weakness‘. When the Australians were relieved on 28 April, he wrote: ’It was an enormous relief to see the last of them. I believe they are spasmodically brave and probably the best of them had been killed or wounded. They have been, I think, badly handled and trained. Officers in most cases no good.‘18
The problems at Anzac Cove were not reproduced at most of the main beaches at Helles. Against their expectations, the British got ashore with comparative ease, except at V beach. The Turks were in disarray, held back by Liman von Sanders’s orders. But the failure to exploit the opportunity with a rapid follow-up to the landings condemned the allied advance to a stalemate comparable with that which had now established itself on the western front. Successive attacks on Krithia, a village on the forward slopes of the high ground of Achi Baba which dominated the peninsula, failed. As the Turks built up their defences, so trench warfare asserted itself. The differences from the western front were the products of the terrain and the climate. The narrow and steep foothold on the shore meant that the positions had little depth, and that the only relief was to go for a swim in the sea. But the heat that made that an attractive option also brought flies and then disease, particularly dysentery; water supplies were a constant headache. Only 30 per cent of British casualties in the campaign were sustained in battle.
The allies’ forward bases were on the islands of Imbros and Lemnos, and those further back in Egypt and Malta. On the hospital ships the nurses were women. One, a New Zealander called Lottie LeGallais, wrote in September, ‘it was dreadful, and what with fleas and crawlers my skin at present is nearly raw, but we all scratch - scratch — except the men patients poor devils, they are used to them’. In November a transport was torpedoed, and LeGallais reported on the fate of the nurses. ‘Fox they say her back was broken, another nurse both legs; Rattray had two nurses keeping her up for hours, they were holding on to spars & with hands crossed these girls kept Rattray up until she became mental & died of exhaustion.’19
The respect that built up between the allies and the Turks should not be exaggerated. There were armistices to collect the dead. But snipers when captured were regularly shot out of hand, as were other prisoners. One French officer, Jean Giraudoux, wrote on 13 June 1915, ‘The Australians massacre all the Turks: the Australian’s national enemy, one of them said to me, is the Turk’.20 Nor could British prisoners necessarily expect any better treatment. Some Ottoman soldiers, uprooted from inner Anatolia, thought they were off to fight Greece, a traditional enemy, but others were like Hasan Ethem, who wrote to tell his mother that he had prayed: ‘My God, all that heroic soldiers want is to introduce thy name to the French and English. Please accept this honourable desire of ours and make our bayonets sharper so that we may destroy our enemy! ... You have already destroyed a great number of them so destroy some more.’21
On 6 August Hamilton tried to relaunch the campaign with a thrust from the Anzac positions designed to secure the high ground of the Sari Bair ridge. Only Chunuk Bair was captured, by Malone’s Wellington Battalion, but it could not hold the forward slope and Malone himself was killed by friendly naval fire. Simultaneously a landing to the north at Suvla Bay was designed to support the attack on Sari Bair by capturing the high ground adjacent to it, and by establishing a new port for the navy to use. When the Anzac attacks miscarried, Hamilton presented the Suvla thrust as the principal one and found a scapegoat for his setback in its dilatory corps commander, Sir Frederick Stopford.
The idea of evacuation had been bruited before the Suvla landings; after their failure it grew in force. ‘Raining tonight’, Bean wrote in his journal on 26 August. ‘I think our hardships will really begin with the winter - though I must say that, by the way in which the Tommies, who come here from elsewhere compare their lot as enviable, I am not sure that we haven’t been greater heroes than we were inclined to think of ourselves.’22 The story of the evacuation at the end of 1915 is traditionally told as one of excellent staff work and successful deception, an effort to salvage some relic of self-respect from defeat. But, for all the difficulties of disengaging from an enemy in the field, the key point remains that it was hardly in the Turks’ interests to prolong the allies’ departure or to incur further losses needlessly. The Turks had 86,692 dead; the French suffered 10,000 more than the Australians, whose deaths totalled 8,709, a low number by the horrific standards of this war; the French dead were less than half those of the British. New Zealand’s losses were smaller still, 2,721.
