Ottoman Enemies: Austria and Russia

In 1643 the Ottomans retook Baghdad from Persia; in the 1660s the Koprulu grand viziers finally destroyed Venetian power in the Levant, and took Ukraine; in 1711 Peter the Great and his army were holed up on the River Pruth, and sued for an abject peace; even in the 1730s the Austrians, hoping for a whirlwind victory like the one Prince Eugene had won for them twenty years before, were driven out of Belgrade instead. Sometimes it seemed that by a convulsive effort the empire could shake off lethargy and confusion, and discover some of its old direction.

But the troughs from which the Ottomans climbed were deeper every time. In 1674 they lost their first land battle against the Habsburgs at St Gotthard. Then came the crushing failure at Vienna in 1683; a string of defeats culminating in the humiliating treaty of Karlowitz in 1699; the no less disastrous treaty of Passarowitz, in 1718; the inescapable rise of Russian power in the eighteenth century, and the indefatigable resistance of Persia. These were hammer blows the empire sought to deflect by a variety of retreats: into diplomacy, safer territory, nostalgic fantasy, or selfishness. People moved to carve themselves out a place in an enterprise which struggled, first to maintain the status of a lofty power, then against failure, and lastly against disintegration, as the effort to pull together and recoup grew harder with the years.

The treaty of Belgrade in 1739, and treaties with Persia in 1748, gave the empire almost half a century of unprecedented peace. When the Ottomans chose to break that peace with a new series of Russian wars in 1784, they were roundly defeated, and the exercise proved only how fantastic all their expectations had become, and what little use they had made of this respite. By the end of the eighteenth century, Russian armies could lunge at Edirne; Napoleon took Egypt in 1800; and the integrity of Ottoman dominion, such as it was, was maintained as much by the bickerings of foreign diplomats as by any active policy of the state.

Some say that the causes of Ottoman decline are to be sought on the periphery, which no longer provided the empire with fresh blood; others blame it on the behaviour of the palace. Old-fashioned historians observed that the warrior blood of early sultans had been diluted, drop by drop, by the foreign slave-girls of the harem; as late as 1911 Professor Libyer computed the falling-off, and declared that the Ottoman Sultan possessed no more than one part in a million of Turkish blood (another historian corrected him by factoring in the Turkish odalisques, and thus arrived at a sum of about 1/16,000). But they also point to the entry of Muslim boys into the slave caste of the empire. Some see the empire’s nemesis not in western imbroglios but in the perpetual struggle with Shi’ite Persia, which promoted a stale orthodoxy and beggared the treasury. Foreign historians tend to blame the international forces of capitalism – their capital, their force – and suggest that the West reduced the empire to a peripheral producer of raw materials. Turkish historians repatriate the faults: they demonstrate that western trade had a negligible influence on the empire until the nineteenth century. But the military experts, taking the last Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 as a moment of reckoning, suggest that Austria and Russia were beginning to learn lessons that the Ottomans themselves had already started to forget.

War provided an excuse to raise more taxes, a full quarter of which were spent on the Sultan and his palace. War took the janissaries and the spahi cavalry off the streets. War brought the Ottoman Empire into the field, kindled some of the old flame, and set the elderly mechanism creaking and whirring into life again. Success or failure at the march’s end was really beside the point; and wars continued to be punctiliously waged even when Ottoman armies journeyed, not as a glorious caravan to lands of booty, but to dismal and near-inevitable defeats.

Both Austria and Russia benefited from coming late to the imperial feast: they were able to arrange their command structures, their tax-gathering efforts, and their technology to suit the modern style of warfare. The superiority of massive infantry divisions backed by mobile field artillery over medieval cavalry charges and heavy bronze siege cannon had been proved in Central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, when the strategy had been imported from France and Italy. It demanded much more from the state, for while knights who took revenues from their own lands were satisfied with the plunder they could seize from others, and remained, in essence, marauding hordes, the new style of warfare demanded huge discipline, systems of co-ordination, and a massive investment of funds – training, wages and supply. This in turn called for a very efficient tax system, encouraging the growth of a sophisticated bureaucracy backed by military force: if the countryside was to be milked, it had to be held hard.

The Russians eventually turned out to be very good at this. With their seemingly limitless reserves of manpower, they were quick to settle, cultivate and tax newly conquered lands, which paid for the army moving up ahead. Because they were moving on the whole into underpopulated territory, north and north-west of the Black Sea, their conquests had greater homogeneity than the Austrians could impose in Central Europe, or the Ottomans had ever considered imposing on the Balkans when they slipped in their horsemen as one link in the tax system. The passage of Ottoman armies, not composed of disciplined conscripts but of predatory horsemen and hired guns, and the high-handed attitude of the privileged janissaries towards peasants, did nothing to encourage settlement on the Ottoman frontier. Austria and Russia used armies as a palisade behind which people could be settled for tax and cultivation, which financed the next advance. The Ottomans left settlement to private initiative.

The support mechanisms which the Ottomans had excelled at establishing from early times were now looking old-fashioned. The guild-bound artisans of Constantinople were not up to manufacturing matériel and arms on the scale that modern war demanded. The tax system was fairly rudimentary, and nothing in Ottoman experience or training prepared them for the business of managing the enormous funds a modern state was obliged to raise, protect and disburse for war. Ottomans did not, on the whole, engage in trade; they worked in administration; their minorities, Greeks, Jews and Armenians, separated from them by a gulf of culture and sympathy, traditionally looked after the money side.

The Austrian years were dominated by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who brought drill and discipline, promotion by merit and a clear command structure to the Austrian armies. Within a few years the Austrians were able to inflict regular defeats on the Ottomans with armies no larger than before. Under Eugene, the Austrians had taken Belgrade and Nis; in 1697 they had defeated Sultan Mustafa IV in person at Zenta, on the lower Tisza, thwarting Ottoman efforts to recover the middle Danube, and created the conditions by which the Habsburgs gained Hungary and Transylvania in the peace of Karlowitz in 1699. Following a resumption of war, the treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 established Habsburg rule over Serbia itself, and it might have seemed that the Austrians were poised to sweep the Ottomans back into Asia. But ‘pride spread the veil of negligence over the eye of sagacity’, as an Ottoman historian once wrote. Eugene’s brilliance and daring so overawed his junior officers that when he was dead, and they had the command, they fatally sought to imitate his daring, while possessing none of his brilliance. Trying to repeat history without Eugene in the campaigns of 1734–6 they found themselves losing most of their gains to Ottoman armies which, if not brilliantly generalled, and no longer splendidly equipped, were very obdurate. The treaty of Belgrade in 1739 overturned many of the decisions of Passarowitz, and Serbia was returned to the empire.

The spirit of victory now moved decisively to Russia. The Tsars began to develop a sort of scientific rhythm to secure and settle the great steppe, which extended south of Muscovy to the northern shores of the Black Sea; after which they could reach out with both arms to encircle the so-called Turkish lake. By 1774, when Russia inflicted the humiliating treaty of Kucuk Kainardji on the Ottomans, Austria’s own twin-headed eagle seemed to peer uncertainly now east, now west; and in token of her confusion she was working as Russia’s poor relation, in the field at least. Austrian armies suffered one of their most terrible defeats near Slatina in 1788, when the order to halt one night was mistaken, by men further down the column, as the shout of ‘Allah!’ Believing the Turks had sprung an ambush, the troops panicked. The drivers of the ammunition carts lashed their horses to full speed, and at the terrible sound of their wheels, which sounded to the infantry like the charge of enemy cavalry, the soldiers fell out of line and clustered together in terrified huddles, firing wildly in all directions. At daybreak, without an enemy in sight, the corpses of 10,000 Austrian soldiers lay scattered across the snow.

The momentum of Russian victory, though, was slow to gather. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Russians were harassing and nibbling at the frontiers of the Crimea, where the treaty of Karlowitz had given them a toehold. They had, as the Tartar chief informed the Sultan, begun to intrigue with his orthodox flock, reaya, the Tsar casting himself in the light of a redeemer. The Swedes, at war with Russia, urged the dangers of the bear. In 1710, accordingly, the Grand Mufti issued a fatwa licensing war against Russia as not only justifiable but necessary. Thirty thousand janissaries were enrolled; the Kapudan Pasha readied the fleet, and the Russian ambassador was clapped up in the Castle of the Seven Towers, by way of declaring war.

Peter the Great secured his advance into Ottoman realms by buying the favour of the two hospodars, of Wallachia and Moldavia – but Prince Brancovich of Moldavia was playing a deep game, and when Peter’s army had crossed the River Prut to begin its advance through the principality the Tsar found that the supplies he wanted were not forthcoming. His men were already suffering from hunger and disease, and he boldly determined to push on and capture a vast stockpile of weapons and food which the Ottomans had made for themselves further south. The Ottomans had undoubtedly benefited from the unpalatable defeats registered by the treaty of Karlowitz twelve years before, and had been spurred into making improvements in their army and intelligence. While Peter marched down the right bank of the Prut, believing the Grand Vizier’s army still far away, the Ottoman army was even now advancing up the left bank to meet him. Ten thousand Crimean Tartars had brushed aside an advance guard which attempted to prevent them crossing, and very soon the entire Russian army found itself holed up between the Prut and a marsh. From the opposite bank the Ottoman guns prevented any soldier from approaching the river, and after two days of desperate fighting the Russians were unable to break the Turkish encirclement.

On 21 July 1711, Peter signed a treaty promising to keep within his own dominions in future, and to retreat from Azov, which had given him an entry into the Black Sea. Entirely at the mercy of the Grand Vizier, he was allowed to withdraw on astonishingly light terms. Peter himself never re-opened hostilities with the empire in his lifetime; but the project was only deferred, and in 1774, when the situation was reversed – when the Russians had swept victorious right up to the Balkan passes, and the Vizier discovered that he had just 8,000 men to defend the Bulgarian pass at Sumla and sued for peace, the Russian general Romanzoff delayed putting his signature to the treaty for four days, allowing it to fall on the anniversary of the treaty of the Pruth, to expunge the memory of that humilating reverse.

