World War I: Ottoman Empire

Figure 1.--The individuals here are unidentified. Here we see what appears to be an Ottomam Army officer and perhaps his three teenage sons. Or perhaps the boys are his students. The portrait was taken just after the War in 1922.

The Ottoman Empire which was heavily courted by Germany had been hard-pressed by Russia saw the opportunity to win back lost territory and joined the Central Powers. The Ottomans entered the War after the Western Front had settled down to static trench warfare, but the Germans had achieved major victories against the Russians on the Eastern Front. The Ottomons declared war on Russia on October 29, 1914. The first operation was a combined German-Turkish bombardment of Russian Black Sea ports. Russia and Britain and France quickly declared war on Turkey (November 2-5). The first Ottoman offensive was aimed at the Russian Caucauses (December). After initial successes, the Russiand retook much lost ground (August 1915). Russian pleas for assistance was one of the factors leading to the dusastrous Allied offensive at Galipoli (February 15). The Turkish forces at Galipoli were commanded by Mustafa Kemal who later as Kemal Attaturk was to found the Turkish Republic. After heavy losses of both ships and men, the Allies withdrew (December 1915). Beritish Indian forces launched an offensive against Turkish held Mesopotamia (late 1914). The campaign there seasawed Back and forth (1915). A British Army was destoyed, but the British finally took Bagdad and moved into northern Mesopotamia. The campaign in Egypt and Palesine began with an Ottoman attack on Suez. The Brirish struck back and finally took Jerusalem. The Arab Revolt further undercut the Ottoman poition. The final British offensive destoyed three Ottoman armies. The Ottomans with their armies being destroyed in the field agreed to an armistice on Mudros, endng the fighting. After four centuries of dominating the Balkans and the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

The Ottoman Empire

The image of the Empire founded by Othman in the 13th century is not a popular one in the modern mind. There are no romantic images as surround many other great empires such as those of Greece and Rome. The images that are most in the public mind are those of a war-like, uncivilized people conquering the great jewel of Christianity--Constaniople, the enslavement of Christian children, the asault on Christain Europe, and the supression of the Greeks in the 19th century. The new sultan's murder of his brothers and the titilating stories of harems did nothing to improve the Ottoman image. The geocide of the Armenian people is also often blamed on the Ottomans, although it seems more the result of the rise of Turkish nationalism and the modern secular Turish state. The image of the Ottomans is generally that of the declining Ottoman state of the 19th century when it had become the backward, coruption-ridden Sickman of Europe. This is very different than the state of the Empire at it height. Art and education flowered under the Ottomans at a time when it was many Christain kingdoms that were backwards. Much of the neagative evaluation of the Ottomans comes from the application of 20th century standards which of course is inappropriate. The Ottomans were in fact more open and tolerant through much of their history than contemporaty Christian kingdoms. It is true that there were practices such as child gatherings and the forced conversion and enslavement of Christian children. It is also true as slaves of the Sultan their living conditions were often notably improved. It is also necessary to note what was happening to Jewish and Islamic populations in Chistian kingdoms. There were no expulsions and forced mass conversions as after the Reconquista in Spain and Portugal, no excesses like the Holy Inquisition in Catholic countries, no devestating religious wars, and no terrifying massacres such as the St. Barthomew Day Massacres in France and gettos and periodic pogroms for the Jews througour Chrisendom. In fact, discenting Christain communities usually fared better under the Ottomans than Byzantine and Roman Catholic soverigns. This is not to say that many subject people did not suffer under Ottoman rule. Subject people usually do. Under the Ottomans some did suffer, but others flouished. It is to say that the role of the Ottoman Turks in European history has often not been accurately or fairly presented.

Russian Designs

Russia after the Napoleonic Wars renued its 18th century campaign to seize Ottoman territory, posing itself as the protector of Christians in the Balkans. The other great powers (except Prussia) were concerned with Russian expansion and supported the Ottomans by fighting the Crimean War (1853-56). The Great Powers not so mych supported the Ottomans, but could not agree on how to partition the Empire. The Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) resulted in varying degrees of autonomy bordering on independence for Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia although there was still nominal allegiance to the sultan.

Young Turks

The chronic weakness of the Ottoman Empire and the disolutory leadership of the sultan inspired progressive university students and military cadets to conspire against the Government. This had to be done secretly as political activity was not permitted. Thus the Young Turks were organized as a secret society with a cell organization. The Young Turks seized power from Sultan Abdul Hamid II, but retained him as a figurehead (1908). The Young Turks were officislly known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The CUP officially deposed and exiled Hmid in 1909. They replaced him with Mehmed V, essentially a non-entity. The Young Turks had many liberal ideals. They continued the Ottoman reform process, Especially notable was opening schools to women and moving on legislative to recognize women’s rights. They forced Sultan Abdul Hamid to end absolutionist rule and approve a constitution as well as install a liberal government. The Young Turks were also staunch Turkish nationalsts. Many believed in a more ethnically pure Turkish state to replace the multi-nsational Ottoman Empire. The reforms, however, had only limited impact on the Ottoman state in the limited time before the outbreak of World War I. Foreign threats prevented the Young Turks from focusing on domestic reforts. The Ottomans suffered other defeats in a war with Italy (1911–1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912–1913). The CUP seized power in the midst of the Second Balkan War (1913). After the outbreak of World War I, the CPU conducted secret diplomatic negotiations weith the Germans and decidfed to enter the War as a member of the Central Powers.

