World War II: Turkey


Figure 1.--.

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers and fought with Germany during World war I. As a result it was one of the great European empires that were destroyed by the War. Modern Turkey emerged after the War. Turkey remained neutral in World War II. Although often given little attention in World War II histories, this was of major importance in the outcome of the War. Germany's most significant weakness was oil. Turkey would have provided a significant threat to the Soviet Caucasian oil fields and would have provided an important ally to the Germans in their 1942 southern offensive. Turkey almost certainly could have seized the oil fields in Iraq that supplied the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the 8th Army in Egypt. Hitler was very interesting in drawing Turkey into the War. And as a World War I ally, there were links. The Germans also had a great deal to offer the Turks, especially the Pan-Turkic nationalists. The Wehrmacht entered the northern Caucausus (July 1942). This provided considerable opportunity to appeal to the Pan-Turic nationalists. The Germans thought they had convinced to enter the War. Here we are not sure, but the disaster at Stalingrad cerainly settled the issue. Churchill also worked hard on getting Turkey to join the Allies. Just before Barbarossa Turkey signed a Friendship Treaty with Germany (June 18, 1941). A joint statement following the signing indicated a desire for further economic cooperation. The Germans in particular were interested in Turkish chrominum ore. The Turks promised to cooperate with the Germans to close the straits to Soviet shipping. In the end, however, Turkey wisely remained neutral.

World War I

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.

Modern Turkey

Modern Turkey emerged after the War. It was the only member of the Central Powers which did not accept the peace treaty the Allies dictated to them. Turkey's current boundaries were drawn in 1923 at the Conference of Lausanne, made nececcessary by Turkey's rejectioin of the dictated treaty. Turkey became a republic with Kemal Atatürk as the first president. The Turks abolished the Ottoman sultanate and caliphate. Turkey under Atatürk's direction persued a policy of modernization, reform, and industrialization. He made great progress in secularizing Turkish society and reducing Islam's dominant role. He also replaced Arabic with the Latin alphabet for writing the Turkish language. Atatürk died (1938), but Turkey was on its way to establishing a western-style parlimentary democracy.

President Inönü

Presuident Ataturk died in Istanbul (November 10, 1938). This caused an widespread outpouring of grief throughout the country. Ataturk had become a national icon. The Grand National Assembly chose to replace Ataturk with his chief ally--Inönü. Celal Bayar, who had succeeded Inönü as prime minister in 1937 continued in that position. These two men would provide the leadership for Turkey during Workd war II.

Neutrality (September 1939)

President Inönü was all to aware of just how Turkey has suffered as a result of World War I. He was thus determined to keep out of the war that was obviously coming in Europe at the time he became president. He must have discussed this issue with Ataturk earlier. Only if Turkey was forced into the War by threats on its vital interests would it enter the War. The NAZI-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (August 1939) put Turkey in a very exposed position. Those countries with their large military and aggressive policies as allies posed a serious threat to Turkey. Turkey bordered on the Soviet Union in the east and NAZI diplomacy was bringing Bulgaria within the German orbit. When Hitler and Stlin Launched World War II, Turkey declared its neutrality, but was unsure if it could maintain it.

Anglo/Franco-Turkish Treaty (October 1939)

Turkey reponded with a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain and France after Hitler launched the War (October 1939). The Anglo-Franco-Turkish Treaty signed in Ankara (October 19, 1939). It established a commitmen for mutual cooperation. Britain and France pledged to supply military equipment to Turkey. For its part, Turkey committed to resisting Axis expansion. Turkey agreed to remain neutral as long as the War was confined to northern Europe. If the War spread to the Mediterranean, Turkey agreed to come into the war on the llied side. In practical terms this meant Italy entering the War or Germany invaded the Balkans. The Turks insisted on a disclaimer (Protocol No. 2). Turkey would not be required to declare war if doing so would also bring them into conflict with the Soviet Union. At the time the NAZIs and Soviets as a result of their Non-Aggression Pact were allies.

