Friday, August 15, 2014

Turkish Historical Society releases World War I archival photos

Interesting link from Hurriyet, a major Turkish Daily and reportedly the third most visited news website in Europe, probably due to the large number of immigrant Turks and Kurds in northern Europe.  In any case it shows a large digital album of 100 year-old photographs.

Unfortunately they are not captioned.  Photo #23 was particularly intriguing: six Turkish soldiers smiling at the camera next to a tent with an American flag hanging at the entrance. I am conjecturing that they are Turkish-American returnees.  New York and New England received many ethnic Turks from the Balkans and Cyprus prior to WW-1.

Photo #40!!!  Wow, that is a genuine old-school kanonisti.  My back hurts just looking at that guy.  Gallipoli probably and I bet that shell has either General Hamilton’s or Admiral de Robeck's name written on it in chalk.

Gallipoli is where Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) made his bones.  His face is undoubtedly in a photo of  one of those groups of  officers.  A young Mulazim (Lieutenant) Tahsin Yazıcı was also at Gallipoli and may be in one of those pics.  35 years later he commanded the Turkish Brigade in Korea as part of the United Nations Command.

I used to associate Turkey during WW1 only with the Aussies at Gallipoli and Faisal’s Arab Revolt.  But wait, not so fast:  In eastern Turkey and the Caucasus the Ottomans fought battles at Ardahan, Sarikamish, Van, Koprukoy, Trabizon, Bitlis & Mus, Erzinca, Baku, Sardarapat, Kara-Killisse, and Bash-Arbaran.  Circassian and Kurdish cavalry, Azeris, Persians, and German advisers fought alongside peasant Anatolian infantry (some Kurds fought for the Russkies too, they were not a monolithic bloc).  The initial Russian advances (along with their Armenian and Assyrian allies) were most likely due to a priority Ottoman defense of Gallipoli.  The Turks fought and won the the Battle of Ctesiphon and the Siege of Kut in Iraq.  They beat Allenby in two of the three Battles of Gaza in Palestine but lost the third and the Battle of Megiddo. They stalemated the Brits in the Yemen.  Turkish Navy ships in addition to contributing to the allied defeat at Gallipoli accompanied battlecruiser SMS Goeben (redesignated TCG Yavuz) on raids to Russian ports in the Black Sea.

Good reads on the subject are by Professor Edward J Erickson, former US Army Field Artillery Officer, and is now a professor of military history.  He has written several books on Turkey and its history.

UPDATE:  I have been scolded, and rightfully so, for not mentioning five other WW1 Fronts in which Ottoman troops served:

Galicia where the 19th and 20th Turkish Divisions were hastily sent after Austro Hungarian Forces melted during the Brusilov Offensive.  The famous 19th Division had previously been commanded by Atataturk at Gallipoli.  They fought alongside the German 55th and 1st (Reserve) Bavarian Divisions. (Note – This area is now mostly the Western Ukraine)

Romania where the 15th and 25th Turkish Divisions fought under von Mackensen against both Romanian and Russian troops.

Macedonia where two more Turkish Divisions (50th and 46th) reinforced the Bulgarians and fought against an Anglo-French Expeditionary Force. (Note – The Turks arrived there to much cheering by Khosovars and Albanians.)

Libya where the Turks armed and advised the Senussi guerrilla war against the Italians and also invaded the British in Egypt.  They were reinforced with a single Turkish Infantry Battalion. (Note – The Senussis were a key anti-Gaddafi faction in the 2011 Libyan Civil War.)

Iraq/Persian border where a small Turkish detachment held off Russian attacks on Khanaqin. (Note - Khanaqin is just a short distance away from Jalawla where heavy fighting is going on today between Kurds and IS.) 


  1. Interesting to see what things they considered important enough to take a picture of.

  2. I think #38 and 39 include the German general officer seconded to the Porte, Liman von Sanders and his staff. Smart guy, did his best to reorganize the Ottoman troops into 20th Century standards...

    And your ammo bearer must have been some kind of serious beast - that's a hell of a big round he's toting!

  3. Early 20th cent Turkish history is near and dear to us. Our little village was resettled in 1922 by three Greek refugees from Smyrna, who were given farm land by the local monastery to start their new lives. The lands had been given to the monastery over the years by islanders who left to start a new life elsewhere during the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Amongst the "treasures" the refugees brought with them were photos and negatives of life in Turkey. Many of these have been copied and are on display in our village community hall, with explanatory notes. There are a couple of photos from the WWI period of both Greek and Turkish troops.

  4. Chief - Most of the photos appear to be Palestine. So maybe #38 and 39 are of von Falkenhayn who had been sent to those boondocks after Verdun. The handlebar mustache looks more like him. He took up writing after the war. You can read his book about the German GHQ free online at but it only covers 1914 through 16.

  5. Aviator - Sad times back then after the war. The Turks had their own "stab-in-the-back" theories as to why they lost the war. So much for the war-to-end-all-wars theory. What Turkey calls their War of Independence continued for more than four more years after WW1 until July 1923. Counting the Balkan Wars prior to WW1 it adds up to 11 years of war. In any case those three refugees you mention were extremely lucky not to die during the the great fire of Smyrna.