Balkan Wars (1911-13)

The Balkans Wars are very complicated and involved extensive assaults and killing of civilians by all sides. Italy began the assault on the Ottomon Empire by declaring war in this case to secure a new colony in North Africa--Libya. The Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) also fought a war with the Ottomons, While fought outside the Balkans, it further weaked Ottomon troops. In this case the Ottomons largely ceeded ton Italian demands because of the worsening situation in the Balkas. The First Balkan War (1912) was essentially a continuation of the wars for independence from the Ottoman Empire. This meant by the 20th century dividing up the spoils of the Ottomon territories in Europe. The new Balkan states (Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia) combined to drive the Ottomans from Eastern Roumelia (Lower Thrace and Macedonia). Unfortunately for the people of Macedonia and other Balkan lands, there was no agreed plan for partitioned the territory liberated from the Ottomans. Which lead to the Second Balkan War (1913). This time the primary target was Bulgaria. Romania joined this war to get a slice of Bulgaria--Southern Dobrudža. Even the Ottomns attacked Bulgaria which had occupied areas desired by its neighbors. The First Balkan War had been fought by the Balkan states obstensibly to liberate Cgristian peoples from Muslim Turkis rule. The Second Balkan War was largely fought among those Christian states and involved attrocities and ethnic cleaning that still affect the people of the Balkans today. While not active participants, the Wars also involved Russia and Austria-Hungary. The rivalries involved were probably a factor in the ability of the two Emoires to contain the escalating conflict after the assasination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which finally led ton World War I. In the end, Bulgaria was outraged by the territories that it had to surender. In particular it had to renounce its claims to Macedonia and cede Southern Dobrudža back to Romania. This left an embittered Bulgaria, once World War I (1914) broke out, willing to join the Central Powers to regain these territories.

German Diplomacy

Turkey which was heavily courted by Germany had been hard-pressed by Russia saw the opportunity to win back lost territory and joined the Central Powers. The Germans cultivated the Ottomans during the late 19th and early 20th century. After military defeats at the hands of the Bakan states and Italy (1911-13), the Young Turks who seized power asked for milirary assistance. The Germans sispateched aiklitart mission (1913).

Outbreak of War (August 1914)

France had learned its lesson in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Never again would France attempt to fight the Germans without allies. Bismarck had effectively kept France isolated. His restrained polices changed with the accession of the belicose Wilhelm II (1883). As a resuly of Wilhelm's policies, Fance was able to sign an allince with Russia meaning that Germany would have to fight a two-front war. The French were less successful with Britain, but Wilhelm's belicose policies and decession to build a High Seas Fleet paved the way for military cooperation. The French war plan was Plan XVII. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch personally devised the plan. It was adopted by French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre in 1913. The plan ebtailed an offensive to take Alsace and Lorraine, seized by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. The Germans had a opportunity to win the War in a massive strike against France. The Allies had an advantage against Germany in population and resources. But the Germans had the strongest army at the onset of the War and the Schiliffen Plan directed the bulk of that army at France. The Germans launched a massive invasion through Belgium (August 1914). The goal was to seize Paris and force the French to accept Germany terms, quickly ending the War. If the War was to be won by the Allies, it was the French Army that would have to stop the German invasion. The Russians could distract the Germans on the Eastern Front. The Belgians could slow the Germans and the British could assist on the left flank and to hold the Channel Ports, but it was the French Army that would have to stop the Germans. This occurred on the Marne--the Miracle of the Marne. (September 1914). The war then bogged down into a war of attrition and deadly trench warfare.

Ottoman Army

The Ottoman Army was not prepared for war. It totaled about 0.6 million men organized into 12 corps made up of 38 divisions. The High Command planned to expand the Army to about 1 million men in time of war. (Christian subjects were exempt from military service and instead payed a tax.) World war I was, however, unlike any war, and 2.8 million men were eventually mobilized. [Harl] This was quite a feat of mobilization for a country with a population under 20 million people, a substantial part of which was not Turkish. The Turkish Army was an army composed of mostly peasants. Few had any real military experience and were set into combat with limited training. The Army had experienced substantial casualties in the Balkan Wars. The Army had not performed well in clashes with the relatively poorly equipped Balkan armies. The prospect of war with the major powers was daunting. The Ottomans did not produce modern artillery and weapons like machine guns. They were equipped with mostly German and Austro-Hungarian and some French weapons. Ottoman units were less well equipped with such weapons than the British and French and even the less well equipped Russians. Other military units such as supply and medical services were also wowfully inadequate. While waging war against the major European powers seems folly, key Ottoman officials were impressed with German military and industrial powers. German victories on the Eastern Front seemed to offer the prospect of regaining territory lost to the Russians. Some even dreamed of retaking Egypt (with Suez) and other former North African possessions. While the Turkish divisions were of uncertain quality, they represented a serious threat to critical points in the Middle East (Persian oil fields and Suez). Historians disagree as to the effectiveness of the Ottoman Army. Many historians describe the Ottoman Army as poorly led and organized. One historian argues that the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) led to major reforms and left the Ottoman Army with a cadre of experienced veterans. [Erickson, Ottoman] This was not the case with British Commonwealth troops. Some authors credit Turkish successes to German medical advisers, but it is unclear just what impasct they had. At least one observer believes that they arrived far too late to have any major impact. [Erickson, Ottoman]