The treaty of Kucuk Kainardji, signed on 21 July 1774, was very different from the treaty extracted from Peter some sixty years before; it mirrored, rather, the treaty of Karlowitz signed with the Austrians in 1699, when the Ottomans were forced to give way in Central Europe. In 1774 they lost control of the northern shore of the Black Sea. Kucuk Kainardji made the Crimean Tartars independent of the Sultan, an obvious preliminary to their absorption into the Russian Empire, which took place ten years later. The Sultan was permitted to retain his role as Caliph, but this was a shadowy title at best (Selim the Grim, who had allegedly earned it by his conquest of Arabia and the Holy Cities, had not used it himself; its importance rose only as the temporal authority of the Sultan waned). The Principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia, were returned to the Porte, but the Russian ambassador was given the right to make representations on their behalf. Russian merchant ships were allowed access to Ottoman waters, which meant that for the first time since the Conquest, foreign ships might pass through the Bosphorus. The Russian ambassador was entitled to represent the interests of a new church that was to be built in Constantinople, as well as its ministers; and by sleight of hand this became, in the end, a claim by the Tsar to act as ultimate protector of all his co-religionists in the Sultan’s realms.

At St Gotthard, in 1674, the Ottomans had suffered their first true defeat on an open field (‘Who are these young girls?’ the Grand Vizier wanted to know when he saw the French cavalry advancing, with shaven faces and powdered wigs: but ‘Allons! allons! tue! tue!’ was a cry the Turks did not forget). The Austrian general in command during that engagement wrote later of the tremendous courage and obstinacy displayed by the Ottoman troops, but he was astonished, too, by their inexplicable failure to make use of the pike, which he called ‘the queen of weapons’.

The Ottomans did have a horrid arsenal to draw on all the same, from jabby little daggers to a sinister militaristic version of the long-handled scythe; yet a century later it was not the pike but the bayonet that Ottoman armies lacked. In the summer of 1774 General Suvarov appeared as Russia’s genius, and the bayonet’s devotee. ‘The ball is a fool – the bayonet a hero!’ was one of his maxims. He taught his soldiers to attack instantly and decisively: ‘attack with the cold steel – push hard with the bayonet!’ His soldiers adored him, and he never lost a single battle. He joshed with the men, called the common soldiers ‘brother’, and shrewdly presented the results of detailed planning and careful strategy as the work of inspiration. He announced the capture of Ismail in 1791 to the Tsarina Catherine in a doggerel couplet, after the assault had been pressed from house to house, room to room, and nearly every Muslim man, woman and child in the city had been killed in three days of uncontrolled massacre, 40,000 Turks dead, a few hundred taken into captivity. For all his bluffness, Suvarov later told an English traveller that when the massacre was over he went back to his tent and wept.


Nader Shah II

The Battle of Yeghevārd was one of Nader’s most tactically impressive triumphs in his military career.

The flank march of Nader’s army at Battle of Khyber pass has been called a “military masterpiece” by the Russian general & historian Kishmishev.

At the Battle of Karnal, Nader crushed an enormous Mughal army six times greater than his own.

The Battle of Kars (1745) was the last major field battle Nader fought in his spectacular military career

With a characteristic blend of threat and diplomacy, Nader stripped the Moghul Emperor of a vast treasure of jewels, gold and silver, and accepted the gift of all the Moghul territories west of the Indus river. The treasure was worth as much as perhaps 700 million rupees. To put this sum in some kind of context, it has been calculated that the total cost to the French government of the Seven Years War (1756–1763), including subsidies paid to the Austrian government as well as all the costs of the fighting on land and sea, was about 1.8 billion livres tournois. This was equivalent to about £90 million sterling at the time: close to the rough estimate of £87.5 million sterling for the value of Nader’s haul from Delhi. Some of the jewels he took away—the largest, most impressive ones, like the Kuh-e Nur, the Darya-ye Nur and the Taj-e Mah—had a complex and often bloody history of their own in the following decades.

Nader did not attempt to annex the Moghul Empire outright. His purpose in conquering Delhi had been to secure the cash necessary to continue his wars of conquest in the west, for which the wealth of Persia alone had, by the time of his coronation, begun to prove inadequate.

Nader’s campaigns are a reminder of the centrality of Persia to events in the region, in ways that have parallels today. A list of some of Nader’s sieges—Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Mosul, Kandahar, Herat, Kabul, has a familiar ring to it after the events of the first years of the twenty-first century. It is worth recalling that Persians were not strangers in any of the lands in which Nader campaigned. Although he and his Safavid predecessors were of Turkic origin and spoke a Turkic language at court, the cultural influence of Persian was such that the language of the court and administration in Delhi and across northern India was Persian, and diplomatic correspondence from the Ottoman court in Istanbul was normally in Persian too. Persian hegemony from Delhi to Istanbul would in some ways have been a natural thing for many of the inhabitants of the region, echoing the Persian character of earlier empires, and the all-pervasive influence of Persian literary, religious and artistic culture.

Nader’s annexation of Moghul territory west of the Indus, removing the geographical barrier of the Afghan mountains, was one indicator that, had his regime endured, it might have expanded further into India. Other pointers in the same direction include his construction of a fleet in the Persian Gulf, which would have greatly facilitated communications between the different parts of such an empire, and his adoption of a new currency, designed to be interchangeable with the rupee. If this had happened (especially if the trade route through to Basra, Baghdad and beyond had been opened up), and had been managed wisely, there could have been a release of trade and economic energy comparable to that under the Abbasids, a thousand years before. But that was not to happen.

On his return from India, Nader discovered that his son, Reza Qoli, who had been made viceroy in his absence, had executed the former Safavid Shahs Tahmasp and Abbas. Nader’s displeasure at this was increased by his dislike of the magnificent entourage Reza Qoli had built up while Nader had been in India. Nader took away his son’s viceroyship and humiliated him. From this point their relationship deteriorated, and he came to believe that Reza Qoli was plotting to supplant him.

From India Nader made a successful campaign in Turkestan, and went on to subdue the rebellious Lezges of Daghestan, but there he was unlucky. The Lezges avoided open battle and carried out a guerrilla war of ambush and attacks on supply convoys. Nader’s troops suffered from lack of food. Nader himself was troubled by illness, probably liver disease caused originally by malaria and exacerbated by heavy drinking. The sickness grew worse after his return from India, and was accompanied by great rages that became more ungovernable and insane as time went on. While he was in Daghestan in the summer of 1742 he was told that Reza Qoli had instigated an assassination attempt against him in the forests of the Savad Kuh in May 1741. Reza Qoli denied his guilt, but Nader did not believe him, and had him blinded, to prevent him ever taking the throne.

His failure in Daghestan, his illness, and above all his terrible remorse over the blinding of his son, brought about a crisis in Nader, a kind of breakdown, from which he never recovered. Perhaps because of the poverty and humiliations of his childhood, Nader’s family were of central importance to him, and loyalty within the family had up to that time been unquestioned, one of the fixed points on which he had constructed his regime. Now that foundation had given way, his actions no longer showed his former energy and drive to succeed, and he underwent a drastic mental and physical decline. He withdrew from Daghestan, in terrible weather conditions, without having subdued the Lezge tribes, and (according to plans laid months and years before) called new forces together for another campaign in Ottoman Iraq.

When they gathered his army numbered some 375,000 men—larger than the combined forces of Austria and Prussia, the main protagonists in the European theatre of the Seven Years War, when that conflict began thirteen years later. This was the most powerful single military force in the world at that time—an enormous and in the long term insupportable number for a state the size of Persia (no Iranian army would reach that size again until the Iran/Iraq war of 1980-88). It has been estimated that whereas there were around 30 million people in the Ottoman territories in the eighteenth century, and perhaps 150 million in the Moghul Empire, Persia’s population was perhaps as low as 6 million, having fallen from 9 million before the Afghan revolt. Over the same period the economy collapsed, as a result of invasion, war and exactions to pay for war.

The army, and the taxation to pay for it, are recurring themes in Nader’s story. Was this army a nomad host, or a modern military force? This points to the wider question of whether Nader’s style of rule looked backward or forward. It is an extreme mixture. Nader himself repeatedly compared himself with Timur, stressing his Turkic origin and Timurid precedents in many of his public statements. He named his grandson Shahrokh after Timur’s son and successor, and at one point removed Timur’s tombstone from Samarkand for his own mausoleum, only to return it later (unfortunately, it got broken in half in the process). On several occasions he described himself as the instrument of God’s wrath on a sinful people, after the manner of earlier Asiatic conquerors, and his brutal conduct of government, particularly after his return from India, has as much in common with that of nomad warlord as that of a modern statesman.

But he was not in any simple sense a tribal leader, and in many ways remained an outsider throughout his life, in successive milieus. He was not born into the leadership of the Afshar tribe to which he belonged, and some of his determined enemies throughout his career were fellow-Afshars. From the beginning his followers were diverse, including especially Kurds and Jalayir tribesmen. Later he repudiated his Shi‘a heritage, turned Sunni (at least for public consumption) and depended most heavily on his Afghan troops. Like other Persian leaders (and Napoleon), he was close to his immediate family and promoted them politically; but in his wider connections he was an opportunist, and the term ‘Afsharid’ that is applied to him and his dynasty is misleading. The name Nader means rarity or prodigy: it is appropriate. He was sui generis, a parvenu.

Nader used government cleverly, began an important and thorough reform of taxation, and had a strong administrative grip. His religious policy was novel and tolerant in spirit. One should not overstate it, but some contemporaries remarked upon his unusually considerate treatment of women. In military matters he was wholly modern. He established the beginnings of a navy, and it now seems plain that something very like a Military Revolution, as described in the European context by Geoffrey Parker, was brought about in Persia by Nader Shah. It was under him that the majority of troops in the army were equipped with firearms for the first time, necessitating a greater emphasis on drill and training; characteristic of developments that had taken place in Europe in the previous century. The army increased greatly in size and cost, and Nader was forced to make improvements in his capability for siege warfare. He began to reshape state administration to make structures more efficient. These are all elements that have been shown to be typical of the Military Revolution in Europe.