  6. mike- My generation in the village are the offspring of the three, as well as some of other Smyrna Greeks. The Greeks of Asia Minor in Greece are a tight knit community. Every Sept, on the weekend closest to the 22nd (last day of the fire), our village sponsors an "Asia Minor Festival" in honor of their ancestors. Traditional music, dancing and song. Our island choral and folk dance groups perform, and we will invite choral and dance groups from another Asia Minor community elsewhere in Greece. We will serve complimentary food and drink, and will typically have a crowd of 600 to 700 attend from outside the village. Pretty ambitious project for a village of almost 100 adults and children. Our children's folk dance and musical group keeps getting better and better. Of course, the history of Smyrna has been told to us in great detail by our neighbors.

  7. Sad times indeed. Homer would have weeped over Smyrna's fate. Or more likely he would have written an epic more compelling than either the Iliad or Odyssey.

    The Greeks, Kurds, and Armenians all got screwed big time when the Treaty of Sevres was abandoned by the major allies. But Britain and France were tired of war and besides they already had a huge land grab reward with their Sykes-Picot agreement.

  8. Aviator -

    I hope you do not think that I meant any disrespect to the Greeks of Smyrna and elsewhere on the Ionian coast. I spent part of my youth in a city with a small but significant Greek population, and went to school with many of them. I also had to accompany my grandmother when she cooked and cleaned at the George Dilboy VFW post as one of the Ladies Auxiliary. Dilboy was the Greek-American Medal of Honor winner (posthumous) in WW1. I find now after researching him that he was born near Smyrna.

    Perhaps in the future a post on Smyrna is in order? You are probably much more qualified to post that than I.

  9. An off-line commenter gave me some grief over not covering all of the Fronts where Turkish troops participated during World War One. See update above. A good link for more detail is at

  10. Not at all, mike. We've lived amongst these wonderful Smyrna Greeks for 9 years now, and have just scratched the surface of learning about their amazing history and culture. By 1922, Smyrna had become a very vibrant, cosmopolitan, major Mediterranean city. The Katastrophia cannot be really understood without knowing what Smyrna was before the fire. This documentary gives a pretty good picture

  11. Thanks Aviator -

    Nurredin Pasha mentioned in that documentary turns out to be not only the butcher of Smyrna and Metropolitan Chrysostomos, but also of Armenians, Kurds, and the Greeks of the Black Sea Coast. And he was also a murderer of at least one of the more liberal and well known ethnic Turks. There seems to be some dissension as to whether or not he was truly the victor over British General Townshend at Ctesiphon and Kut.or not. The Brits seem to give him credit for Ctesiphon but not Kut. Ataturk, although a friend, reportedly chided him for writing a book glorifying his own genius and exploits in Iraq.

  12. For obvious reasons, our parish, as well as most parishes with Smyrna roots, sings a brief commemorative hymn of St Chrysostomos at every service:

    A great martyr of the Church, a great hero to the whole nation, let us hymn Chrysostom of Smyrna. Bravely struggling patiently for homeland and faith until death, he showed himself a model hierarch, receiving the unfading crown

  13. Appreciate the update, mike, about the "other theaters" the Turks fought in WW1. Just reminds me how the Ottoman Army really was kind of a fascinating critter. As individuals and small units the Turkish troops were damn good. But everything above the grand tactical level the Ottomans seem to have been as sketchy as the Ottomans were at everything else they did; kind of ramshackle and all over the place.

    I think that tactically they were fortunate to have joined the Central Powers; a well-led German division would have gone through most Ottoman outfits like a does of salts. Instead they got to match up against some of the worst of the Entente; Italians, Romanians, Russians, the dregs of the British colonial's pretty amazing, when you think about it, that the Allies did as well as they did given the level of incompetence their senior leadership showed. Honestly...half those jokers could have fucked up a kid's birthday party.

    What's really depressing is how badly supported the Turkish troops were. They got little or nothing in the way of medical or logistical support - I can't imagine a more awful fate than to have been a wounded Turkish troop in 1916 - and they still fought like sonsofbitches.

  14. @FDChief: Your comment "...all over the place" is right on target. They fought in three continents in WW-1 and 15 countries (not counting their own country where they fought on three different fronts).

    Enver Pasha seems to have been the main problem for the ramshackle character of the Ottoman Army. A true "political general", more of a coup manager than a fighting general. He was the one that pushed for an alliance with Germany. A touch of Teutonophilia maybe, he was an attache in Berlin in 1909? Many Turks wanted to side with the Brits and the French as they had half a century earlier in the Crimean War.

    In the winter of 1914 he personally took command of the Third Army and was responsible for the disastrous campaign in the Allahuekber Mountains of eastern Turkey where most of his troops froze to death. Enver wanted to grandly imitate the German success at Tannenberg using the same envelopment maneuver. He ignored the terrain, weather, and equipment differences. Reportedly only 3400 out of 32,500of two of his divisions survived the march with no boots and no winter uniforms and the 3400 survivors were all either sick or frostbitten. He had other grand dreams also, General von Sanders is quoted in his memoirs as saying: “Before the Caucasian campaign began, Enver explained to me his plans in detail. At the end of our meeting, he told me about his intentions, which were really buoyant, but also a little weird. He was going to march to India and Afghanistan after he was done with the Caucasus.”

    And then later he sent off those six Turkish Divisions to Eastern Europe when they were needed in Palestine and Mespotamia.

    After the war he fled to Germany. He was tried in Turkey 'in absentia' and sentenced to death. He apparently never gave up his pan-Turkic dreams as he went to Turkestan in Central Asia to lead a rebellion against the Bolsheviks. The Red Army killed him there.

  15. 3400 out of 32,500 (two of his divisions)