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Ottoman Army - 1880s

The regular army was composed of seven complete army corps and a strong division. Six of these were formed on the territorial system, battalions being stationed in time of peace in the districts wherein they were raised.
  • The First Army Corps, for which the recruiting ground is the western part of Asia Minor, had its headquarters at Constantinople, and its battalions are available for garrison duty in districts on both sides of the Bosphorus.
  • The Second Army Corps has its headquarters at Adrianople, and is partly raised in Asia Minor, the majority of the men, however, being furnished by the population of Roumelia. vThe Third Army Corps headquarters was at Monastir, its recruiting ground being Macedonia. This Army Corps had been divided into three commands of equal importance, those of Salonica and Scutari having been put upon the same footing as Monastir.
  • The Fourth Army Corps headquarters was at Erzinghian, its recruiting ground being the eastern part of Asia Minor.
  • The Fifth Army Corps had its headquarters at Damascus and is recruited in Syria, under which general term is included a large portion of the southern part of Asia Minor.
  • The Sixth Army Corps was raised in Mesopotamia and the lower part of Kurdistan, and had its headquarters at Bagdad.
  • The Seventh Army Corps was stationed in Yemen and the Hedjaz
  • The special division was divided between Tripoli in Barbary and Crete.
The Sixth and Seventh Army Corps were the only corps of which the men in time of peace were stationed away at a distance from the districts wherein they were raised.

It is not in the peace establishment of the regular army that the military strength of Turkey was seen, but in the enormous expansion of which it is capable at short notice through the mobilisation of the 'Redifs.' The calling out of the 'Redifs' would bring to the standards not 320,000, but something over 500,000 men. Then, again, the 'Mustafiz' are not to be dismissed from the calculation of the forces at the disposal of the Porte. Thirty-five is the age at which the Turkish soldier is enrolled in the ranks of the 'Mustafiz,' and it is clear that many of these 'wornout' veterans, as they were sometimes described, must be men in the prime of life. During the late war of 1877 a portion of the 'Mustafiz' was put upon active service. It was done more as a test of the new military organisation than from any real necessity for their services, seeing that not two-thirds of the ' Redifs' were actually called out. This is the explanation of those attenuated battalions which are spoken of in Colonel Warlow's article as furnishing the key to a real knowledge of the number of men Turkey can put into the field. The funds at the disposal of the War Office were limited, and the money set aside for the mobilisation of the ' Redifs' was not sufficient. Divided amongst the district-centres, the men were called out only to the extent for which the expenses were covered by the sums allotted, and thus it was that battalions marched through Broussa 500 and 600 strong only, where they should have been 800 and 1,000. The men are all in the country, and can be got together with the greatest ease, for the Mussulman population is not a shifting one. Every 'Redif's' name stands on the register, and the force is controlled by the system, of muster and inspection which takes place every four months, and 5,000 officers are distributed about the recruiting districts solely for this purpose.

The points in which lie the strength of the 'Redifs' - namely, their numbers and the ease with which they can be got together, but there was a little rift in this armour of Turkey which, if not attended to, might have serious consequences later on. The military organisation made provision for keeping up the training of the ' Redifs' and the 'Iktihat' (immediate reserves). They were supposed to muster in the spring of each year for exercise and drill. Up to the 1870s this practice has been regularly carried out, but the authorities had grown somewhat lax, owing probably to the desire to save the expense. The second class of the 'Redifs,' which is the first that would be called out in case of war, would furnish better soldiers than the first, although older men, as its ranks would be principally composed of those who fought in the great struggle with Russia in 1877. In the first class would be found a large proportion,of comparatively untrained men. This source of weakness, however, would soon disappear with the display of a little energy on the part of the officers, as the Turk is a natural-born soldier, learning his drill quickly, and having a very straight eye for shooting, as witness the slaughter of the Russians at Plevna and elsewhere.

Military critics, with pictures ever before them of grand parades in other countries, were apt to form very erroneous ideas of the efficiency of the Turkish army from the want of that precision in march and appearance which was so dear to the heart of the German drill-master. Such people, however, forget the influence that the difference of climate and of the general habits of the people must necessarily produce upon the training of the Turkish soldier, let the extent of European leaven introduced be what it may. It does not follow that because the arms swing loosely in marching, and the rifle is held occasionally a little out of line, that there is a want of discipline in the ranks; these same men will obey blindly the orders of any superior, when the European soldier might sullenly be asking the reason why. The Turkish soldier has a wonderful faculty of making himself at home anywhere, and subsisting upon scant rations. Encamped anywhere near a wood they will hut themselves with the greatest celerity, and if no cover is possible will lie down contentedly on the bare ground.

As for the numerical strength of the 'Nizam,' some set the regular army down at some 250,000 men of all arms. Others were inclined to set it down at a lower figure, as, owing to the measures of economy that had been adopted, and the desire to augment the strength of the reserve classes, more men have been dismissed to their homes each year than were replaced by conscripts. The regular army did not amount to more than 170,000 men. Of the 'Redifs mukadem' (first class) there are 258,000, and of the ' Redife taallu' (second class), 267,000. This gives a grand total of 695,000 men.

The troops were echelonned along the various frontiers, holding strong strategic points commanding all the routes, and behind these advance posts there are the battalions in reserve at the differeut headquarters. The weakness of the cavalry was a point that struck most military critics. All told there were not more than 15,000 sabres, and in the eyes of Europeans accustomed to the heavy cavalry of the West, the Turkish horse appeared to be a force of little value. Nevertheless, except in point of numbers, it was quite equal to any work that is ever likely to fall in its way. There was not one of the regiments, it is true, that could stand a charge of heavy cavalry ; but of the latter none are to be found either in Greece, Montenegro, Servia, or Bulgaria. Then, again, in Asia Minor all the possible battle-fields are singularly unfavourable to cavalry acting on the offensive, and dragoons and cuirassiers would be quite out of place where the light horsemen of Turkey would have to act in that quarter.

The true strength of the Turkish cavalry is that of exploration. Like the Russian Cossacks, with whom they will best bear comparison, or the 'Uhlans' of Germany, the Osmanli horse-soldier should be used only for making an advance or covering a front, and gathering information. They were quite equal to this sort of work, for small as the horses appeared, they are exceedingly wiry, and can manage to get along where the finer chargers of European cavalry would break down and die. Anatolia furnished the horses for both the cavalry and artillery. They were a little small for the heavy field-pieces that were then coming into use, and an effort was therefore being made to obtain a stronger draught animal, by introducing Hungarian horses into the country. The Turkish cavalry soldier was armed with the guardless curved sword of the Cossack and the Winchester rifle, as well as a pair of revolvers. The artillery was in possession of precisely the same class of weapons as that with which the Germans went into the field against France in 1870 - viz. four and six centimetre guns. These are very handy and effective weapons, but the Germans having gone in for a heavier caliber, the Turks must needs follow suit, and so efforts are being made to replace these guns with pieces of seven and eight centimeters bore.

The budget decree of 1880 stringently limited the peace strength of the Ottoman army to 100,000 men, "including officers and generals," in order to put a stop to the rapidly increasing military expenditure; but this was merely the expression of a pious wish, at a time when European financial good will was indispensable, that expenditure might be kept down. No real attempt has ever been made to observe the decree, and indeed observance has been impossible seeing the dangers which never cease to menace the empire. To some extent the real level of military expenditure has been masked by the separation of certain payments into "extraordinary" expenditure, a course which, it is understood, has not been followed in the budgets of the "new rgime."

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:45 ZULU