If Nader had reigned longer and more wisely, and had passed on his rule to a competent successor, the drive to pay for his successful army could have transformed the Persian state administration and ultimately the economy, as happened in Europe, as Parker and others have argued. It could have brought about in Iran a modernising state capable of resisting colonial intervention in the following century. If that had happened, Nader might today be remembered in the history of Iran and the Middle East as a figure comparable with Peter the Great in Russia: as a ruthless, militaristic reformer who set his country on a new path. In the early 1740s he seemed set for great things—contemporaries held their breath to see whether he could succeed in taking Ottoman Iraq and establish his supremacy through the Islamic world as a whole. He had already achieved a large part of that task. Unfortunately, Nader’s derangement in the last five years of his life meant that the expense of his military innovations turned Persia into a desert rather than developing the country. His insatiable demands for cash brought about his downfall and the downfall of his dynasty.

Nader’s troops invaded Ottoman Iraq in 1743 and rapidly overran most of the province, except the major cities. Baghdad and Basra were blockaded. Nader brought up a new array of siege cannon and mortars to bombard Kirkuk, which quickly surrendered, but the defence of Mosul was conducted more resolutely. Nader’s new siege artillery pounded the walls and devastated the interior of the city, but a lot of his men were killed in unsuccessful assaults, and he no longer had the will or patience to sustain a long siege. In October 1743 he withdrew, sending peace proposals to the Ottomans. Mosul marked the end of his ambition to subdue the Ottoman Sultan and demonstrate his pre-eminence in the Islamic world. It was another important turning-point.

The latest round of forced contributions and requisitioning, to make good the losses in Daghestan and provide for the campaign of 1743, had caused great distress and resentment across Persia. Revolts broke out in Astarabad (led by Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar, whose son was to found the Qajar dynasty later in the century), Shiraz and elsewhere. Early in 1744 Nader withdrew to a camp near Hamadan, in order to be closer to the troubles and coordinate action against them. The insurrections were put down with great severity. Shiraz and Astarabad were devastated, and in each place two white towers were erected, studded with niches which held the heads of hundreds of executed men.

At length Nader realised that the Ottomans were not going to accept his peace proposals, and learned that new Ottoman armies were advancing toward his frontiers. His son Nasrollah defeated one of these, and Nader achieved victory over the other, near Yerevan, in the summer of 1745. This was his last great victory, and it was followed by a treaty with the Ottomans in the following year. But by this time new revolts had broken out, driven by Nader’s oppressive practices: each place he visited was ransacked by his troops and tax collectors, as if they were plundering enemies. His demands for money reached insane levels, and cruel beatings, mutilations and killings became commonplace. His illness recurred and irritated further his mental instability. By the winter of 1746-1747 his crazy demands for money extended even to his inner circle of family and close advisers, and no-one could feel safe. His nephew, Ali Qoli, joined a revolt in Sistan and refused to return to obedience. Unlike previous rebels, Ali Qoli and his companions had contacts among Nader’s closest attendants. In June 1747 Nader was assassinated by officers of his own bodyguard near Mashhad; they burst into his tent in the harem while he was sleeping. One of the assassins cut off his arm as he raised his sword to defend himself, and then another sliced off his head.

The short-lived nature of Nader’s achievements is one explanation for why he has not been better known outside Iran, but it is not a sufficient one. With a few exceptions Nader, having excited much interest and writing in Europe among his eigtheenth-century contemporaries, was largely ignored in the nineteenth.

Ottoman-Greek War of 1897

Painting of the Battle of Velestino.

The Ottoman-Greek War of 1897 is instrumental in understanding the successes and shortcomings of the Hamidian military. Actually, the conflict was a limited war in every aspect. The combat actions lasted barely a month. Only 10 Ottoman divisions, reinforced with partial mobilization, took part, and overall casualty figures were low. But it was large enough for an evaluation of the extent of Hamidian reforms.

The Ottoman administration tried its best to stay away from war. However, the over-confident Greek leadership saw the situation for annexing Crete and even expanding on the mainland further north as ripe for exploitation. This was partly due to miscalculation of the Great Powers’ policy and an exaggerated view of the internal problems of the Ottomans, especially regarding the recent Armenian rebellions. Two Greek regular battalions openly landed on Crete and joined with the local rebels on February 15, 1897 (the so-called Vassos Operation). Within two weeks, Greek semi-official gangs, called the Ethnike Hetairia, reinforced with regular officers and soldiers, began to launch guerrilla raids into Ottoman Thessaly. The Ottoman administration reluctantly increased the alert level and reinforced the border guards with regular infantry battalions. On April 9 a reinforced battalion-sized Greek gang with some Italian volunteers attacked Ottoman border towers and defeated a border company in Kranya (Krania). Even though they were repulsed and retreated back to Greece the next day, the incident forced the administration, which was already under intense public pressure, to declare war on Greece on April 17.

The Ottoman-Greek War of 1897 was fought in two separate theaters of operations— Alasonya-Thessaly and Yanya (Janina)-Epirus—but in most of the contemporary works the Yanya theater is neglected due to the fact that combat operations near Yanya remained at divisional level (two Ottoman divisions against a Greek division) and did not affect the outcome of the war. We can divide the combat operations in the main theater (the Alasonya front) into three stages: first, border clashes and the occupation of mountain passes (April 16–22); second, the Mati-Deliler battle and the occupation of Tirnova (Tournavos) and Yenişehir (Larissa) (April 23– May 4); and finally, the battles of Velestin (Valestinos), Çatalca (Pharsalos), and Dōmeke (Domokos) (May 5–17).

For the first time, the Ottoman high command put contingency plans into use. The plan against Greece was prepared by none other than von der Goltz in 1886. It was revised just before the start of the hostilities. The plan was simple—strategic defense by an army corps (two infantry divisions) in the Yanya region and strategic offensive by a field army (seven infantry divisions and one cavalry division) in the Alasonya region. The main idea was to force Greeks to overstretch their initial defensive lines, which were very near to the border. The main body of the Ottoman Alasonya Army would try to fall behind the Greeks before they were able to retreat back to the Yenişehir line. Von der Goltz supposed that the Great Powers would not let the Greeks be beaten and would intervene in the conflict in less than 15 days. So the Greek army had to be crushed in less than two weeks. Obviously, the revised plan demanded the rapid mobilization and transportation of combat units to the front, to fix the main body of the Greek army quickly along the border and enable the encirclement maneuver of cavalry-rich mobile divisions.

The partial-mobilization proceeded smoothly in less than two months. Thousands of reserve soldiers enthusiastically flooded the recruitment centers, and officials encountered difficulties forcing them to send home excess numbers of reserves. Similarly, hundreds of Albanian irregulars saw the conflict as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and joined the mobilized divisions as additional assets. Thanks to the availability of good railways, most of the units reached their destination on time (40,000 personnel and 8,000 pack animals were transported in 20 days). However, problems immediately started after debarkation from the troop trains. Transportation of baggage from the last train station to Alasonya, a distance of only 21 kilometers, took an inordinate amount of time and effort due to poor road conditions and lack of transportation assets. The high command was unable to find a satisfactory solution to this problem, and units had to wait days for resupply during the war.

The initial stage of the campaign showed all the shortcomings of an inexperienced but excessively enthusiastic army. Officers and soldiers sometimes ran towards the enemy as if in a race without paying attention to combat tactics and techniques, and the first casualty figures of officers (52 casualties) jumped to abnormally high levels (10 percent for the first stage, 6 percent for the whole campaign) in comparison with the intensity of the combat. Two brigade and several regiment commanders were killed in action during the initial stage (four days long). Typically, regiment and higher-level unit commanders were unable to command and control effectively their battalions. Instead of conducting the encirclement maneuver as planned, most units simply tried to push the Greek defenders back by frontal assaults. Once again, the problematic Ottoman command-control hierarchy and logistics proved clearly deficient after the start of the Greek withdrawal. Confusion, delay, and lack of coordination and communication were the norms of the day. Ottoman forward units reached weakly defended Yenişehir two days after the Greeks withdrew from the town.

Abdülhamid was extremely disillusioned with the performance of his commander in chief, Edhem Pasha, who preferred to spend more time with western journalists than with his subordinates. To make things worse, Edhem Pasha, after showing poor and wavering leadership, suddenly began to ask for reinforcements. The famous commander of the Plevne defense, Osman Pasha, was chosen to replace him, but then at the very last moment the fall of Yenişehir saved Edhem Pasha. The administration also decided to strengthen faltering staff positions by assigning all available general staff officers including military attaché’s and lecturers from the Military Academy.

The second stage proceeded along the same lines as the first. Ottoman units pushed the Greek defenders back without attempting encirclement maneuvers, and the Greeks safely evacuated their defenses retreating to their last defensive line. Although confidence and firmer control under fire replaced the combat inexperience of the Ottoman rank and file, the first battle of Velestin was a disaster. In this encounter, a forced reconnaissance turned into a futile and bloody assault, which proved that the Ottoman officers, especially, were in need of more experience.

The three pitched battles (Velestin, Çatalca, and Dōmeke) in front of the last Greek defensive line turned out to be decisive. The Greek defenders were beaten in detail and lost any chance to safeguard the road to Athens. However, thanks to the limited nature of Ottoman aims and the timely intervention of the Great Powers, Greece was saved from further humiliation. Against the expectations of the Ottoman public, the victory did not result in the return of the Thessaly region, which had been lost in 1882. In fact, the victorious Ottoman troops retreated as if defeated, and Abdülhamid spent several tense months trying to explain why the war had been won by the army but subsequently lost by the diplomats.

Obviously, the Ottoman military was better trained, led, and equipped than the overconfident Greeks. The Hamidian reforms were successful in most respects. For the first time, the Ottoman General Staff functioned like a real general staff rather than as a mere scribal bureau. The artillery corps (thanks to a high percentage of Mektebli officers) lived up to its own high standards and effectively crushed any Greek counterattacks. The newly reformed medical corps performed its medical treatment tasks by opening field hospitals at divisional-level and stationery hospitals in the rear. However, battlefield casualty evacuation, during which casualties spent hours—even entire days—without proper treatment, still lagged behind other armies. The costly investment in railways improved the performance of the ever faulty transportation and logistics system. Even the enthusiasm of the common people overcame the shortages of the Redif system. And thanks to the frequent mobilization of the Anatolian Redifs, most Anatolian Redif battalions performed as well as their regular counterparts, and the Trabzon Redifs (the only mobilized unit from Fourth Army) became famous as the best of all.