Irregular Forces

The Ottoman Army could call on irregular forces. There were Kurds in the East. One historian report, however, "... the Kurds wer usually more interested in attacking the armenians or each other thn fighting the Russians."There were also Arab bedouins. The Ottomans used the Arabs in their offensive across Gaza to seize Egypt and to patrol the southern frontier.

Ottoman Economy

The Ottoman Empire was not a modern economy nor did it have a modern econmy. The industrial base was a very small. The country did not have the capability of manufacturing modern weapons. It had to rely on the Germans. The Ottiman Empire had a largely agricultural economy and a rather inefficent agricultural sector. This all meant that the country did not have the economic capability to support the large army it mobilized and to sustain a prolonged war effort. And by mobilizing so many men, most rural peasants, the agricultural economy was adversely affected.


It is worth noteing the opponents that the Ottomans took on. The Russian Empire has a population simething like ten times the size of the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire when Idia abd the Domiions are added in was something like twenty times the size of the Ottomn Empire. And both Empires, in particulr the British Empire, had massive finalcial and economi resources on hich to draw. Granted they had to concentrate their efforts against the Germans, but there was more than ebough strength to commit to the Middle Eastern fronts against the Ottomans. Suucess for the Ottomans rested with the Germans. But the Mirracke on the Marme (September 1914) even before the Ottomans declared war mean that it as not going to be a short war. And when the Germans recklessly drew America with its large population nd kndustrial power, into the War there was no longer the prospect of a Germn victory.

Declaration of War (October 1914)

The two countries signed a secret military alliance (October 2). The Trearty was aimed at Russia and pledged "joint action" if Ruusia intervened to protect Serbia from Austria-Hungary. The Ottomans mobilized their army, but did not declare war (October 3). Britain and France did not move to disuade The Ottomans from entering the War. When Enver Pasha offered to remain neutral if given a substantial loan and if they agreed to end previous financial concessions. Britain moved to hold two dreadnoughts being built in British yards for the Ottoman Navy. Money for these ships had been collected from public fund raising in Turkey. The Turkish public was outraged. Germany at the same time offerd to give the Ottomab Navy tweo ships )the battler cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau, both ships had been in he Mediterranean when war broke out and escaped from the Royal Navy by seeking refuge in the Dardanelles. The Ottomans unilaterally abolished the financial capitulastions (September 8). The initial engagements of the War suggested the Germans would win. The Germans Western offensive occupied almost all of Belgium and a substantial part of northern France. Even more importantly, German armies smashed the Russians on the Eastern Front. (Tannenburg was fought Augest 26-30.) The two German ships (renamed the Sultan Yacuz and Midelli, but under German command commenced attacks on Russian ships and ports in the Black Sea (October 28). This was essentially a declaration of War. Russia declared War (November 4), Britain and France followed (November 5). The Ottomand officially declared war (November 14). Mehmed who was only a figurehead politically, but retained his religious authority, declared a jihad (holy war). Available accounts suggest that the Muslim population enthusisticall marched off the war as was he case in the major beligerants. [Harl] The Ottoman Empire was the world's only important Islamic power. The Sultan hoped to engender revolt in Frech and British colonies (especilly Egypt) and enthusiam in the centuries old struggle against Russia. Unlike the situation in Europe at the beginning of the War, however, there was no public enthusiam for the War. The first operation was a combined German-Turkish bombardment of Russian Black Sea ports ( Odessa, Sevastopol, and Theodosia).


The primary significance of the Turkish action wax it closed the Dardanelles to Allied shipping. This isolated Russia, making it very difficult for the Allies to supply the hard-pressed Russians. Russiia had a huge army, but only a small industrial sector. Isolating Russia meant that the superior industrial resources of Britain and France could not help supply Russia in a meaningful way. This would substantially weaken the Russian war effort and eventually prove decisive on the Eastern Front. The Ottoman Empire also bordered on Egypt bringing it dangerously close to the Suez Canal. The Canal was vital to the British war effort and Britain had to mobilize forces to protect the Canal, forces that could have been deployed on the Western Front.