Fall of France (June 1940)

The fall of France radically changed the ballance of power and the strategic situation for Turkey. The French Army had been seen as thestrongest in Europe, yet even with British help, it was eviserated by the Germans in only a few weeks. The country's pro-Allied stance recieved a sharp blow when the Germans invaded and quickly defeated the French Army and drove the British from the continent (May-June 1940). Some Turkish officials publically questioned whether the country had made a huge misake sideing with the Allies. Some suggested joining the Axis. President İnönü was shaken, however, he seems to have remained convinced of an eventual Allied victory. The country's World War I experience no doubt was a factor. (Some historians quotehim as saying that if there was a single lesson to be learned from history, it was, "Never join a war on the opposite side to England.") Mussolini brought Italy intoi the War (June 10). Under the terms of the Anglo/Franco-Turkish Treary, this should have triggered Turkey joining the Allies, at least against Italy. Turkey did not. The overwealming German victory and the fact that Syria on Turkey's southern border was a French colony, meant that Turkey was basically surrounded by Axis territory. Going to war against Axis Italy could have been suisidal. President İnönü backed away from the Treaty commitment. He complained that the Allis had not delivered much of the promised military supplies.

Dangerous Balancing Act (June 1940-June 1941)

With the new Vichy regime in Syria, Turkey was basically surrounded. The Germans converted Bulgaria and Romania in thewest into Axis allies. And the Soviet Union with iuts hugeaarmy was a threat in the east. Given the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, there was a very real poosibility that Fermany and the Soviets would invade abd partition Turkey like they did Poland. The situation was bad enough after the fall of France, but it go much worst when the Germans came to the rscue of the floundering Italian Army in Greece and Albania. The Germans to secure the siuthern flank of the impending Barbarossa invasio of the Soviet Union attacked Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941). They quickly defeated the Yugoslavs and Greeks and forced another humiliating British evacuation. German occuoation of the Balkans almost completed the isolation of Turkey. At the same time the Germans struck in the Balkans, the only link to the Allies was broken when Prime-minister Rashid Ali launched an anti-British coup d'état in Iraq (April 1). He immideatly asked for German military assistance. The only available land route to Iraq was through Turkey. The Germans pressured Turkey to permit German troop movements. The Turks were all to aware that allowing German troops in raises the problem of how to get them to leave. President İnönü hesitated. And the British quickly reacted. British troops from India and Palestine had invaded Iraq and by the vontry was in Allied hannds (May 1941). The British also seized Vicht Lebnon and Syria, turning the colonies over to the Free French (June–July 1941). This relieved the immediate danger, but President İnönü was still worried about German intentions and sought a diplomatic solution.

Friendship Treaty with Germany (June 1941)

The Germnan invasioin of Yugoslavia and Greece brouht NAZI panswers within 50 miles of Instanbul (April 1941). There was considerable doubt at the time as where Hitler would strike next. The Turkish Goverment orderd the destruction of key bridges. Responding to the NAZI successes, Turkey also negotiated a Friendship Treaty with NAZI Germany (June 18, 1941). This was only 4 days before the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union, but there does not appear to have been any evidence of collusion between Germany and Turkey. Rather it suggests the Germans were inteeted in securung their southern flank. The German demonseaton of power in the Balkans (April-May 1941) undoubtedly impressed the Turks, encouraging them to develop friendly relationhip. Turkey agreed to sell chromium, a critical strategic raw material, to the Germans. Cobalt was needed to make wepons grade steel. This Friendship Treaty amonted to Turkey hedging their bets. They gave the Germans sme of what they wanted, but kept them out of their country. The British Government understood the diplomacy. Locked into a fifgt for the Western Desert, they were unable to offer any substantial military support if the Germans attacked.