Abdülhamid and the Ottoman high command, blinded by the easy victories and by the apparent success of the improvements, paid little attention to the army’s serious problems and shortcomings. First of all, they happily ignored the Ottoman defeat that had been suffered on the Yanya front in front of Loros (Louros). The unexpected Greek assault of April 18 dislocated the Yanya Corps and defeated the 2nd Division. Even though the Yanya Corps gained confidence and recaptured the lost ground in two weeks, the serious shortcomings of the Albanian Redifs and irregulars were exposed. Indeed, the friendly fire of the raw Redifs turned out to be more fatal to their comrades than that of the enemy. The failure to benefit from the lessons of this defeat would play an important role in the collapse of Ottoman regional defense units during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913.

Second, Abdülhamid still did not comprehend the cost of his paranoia—his banning of divisional and higher-unit maneuvers and all live firing exercises. He was suspicious of all combat training and any large-unit movement, due to his fear of military uprisings or coup d’e´tats against his sultanate. Consequently, the Ottoman generals simply did not have the basic understandings of how to command their units under combat conditions. They were too slow in comprehending the rapidly unfolding modern battles, and they became a liability for their units, which were equally slow to react. The units were unable to perform complex maneuvers, failed to establish and maintain contact, and were notoriously unable to follow up victory. Abdülhamid was so paranoid that he categorically refused the distribution of modern long-range Mauser repeating rifles (fantastically, there were 480,000 7.5 mm and 220,000 9.5 mm rifles on hand) that had been purchased at the cost of increasing the foreign debt. Only one out of ten divisions that took part in the Greek War hurriedly armed themselves with these new rifles; all the others used the veteran Sniders and Martinis during the war.

Third, keeping the same generals for the sake of stability and loyalty frozen in the higher posts effectively limited the opportunity for promotion for an ambitious new generation of officers. The poor leadership performance of these privileged old guards increased the fault line between old and new generations. This especially affected the young general staff officers, who were trained by Germans, and who admired the German model and were already critical of their generals.118 In part due to their counterinsurgency experiences, they became so disillusioned that their military frustration, coupled with political aspirations, turned them into conspirators. They began to plot against the Hamidian regime and established relations with civilian opposition circles.

In conclusion, Abdülhamid achieved remarkable results with the military reforms and reorganization of the Ottoman military after the disastrous defeats at the hands of the Russians. However, his paranoia and lack of confidence in the officer corps that he himself had created limited the overall end results of the reforms. The Ottoman-Greek War not only showed the successes and shortcomings of the Hamidian military, but also acted as a catalyst in which disaffection and disillusionment of the highly trained young officers reached record levels. In a way, Abdülhamid created his own nemesis by providing a better military educational system, but not fulfilling the high expectations of the officers so educated.


Up to 1596 there was no question of international politics which did not somehow involve the Ottomans.

In 1519 the Habsburg Charles V and Francis I of France were candidates for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, and both promised to mobilize all the forces of Europe against the Ottomans. The Electors considered Charles V more suited to the task, and shortly after the election, in March 1521, these two European rulers were at war with each other. Europe, to the great advantage of the Ottomans, was divided, and Süleymân I chose this time to march against Belgrade, the gateway to central Europe. Belgrade fell on 29 August 1521. On 21 January 1522 he captured Rhodes, the key to the eastern Mediterranean, from the Knights of St John.

When Charles V took Francis prisoner at Pavia in 1525, the French, as a last resort, sought aid from the Ottomans. Francis later informed the Venetian ambassador that he considered the Ottoman Empire the only power capable of guaranteeing the existence of the European states against Charles V. The Ottomans too saw the French alliance as a means of preventing a single power dominating Europe. Francis I’s ambassador told the sultan in February 1526 that if Francis accepted Charles’ conditions, the Holy Roman Emperor would become ‘ruler of the world.’

In the following year Süleymân advanced against Hungary with a large army. The Ottoman victory at Mohács on 28 August 1526, and the occupation of Buda, threatened the Habsburgs from the rear. The Ottomans withdrew from Hungary, occupying only Srem, and the Hungarian Diet elected John Zapolya as King. At first the Ottomans wished to make Hungary a vassal state, like Moldavia, since it was considered too difficult and too expensive to establish direct Ottoman rule in a completely foreign country on the far side of the Danube. But the Hungarian partisans of the Habsburgs elected Charles V’s brother, Archduke Ferdinand, King of Hungary, and in the following year he occupied Buda and expelled Zapolya. Süleymân again invaded Hungary, and on 8 September 1529 again enthroned Zapolya in Buda as an Ottoman vassal. Zapolya agreed to pay an annual tribute and accepted a Janissary garrison in the citadel. Although the campaigning season was over, Süleymân continued his advance as far as Vienna, the Habsburg capital. After a three-week siege, he withdrew.

In 1531 Ferdinand again entered Hungary and besieged Buda. In the following year Süleymân replied by leading a large army into Hungary and advancing to the fortress of Güns, some sixty miles from Vienna, where he hoped to force Charles V to fight a pitched battle. At this moment Charles’ admiral, Andrea Doria, took Coron in the Morea from the Ottomans. Realizing that he now had to open a second front in the Mediterranean, the sultan placed all Ottoman naval forces under the command of the famous Turkish corsair and conqueror of Algiers, Hayreddîn Barbarossa, appointing him kapudan-i deryâ – grand admiral – with orders to cooperate with the French. Since 1531 the French had been trying to persuade the sultan to attack Italy and now they sought a formal alliance. In 1536 this alliance was concluded. The sultan was ready to grant the French, as a friendly nation, freedom of trade within the empire.1 The ambassadors concluded orally the political and military details of the alliance and both parties kept them secret. Francis’ Ottoman alliance provided his rival with abundant material for propaganda in the western Christian world. French insistence convinced Süleymân that he could bring the war to a successful conclusion only by attacking Charles V in Italy. The French were to invade northern Italy and the Ottomans the south. In 1537 Süleymân brought his army to Valona in Albania and besieged Venetian ports in Albania and the island of Corfu, where a French fleet assisted the Ottomans. In the following year, however, the French made peace with Charles. Francis had wished to profit from the Ottoman pressure by taking Milan, and when the emperor broke his promise he reverted to his ‘secret’ policy of alliance with the Ottomans.

In the Mediterranean Charles captured Tunis in 1535, but in 1538 Barbarossa defeated a crusader fleet under the command of Andrea Doria at Préveza, leaving him undisputed master of the Mediterranean.

When Francis again approached the sultan in 1540 he told Charles’ ambassadors, come to arrange a peace treaty, that he was unable to conclude a peace unless Charles returned French territory. There was close cooperation between the Ottomans and the French between 1541 and 1544, when France realized that peaceful negotiations would not procure Milan.

In 1541 Zapolya died, and Ferdinand again invaded Hungary. Süleymân once again came to Hungary with his army, this time bringing the country under direct Ottoman rule as an Ottoman province under a beylerbeyi. He sent Zapolya’s widow and infant son to Transylvania, which was then an Ottoman vassal state. Since 1526 Ferdinand had possessed a thin strip of Hungarian territory in the west and north, to which the Ottomans, as heirs to the Hungarian throne, now laid claim. In 1543 Süleymân again marched into Hungary with the intention of conquering the area, and at the same time sent a fleet of 110 galleys, under the command of Barbarossa, to assist Francis. The Franco-Ottoman fleet besieged Nice and the Ottoman fleet wintered in the French port of Toulon. In return, a small French artillery unit joined the Ottoman army in Hungary. This cooperation, however, was not particularly effective. With the worsening of relations with Iran Süleymân wanted peace on his western front. As in 1533, he concluded an armistice with Ferdinand, which included Charles. According to this treaty, signed on 1 August 1547, and to which Süleymân made France a party, Ferdinand was to keep the part of Hungary already in his possession in return for a yearly tribute of thirty thousand ducats.

Three years later war with the Habsburgs broke out again when Ferdinand tried to gain control of Transylvania. The Ottomans repulsed him, and in 1552 established the new beylerbeyilik of Temesvár in southern Transylvania.

When the new king, Henry II, came to the throne in France, he realized the need of maintaining the Ottoman alliance in the struggle against Charles V. The French alliance was the cornerstone of Ottoman policy in Europe. The Ottomans also found a natural ally in the Schmalkalden League of German Protestant princes fighting Charles V. At the instigation of the French, Süleymân approached the Lutheran princes, urging in a letter that they continue to cooperate with France against the pope and emperor. He assured them that if the Ottoman armies entered Europe he would grant the princes amnesty. Recent research2 has shown that Ottoman pressure between 1521 and 1555 forced the Habsburgs to grant concessions to the Protestants and was a factor in the final official recognition of Protestantism. In his letter to the Protestants, Süleymân Intimated that he considered the Protestants close to the Muslims, since they too had destroyed idols and risen against the Pope. Support and protection of the Lutherans and Calvinists against Catholicism would be a keystone of Ottoman policy in Europe. Ottoman policy was thus intended to maintain the political disunity in Europe, weaken the Habsburgs and prevent a united crusade. Hungary, under Ottoman protection, was to become a stronghold of Calvinism, to the extent that Europe began to speak of ‘Calvino-turcismus’. In the second half of the sixteenth century the French Calvinist party maintained that the Ottoman alliance should be used against Catholic Spain, and the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Calvinists infuriated the Ottoman government.

It should be added that at first Luther and his adherents followed a passive course, maintaining that the Ottoman threat was a punishment from God, but when the Turkish peril began to endanger Germany the Lutherans did not hesitate to support Ferdinand with military and financial aid; in return they always obtained concessions for Lutheranism. Ottoman intervention was thus an important factor not only in the rise of national monarchies, such as in France, but also in the rise of Protestantism in Europe.

Charles V, following the example of the Venetians, entered into diplomatic relations with the Safavids of Iran, forcing Süleymân to avoid a conflict with the Safavids, in order not to have to fight simultaneously in the east and west.