Caucauses Offensive

The first Ottoman offensive was aimed at the Russian Caucauses (December). Enver Pasha as Minister of War was the supreme commander of the Turkish armed forces. He had ambitious dreams of not only retaking the Caucauses, but of conquering central Asia and uniting all Turkish peoples. He proved to be unequal to the task. [Fromkin, p. 119.] He launched an offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus (December 1914). He launched a force of 100,000 Ottoman troops in frontal attack against well defend Russian positions in the mountains. Worst still the offensive was launched in freezing winter conditions. This proved to be one of the most disaterous campaign in Ottoman military history. After some initial successes, Ottoman losses were horendous. Enver lost about 85 percent of his force at the Battle of Sarikamis (December 22, 1914 to January 17, 1915). Ever Pasha devived a strategy based on mobility and aigorous time table, much as the Germans devised for the Schiliffen Plan in the West. It was something the poorly trained Ottoman troops would have difficulty with in the best comditions. Enver expected them to achieve the goals set in the winter conditiions over the challenging terrainer of the Allahüekber mountains.[Erikson, Ordered, p.60] It was from the onset a rescipie for disaster. Tens of thousands of Ottoman trops had to retreat in freezing conditions. Many froze to death. Historians differ as to the death toll. Many estimate lossess totaling 90,000 men. The Russiand retook much lost ground (August 1915). The Turks and the Russians fought for 3 years in the Caucasus Mountains. The Russians occupied important Ottoman Black Sea ports, but after the Revolution and collapse of the Tsarist Army on the Eastern Front had to withdraw.

Armenian Genocide (1915-16)

More than a million mostly Christian Armenians were murdered by Ottoman authorities during World War I. Clara Barton led the first Red Cross relief effort conducted outside the United States. While most of the killings occurred during the War, Ottoman actions against the Armenians began in the 1890s. Western newspapers carried articles about "barbaric Mohammedans" murdering Christian martyrs during 1894-96. The killings provoked wide-spread international contamination, but no country intervened to stop the killings. Another series of pogroms occurred in 1909. The Ottomans entered World war I on the side of the Central Power (Germany and Austria-Hungary) in late 1914. The wide-spread, organized genocide against the Armenians began in 1915. Accounts on the numbers of Armenians vary. The estimate of 1.0 million is often used,but some accounts are as high as 1.5 million. [Balakian] The Ottomans used World war I as the NAZIs used World War II as a cover for the killings. The Turkish Government denied at the time and Turkish Governments even today continue to deny that the killings took place and were coordinated by Turkish authorities.

Galipoli (1915)

Russian armies on th Eastern Front suffered massive losses as a result of German offensives (1914-15). Russia was able to mobilizwe a huge army, but ws unable to adequately equip them. Russian pleas for assistance was one of the factors leading to the disastrous Allied offensive at Galipoli. The Dardanelles were an important Allied objective from an early point in the War. (The Crimean War was largely fought to ensure the Russians would not destroy the Ottoman Empire and seize the Dardanelles. The Royal Navy vessels first shelled the Turkish forts in the Dardanelles (November 30). The Allies opened the Galipoli campaign with a naval bombardment of the Ottoman forts along the Dardanelles (February 19-March 18). They hoped to force their way through Dardanelles to put the Ottoman capital of Constantinople under their big guns. The British believed that this might force the Ottomans out of the war. The Royal Navy used some of its older battleships. The best ships in the Royal Navy were kept for the Grand Fleet in the North Sea to confront the German High Seas Fleet. This action proved costly to the Royal Navy. Three battleships were sunk by mines. Three others were badly damaged. The action was led by Admiral Roebuck. After the losses he withdrew (March 18). He did not realize that the Ottomans were essentially defeated. His withdrawl allowed them to move in fresh troops and artillery. The British next prepared an infantry force in Egypt as a landing force to seize the Dardanelles (March-April). The British landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, providing the name of the campign (April 25). The landings were poorly executed and the initial surprise was not exploited. The Turks were able to contain the Expeditionary Force, with a large Australian component. There were 3 months of intense fighting with heavy losses on both sides. The Fifth Army behind prepared defensive positions and good equipment effectively resisted the Allied assaults. The Ottoman Mustafa Kemal commanded the Ottoman forces. It was the most successful Ottoman action of the War--and the most vital. It meant that Russia would remain isolated. After the war as Kemal Attaturk would found the Turkish Republic. The Expeditionary Force made few gains. The Britishh staged additional landings. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) under Stopford landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli which became known as ANZAC Bay (August 6-8). The ANZACs achieved some success, but Stopford did not persue the attack vigoriusly and the Ottomans were able to contain them. The British relieved General Ian Hamilton (October 15). It was clear by theis time that despite heavy losses, the Galipoli campaign had failed. General Sir Charles Monro replaced him. Monro recommended that the Expoditionary Force be evacuated. This was approved and the evacuation begins (November 23). The evacuation was largely completed (December 10). The British withdrew the final 35,000 men (January 8-9, 1916). Somehow this was achieved without the loss of a singe man. The Ottomans do not detect the operation. The evacuation proved to be the most successful part of the campaign.


