Russian line infantry during The Russo-Turkish War 1877
The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878 had a huge impact both on the countries involved in the conflict and the different nations living there.
The 300 years of the so-called “Ottoman Yoke” did not succeed in killing the Georgian spirit among the population of the Ajarian Sanjak (Ajaristan). Victory in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878 and the reunion of Ajara with Georgia played a vital role in restoring the national self-consciousness of Georgians at the end of the 19th century. Folklore, fiction, social and political journalism demonstrate the joy about Ajara’s reunion with its “motherland” and praise Georgian and Russian soldiers. The same pathos can be seen in the textbooks published for Georgian schools right after the end of the war, as before the war and therefore in the period of Ottoman rule there were no Russian or Georgian schools in Batumi.
Georgian folklore as well as Georgian social and political journalism also show one important issue which was directly connected to the end of Russo-Ottoman War of 1877 – 1878: the issue of Muhajirism. Leaving the motherland, close relatives and one’s own house became an unhealed wound which was not mentioned in Soviet textbooks. Only when the perestrojka set in, certain ideological changes and developments in Georgia’s and particularly in Ajara’s sociopolitical situation affected school and university textbooks as well, as they would start to print materials showing the imperial ambitions of Russia and describe that the process of Muhajirism was in favor of both sides – of Russians and Ottomans.
Military operations were mostly carried out in the territories around Khutsubani, Tsikhisdziri, Mukhaestate, Kvirike and Zeniti, Russian and Georgian troops at other times were also stationed at several other places such as Ozurgeti, Nagomar-Orpiri, Mukhaestate and Choloki.
During military operations in 1877 Russo-Georgian forces did not succeed in liberating Batumi and Ajara in general, but it was the success of the Russian army in Anatolia and the Balkans which decided over the final outcome of the war. On 15 November 1877 joint forces recaptured Khutsubani.
In front at Batumi, the Ottomans had an army of 40,000 soldiers, while the joint forces of Russian and Georgians were only 25,000 soldiers. According to Sergej Meschi: “Only 5,000 of them are militants on the battlefield. Of course they will be the ones to fight but the rest won’t be able to join the battle according to military laws, as unarmed people do not have the right to fight against their enemy.”
On 25 August 1877, Russian forces entered Batumi. They were led by the deputation of the reunited territories – Sherif Khimshiashvili from Upper Ajara and Nuri Khimshiashvili from Shavsheti. On Azizie square (nowadays Gamsakhurdia square) they organized a feast for the commanding Russian officers. Sherif Khimshiashvili proposed many toasts and in the end he said: “This is the toast to the ones who participated in this war to unite old and newly divided Georgians. Let us wish them happiness and that they may live long. Let us or our descendants never forget their deeds.”
(1) Combat operations of the Rioni (from May of 1877, Kobuleti) task force of Russian troops during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. Object-defeating the Turkish Corps of Darwish Pasha, seizing Batum (Batumi) and prevention of the landing of the enemy’s amphibious party in the rear of the Russian troops. The Rioni body of troops (24,000 soldiers, 96 canons) began an attack on April 12 (24), 1877. Moving in the tough conditions of the mountainous-woody terrain and cross-country, the task force managed to overcome stubborn resistance of the enemy and on April 14 (26) seized the heights of Mukhaestate, Khutsubanskoe. and on May 19 (31) occupied the heights of Sameba. The second attempt to seize Batum was undertaken in January of 1878. The Kobuleti force again advanced as far as Tsikhisdziri and again retreated. Its activity tied large forces of the enemy, thereby contributing to the success of the main forces of the Caucasian Army.
It was the last Black Sea port annexed by Russia during the Russian conquest of that area of the Caucasus. In 1878, Batumi was annexed by the Russian Empire in accordance with the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (ratified on March 23). Occupied by the Russians on August 28, 1878, the town was declared a free port until 1886. It functioned as the center of a special military district until being incorporated in the Government of Kutaisi on June 12, 1883. Finally, on June 1, 1903, with the Okrug of Artvin, it was established as the region (oblast) of Batumi and placed under the direct control of the General Government of Georgia.