In 1533, however, Sheref Khan, the local lord in Bitlis in the frontier region, placed himself under Persian protection; at the same time, the shah’s governor in Baghdad came to an agreement with the Ottomans and war became inevitable. Süleymân signed an armistice with Ferdinand and marched on Iran at the head of his army. In this campaign of 1534–5 the Ottoman sultan took Tabriz and Baghdad and annexed Azerbaijan and Iraq. The local dynasts in the silk-producing areas of Gilan and Shirvan also recognized Ottoman suzerainty. In 1538 the Emir of Basra tendered his submission. By gaining mastery of the Persian Gulf, as well as of the Red Sea, the Ottomans controlled all the routes leading from the near east to India. By 1546 they had made Basra their second base after Suez for equipping fleets against the Portuguese; but in 1552 an Ottoman expedition failed to oust the Portuguese from the island of Hormuz which controlled the Persian Gulf.

When the Ottomans renewed the war in central Europe, the Persians counterattacked, and in 1548 Süleymân, for the second time, marched against Iran. This war lasted intermittently for seven years. By the Treaty of Amasya, signed on 29 May 1555, Baghdad was left to the Ottomans.

These Ottoman enterprises resulted, in the mid-sixteenth century, in a new system of alliances between the states occupying an area stretching from the Atlantic, through central Asia, to the Indian Ocean. In this way the European system of balance of power was greatly enlarged.

In the mid-sixteenth century the Russian Tsar, Ivan IV, occupied the Volga basin as far east as Astrakhan, threatening not only the Ottomans but also the khanates of central Asia. The Ottomans and the Uzbeks were drawn closer together. The central Asian khanates, unable to establish contact with the near east via Iran, usually used the route passing north of the Caspian Sea and leading to the Crimean ports. When the Russians gained control of this route, the central Asian khanates, and in particular the Khan of Khwarezm, made repeated calls to the Ottoman sultan to free this pilgrimage and trade route from Russian control.

The Ottomans had not regarded the great expansion of Muscovy, which until the 1530s had been a second-rate power in eastern Europe, as a danger in the north and had even supported an alliance between Muscovy and the khanate of Crimea against the Jagellonians, who threatened Ottoman sovereignty in the Crimea. In 1497 they had granted the Muscovites freedom of trade in the Ottoman Empire. But when in the 1530s the Grand Duke of Muscovy and the Khan of the Crimea went to war over the succession to the former territories of the Golden Horde in the Volga basin, the khan sought to awaken the Ottomans to the danger. It was only in the mid-sixteenth century that the Ottomans came to realize that the Russian advance threatened their position in the Black Sea basin and the Caucasus. After Ivan IV had assumed the title of tsar in 1547, he conquered and annexed the Muslim khanates of the Volga basin – Kazan in 1552 and Astrakhan in 1554–6 – advancing as far as the Terek river in the northern Caucasus, laying the foundations of the Russian Empire. In this region the tsar found allies among the Circassians and the Nogays; in the west in 1543, Petru Raresh, the voivoda of Moldavia, had sought the protection of Moscow; and finally, in 1559, the Cossack chieftain Dimitrash attempted to capture the fortress of Azov, the northernmost outpost of the Ottoman Empire. Following these successes, the tsardom of Muscovy succeeded the khanate of the Golden Horde as a first-class power in eastern Europe, spreading its influence into Ottoman domains in the Caucasus and the Black Sea region.

The Ottomans were able to turn their attention to the north only after 1566, when the war with the Habsburgs was no longer pressing. They conceived the bold plan of conveying an Ottoman army and fleet up the Don to the place where it flows closest to the Volga, where they would dig a canal between the two rivers, allowing the fleet to sail on Astrakhan down the Volga. The army and navy would cooperate in ousting the Russians from Astrakhan, the fleet then entering the Caspian Sea to assist the Ottoman army in Iran. The plan thus aimed to drive the Russians from the Volga basin and encircle Iran. This common danger united the two powers. In the winter of 1568 the tsar sent an envoy to Iran proposing an alliance against the Ottomans, and at the same time Pope Gregory XIII included the tasr and the shah in his plans for a crusade against the Ottomans. In 1569 the Ottoman attempt to dig the canal and besiege Astrakhan failed. The grand vizier, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, had formulated the plan, and his rivals now proposed that the empire should concentrate its forces in the Mediterranean rather than continue the expensive and difficult war in the north. The tasr, for his part, knew that for the time being he could not hope to challenge the Ottomans.

To preserve his position in the Volga basin, the tsar adopted a peaceful and even friendly policy towards the sultan. The sultan left Kazan and Astrakhan in Russian hands but claimed Ottoman sovereignty over the khanate of the Crimea, the Circassian lands and the Caucasus. He demanded that the Russians withdraw from these areas and keep open the route from central Asia to the Crimea. But the sultan did not pursue this policy consistently or forcefully, since at this point he opened hostilities with western Europe in the Mediterranean, capturing Cyprus in 1570 and meeting with a crushing defeat at Lepanto in 1571.

Although the pope urged Russia to join Austria and Poland in attacking the Turks, the tsar remained at peace. Once established in the Volga basin, his policy was one of procrastination. He never evacuated the fortresses he had built in the northern Caucasus.

The Ottoman government left the struggle against Russia to its two vassals, the Khan of the Crimea and the Prince of Erdel (Transylvania). When the tsar stood for election as King of Poland in 1572, the Ottoman supported first Henry of Valois and then their vassal Stephen Batori, the Prince of Erdel. They succeeded in winning the Polish throne for Stephen, who then began a merciless struggle against Moscow, recovering all the tsar’s conquests in the west.

War Against the Ottoman [and French] on Sea

Barbarossa’s fleet wintering in the French harbour of Toulon, 1543. (by: Matrakçı Nasuh)

French King Henry II renewed his father’s policy of alliance with the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, to mount joint operations of the French, Turkish and corsair fleets in the western Mediterranean. For both sides, these naval campaigns had the same strategic aim, to weaken imperial and Spanish power, but they had significantly different views on tactics. Destructive raids to garner booty and slaves were standard practice for the Turks and corsairs, but the French were often hoping to have the cooperation of local people. These differences meant that, even though the imperial fleet – still under the command of Andrea Doria, now aged well over eighty – was outnumbered, their joint enterprises did not give the French and Turkish fleets lasting superiority in the seas off the coast of Italy. On the whole, collaboration with the Turks proved counterproductive for the French in Naples and in Tuscany, and not as helpful as the French hoped in the war in Corsica.

In 1552, after raids on the Neapolitan coasts, the Turkish fleet waited from mid-June to mid-July off Naples for the French to join them. Contrary winds foiled an attempt to sail to Piombino and Elba, but chance brought a notable victory on 8 August in a night attack on Doria’s fleet, as he was transporting troops to Naples, unaware of the position of the Turks. Two days later, they left for the eastern Mediterranean, ten days before the arrival of the French fleet under Polin, baron de La Garde with Salerno on board. The French followed them, and overwintered with them in the east In early July 1553, the combined forces of 130 Turkish vessels under the corsair Dragut and 24 French galleys and three frigates returned to the coasts of Naples. Salerno insisted the people should not be harmed. In the end, he was able to have the population in areas where he had partisans spared, although other places were not so fortunate. In 1557, when an attack on Naples by land was being discussed, Salerno would tell Henry his Neapolitan friends had sent to warn they would not assist him if he came with a Turkish fleet, because of the harm that had been done in the past.

La Garde persuaded Dragut to sail for Tuscany, where the fleet was welcomed at Port’ Ercole on 9 August 1553. While the French prepared the force of 4,000 men Termes was to take from Siena to fight the Genoese in Corsica, Dragut pillaged Elba. The fleets transported the troops to Corsica, where the Turks blockaded the eastern coast of the island, while the French fleet attacked the west. When Bonifacio surrendered on 15 September, the Turks massacred the Genoese garrison and sacked the town. Frustrated because he could not enslave the inhabitants, Dragut exacted a ransom of 30,000 écus for them from the French, and then left. Disappointed by what he felt were meagre pickings from the expedition of 1553, Dragut brought his fleet into Italian waters only briefly in 1554, and refused to help the French in Corsica or in Tuscany. In 1555, an Ottoman fleet under a new commander, Piali Pasha, came to support the French besieging Calvi in Corsica, and disembarked 3,000 men for an unsuccessful assault on 10 August. A second unsuccessful assault, on Bastia, followed and then Piali received orders to leave. This was the last significant joint operation of the French and Turkish fleets. Another was planned in 1558, but Piali Pasha refused to attack any of the targets the French had in mind.

When unencumbered by their French allies, the Turks made the terrible raids for which they were so feared, ravaging, burning and enslaving. It was to deny them a potential base in Tuscany, as well as to deprive the French of their main supply route for the places they held onto in Sienese territory, that Marignano went to besiege Port’ Ercole in late May 1555. His attacks were combined with Doria’s fleet, which was patrolling off Tuscany, anticipating the arrival of the Turks. The French had surrounded Port’ Ercole with several forts, and it took until 18 June to capture them all and secure the town. When the Turkish fleet arrived in Tuscan waters in mid-July, it was feared they might seize Piombino instead, but the raiding parties put ashore were driven off. Elba, however, suffered another attack before the fleet left for Corsica.

The defence of Elba (since 1548) and of Piombino (since 1552) was entrusted to Cosimo de’ Medici, and he devoted much effort to building fortifications on Elba, constructing a stronghold at Portoferraio in which the people of the island could take refuge when the Turks or corsairs threatened. Cosimo hoped his possession would be permanent, but he would be disappointed. The activities of the Turkish fleet, and of the French in Tuscany, had given new strategic importance to Tuscan harbours. When Cosimo eventually succeeded in obtaining Siena from Philip in 1557, he had to give up Piombino and some ports on the Sienese coast.


What made Corsica a target for the French was its potential as a naval base, impeding the sea routes between Spain and Italy, and providing safe harbours and ship’s timber for galleys and supplies of food and fresh water for their crews. The island’s maritime significance was still greater for the Genoese, who were determined to keep it. In itself, Corsica was poor, and it was in a state of semi-permanent rebellion against the Genoese, who governed it through their iconic financial institution, the Casa di San Giorgio. A leading rebel, Sampiero Corso, was with the French, and his contacts and supporters helped the Turkish and French fleets to conquer all the island except for the town of Calvi within a month of their arrival in mid-August 1553. La Garde wrote to the Genoese, blaming the Turks for the attack. The French would not occupy the island, he said, if the Genoese would undertake to be neutral between France and Spain. Henry was annoyed that the Genoese refused to discuss neutrality, preferring to set about recovering the island by force.