British Indian forces launched an offensive against Turkish held Mesopotamia (late 1914). The British concern was the Persian oil fields and transhipment point which was near Basara near the mpith the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Persian oil fields were vital to the Royal Navy. The British landed a largely Indian Expeditionary Force which would become the 6th Indian Division near Basra, Mesopotamia (October 23). The British Indians force took Basara (November 23). Safeguardian the Persian oil fields made sence and the Galipoli campaign could be justified, but the campaogn into Mesopotamia hardly seems designed to have any significant impact on the primary objective of the British, to defeat the Germans on the Westrn Front. The Indian Government promoted the campaign, eager to avert any hold war in Persia and Afghanistan which might destbalize India. The relatively British-Indian force thus struck northwest up the Tigris-Euphrates valley toward Baghdad January-June 1915). The British (Townshend's 6th Indian Division) reach Amara (June 3). The British victory defeat a Turkish garrison at Nasiriya (July 24). Townshend reaches Kut-al-Amara where he defeats an Ottoman force (September 27-28). He continues north reaching Ctesiphon (November 11-12). The Ottomans win the Battle of Ctesiphon (November 22-26). Ottoman reinforcements arrived to turn back the over extended British force. Townshend is forcd to retreat, fighting a rearguard action at Umm-at-Tubal (December 1). The British reach Kut an set up a defensive position at Kut (December 3). Kut was about 100 miles south of Baghdad. The British force was a small one and adrive deep into Ottoman territoryhad been a risky gamble. The Ottomans surounded Townshend at Kut amd layed seige. Two British commanders, Aylmer and then Gorringe, try to relieve him taking 21,000 casualties. Townshend is forced to surrender his force of 2,000 British and 6,000 Indian troops. (April 29, 1916). The British regrouped in southern Mesopotamia under the command of General Sir Stanley Frederick Maude. The British decided to commit the resources needed to take Bagdad. The Allies had resources that the Ottoman Empire even with German assistanve could not hope to cope. The British virtually rebuilt Basra as a modern port. In addition a railway and metal road was built. The British also significantly impoved river transportation on the Tigris to move supplies. Maude began the second drive north along the Tigris River toward Bagdad (December 13). He commanded a force of 166,000 men, more than half Indian. Maude fights the Second Battle of Kut-al-Amara (February 22-23). The British victory clears the way for another drive on Baghdad which the British finally reach (February 22-23). Maude fought the Battle of Ramadi (September 27-28) opening the way into central Mesopotamia and the important oil fields at Mosul. Maude dies of cholera and was replaced by General Sir William R. Marshall. The Ottomans planned a counterattack, but the forces were instead committed in Palestine to stop Allenby's offensive on Jerusalem. The High Command orders . Marshall to stop his drive. Thus the fighting in Mesopotamia grinds to a hault.

Home Front

The Ottoman Empire was one of the large multi-ethnic empires that dominated much of Europe in the 19th century. Throught the 19th century, the Empire's European holding steadily declined. Even so at the onset of World war I, Turks wre still a minority in the Empire, but Turkish nationalism was growing, as was the desire to replace the Empire with a Turkish state based on ethnic Turks. Many countries ecperienced profound political change after the War. In Turkey in came before the War. The inability of the Sultan to reverse Ottoman losses in the Balkans and Caucauses and the losses in wars with the Balkan States and Italy (1911-13) undermined the Empiore and strengrthen the Young Turks. The result was major political change, Turkey's entry into World War I, and the Armenian Genocide. We do not yet have much information on civilian living conditions in the Ottoman Empire during the War, but believe that deteriorated bady because of declines in boh food production and the economy in general. The war for the most part was fought in the non-Turkish Arab regions of the Empire (Arabia, Palestine, and Mesoptamia). The Allied Galipoli offensive was contained the Russians only entered the eastern fringe of Anatolia. The Empire's Anatolian heartland was untouched even when the Allies after the Bulgarians capitulated, occupied Istanbul (Constaninole) (1918). The conscription of Turlish opeasants from the Anatolian hearland heavy war losses meant that a significant labor shortage developed in Anatolia. The War literaly destoyed the Ottoman economy which had a liberal, multi-ethnic character and layed the foudation for a Turkified economy.

Arab Revolt

The Arab revolt in the Hejaz broke out, surprising the Ottomans (June 5, 1916). British and French agents played a major role in inducung the Arab rising. The Arab Revolt, led chiefly by Col. T.E. Lawrence, Emir Faisal, and his father Sherif Hussein, "King of the Hejaz". Tge first major success was tsking the Ottoman garison at Aqaba. The Arab Revolt broke out in full force (January-September 1918). The Arabs took control of Arabia cutting rail lines. Isolated Ottoman garrisons were besieged throughout the Peninsula. The Ottomans hrd oressed by the British in Palestine were unable to deal with the Arab Revolt.