The expansion of Batumi began in 1883 with the construction of the Batumi–Tiflis–Baku railway (completed in 1900) and the finishing of the Baku–Batumi pipeline. Henceforth, Batumi became the chief Russian oil port in the Black Sea. The town population increased rapidly doubling within 20 years: from 8,671 inhabitants in 1882 to 12,000 in 1889. By 1902 the population had reached 16,000, with 1,000 working in the refinery for Baron Rothschild’s Caspian and Black Sea Oil Company.
In the late 1880s and after, more than 7,400 Doukhobor emigrants sailed for Canada from Batumi, after the government agreed to let them emigrate. Quakers and Tolstoyans aided in collecting funds for the relocation of the religious minority, which had come into conflict with the Imperial government over its refusal to serve in the military and other positions. Canada settled them in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Russian attack 15 May 1877
“The sinking of the boats of the steamer “Grand Duke Constantine”Turkish ship “Intibah” on the Batumi RAID on the night of 14 Jan 1878
(2) Attacks of the Russian mine launches against the Turkish ships at the Batumi Port during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. On the night to December 16 (28), 1877, the ship “Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin” (commander-Captain 2nd rank S. O. Makarov approached Batum covertly, launched 4 boats, of which “Chesma” and “Sinop” each had as armament one Robert Whitehead self-propelled mine (torpedo). After midnight, the mine launches penetrated in the port and attacked the Turkish armor-clad battleship “Mahmudiye” (the Turkish flagship was for many years the largest warship in the world), yet the attack proved abortive as one torpedo, having passed along the board of the battleship, jumped out onto the shore, and the other one hit against the battleship’s anchor chain and exploded on the ground. On January 14(26), 1878, “Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin” repeated a raid on Batum. The launches “Chesma” and “Sinop” by hitting the Turkish armed steamer “Intibah” with two torpedoes simultaneously from a distance of about 80 m destroyed the ship. This was the first in the world recorded successful launch of torpedoes from a torpedo boat.
During 1877–8 the Russians had been providing some torpedo action data during their struggle with the Turks around the Black Sea. The Turkish fleet dominated that sea simply by lying at anchor, as the Russians had no sea-going ironclads and no chance of getting any in while Turkish forts and ships’ guns dominated the narrows to Constantinople; so the Russians had no alternative to using torpedo boats for offensive operations, and they carried out a number of raids by night with specially constructed 15-knot boats some 50 or 60 feet long, carried by mother ships, usually fast merchantmen. However the earlier attacks were made with spar and towing torpedoes, and to get close enough without alerting the enemy with sparks from the funnels and considerable engine noise, they had to drop their speed to walking pace and creep in. Even so they did not escape detection, and were only successful on one occasion when they found the coastal monitor Siefé unprotected by the usual torpedo boat obstructions placed around the Turkish ships. Despite detection by the sentry, they pressed in under her turret guns as they misfired three times and touched a spar torpedo off close by the sternpost; the Siefé sank in a short time. As for the ‘Whitehead’, this was also tried and on one occasion on the night of 25–6 January 1878, the Russians claimed to have sunk a Turkish guard-ship anchored at the entrance to Batum harbour from 80 yards range; although the Turks denied any loss it is possible that this was the first Whitehead success in action. Despite the poor condition of the Turkish fleet and the great resolution of the Russian officers, these were the only effective torpedo attacks of the war. They were modest successes, and it was evident that torpedoes would be little use against an efficient fleet at anchor and guarded as recommended by the British 1875 Torpedo Committee, by nets, lights, Gatling guns and guard boats.
Fort Seddulbahr before the bombardment on 19 February 1915.