By the time the Genoese had gathered their forces and sent them to Corsica in November under the command of Andrea Doria, Dragut’s fleet had left. Doria sent a squadron of galleys to relieve Calvi, disembarked the troops near San Fiorenzo and began to lay siege to it. Cosimo had sent around 2,500 troops and four galleys in support of the Genoese, and imperial troops also came from Naples and Lombardy, while a French naval squadron bringing reinforcements from Marseilles was dispersed by a storm. Yet the Genoese did not find reconquering the island as easy as the French had found taking it to be. There were heavy losses, mostly from disease, in the siege camp at San Fiorenzo, before the fortress finally surrendered on 16 February 1554. Andrea Doria was resolute, but so physically infirm he could not leave his cabin on his galley. He would have to return to Corsica repeatedly over the next few years; his failure to dislodge the French damaged his already diminished standing in Genoa still further. By late 1554, however, the Genoese had retaken most of the island. French hopes for help from Dragut were not realized, and their efforts were also hindered by mistrust of Sampiero Corso and by the inevitable complications attendant on reliance on a faction leader in an island so riven by factional disputes. On the other hand, they were aided by the abiding unpopularity of the Genoese with many Corsicans, a sentiment fostered by the reprisals against civilians by imperial troops in response to the guerrilla tactics of the rebels. By 1555, the Genoese held the eastern part of the island which had in the past generally been more under their control, and the French held the western side, where the powerful clans were dominant. The French offensive, aided by the Turkish fleet, in 1555, besieging Calvi and Bastia, did not break the stalemate. Henry ordered another push in early 1556, instructing his lieutenant in the island to seize as much territory as possible, before the general truce that Philip and Charles were seeking was concluded. When this truce of Vaucelles came into effect in mid-February 1556, leaving each side in possession of the territories they held at that moment, a large part of Corsica was in French hands.

Ottoman Naval Development

In the fourteenth century, the illustrious historiographer, Ibn Khaldin recorded a prediction:

The inhabitants of the Maghreb have it on the authority of the books of predictions that the Muslims will yet have to make a successful attack against the Christians and conquer the lands of the European Christians beyond the sea. This, it is said, will take place by sea.

This prophesy was realized in the early sixteenth century in the form of the Ottoman navy. Nonetheless, the Ottomans have yet to be granted their place in world history as a seaborne empire. This is nowhere more apparent than in depictions of the reign of Bayezid II ( 148 1- 1512). Traditional historiography has characterized the reign of Bayezid as consisting of two halves: before and after the death of his brother Cem. The first half is dominated by Bayezid’s struggle to eliminate his brother, the challenger to the throne. Cem, whose unsuccessful bid for the Ottoman sultanate was supported by the Mamluk sultan Qa’it Bay, died in 1495. Bayezid’s reign after Cem’s death has been portrayed as a less than illustrious period of quiet consolidation. If, however, the second half of Bayezid’s reign is viewed as a period during which a powerful navy was built up, a navy capable of defending and supplying an empire extending far beyond the bounds of Anatolia, then the peaceful characterization of this period becomes somewhat less believable. Bayezid’s navy was used to suppress piracy, protect commodities shipping, and intimidate his enemies, present or potential. Ottoman naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean fostered the establishment of cordial Ottoman-Venetian trading relations, permitted the subordination of the Mamluk kingdoms (through naval and artillery aid) prior to the Ottoman conquest of Cairo, and allowed for a significant challenge to Portuguese seapower in the Indian Ocean. Seapower was both physical and rhetorical. The threat of the Ottoman navy was used by many states throughout the Mediterranean to gain diplomatic leverage. Nor was the Ottoman navy, as traditional historiography would have it, little more than a group of state subsidized corsairs. Seapower was a vehicle for developing Ottoman trading interests, securing the Ottoman coasts, and supporting the transport and provisioning activities required for Ottoman territorial expansion.

It was at the turn of the sixteenth century that the Ottomans firmly and decisively set out to use seapower as an avenue to “world” hegemony. Naval development began in earnest under Mehmed II. It continued under Bayezid who ordered “ships agile as sea serpents (naheng ahang gemiler)” constructed to fight the Venetians. The reign of Selim was a period during which the military and naval capabilities built up during Bayezid’s reign were utilized and expanded. The conquest of Cairo provided, in part, the revenue and the imperial ethos. Anatolia provided the construction materials and the infantrymen. Upon this foundation Selim was building a most formidable navy, and planning greater naval conquests at the time of his death. The only obstacle in his path was the shortage of skilled sailors. These aspirations became operational on a grand scale with an eastward expansion which halted only at the Indian Ocean in the reign of Selim’s son Suleiman.

After the campaign season of 1502, Sultan Bayezid launched both a major naval reorganization and a broad scale troop mobilization. This troop mobilization in the fall and winter of that year was a direct result of the military success and diplomatic challenge of Ismail Safavi in Iran. The naval reorganization was attributed by Venetian sources to the sultan’s wrath over the Venetian victory that year at Santa Maura. The overall victory in the Ottoman-Venetian wars, however, went decisively to the Ottomans and, by fall of 1502, negotiations were underway for a treaty which would leave Venice without Modon and Coron and liable for a ten thousand ducat annual indemnity to the Porte. Hence, the causes for Bayezid’s naval buildup must be sought elsewhere than in mere vengeance for the defeat at Santa Maura. These causes include the intentions to expand Ottoman Levantine possessions, to punish Rhodes for its attacks on Muslim shipping, and to provide naval support for Ottoman campaigns against the Mamluk and Safavid territories. Short years later a fourth cause was added: the provision of direct naval assistance to the Mamluks against the Portuguese in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

First, the Ottomans needed a navy revamped to fcus outside the Aegean and the Mediterranean. This navy was then directed to purposes of defense and expansion that later proceeded outward in concentric circles; the territorial conquests mirrored the spheres of Ottoman economic interest in the Aegean, Mediterranean, Red Sea, and eventually the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Vigorous shipbuilding activity was underway in the Ottoman arsenals during the wars with Venice from 1499 to 1503. Sadeddin mentions the preparation of a fleet of three hundred ships in the first year of the war. A German knight, Arnold von Harff, claimed, with considerable exaggeration, that he saw that same year eight hundred Turkish war galleys and countless other vessels in the harbor at Istanbul. Bayezid called in the entire Ottoman armada for repairs in the winter of 1500-1501 and ordered the preparation of for hundred ships including two hundred galleys mounted with large cannon, fifty heavy galleys, and for hundred fifty of the smaller galiots and fustas. This work took place at selected sites, with the armada at Midilli alone numbering some one hundred twenty vessels including forty galleys early in 1502. The sultan requisitioned laborers for the fleet, especially carpenters and caulkers, as well as building materials from Chios, a “request” that the Christian administration of the island could not afford to refuse.

This construction cannot be explained only as a requirement of the combat with Venice. By fall of 1502, it was apparent that a peace treaty was in the offing. In the intervening years before the conquest of Cairo in 1517, Venice and the Ottomans were at peace. Their naval relations, though characterized by a healthy distrust, were generally amicable. Yet, just as the peace treaty set aside the threat from the Porte’s primary opponent in the Mediterranean, Bayezid began a policy of naval expansion which would ultimately make the Ottomans the dominant naval power in the region. During this same time-, the French and Spanish were contenders for naval power in the western Mediterranean, the Portuguese gained control of the Indian Ocean, and the Rhodians remained an insistent, if essentially insignificant, naval threat of the Anatolian coast. Although the Spanish would become a formidable sea power, their success in the western Mediterranean was arguably a function of the direction-east-that the sultan chose for the utilization of his navy.

The Ottoman naval reorganization begun in the fall of 1502 was a three-stage operation. It involved the repair of the fleet, the dismantling of some ships for reconstruction and the building of entirely new ships. Reconstruction efforts were directed at the largest ships which were either taken apart or sold to private entrepreneurs. Materials from the ships, which were taken apart, were used to build heavy and light galleys. These efforts were aimed at producing lighter, more maneuverable ships, which were not only more adaptable to joint naval actions but were also less likely to be captured.

While these efforts were underway Bayezid ordered the mobilization of sixty to seventy thousand men, both oarsmen and sailors. This number is more than even a fleet of three hundred ships could utilize; however, it indicates that the Venetian authors of the reports were impressed with the sultan’s levy of seamen. The high number may also be an indication of the divergence between the number of sailors and oarsmen levied and the actual numbers who showed up. In order to finance the naval expansion, Bayezid combined a number of sources of income. He obtained some revenue from the sale of the largest ships. He ordered each of his sons to provide for the construction of six heavy galleys, and a number of his sancak begs to finance three light galleys each. In addition, the merchants of Salonica (both Greeks and Turks) were ordered to pay a tithe and to finance mariners. The fact that only the merchants of Salonica are mentioned as paying the special naval levy does not mean that it was limited to this city alone. There is, however, a certain logic to the idea of levies on the coastal merchants. They were likely to be engaged in commerce supplied by shipping along the Anatolian coast, from the Aegean islands, and across the Mediterranean from Beirut and Alexandria. This shipping was susceptible to corsair raiding especially on the part of the Rhodians. If the naval expansion was aimed, in part, at the protection of Ottoman shipping, then the merchants who profited from it were a likely source of revenue. The bulk of the financing for the fleet, however, came from the imperial treasury supplemented by the special levies such as the oarsman tax (kürekҫi akҫesi).

By the end of the year 1503, the Ottomans had an impressive array of ships at their disposal . In his report to the Venetian Senate, the returning bailo of Istanbul, Andrea Gritti, gave a detailed account of the Ottoman fleet and its activities. Gritti counted the Galata fleet as including thirty light galleys, twelve galleys bastarda, two galeazza (unnavigable), and some assorted fustas and gripos. At Gallipoli there were sixty galleys and fustas. Three of these galleys, with thirty, twenty-six, and twenty-two banks of oars respectively, had been constructed by an Italian shipbuilder named Andrea Dere. At Avlonya in the Adriatic the Ottomans had eleven galleys which had been seized during the war and nine fustas (mostly in bad order) . At Volissa on the west side of Chios were an additional eight heavy galleys and thirteen light galleys. Gritti’s account does not include estimates of naval forces at other Ottoman ports such as Macri and Samsun, but it is clear that Bayezid had a large fleet at his disposal which had not been retired at the end of the war.