Egypt and Palestine

Suez was vital for the British Empire as it provided the maritime connection woth India. A much larger fleet of merchant vessels would be needed to move trade around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. The Ottomans at the time controlled Palestine. The Sultan declared a jihad, hoping that Muslims in Egypt would rise against the Britis. Primarily concerned with Suez, the British declared Egypt to be a protecorate (December 18, 1914). A small military force was moved in to protect the canal--seen by both the British and Germans as the Empire's "jugular vein". Australia rapidly prepared a largely untrained force which they rushed to Egypt. Australia and the other Dominions in both wars play an important role in the Allied victory. The Turks with potoon bridges provided by the Germans launched a suprise attack on the the Suez Canal and enpire an Islamic revolt in Egypt. The Ottomans achieved limited crossings (early February 1915), but there was no Islamic revolt among the Egyptians. The Indian Army and British units badly maul the attacking Ottomans. They would not attempt another attack on Suez. The threat posed to the Empire, however, is significant. A new commander, General Sir Archibald Murray, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London, began to build up men and supplies. Murray decided to widen the Suez defensive zone. The British moved into the Sinai Desert toward Palestine (January-July 1916). The British in 1915, however, decided that the greatest priority un 1915 was to break through the Dardanelles to open a supply route to the Russians. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) gradually shifted from the defence of Suez to an invasion of Ottomasn-held Palestine. Eventually when forces are available the British will attack into Palestine to destroy the Ottoman threat. The Sinai Desert itself was a major obstacle with sand storms, limited water holes, and soaring temperatures. Water was a major problem. Th British put tens of thousands of camels and drivers into service. The Ottomons had a railline to supply its troops. The British had to build both a water pipe and a railway from Egypt. The Ottomans tryng to drive the British back to Suez, attack the British railhead in Sinai, bit loose the Battle of Rumani (August 3). The British attacked the remaining Ottoman positions in the Sianai and win the Battle of Magruntein (January 8-9, 1917). The High Command autorizes Murray to proceed into Palestine. The British fight two battles in Gaza March 26 and April 17-19). Each time they are driven back by the Ottomans. Murray attempts to desguise the defeat. Murray in the Second Battle of Gaza relieves his field commander, Dobell. Murray himself is inturned relieved and replaced by , and for which he in turn was relieved, being replaced by General Sir Edmund Allenby. He had commanded the BRitish Third Army in France. He was the ablest British commande in the Egptian theater. He proceeded to attack toward Jerusalem in an effort to "take Jerusalem by Christmas" as Murray had been ordered. Alenby fought the Third Battle of Gaza (Battle of Beersheba) against the Turkish 7th and 8th Armies (October 31). This envolved one of the most famed actions of the campaign. Allenby was an old calvary man. He sent the Australian Light Horse Division on a daring mission to turn the Ottoman flank. (The Australian infanty had been committed to the Western Front.) The Australians fought a daring battle for the wells of Beersheba. Taking the Wells was criticalmas the horses needed water. The Australians staged perhaps the last successful calvalry charge, breaking through prepared Ottoman positions defended with barbed wire and machine guns. The Ottomans retired from Palestine. The Ottoman 8th Army fell back along the coast. The 7th Army retreated back to Jerusalem. Allenby used calvalry and aircraft to attack the retreating Ottoman troops (November 6-13). Ottoman reinforcements arrived. They were commanded by General von Falkenhayn who had planned the 1916 balle of Verdun. (After the huge losses and failing to take Verdun, he was replaced.) Falkenhayn with his reinforcements fought the Battle of Junction Station (November 13-14). This restablished an Ottoman front before Jerusalem, temporarily blocking the British. Allenby regroups his forces and renews the drive on Jerusalem (December 8-9). Allenby enters Jerusalem (December 8-9). The British realized that with their victory in Russia that the Germans would launch a massive offensuve in Spring 1918. As a result, some of Allenby's force was movd to France to strengthen forces on the Western Front. It was not until the summer that Allenby received needed replacements. The replacements were Indian troops. He prepared his final offensive against the Ottomans (September 18). Air supremecy left the Ottomon's blind as to where Allenby would trike. There was also a successful deception plan. The Battle of Meggido began with an attack along the Mediterranean coast (September 19-21). The attack opened a huge gap in the Ottoman right and Allenby pored his calvalry through that hole to rapidly exploit it. The whole Ottoman front collapsed. The Ottoman 8th Army was destroyed in the initial attack. The 4th and 7th Armies retreated north along the Jordan River. Allenby hotly persued them, hammering them with both calvalry and airpower (September 22-October 30).

Armistice (October 30, 1918)

The Ottomans with their armies being destroyed in the field agreed to an armistice on Mudros, endng the fighting.