Importance

Turkey remained neutral in World War II. Although often given little attention in World War II histories, this was a matter of major importance in the outcome of the War. Germany's most significant weakness was oil and while Turket did not have major oil reserves of its own, it was located near to three major sources of oil, including two developed fields (Iraq and the Soviet Caucauses). Turkey as a NAZI ally would have provided a significant threat to the Soviet Caucasian oil fields and the Iraqi oil fields. Turkey would have provided an important ally to the Germans in their 1942 southern offensive. Turkey almost certainly could have also seized the oil fields in Iraq that supplied the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the 8th Army in Egypt.

Barbarossa: NAZi Diplomacy (1941-42)

Four days after signing the Friemdship Treaty wih Turkey, NAZI Germany invaded the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). This releaved the immediate threat to Turkey. Locked into the greatest miliraty campaign in history, neither country was going to attack Turkey. When the news reached Ankara in the early morning, President İnönü was still asleep. His son went to wake him and inform him of the dramatic news. İnönü reportedly at first stared dumbfounded at his son. He then broke into hysterical laughter for 10 minutes, realising that Turkey was saved. Hitler for some time was very interesting in drawing Turkey into the War. And as a World War I ally, there were links. The Germans sent former World War I military attache Franz von Papen to Ankara to meet with Turlish officials. Just before Barbarossa Turkey signed a Friendship Treaty with Germany (June 18, 1941). A joint statement following the signing indicated a desire for further economic cooperation. The Turks promised to cooperate with the Germans to close the straits to Soviet shipping. [Documents, 12: 105 and 13: 3] The Germans also had a great deal to offer the Turks, especially the Pan-Turkic nationalists. The NAZIs during the Barbarossa 1941 campaign reached Rostov, the gateway to the Caucausus (November 1941), but were thrown back. They again reached Rostov during the 1942 summer offensive and entered the northern Caucausus (July 1942). A primary goal of the NAZIs in their Caucasus policy was to bring Turkey into the War. The Reich Foreign Ministry used reports of these approaches in its dealings with Turkey. They invited Turks to serve as expert advisers in the Caucasus. I'm unsure to what extent Turkey followed up upon these offers. The NAZIs wanted to negotiate with Turkey on the future status of the Caucasus. It offered Turkey the right to organize a Turko-Tartar federation. The NAZIs were very hopeful this would suceed in bringing Turkey into the War. Ambassador von Papen and a group in the Foreign Office thought that they were close to success. I am not sure just how close they were. The Turks had joined the Germans once before in World War I and it had been a disaster. Some reports suggest that the Turks were tempted. Pan-Turanians were very influential in Turkey. Some military commanders were impressed with the Germans, particularly Marshal Cakmak. The military situation, however, changed dramtically. The Royal Navy victories over the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean were important. Than the British defeated the Afrika Korps (October 1942). The major event of course was the Soviet offensive at Stalingrad (November 1942). The Torch Offensive in Northwest Africa (November 1942) confirmed the dramatic changes in NAZI fortunes. The Whermacht was forced to withdraw from the Caucasus. The Turks prudently maintained their neutral policy.

Chrome

Neutrality brought with it certain advantages. The Germans in particular were interested in Turkish chromium ore. Chrome was vital in the production of weapons-grade steel and thus was vital for the NAI war industry. And Turkey was their primary source. Throughout the War, Turkey exported chrome ore to Germany. nd as a neutral, Germany had to pay for the chrome. The resources produced by NAZI allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia) were essentially appropriated by the NAZIs. The Romanians received, for example, virtually no payment for the vast quantities of oil they exported to the Reich to support the NAZI wr machine.

