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The Military Balance

At first glance the war between Turkey and Russia suggests an encounter between a giant and a pygmy. Russia, with her broad fields, her inexhaustible supplies, drawing her army from a population of ninety millions seemed to have all the requisites of success when compared with the mountainous land where the Turk recruited his army from amongst the seventeen million Mohammedans who were eligible for service. Circumstances, however, combined to balance the scales. The Crimean war, only twenty years before, had crippled Russia, and the treaty which followed had prohibited her a fleet on the Black Sea. This latter disability had been removed with the tacit consent of Bismarck in 1870, but money was needed to rebuild the new ships. Moreover, she needed to reorganize and equip a modern army, to build railroads, and to develop resources, if she were to carry on a brilliant war after the fashion of the Germans. For all these things the money was lacking, and the bankers of Europe were Great Britain and France who had imposed the terms of the Treaty of Paris. On the other hand, Turkey had in Great Britain a ready source of supply for whatever gold was needed, and though the political corruption in Turkey diverted much of this from its proper uses, nevertheless enough money was used honestly to arm her forces with modern weapons and to build a number of first-class ships for the navy. By reason of these, command of the Black Sea was Turkey's during the war.

In organization and commanders, the Russians had their opponents at a disadvantage. In 1874 the Czar had issued an imperial ukase which provided for universal service whereby 150,000 men entered the standing army yearly. Service of six years with the colors was followed by nine years in the reserve, and five in the militia. All who were not chosen for active service were trained in the militia. The Czar's officers of the better class had made a study of the methods of von Moltke, and had a fair understanding of strategy as outlined by him, but were deficient in a knowledge of tactics. The men in the ranks were the impassive, ignorant peasants, devoted to the Czar; good soldiers when well led, but stupid and lacking in initiative.

The army which was organized to carry on the war consisted of nine corps, each of two infantry divisions and one cavalry division. To each corps was added artillery organizations with a total armament of 108 guns - fourand nine-pounder bronze guns of an obsolete model. The infantry was armed in part with the Berdan rifle, an up-todate small-bore weapon, and in part with the Krenk rifle, a converted breech-loader, much inferior to the former. In the cavalry, the Lancer and Hussar regiments carried sabre, lance, and Berdan carbine; the Cossacks, sabre, lance, and Berdan rifle; the Dragoons, sabre and Krenk rifle. In addition to the above were siege guns, pontoon trains, and other necessary equipment, which brought Russia to a strength of 200,000 men, 850 field pieces, and 400 siege guns.

As for Turkey, the army was in a wretched condition. Her forces were acquired by a system of compulsory service, limited to the Mohammedan portion of her population. Service in the standing army, the Nizam, was of four years' duration, and was followed by a service of twenty years in three classes of reserves. Exemptions from the Nizam were easily obtained, and the training in the reserves was fragmentary. The government had taken some steps to prepare the army for the war, but the defects were of a nature that could not be removed by a few weeks of frenzied preparation. It has been said that there were no books on the art of war in the Turkish language. However that may have been, it is certain that the army officers received no regular training for their positions, and possessed no knowledge of strategy, tactics, or organization. The rank and file were good marchers and good fighters, who needed only leadership to produce a splendid army.

Theoretically, this army of Turkey was organized with the corps as the unit, but such was the confusion that frequently battalions of different corps fought in the same brigade. For fighting purposes the unit was the battalion and the higher forms were organized as occasion demanded. Three quarters of the infantry was armed with the PeabodyMartini rifle; the remainder with the Snider. The Martini was as good a rifle as was in existence at the time; the Snider was inferior but was an excellent weapon. The former was sighted to 1800 yards, the latter to 1300. The cavalry was badly mounted and had little or no training. Its arm was the Winchester rifle and revolver, the former being replaced in some squadrons by the lance. The artillery was armed with Krupp breech-loaders, four- and six pounders. These were greatly superior to the Russian field pieces, but the advantage in weapons was more than counterbalanced by the lack of training in the personnel. To oppose her enemy, Turkey had in Europe 265,000 men and 450 guns, but both men and guns were scattered here and there about her territory and only casual efforts were made to collect them. The large Turkish armies are accounted for by the fact that Turkey had just engaged in a war with Serbia the previous year, and fully 95,000 of these troops were in Bosnia, Montenegro, and Herzegovina.

The principal battle ground of the war was that strip of what is now Bulgaria which lies between the Danube River and the Balkan Mountains. The Turkish frontier in 1877 was along the Danube River. At Rassova, the Danube turns northward, and here between the river and the sea is that territory known as the Dobrudja. Through this barren swampy country lies the most direct road from Russia to the Dardanelles, and along it the victorious armies of 1828 marched to Constantinople. But at that time, Russia commanded the Black Sea and was able to bring supplies from the sea for her advancing columns. In 1877 Turkey was supreme on the sea, and could not only prevent the supply of such an advancing army, but could land troops to attack its flank. Moreover, at Silistria, Varna, Shumla, and Rustchuk, in the so-called Quadrilateral, were strong forts which must either be reduced by the invader, or masked by strong detachments of his forces.

To the west along the Danube were the fortified towns of Sistova, Nikopol, Rahova, and Vidin. The Russians had information that Osman Pasha was at Vidin with 30,000 men, that some 10,000 men were at the other three Danubian cities, that Abdul Kerim Pasha, the Turkish commander-in-chief, was in command of the Quadrilateral with 85,000 men, and that Ali Pasha was in the Southern Dobrudja with 18,000 men.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:28 ZULU