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Ottoman Army - 1914

After 1909 the Turkish army was reorganized under direction of a German military mission, whose head was Field Marshal von der Goltz. The mission consisted of about 20 officers. The principle running through the new organisation of the Turkish army is that of groups of three, the Army Corps having three divisions, each division three regiments, and each regiment three battalions. This arrangement admits of a maximum of combinations. Under an exceptional and provisional arrangement, the 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th Army Corps comprise two divisions only instead of three. There were then in all forty-three divisions.

A typical division of the new army comprised three regiments of infantry of three battalions each, one battalion of Chasseurs (Nichandji), one regiment of artillery consisting of six batteries each of four quick-firing guns, two squadrons of cavalry, one detachment of the Medical Corps, and one detachment of the military train. In addition, and independently of the divisions, there are attached to each Army Corps, one battalion of engineers, three batteries of heavy artillery, six batteries of mountain artillery, one brigade of cavalry, one regiment of Chasseurs (Nichandji), one detachment of the military train, one detachment of the Medical Corps. It is, moreover, of interest to observe that the third battalion of each regiment is a skeleton battalion, a sort of elastic body which, on mobilisation, will be brought up to its full strength, but which in peace time is used for the instruction of reservists who have joined for their period of training, and of recruits arriving from far-off districts and at different times of the year. Thanks to this arrangement, the general training of the regiment suffers no interruption.

The new distribution into Army Corps did not in itself involve the direct creation of any fresh units; it was rather an organisation which gives greater military efficiency to the forces as they existed. As a result of the system, regimental instruction was far more easily given and was far more thorough than in the past; and, moreover, the redifs or reserves, who formerly received no military training, would undergo a strict course. Indirectly, however, the new organisation tended to add to the number of effectives, for it was in its nature an elastic organisation, and it owed its elasticity to the existence of the third or skeleton battalion. This third battalion, as the supply of officers and the financial resources of the country increased, be gradually transformed into an active battalion; and, when this change was complete, a new skeleton battalion would be formed, which in its turn will undergo a similar development.

The military formula which embodied the ideas of Mahmud Shevket Pasha was well known. His ultimate ideal was an army sufficiently strong to oppose the combined forces of Bulgaria, Servia, Greece, and Russia, and at the same time to keep order at home. Mahmud aimed at being prepared for operations on all frontiers simultaneously, and with that view he contemplated the creation of an army which on a war-footing would number not less than 1,500,000 combatants. As he was a practical man who cherished no illusions, he knew that this result was not immediately attainable; but he reckoned that three or four years [from 1911] would suffice for the achievement of his aim.

It is difficult to state with accuracy the strength of the Turkish army on a peace footing. The normal effectives of the forty-three divisions were added to the independent troops attached to army corps, the garrisons, and the various military bodies of every description, the number of Turkish soldiers with the colours must exceed 300,000 men. The military reorganisation was accompanied by extensive purchases of war material, which, since the Revolution, absorbed most of Turkey's available resources. The Turks were consequently well equipped with uniforms, rifles, and guns. They were amply supplied with ammunition, 250 rounds apiece being provided for their heavy naval guns, and 300 rounds apiece for their guns of medium calibre. The field artillery and infantry were also abundantly furnished ; so that, from this point of view, the Turkish army was ready to face the gravest issues.

In 1909, barely a year after the introduction of the new regime, the first manoeuvres of the Turkish army took place. They were chiefly tentative in character, but those which followed in 1910 were on altogether other lines. Six infantry divisions took part in them ; on one side were two divisions composed of line regiments, and one of reserves (redif), all of which had formed part of the old 2nd Army Corps, that of Adrianople ; on the other were two line divisions and one of reserves, which had formed part of the old 1st Army Corps, that of Constantinople. The two together made up a force of over 60,000 men. As was only natural after so short an experience, certain defects were apparent. The superior command, in spite of the assistance of German officers, was still unequal to its task. The tactical handling of the troops was defective. The detachments engaged were allowed to lose touch. The reserves were used injudiciously. The fighting fronts were too wide.

The weak point in the Turkish army was their cavalry, which was employed but rarely in the manoeuvres, and then to very little purpose. The Turks attempted to make good their deficiency in remounts by extensive purchases in Hungary and Russia ; their horses, however, as a whole, were poor. As the cavalry had undergone very little training, the men as yet were not good horsemen. The Turks were well aware of this defect, and were making enormous efforts to overcome it.

The finest branch of the Turkish service was their artillery. It was armed with Krupp guns, which in spite of certain defects were excellent. The artillerymen were apt at taking cover; they had the instinct of their profession, and with a certain amount of practice they would rapidly gain efficiency. Their task would be made easier by the extensive ranges now being laid out near Constantinople.

The auxiliary services and the commissariat were undeniably defective. They were in fact hardly organised at all; but this deficiency served only to bring into prominence the inventive power of the Turks. At the beginning of the manoeuvres of 1910 they devised in all its details a system of food-supply which, in spite of the absence of roads and the inferior quality of the materials available, worked fairly well.

It is worthy of observation that the Turkish foot-soldier cherished his rifle as a sacred thing ; he regarded it with almost religious veneration.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:47 ZULU