Pan-Turkic Nationlists

The Turkish Government carefully followed a policy of strict neutrality. Some Turks, however, dreamed of creating a pan-Turkic empire. his had been a World War I vision. Now it seemedvit might be possible through an alliance with the NAZIs. The German Operation Barbarossa htus proved popular among some nationalist circles in Turkey. Russia was a traditional enemy and the Communist atheist cmpaign was iradicating Islam as well as Christinity. There was also brutal actions against Turkic peole in Crimeam, the Caucauses, and Central Asia. Some Turkish politicins wanted the country to launch a Turkic crusade against Bolshevism. The Turkic movement advocated uniting with the Turkic peopls of Soviet Central Asia. The Turkish government tolerated their activities, but maintained its policy of strict neutrality.

Government Policies

As NAZI military successes brought greater connecions with Turkish teritory, the NAZIs put more pressure on the country. Except for supplying Chrome, however, Turkey scrupulosly observed its neurtal status. Axis troops, ships, or aircraft were not permitted to enter or pass through Turkey. The Turks also observed the Montreux Convention governing the straits controlling ship movement between the Black Sea and Mediterranean. We do not have access to Turkish Government delberations. Some may have seen an alliance with the NAZIs as advantageous, solving the eastern security questioins and even uniting with Turic peoples in Central Asia. The Turks seemed to have considered the very obvious question, which the Japanese never seemed to hace asked, where would smallcountries likeTurkey stand in a NAZI-controlled world.

Turkic Military Participation

There were Turkish troops under German command. hee was nothing official like the Spanish Blue Division. The Germans organised a SS Legion of Turkic soldiers (May 1942). It was eventually expanded to a full division -- the 162nd Division. The Division recruited its men from Soviet POWs captured by the Germans. They changed sides, patly to escape the brutl conditions in German POW camps. They were not Turkish citizens. Some senior figures in the Turkish Army did reportedly cooperate with the German in this effort. Nuri Killigil, brother of Enver Pasha, who had commanded the pan-Turkic 'Army of Islam' in 1918 saw German assistance as a way to achieve his Turkic Empire dreams.

The Holocaust

Turkey after the NAZIs seized power in Germany (1933) offered refugee to Jewish university professors and scholars, mostly scientists. The country at the time was laying the foundation for a modern university system and the refugee Jewish scholars played an important role in that undertaking. Turkey subsequently played a role in saving thousands of European Jews from the NAZIs. Turkey remained neutral most of the War. Both sides made extensive diplomatic efforts to draw Turkey into the War. NAZI diplomats thought they had succeeded, but the Soviet victory at Stalingrad ended any possbility of Turkey joining the Axis. The Turks allowed the passage of thousands of Jewish refugees to Palestine at a time that Both the Germans and British attempted to prevent this. The Turks also protected its Jewish citizes and attempted to resuce Turkish Jewsin the occupied countries. They succeed in saving 3,000 of the 10,000 Tukish Jews in France and several hundred in Greece. As many as 100,000 Jews may have been saved by the Turks. [Shaw] The Struma incident suggests that the Turkish policy as to non-Turkish refugeees was essentially passive (1941-42). The Turks did, however, allow Istanbul to be used by Jewish Agency and by other Jewish organizations established to assist and rescue East European Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Turkish Authorities allowed eefuges without passports or visas to enter the country. I'm not sure, however, how many were allowed to stay in Turkey. Authorities also allowed ships carrying refugees to pass through its coastal waters. Individual Turkish diplomats also helped save Jews. Turkish diplomats even issue false papers to Jews in NAZI-occupied areas. Turkish Consul Selahattin Ulkumen on the Greek island of Rhodes arrived at about the same time as the NAZI occupation force (1941). When the NAZIs began rounding up Jews on the island, he intervened maintaing that some were Turkish citizens. He helped save 32 Jews, but his pregnant wife was killed in the process. He was then rescue 32 Jews from the island's Jewish community, but ultimately led to his wife's death. The NAZIs deported Ulkumen to Piraeus where he spent the rest of the War in jail. The Apostolic Delegate in Turkey, Archbishop Roncalli (who became Pope John XXIII) attempted to rescue Hungarian Jews.