Casualties and the Army

The Ottiman armies suffered major reverses on the major fronts: the Russian Cacauses, Mesopotamia, and Egypt/Palestine. Its only success was at Galipoli, although they did defeat the first British expedition into Mesopotamia. Unlike the Blkns Wars, in World war I thy ere fighting modern, well armed professional armies. The Ottoman Army sustained trrible casualties, over 0.9 million men. That is over 30 percent of the 2.8 million men mobilized--an ibcredible proportion. That is a much higher casualty rate of all he mjor beligerant powers. Despite the high casualty rate, the Ottoman army held together. Unlike the French Army, the Ottiman Army suffered terrible defeats, but never cracked. And there was no major mutiny or large scale desertions. Compare this to the Austrian-Hungarian Armt hich essentill desintegrated or the Russian Army which revolted, shot their officers and set up soviets. Perhaps even more surprisingly, even the arab soldiers in the Ottoman Army for the most part remained loyal. And this despite the arab Revolt (1916). [Harl]

Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920)

World War I for the Ottoman Empire was formally ended by the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920). This was the peace treaty between the Entente (Allies) and Associated Powers and the Ottoman Empire. As at Versaiiles, the Allies dictated the terms, dismembering the Empire. The Allies used the same approach as with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, dividing up the Empire into ethnically based nation states. The Ottoman Empire had already lost a great deal of territory as the result of largely British offensives, one through Paledstine and Syria and the other through Iraq. The Hejaz (Saudi rabia) was lost through the Arab Revolt supported by the British. An outline for the treaty had been reached at Sanremo Conference (April 1920). Several new states were to be created under the terms of the Sèvres Treaty. The Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) and Armenia were to become independent countries. Kurdistan was also to become independent and would include Mosul. The British and French during the War had reached the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This was incorporated into the Treaty. The territories involved were made League of Nation Mandates. Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine were assigned to the British. Lebanon and Syria were assigned to the French. The Dodecanese Islands and Rhodes which had been occupied by Italy in an earlier war with the Ottomans (1911) and small areas of southern Anatolia were to become Italian territory. Thrace and Western Anatoliaincluding İzmir/Smyrna would become Greek territory. The critical Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara connecting the Black Sea and Mediterranean were to be demilitarized and internationalized. The Ottoman Army was restricted to a maximum 50,000 men. The Ottoman Navy was restricted to 7 sloops and 6 torpedo boats. The Ottomans were prohibited from creating an air force. Sèvres was near Paris and where the Treaty was signed. At the time the Allies occupied the Ottoman capital (İstanbul) and other areas of Turkey. The Ottoman Parliament had been forced to close earlier (April 1920) and thus could not ratify the Treaty. Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin did not ratify it, but he was a figurehead. The Turkish republican movement refused to ratify the Treaty. The repunlican movement was led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha who was the president of the Turkish Grand National Assembly based in Ankara which was not occupied by the Allies. The republican victory in the Turkish War of Independence made the Ankara republicans Tyurkey's real government. The Allies offered to adjust the Treaty, but the Ankara Government rejected it entirely.

Turkish War of Independence

The Turkish National Movement, gathered around the Turkish Grand National Assembly succesfully emerged as tthe replacement to the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish Diplomacy

The new Turkish Government totally rejected the Sèvres Treaty. Instead they negotiated a series of treaties with the former beligerant powers. Here the Republican success in organizing a viable military force was an important factor. Another was the fact that the Allies excluded the Soviet Government from the peace talks. The Turks first negotiated the Treaty of Moscow with the new Soviet Government (March 16, 1921). The Soviets were the first European country to recognize Turkey. The Treaty set the boundary between the two countries and divided the area that the Allies had planned to create as an Armenuan state. Next Turkey negotiated the Accord of Ankara with France ending the Cilicia War. the Treaty of Alexandropol and the Treaty of Kars established Turkey's eastern borders. Settling these issues enabled the Turks to focus on the western border and the war with Greece. Here Greek political developments had alienated the British who withdrew their support.

Greek-Turkish War (1920-21)

Greek forces with the authorization of the Supreme Allied War Council occupied Adrianople (Edirne), Bursa, and Smyrna (Izmir). The Greeks landed with the support of an Allied flotilla (summer and fall of 1919). The Turks did not resist and the Greek forces advanced to Usak, 175 kilometers inland from Izmir. The Turks did resist the Greek advance into Anatolia. The initial fighting was inconclusive (1920). This changed in 1921. Turkish forced commanded by Ismet Pasha stopped Greek offensives twice at Inönü (January and April 1921). This prevented any further Greek advances. A third Greek offensive drive the Turks back to Sakarya Nehri, only 80 km from Ankara (July 1921). Here Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greek Army in a bruising 20-day battle. Greek political developments alienated the British. The French and Italians withdrew from Anatolia (October 1921). The Turks launched an offensive against the Greeks (August 1922). The Turks call it the Battle of the Commander in Chief. The Turks soon reached Izmir, trapping retreating Greek soldiers. Many were evacuated by Allied ships. The Turks then turned to eastern Thrace. Here to get to the Greeks, the Turks faced Allied troops defending the Ottoman Government in Constantinople/Istambul and the Bosphorus/Dardanelles The French Government decided to withdraw its forces. The British prepared to defend their positions. The British did not, however, want a war with Turkey and suggested a compromise. Atatürk accepted the British-proposed truce. The Armistice of Mudanya (near Bursa) ended the fighting between Greece and Turkey (October 1922). The Greek troops withdrew beyond the Maritsa River. The Turks occupied eatern Thracee. The Turks as part of the Armistice accepted a continued Allied presence on the straits and in Istanbul until a comprehensive peace settlement could be megotiated.