The shipbuilder Dere is again mentioned in Leonardo Loredano’s report to the Venetian Senate in March 1507. His story illustrates the continuation of shipbuilding activity, gives some insight into the training of the Ottoman sea captains, and emphasizes the competition among states for skilled craftsmen. The sultan’s shipwright told Loredano that he had prospered while in the Ottoman service. He indicated, however, that he might consider leaving Istanbul if Venice came up with a sufficiently lucrative offer. This was especially so because Dere’s superior, the kapudan (captain-general of the Ottoman fleet) Daud Pasha, had died. When Daud was alive, Dere recalled, he would call his shipbuilder to his room and go over navigation charts with him, asking all about the Aegean ports, especially about Zara (a Venetian possession) and its defenses. After hearing this story, Loredano suggested that Venice would be well advised to try to persuade Dere to return to Italy, before the Ottoman navy benefited even further from his knowledge. Good shipwrights were a prized commodity in any case in the Mediterranean, even if they were not possessed of tactical information. In the end, however, Dere, saying that he had served the sultan for many years, seemed content enough to stay where he was.

Lack of a sufficient naval opponent and the expense of keeping large fleets manned insured that much of the Ottoman armada was demobilized at any given time. In the winter, the Ottoman fleet in the Bosphorus, consisting of one hundred twenty or so vessels, was beached and guarded by a large number of sentries. Meanwhile, however, the Ottomans had not ceased to manufacture great numbers of cannon, both iron and bronze, as well as other types of naval munitions. This production was facilitated by a large number of artillery masters at Istanbul working, according to Loredano, continuously. The Porte was able to produce sufficient artillery to arm its own expanding navy and to create a surplus as well. This surplus, in turn, would allow the Ottomans to provide cannon for the Mamluk fleet being prepared at Suez to challenge the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. While the bulk of the Ottoman armada remained demobilized in various naval stations, small fleets could be mobilized as needed for the various objectives of the state. Significant among these objectives was the protection of Ottoman commodities shipping through defense of the Anatolian coastal areas. Rumors persisted throughout the Mediterranean after 1503 that the Ottomans intended to launch an armada. But the Ottomans launched no major fleet offensive until 1515. During this time of relative peace, however, fleets of from fifteen to forty vessels were kept regularly cruising in the Aegean. These fleets provided transport, security against corsairs for Ottoman shipping, and general coastal defense. They were also used for commercial purposes and for special diplomatic missions.

Piracy was endemic in sixteenth-century seas, and the newly constructed Ottoman fleet seems to have been used primarily against corsairs. Piratic acts combined with a grain shortage prompted Bayezid in 1504 to send out eight armed galleys and fustas to prevent smuggling and the seizure of grain ships by pirates. These ships were instructed to punish Kara Durmuş, a corsair, who had acquired a small fleet in the course of the Venetian wars and was now operating in the waters near Chios, apparently under the patronage of the sancak beg of Manissa, Celal Beg. Kara Durmuş, with a fleet of twenty-two fustas, a brigantine and a galiota, was interfering with Ottoman shipping and raiding the Anatolian coasts. This number of vessels seems large for a single corsair, although most of the ships were the small and maneuverable fustas which could be operated in close to shore. Kara Durmuş may have formed loose and temporary alliances with other small-time corsairs, who united for defensive purposes during some raiding activities while at other times pursuing their interests individually. In 1505, a fleet, numbering fourteen to eighteen ships, under the command of Kemal Reis, a hero of the Ottoman-Venetian wars, was mobilized and charged with the task of pursuing Kara Durmuş and preventing corsairing activities based on Rhodes. This use of Ottoman vessels in patrolling activity suggests that a uniform definition of “navy” is inadequate to explain the nature of naval action in the sixteenth century. Visions of large-scale sea battles and of shipboard Muslim crusaders must give way to a more mundane version of Levantine sea power.


The bombardment of the Turkish forts. Original illustration published by H W Wilson, British journalist and naval historian, editor of The Great War: The Standard History of the All-Europe Conflict, a popular part series published by the Amalgamated Press in 13 volumes, 1914 to 1919.

Liman von Sanders, the German officer commanding Turkish Fifth Army, which defended Gallipoli and the Straits against the Allied landings of 25 April, generally anticipated the Allied landing sites quite accurately. However, one other area, Bulair/Saros, at the neck of the Gallipoli peninsula, particularly attracted his attention. This turned out not to be an Allied landing site, but the capture and interrogation of a British naval officer just before the Allied landings helped focus Liman von Sanders’ attention on Bulair/Saros from 25 to 28 April.

Following the end of Allied naval attempts to force the Straits on 18 March, Turkish attention turned naturally to defence against the possibility of Allied landings on either side of the Straits. On 24 March 1915 Liman von Sanders, a German cavalry officer, Inspector of the Turkish Army, commander of the pre-war German military mission to update the Turkish army and commander of Turkish forces in the Caucasus in 1914, was chosen to command Fifth Army, defending Gallipoli and the Asian shore area. Already in January 1915, von Sanders had outlined his ideas for a defensive system. His first point was that the present defensive structure, set up by Enver Pasa, Supreme Military Commander in Istanbul, scattered the Turkish divisions too widely. This was feasible against small landings, but, ‘Against landings of large troop formations, our divisions must be much more concentrated in order to be able to attack the enemy in strength during or after landing.’ This was easily remedied, but here, though, was the central problem, where would the Allies land?

Liman von Sanders suggested three possible landing sites, all based on the assumption that the Allies would land so as to attack Turkish batteries and fortifications from the rear. Starting firstly with the Asian shore, he predicted a landing at either Besike Bay or Kum Kale (where the French landing did actually take place), in order to attack the strong Turkish batteries and fortifications along the Straits’ shore from the rear. Liman von Sanders argued for a defensive counterattack as the enemy troops moved inland from Kum Kale and crossed the Mendere River. Also, 3 and 11 Turkish Divisions were to be combined in a corps stationed at Erenkeui, where they could go in any direction, according to the Allied landing site. Officers were to be stationed where they could judge whether the landings were a feint or a serious operation. Mines were to be laid at Kum Kale, which was to be defended by one battalion. Bridges over the Mendere River were to be prepared for demolition. (As it turned out, the French did not reach the Mendere River, partly because their landing was a feint. On the other hand, the Turkish 3 Division did little, and actually used the Mendere River as a means of protecting themselves!) Secondly, Liman von Sanders turned his attention to what he called the European shore. Here, he predicted landings at either Seddulbahir (Helles) or Gaba Tepe, or both simultaneously, ‘in order to advance against the batteries from the rear.’ The 9 Division was to be moved closer to the middle of the sector, and 19 Division was to be stationed at Maidos. In this sector, Liman von Sanders was prescient, because Helles was the site of the main Allied landing, while Gaba Tepe was just south of the intended Anzac landing site of Brighton Beach. Finally, thirdly, Liman von Sanders identified the Saros/Bulair area. He suggested two aims of a potential Allied landing in this area. One was the rather difficult Allied task of covering the ground necessary to cross the isthmus and disable the Turkish batteries on the Sea of Marmora side. The other was to totally cut off Turkish troops on the peninsula by simply capturing the narrow neck of the isthmus. Without actually saying so, Liman von Sanders revealed his particular bias toward the Saros/Bulair area by assigning three divisions to guard it, 4 and 5 Turkish Divisions, which could be amalgamated, and 7 Division.

This emphasis on the Bulair/Saros area is at variance with Liman von Sanders’ later memoirs, where he claimed that he saw the Asiatic area as the greatest danger, then Seddulbahir, then Gaba Tepe, and last, Bulair/ Saros. But he was quite correct in his memoirs when he identified intelligence reports and rumours out of Turkish embassies or consulates in such places as Athens, Sofia and Bucharest, which gave information on British and French forces preparing to land. Turkish archives actually reveal a bewildering variety of alleged Allied plans. For example, on 22 March it was reported from sources in Italy that a combined Russian, French, British plan was underway. Russians would land on the Black Sea coast, and the French would land an African division at Saros. The British army from Egypt would land near Izmir. The Allied navy would also attack. The aim was the capture of Istanbul. On the same day, the Turkish military attaché in Rome focussed on French intervention. This report said that about 40,000 French would land, including colonial troops from Mauritania and Senegal. The commander was to be General d’Amade. Indian troops and Australians would also arrive from Egypt. Altogether, the force amounted to some 80,000 troops, which the military attaché thought exaggerated. (He was not so far out, since about 75,000 Allied troops did take part in the April landings. And he was correct about d’Amade and the French colonial troops.)

With these various Turkish reports, and many others, it is not surprising that Liman von Sanders was unsure about Allied intentions. Yet, curiously, although his predictions as to where the Allies would land had all been based on the idea that the Allies were aiming to capture or demolish Turkish batteries and forts from the rear, Liman von Sanders was remarkably accurate in forecasting Allied plans, which actually had other reasons behind their choice of landing sites. There was one exception, however, to Liman von Sanders’ accurate predictions, which he tried to play down in later years, and this was the Saros/Bulair area. One probable reason for this emphasis in Liman von Sanders’ mind, was a remarkable incident that took place on 17 April, just eight days before the 25 April Allied landings. On this day, the British submarine E 15, commanded by Capt. T.S. Brodie, tried to run the Straits to get into the Sea of Marmora. The submarine first hit one of the Turkish nets, and then was caught in a strong eddy off Kephez Point, and ran aground on a sandbank. As luck would have it, this was just by the Turkish Dardanos battery, which lost no time in shelling the submarine. One shell hit the conning tower and cut the unfortunate Brodie in half, plus six other crew were killed during the shelling, and the submarine filled with thick smoke. The rest of the crew surrendered, and were taken into captivity, including a certain Lt Palmer. This individual, who was an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, had been the British vice consul at Chanak. After hostilities broke out, Palmer apparently arrived in Athens in early March 1915 to report on the location of Turkish guns in the Straits. Palmer then joined the staff of de Robeck at Gallipoli as an Intelligence Officer. Wishing to see active service, Palmer volunteered to serve on E 15 as an Intelligence officer. After Palmer’s capture, he was interrogated by Col. Djevad Bey, commanding the Straits Forts. Djevad Bey then sent a lengthy cipher to the Supreme Command in Istanbul on 20 April, with the results of Palmer’s interrogation.