Churchill

Churchill also worked hard on getting Turkey to join the Allies. The initial Allied assessment was that Turkey's neutrality well served Allies interests by essentially blocking NAZI access to the vital oil reserves of the Middle East. This began to change after the British stopped the Italians in the Western Desert and advanced into Libya and the Germans negan pressing on the Balkans. NAZI victories caused Roosevelt and Churchill to re-evaluate neutrality and reassess possible Turkish participation. Here Churchill was more convinced than Roosevelt. He chose General James Marshall-Cornwall, a Corps Commander, who spoke Turlish to persuade the Turks. Marshall-Cornwall heded a military mission to Ankara. He stopped in Cairo to meet with British Commander, Archie Wavell. He found Wavell thought the effort a daftvidea. He was in no position to spare forces to aid Turkey. The Turks when discussions began were primarily interested in regaining possession of parts of Syria and the Dodecanese islands and obtaining military material. Churchill suddenly suggested direct to Inonu that ten squadrons of fighters and bombers could be transferred from Egypt to bomb Romania. The Turks refused the offer. The Marshall-Cornwall mission was still in Ankara when Germany invaded on Greece and Yugoslavia (April 1941). Cornwall made a final appeal to President Inonu to enter the War before Germany overran the Balkans and perhaps invade Turkish Thrace. On the same day, press reports indicayed that Rommel had recaptured Benghazi for the Italians. Inonu insisted to Cornwall, `We are far more use to you as a friendly neutral country.' Cornwall lsater wrote, `Inwardly I could not have agreed with him more.' Churchill sent Foreign Ninister Anthony Eden twice to somehow lure Inonu into the War. The War bew was hardly propitious. Churchill finally decided to tackle the job himself. Churchill efforts with the Turks has been described as something of a pet project. His abortive Greek campaign may have been influenced by a desire to impress the Turks with British resolve. Churchill visited with Turkey's leaders in an effort to persuade them to join in the Allied effort. Churchill seems to have comvimnced himself that the Turks were about to enter the War. [Denniston] Churchill secretly met with President Inönü inside a train carriage Adana (January 30, 1943). This time the news was more supportive. The Germans besiged at Stalingrad were surrenbdering. Inönü later met with President Roosevelt and Churchill at the Second Cairo Conference (December 4-6, 1943). By this time it was increasingly clear that the NAZIs had lost the War.

Turkish Decession

In the end, however, Turkey wisely remained neutral. We do not yet, however, know much about the Turkish decession making process and how close they were to entering the War. There is no doubt that some important Turish officals wanted to enter the War on the Axis side. The German stunning German success in the early phase of the War fuel this attitude. As far as we can tell, however, President Inönü remained convinced that the Axis could not prevail. We are not sure about his policies beyond this basic conclusion. President Inönü had to be concerned about Stalin and the Soviets in a ost-War world.

Declaration of War

Turkey broke relations with NAZI Germany (August 1944). They finally declared war on Germany and Japan (February 23, 1945). This was, however, largely cosmetic. It was a diplomatic step needed to participation in the Conference on International Organization, held in San Francisco (April 1945). Turkey thus btained a seat in the new United Nations. The country, however, initiated no military action.

German Assetts

At the end of the War, about $44 million in German assetts were held in Turkey. An additional $5 million in looted Belgiab gold was located in Turkey. Allied representatives attempted to gain control of those assetts to little avail (1946-52). The Allies finally greed to drop their claims to German assets in return for settling the Belgian gold issue. And they agreed to a figure of $1 million. Turkey never turned over any gold to the Tripartite Gold Commssion.

Sources

Denniston , Robin. Churchill's Secret War: Diplomatic Decrypts, The Foreign Office and Turkey 1942-44 (Chancellor Press, 2000) 208p.

Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 (Washington, 1949). This is a compenium of German documents captured during the War.






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Created: 5:24 PM 5/10/2007
Last updated: 12:24 PM 4/3/2018