It was not only Australian and New Zealand national identity that was forged at Gallipoli, it was also Turkey’s. This was a major victory, less for the Ottoman Empire than for the ethnically and geographically more defined state that emerged from the First World War. Moreover, although many of the architects of the defensive battle were German, it produced a Turkish hero who became the founder of that state, Mustafa Kemal. It was he who was accorded the credit for rallying the Turks at Anzac on 25 April, and it was he whose men had checked Malone’s New Zealanders at Chunuk Bair on 8 August.
In Entente counsels what militated against evacuation from Gallipoli was not the effects within Turkey but the wider political ramifications within the Muslim world. In Mesopotamia, too, the British forces had overreached themselves. Easy victories at the outset had spurred on the ambitions of Sir John Nixon, the commander on the spot. Grandiose notions of a converging movement linking with the Russians coming down through Persia and Azerbaijan did not help. But the real difficulty was that Nixon was not subject to firm direction. In London, the general staff at the War Office was cautious, anxious not to overcommit itself so far from the main theatre of operations in Europe. But the campaign was less the responsibility of the War Office and more that of the Government of India: it provided the bulk of the troops. Indian official opinion was divided. On the one hand, it was attracted to control of Mesopotamia in order to secure India. Moreover, a major victory against the Turks would settle Muslim sentiment in the subcontinent, an argument which grew in force as the setbacks on the Gallipoli peninsula mounted. On the other, this argument cut two ways: another setback in the war against the Turks would be disastrous for British prestige in the Islamic world.
Ambition overrode caution. The British general staff estimates of 60,000 troops being sent to reinforce the Ottoman 6th Army were grossly exaggerated, even after the Turks had cleared the threat to the Dardanelles. The Turks had about 17,000 men in Mesopotamia at the outset of the war. By the winter of 1915 — 16, the 6th Army mustered 25,000 men. It had no heavy artillery and it was four to six weeks’ march from Constantinople. In March 1915 Nixon enjoyed at least a two-to-one superiority, and he was authorised to occupy the whole province of Basra up as far as Kut al-Amara, a town on a bend of the Tigris, and at its confluence with the Shatt al-Hai. With Kut secured by the end of September, Nixon now pressed for an advance on Baghdad itself. His forward divisional commander, Sir Charles Townshend, had become a national hero in 1895, when he was besieged in Chitral on the North-West Frontier of India. Townshend was reluctant to go on. He had reached the limit of his logistical capabilities. His medical arrangements were inadequate and the navigation of the Tigris down to Basra was impeded by low water. But most important of all he was doubtful of the quality of his Indian troops.
In July 1914 the government of India said it could provide two divisions and one cavalry brigade for use outside India. In the event Nixon’s command was one of four expeditionary forces it sent overseas. India enlisted over a million men during the course of the war, but in so extending itself it strained both its infrastructure and its recruiting base. When Townshend reached Ctesiphon (or Selman Pak) on 22 November 1915 his units were one-third below their establishment. The Turks fought a successful defensive action. However, Townshend’s decision to fall back on Kut was a reflection of his waning confidence rather than of any Turkish superiority. At Ctesiphon almost half his British officers were sick or wounded, and the lack of officers had two direct consequences for his force, as well as for its relief when it found itself besieged in Kut. First, staff work collapsed. Townshend himself failed to form a proper estimate of his food position or of how long he could hold out. Back at Basra, a divisional staff could not be formed for the three brigades that arrived in January 1916. Second, junior leadership declined and morale with it. Townshend was reluctant to breach religious scruples regarding diet for fear of worsening the spirit of his troops, but he could not prevent 147 of them deserting during the course of the siege. Rather than fight his way out, he waited for relief which did not arrive. The winter rains now raised the water level of the Tigris, so aiding navigation but rendering operations along its banks extraordinarily difficult: ‘the entire surface of the land’, Abdul Rauf Khan, serving with an Indian field ambulance, wrote, ‘becomes a quagmire in which the slush is knee deep’.23 The relieving force could not envelop the Turks in its path: it was tied on one flank to the river that provided its transport, and it lacked the manpower to stretch out into the slush to get round the other. Four attempts resulted in 23,000 casualties, almost twice the strength of the Kut garrison.