Since this cipher message containing Palmer’s interrogation is of critical significance, as it occurred just five days before the Allied landings of 25 April, it is given in full:

Palmer, who was the Consul at Chanak, was captured and made a prisoner of war. He was accused of being a spy for the Allied powers. Also a certificate was found in the submarine showing that Palmer was a reserve officer. But we did not tell him that we had found this certificate. Palmer was told that he was accused of being a spy, and that is why he might be executed. Because no soldier wants to give information openly, Palmer wanted to talk privately. So I promised him that he would be regarded as a prisoner of war. Then, he agreed to give us information. I asked him about the Allied attack that was planned. He said that a British attack would be made against the Dardanelles with a force of 100,000 men, landing under the command of Gen. Hamilton. According to Palmer’s statement, the Allies planned to land at Gaba Tepe. But as soon as they found out that the Turks had learnt of this attack, they changed their plans concerning Gaba Tepe and Seddulbahir [Helles]. Also they did not think that their landing at Seddulbahir would be successful. Consequently, they decided to land in the Gulf of Saros, and in the region of the northern part of the Peninsula. Previously, they had planned to attack Gaba Tepe, Seddulbahir and even Besike. To support their attacks in these regions, they needed the support of their navy. In fact, they planned to make these attacks last Monday [presumably 12 April: the original date for the landings was 14 April], but they have now given up this plan. He does not have any information about the new attack plan. This information has been given by the ex-consul on the condition that his life be spared under this agreement. Please do not give the origins of this information, in order to ensure his safety. I have sent the prisoner of war [Palmer], and his goods that have been taken from the submarine, with this cipher. I beg you to accept him as a prisoner of war.

20 April 1915, the Commander of the Forts, Col. Djevad.

The next day, the Supreme Command in Istanbul, obviously interested in what might be a real Intelligence coup, wanted Palmer to identify the threatened northern area. Djevad Bey replied: ‘The name of the region which is around the Gulf of Saros as mentioned by the ex-consul that I wrote in the cipher, is the region between Imbros and Karacali on the northern coast of the Gulf [of Saros]. 21 April 1915.’

It would seem that Palmer had to think quickly on his feet during this interrogation. On the one hand, he certainly did not want to be shot, but on the other hand, he did not want to give away the real Allied landing sites, which he certainly knew, having been an Intelligence officer on de Robeck’s staff. So he adopted the risky strategy of giving the actual Allied landing sites, but then suggesting these had been cancelled due to a security leak. In their place, Palmer directed Turkish attention north to Saros/Bulair as the new Allied landing area. In his further explanation of what the northern region consisted of, Palmer gave a vague answer, although it did include the Anzac landing zone. As for the 100,000 Allied troops that would land, Palmer probably did not know the exact Allied figure, otherwise the logical solution would have been to minimize the number of Allied troops, in order to cause Turkish over-confidence. On the other hand, Palmer may just have been unable to think quickly enough on the question of numbers, or he did not think the question of numbers was significant. (Ironically, the actual number of Allied soldiers involved in the landings was in fact discovered by Fifth Army through a Turkish wireless intercept on 25 April.) Nevertheless, the timing of Palmer’s capture and interrogation was extremely critical – just five days before the Allied landings on 25 April, although he did not give away this information. Now the question was: would the Supreme Command, and especially Liman von Sanders, be taken in by the Bulair/Saros disinformation from Palmer?

Documents in the Turkish archives do not definitely answer this question, but one message on 22 April, and correspondence between Fifth Army and Supreme Command on 20 April, show that the information was at least disseminated. Other messages suggest a considerable focus on the Saros/Bulair region. For example, Fifth Army reported on 25 April that Allied ships were in Saros, and that help was needed. The next day, 26 April, Fifth Army urgently requested more ammunition for the Saros area. On the other hand, while the Turkish Official History mentions Palmer, it does so without emphasis, and does not claim an Intelligence coup. It is also the case that Liman von Sanders does not mention Palmer in his memoirs. Yet a significant first hand observer of Liman von Sanders at his GHQ on 25 April and following days, Capt. Carl Mühlmann, describes in detail how Liman von Sanders focussed on the Saros/Bulair region to an unusual degree over the next four days.

Mühlmann awoke early on Sunday 25 April, to the sound of gunfire. He was at Liman von Sanders’ GHQ at the town of Gelibolu, when a staff officer rushed in with news of landings at Seddulbahir and Ari Burnu (Anzac), as well as of a transport flotilla in the Gulf of Saros. (This was part of an Allied feint by Hamilton at Bulair/Saros.) Liman von Sanders immediately alerted 4 Division to march to Bulair. Mühlmann takes up the story:

Unfortunately, L[iman] was somewhat nervous and instead of centralizing all telephone connections and remaining at the choke point – GHQ – he swung up on his horse and, accompanied by the two of us [Mühlmann and another staff officer] rode up to the heights near Bulair. Unfortunately, this meant that all reports were delayed 1–2 hours and the entire traffic between us and GHQ was made much more difficult…

Admittedly Bulair was the nearest danger zone to the German GHQ at the town of Gelibolu, but Liman von Sanders could also have headed toward Ari Burnu, or to Maidos, as a more central location to the known landings of Ari Burnu and Seddulbahir. In fact, while Liman von Sanders’ party was at Bulair, news of the Kum Kale French landing came in. Esat Pasa, GOC Turkish III Corps asked permission to move his HQ to Maidos, and this was granted. Yet Liman von Sanders continued to focus on Bulair.

Mühlmann relates that the small party reached the heights above Bulair in time to see a heavy naval bombardment of the fort there. Mühlmann already noted the limited effect of naval fire – the shell craters were immense, but did no damage unless there was a direct hit, although ‘the psychological effect is tremendous.’ Perhaps this influenced Liman von Sanders, because when evening came on 25 April, instead of returning to his GHQ at Gelibolu, Mühlmann commented: ‘to our great surprise, he [Liman] decided to spend the night out here; we could not find out why because we had no telephone line to GHQ.’ Mühlmann was sent on a mission the next day, 26 April, to Maidos with orders to concentrate 5 Division closer to Bulair, while 7 Division was sent to Seddulbahir. However, Liman von Sanders again planned to spend the entire day of 26 April on the heights above Bulair. (Meanwhile, Mühlmann was now down at Maidos, where an Allied submarine, evidently the Australian submarine AE2, fired nine torpedoes at a troop transport and missed, probably because the torpedoes failed to explode. Then AE2 surfaced and hailed a sail boat to ask directions, ‘really an incredible piece of cheek!’ noted Mühlmann. The AE2 sailed into the Sea of Marmora and, according to Mühlmann, did not sink any transports before being forced to the surface and scuttled. A Turkish message notes that the AE2 was followed by the German Capt. Merten, and fired on.) After the submarine episode, Mühlmann returned to Liman von Sanders at Bulair, and was ordered to remain there to observe, while Liman von Sanders went, on 27 April, to check on the situation at Maidos and Ari Burnu.

Mühlmann thought his sojourn at Bulair was over on 27 April, when the fleet disappeared from the Gulf of Saros. Liman von Sanders met Mühlmann at GHQ at Gelibolu and informed him that all was well at Ari Burnu, and that the French were hurled into the sea at Kum Kale, which was, of course, the planned French re-embarkation from Kum Kale. Liman von Sanders had also witnessed the shelling across the peninsula by the Queen Elizabeth of a Turkish transport, usually seen by historians as a significant blow, but Mühlmann remarked ‘Thank God, it was not loaded, and sank within one minute.’ Apparently Liman von Sanders returned from Maidos to his GHQ at Gelibolu by sea on 27 April, aboard the Barbarossa, at which a submarine fired two torpedoes and missed. This was probably the British submarine E14, and a successful torpedo attack would certainly have changed the campaign had Liman von Sanders gone down with this ship. The next day, 28 April, news came into von Sanders’ GHQ that the enemy was being reinforced at both Ari Burnu and Seddulbahir, and so, at this time, 7 Division and most of 5 Division were recalled from Bulair to move south via Maidos. This decision is at variance with Liman von Sanders’ memoirs, where he claimed to have recognized Bulair/Saros as a feint by 26 April.

However, neither Liman von Sanders nor Mühlmann were finished with Bulair. While on his way to a different task on 28 April, Mühlmann,

became despondent when, looking beyond the heights [at Bulair] I saw the transport fleet back in the Gulf of Saros. It was clear to all of us that we were only dealing with a bluff, otherwise they would have landed several days ago – in addition, the ships rode too high in the water to be fully loaded. Of course, L[iman’s] specific concern about protecting his rear at Bulair was to be expected, and therewith came the danger that I was to be left there again.

Mühlmann’s fear was only too accurate, since Liman von Sanders came up, and informed Mühlmann that he would move his HQ to Maidos, but Mühlmann was to be stationed at Bulair as Liman von Sanders’

plenipotentiary and general staff officer. I [Mühlmann] made a deeply disappointed face and explained my wish to him [to get closer to the actual war theatre]. At first, he [Liman von Sanders] did not wish to consider it, because after seeing the enemy fleet, new fears had swelled up in him. But, finally, he gave in…

Thus, it is clear that Liman von Sanders remained heavily preoccupied with the Bulair/Saros area over the period of four days between 25 and 28 April, and was still inclined to worry about this area as late as 28 April, when major Allied operations were obviously focussed at Anzac and Helles. Of course, Liman von Sanders was right to consider Saros/Bulair as a danger area, and in addition there was the Allied naval feint at Saros/ Bulair, but Liman von Sanders also appeared to show an unreasonable interest in this area. It is entirely possible that the capture and interrogation of Lt Palmer just before 25 April, with his disinformation about the Allies choosing Saros/Bulair as their main landing area, helped to confirm Liman von Sanders’ preoccupation with this zone. The documents do not specifically reveal this, but Liman von Sanders’ focus on Saros/ Bulair, and his hesitation in sending the Bulair divisions south, certainly gave the Allied landings on 25 April a breathing space they might not otherwise have expected.