Reconstructed Turkish heavy gun site at the Dardanelles Straits before the bombardment by the British and French fleets
Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers did not bring about the strategic advantage for which Germany had hoped. Bulgaria and Romania did not join the alliance with the Central Powers and remained neutral. Thus a direct overland transportation link between these allied states was still missing and this was of decisive importance for delivering essential weapons and ammunition to Turkey. Even Romania insisted on its neutrality and no longer permitted freight from Germany to pass through its territory, which had previously been possible by paying bribes.
In mid-November 1914, based on reports from Istanbul, the Foreign Ministry emphasised in a memorandum to the German High Command that the number of mines in the Dardanelles and the army’s ammunition would hardly suffice for two battles, so that ensuring a transit route to Istanbul through Serbia became one of the most important tasks of German war planning. The document pointed out that should Turkish requirements not be fulfilled due to shortage of ammunition, then the possible negative consequence could be the mobilisation of the entire Balkans against the Central Powers. On the other hand, as a positive effect of a campaign against Serbia, and thus by keeping the Turkish army as an ally, then 700,000 Turks as well as a further 400,000 men of the Bulgarian army could be made ‘usable’ for German purposes. Towards the end of November 1914 Austro-Hungarian troops tried to defeat Serbia but during the first half of December this offensive ended in a severe rout and the Central Powers’ withdrawal from Serbia. The overland route to Turkey remained blocked.
Field Marshal von der Goltz was again posted to Istanbul in November 1914, transferred from a controversial period as military governor of Belgium. This assignment had been engineered on the initiative of Ambassador von Wangenheim, who evidently wanted to be rid of the recalcitrant General Liman von Sanders and hoped that he would be better able to exercise influence on the conciliatory old Field Marshal. When von Sanders learned of Wangenheim’s efforts to bring back von der Goltz, he tried to dissuade the head of the Military Cabinet in Berlin and stated that, in his view, his relationship with the Ambassador was not as bad as was apparently mistakenly assumed. Von Sanders received support through a letter that Lieutenant Colonel Thauvenay, a member of the Military Mission and now quartermaster at Turkish Headquarters, wrote to the Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. In the letter, Thauvenay tried to excuse the conflicts between the Head of the Military Mission and the Ambassador, indicating that it was due to the General’s military integrity and straightforwardness. He considered von der Goltz was unfit to have an active role in the Turkish military, since he had already ‘sinned enough in the Turkish army’ and what was needed was ‘not a smiling advisor but a firm hand’. This entreaty was unsuccessful however, and von der Goltz arrived in Istanbul on 12 December 1914. But not even von der Goltz himself knew for what purpose he had been assigned to Turkey. He had received no clear instructions or support from either Germany or the Turks. Von der Goltz was not made subordinate to the Military Mission, had no other powers and was therefore not suitable for the German Ambassador’s intention, which was namely that he should act as a replacement for Liman von Sanders. On the contrary – in a telegram on the departure of the Field Marshal from Berlin, it was said that the posting was ‘merely an act of courtesy and has nothing to do with warfare or military operations’. This was understandably unsatisfactory for von der Goltz, who still regarded himself as the figurehead of German-Turkish cooperation and was now bitterly disappointed with his dubious status and lack of recognition:
‘Here I am only to hold a purely honorary position. Not even an adjutant was to be allocated to me. […] Any rights, powers or courses of action to gain influence have not been granted to me. I was not authorized to recruit other officers. All these rights, especially a significant monetary fund, however, were placed at General v. Liman’s disposal, were contractually guaranteed to him, and the Military Cabinet nervously ensured that I was not interfering with these rights.’