Armenian War (1919-21)

The Armenians proclaimed a republic (1919). The Allies supported an Armenian state. The Armeniam population in eastern Anatolia, however, had been desimated by the Turkish Genocide during the War. The Turks defeated the Armenians and occupied the Kars region (Summer 1921). The rest of Armenia was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Conference of Lausanne (July 1923)

Turkey proved to be the only member of the Central Powers defeated in World War I to negotiate with the Allies as an equal basis and to influence the provisions of the resulting peace treaty. The other World War I peace treaties were dictated by the Allies. Turkish diplomacy, their defeat of the Greeks, and strong military position around the Bosphorus/Dardanelles, forced the Allies to renegotiate the Sèvres Treaty. There was no political support in either Britain or France to renew hostilities with Turkey which was the only way of maintaining control over the Bosphorus/Dardanelles and other Treaty terms. After stopping hostilities with the Armistice of Mudanya, the Allies invited both the Ankara Republican and the Istanbul Ottoman governments to a conference at Lausanne to renegotiate the now dead Treaty of Sèvres (October 1922). Atatürk was, however, unwilling to compromise. He was determined that the republican nationalist government should be the only representative for Turkey. The Grand National Assembly moved to abolish the Ottoman Sultanate. Thus when the Conference opened, the republican government represented Turkey (November). Ismet Pasha was the chief Turkish negotiator. The 1919 National Pact served as the basis for the Turkish negotiating position. The Allies essentially accepted the provisions in the provisions of the Treaty. The United States participated in the conference but, because America had never declared war on Turkey, did not sign the treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized the modern borders of Turkey with but two exceptions--the Mossul area and Hatay Province with the port of Alexandretta (present-day Iskenderun). The boundary in the east with Iraq was settled by a League of Nations initiative (1926). The southern boundary involving Iskenderun was settled when France ceded the port to Turkey (1939). France at the time was acting as the League of Nations mandatory power for Syria. This was probably a factor in Turkey remaining neutral in World War II. Especially detailed provisions of the treaty regulated use of the stragegic Bosphorus/Dardanelles Straits. A Straits Commission under the League of Nations was established. The Allies were to withdraw, after which the Straits woulf be demilitarized. Turkey would hold the presidency of the Commission and the Soviet Union would be included as a member. The foreign administration of the Ottoman public debt wase abolished, but the new Turkish Government assumed responsibility for 40 percent of that debt. The rest was apportioned among the states formed from other former Ottoman territories. Turkey agreed to maintain low tariffs on imports from signatory powers until 1929. Turkey also agreed to affirm the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim Turkish nationals. Turkey and Greece agreed to a mandatory exchange of their respective Greek and Turkish minorities. An exception was made for some Greeks in Istanbul and Turks in western Thrace. The Treaty was signed officionally ending the War (July 1923).

Turkish Republic

The Grand National Assembly in response to Allied desires to include both the new Republican Government and the the Otooman Istambul governent in peace negotioations approved a resolution separating the offices of sultan and caliph and abolished the office of the sultan (November 1922). This essentially brought the Ottoman Empire to an end. The Assembly took the position that the Istanbul Ottoman government ceased to be the government of Turkey when the Allies occupied the city. Mehmed VI who for several years had been a figurehead went into exile on Malta, a British possession. His cousin, Abdülmecid, was named caliph. The Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey (October 29, 1923). Atatürk was named Turkey's first president. Ankara became the first capital. Atatürk persued a policy of modernization, reform, and industrialization. An important aspect of Atatürk's program was the secularization of Turkish society. He substantially reduced iIslam's once pervasive role in Turkish society. He replaced Arabic with the Latin alphabet for the Turkish language. Atatürk died in 1938. Gradually parliamentary government and a competitive multiparty system became accepted in Turkey, although there were periods of instability and even periods of military rule.


Erickson, Edward J. Ottoman Army Effectiveness in World War I: A Comparative Study.

Erickson, Edward J. Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War. (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001). 256p.

Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (New York: Owl Books, 2001).

Harl, Kenneth W. "The Ottoman Empire" The Great Courses.


Navigate the CIH World War I Section:
[Return to Main World War I country page]
[Return to Main World War I conduct page]
[Return to Main Ottoman history page]
[Return to Main Turkish Ottoman history page]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] [Economics] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People] [Peace treaties] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Signals and intelligence] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] ------[Technology] ------[Weaponry]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 7:26 PM 4/11/2006
Last updated: 7:23 PM 5/30/2017