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Ottoman Army - 1870s

That Turkish troops had more than once done excellent service, cannot be denied. But it was unfortunately equally true that, whereas, since 1854, all the armies in Europe haf improved greatly in every respect, the Ottomans had not merely stood still, but had actually retrograded. And this for the simple reason that there had been far more peculation, far more dishonest dealings in all money matters, and all contracts connected with the service, than was ever the case before. Perhaps the Turk had fallen into the common mistake - believing that the time had come when war shall be no more, and that he may as well take his share of the money intended for war purposes. If so, it was to be feared that he would soon find out his mistake. Had the Ottoman administration, and had Turks in high offices, neither cheated nor allowed foreign contractors to do so, their army might, in the prior twenty years, have been so improved as to hold its own with almost any troops of like numbers. But as it was, one should be sorry to back them in a campaign against their old enemy Russia, even if they had the advantage in numbers of two to one.

Of the merits of the Turkish troops when under arms, but little could be said. They were too much and yet too little, Europeanised to work well. The Turkish cavalry of old was a magnificent arm of the service. The men rode like real horsemen, and a charge of a Turkish cavalry corps was something to be remembered. But by 1875 an Ottoman cavalry regiment was simply a laughable caricature of the worst European dragoons. The men were so buttoned up, and their clothes fit them so tightly, that they had not the free use of their limbs. Instead of the short stirrups and serviceable saddles of Eastern countries, they rode on slippery, old-fashioned European heavy dragoon saddles, with stirrups so long that they can hardly reach them, and with seats as unsafe as their own government bonds. The horses were neither groomed nor trained ; the stables were badly ventilated and as to keeping "dressing" in line, even the line of single troop, the men were no equal to it, for the simple reason that they did not know how. In fact, except to protect the baggage of an army on the line of march, it was very difficult to conceive to what useful purpose Turkish cavalry could be put in a campaign.

The best arm of the service was the garrison artillery; for in that branch the men got fair play, inasmuch as they were not dependent upon the work of others. Some of the field-batteries, stationed in and near Constantinople, were pretty fair to look at, but these, it must be borne in mind, were kept for show more than for use. In the other corps d'armee, the harness, horses and general trappings of the field-gun would make an English artillery man open his eyes with wonder. Anything more utterly rotten and useless it would be difficult to imagine.

That the Turkish army might be made one of the most effective in the whole world, no one who knows it can have any more doubt, than that it was the very reverse of this. It had, and always had, its own great misfortune, and its own great fault. The misfortune was that it was robbed by every one that has the handling of its pay - from the minister of war to the colonels of regiments, and even to the majors commanding battalions.

Its fault was, that it was at one and the same time too much, and yet too little, Europeanised. It was too much Europeanised as to its dress ; which was without exception the most hideous, the tightest, and the most inconvenient of any army in the world. It was too little Europeanised, inasmuch as when not under arms the men were not looked after; were not paid; and were allowed, so far as their barracks and their persons were concerned, to remain in a state of the most indescribable filth. Give the men an easy, comfortable uniform, Oriental in its character, something of the fashion of that worn by the Zouaves and Turcos in Algeria. Let it be made of good strong cloth; not of the very worst of shoddy. Give the troops good arms and good accoutrements ; and teach them to take some pride in themselves, and the way they turn out. Above all things, let them be paid regularly, and not swindled as they are now, by being obliged to borrow money at ruinons interest from the very officials who hold their pay in hand, and who often retain it for weeks after it reaches them, and lend it at high interest to the very men to whom it by right belongs. Robbery and peculation had grown up in Turkey to be such venerable, and even respected, institutions, that to reform effectually the Pay department of the army would certainly be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The only really effective regiments ever seen in Turkey were those commanded by Anglo-Indian officers during the Crimean war. It would, however, require a great many officers to effect a real reform in the service ; for among the greatest sinners in the way of peculation, are to be found the the three classes of military pachas who command the army corps, the divisions, and brigades. The "Mir Allys," or colonels, were pretty good adepts in the science of causing the money intended for army purposes to stick to their fingers, but they could not be compared to their superiors. Of every pound sterling that was paid by the Imperial Treasury in Constantinople for the use of the army - for the clothing, arms, accoutrements, camp equipage, stores, hay, and so forth - not more than four or five shillings was actually expended on the troops; the balance found its way into the coffers of contractors, officials of rank, and other harpies, who became wealthy men at the expense of the country.

The mental and physical components of the Turkish army were theoretically good, but practically bad; nevertheless, there was sufficient material in both parts to form a valuable and efficient army, if time and a few active and capable heads could be produced. The great and grave defects were - a scarcity of good officers, a corrupt administration, and financial difficulties. Moreover, there was a great amount of jealousy existing among the officers of the higher grades - so much so, that one would frequently work to thwart the other, irrespective of the interests of the public service ; and to such an extent did this exist that it would require a perfect Marlborough to overcome it.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:44 ZULU