For Nixon the siege of Kut was a means to other ends: the British forward base for its advance into Mesopotamia and the pivot of a massive allied envelopment involving the Russians swinging through Persia. It similarly acquired a dual significance for the Turks and Germans. In October 1915 the septuage narian German general Colmar von der Goltz was given the command of the 6th Army. His mission, Enver told him, was ‘to prepare an independent war against India’.24 Von der Goltz’s primary objective was not to re-establish Ottoman control of lower Mesopotamia but to keep the route open through Persia and Afghanistan. He was to carry the holy war to the heart of the British Empire. It was a task which revealed the dependence of the Turkish — German alliance on achieving pragmatic congruities despite divergent aims. Berlin promoted Persia’s independence; Constantinople sought its subjugation. The capture of Kut provided a short-term priority which glossed over the differences in long-term strategy.
Kut fell on 29 April 1916. Townshend and 13,000 men went into a captivity from which very few of them returned. Townshend was an exception, living in comfort overlooking the Bosphorus for the remainder of the war. Britain’s humiliation in the Middle East and Central Asia was complete. Its worst fear, that of resurgent Islam in the empire, seemed to be about to be realised. ‘For me’, von der Goltz had written home, ‘... the hallmark of the twentieth century must be the revolution of the coloured races against the colonial imperialism of Europe.’25 In 1916 the novelist John Buchan produced Greenmantle, one of the best-known of what he called his ‘shockers’. In some ways its plot seems far-fetched and unconvincing; in reality it was very close to the truth. At the time Buchan was working for the War Propaganda Bureau, the press arm of the British Foreign Office. In his novel, the hero, Richard Hannay, is briefed by Sir Walter Bullivant: ‘There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark. And the wind is blowing towards the Indian border.... We have laughed at the Holy War, the Jehad that old von der Goltz prophesied. But I believe that stupid old man with the big spectacles was right. There is a Jehad preparing.’26
Buchan’s novel concerns spies and skulduggery. So did German methods and British counters. Fiction and fact were closely intertwined. A German expedition crossed Persia to reach Kabul, in a bid to persuade the Emir to raise an army for the invasion of India. German consuls in the United States bought arms for shipment to Indian revolutionaries. Their agents penetrated nationalist movements throughout North Africa and Central Asia, and their propaganda was disseminated from locations in Constantinople and neutral Bern. And yet there was no holy war. The Muslim soldiers of India remained loyal to the British. Moreover, the defeats at Gallipoli and Kut overshadowed a far more significant albeit limited victory, the successful defence of the Suez Canal against Turkish attack in February 1915 and July 1916. The key waterway linking the British Empire to the east with that in the west was held, and the threat of revolution in Egypt was contained. Germany’s global strategy was checked.
Charles Townshend goes into captivity at Kut Unlike his men, few of whom survived prison, he spent the rest of the war in what he described as ‘a sort of country vicarage’ on an island in the sea of Marmara
One explanation for the Central Powers’ failure was that ideologies were on the cusp. The force of religion, on which holy war relied, was declining, while that of nationalism was not yet as developed or as powerful outside Europe as it was within. The Young Turks played both cards, as did the Germans, but in doing so they sent a message that was contradictory. Islam was universal in its appeal, while nationalism was particular. Moreover, the nationalism of the Young Turks translated into imperialism when carried beyond the frontiers of Anatolia. It therefore conflicted with the message of genuine independence that the Germans wished to convey. But Wilhelmine Germany was tied to the coat-tails of Turkey. It could never become a force to undermine overseas imperialism when it itself lacked the military clout to translate promises into deeds. The British, as well as the French and Russians, were right to take the danger seriously. In doing so, they warded it off - at least for the time being.