Nevertheless, at the beginning of February 1915 the Sultan gave von der Goltz the function of an advisor at the Turkish headquarters and let him take part at General Staff meetings. Although he felt like a ‘spare wheel’ in this position he nonetheless gave expert advice to the Turkish leadership and wrote assessments and reports to Berlin. Thus during these weeks von der Goltz principally viewed his task as explaining to Istanbul the war question against Serbia and in supporting the new Chief of the General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, with his assessments. He saw the advantage of a military operation against Serbia as of grand strategic effect, both in Turkey and in the Balkans, and wrote to Falkenhayn:
‘If, on the other hand, we succeed in bringing the Balkan states over to our side through early success in Serbia, our prevalence over Russia would be finally settled. We have Bulgaria and as soon as we or our allies are with strong forces in Niš the rest will follow on. Then the well-equipped Turkish army of six corps, now inactive in Thrace and Constantinople, can be used.’
Von Falkenhayn was not against this line of reasoning, but had to keep his eye on all the theatres of war and thus saw no possibility of carrying out a major offensive against Serbia. Even the Austrian Chief of the General Staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, saw no chance of even a limited operation against Serbia in order to open just a single corridor as a transport route.
Meanwhile, on 3 November 1914, the Allies had launched a first attack on the entrance to the Dardanelles – apparently, however, more with the intention of probing the defence capability or damaging installations than trying to make a breakthrough. Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle reported:
On the morning of the 3rd at 7 o’clock, 10 English[sic] and French ships of the line were lying in two semicircles at the entrance of the strait, and fired at the two forts at Kumkale and Seddulbahr from a position 16,000 metres away, where no Turkish guns could reach. Out of the slight morning mist, muzzle flashes constantly light up, the forts are shrouded in smoke and dust from which continuous tongues of flame rise up. Half an hour later a tremendous white cloud of smoke appears over Seddulbahr, and stayed in the air for minutes. A [sound like] heavy thunder is heard. The ships peel off and disappear in the haze. That was the start, but a bad start. Through an incomprehensible act of carelessness by a coastal battery, many hundreds of hundredweights of old gunpowder had remained piled up in an underground storage area. This storage area was hit by a shell and the whole battery, along with 5 officers and 60 men, were blown to pieces.’
After this attack and during the following weeks it remained quiet in the Dardanelles. This afforded the Turks more time to continue their preparations for defence. An additional Turkish artillery battalion had been assigned in mid-December for the defence of Beşika Bay (just slightly north of Nagara); Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle first of all had to put this unit through some basic training:
‘Simply looking at them, my head was shaking in disbelief and even my Turkish battery commanders, who were used to many things, remained speechless at this pile of military destitution. The battalion was taken in hand and two days were needed to restore order and bearing. First, everything went to the delousing facility, which was set up in a bakery. Meanwhile officers and NCOs of the Howitzer Regiment were tasked to inspect materiel and equipment, any items deficient were noted and indents placed with the quartermaster. Fourteen days later Marshal Liman v. Sanders visited the battalion in its firing position. Chance would have it that just at the time, when we were standing in one of the batteries, a destroyer was approaching the shore. The Marshal gave the order to fire. This battery had never before fired a single live shot. I prompted the battery commander, checked the sighting and the first shot near the target caused the boat to turn off. The battery was praised and was very proud. The following day, a French cruiser appeared and gave us thanks with 60 heavy shells, which it fired – not at the battery but against a dune 200 metres away, which I had set up at night, using tree trunks as a decoy.’
Meanwhile, new calls for help went out from Istanbul to Berlin. On 30 December, Ambassador von Wangenheim announced that, with the continuing geographical isolation of Turkey, ‘the moment could be foreseen where Turkish thirst for action and will to fight may cease’. On 4 January 1915 Falkenhayn was notified about a meeting of the generals and admirals stationed in Istanbul regarding the ammunition situation in Turkey, where they concluded that even with the most economical consumption, ‘the ammunition for the army and navy would only last until mid-March’. Admiral von Usedom, who was responsible for the defence of the Dardanelles, had also stated that ‘he could vouch for the defence capability of the Dardanelles against a first attack, but that he could not give the same guarantee for a repeated attack’.
Churchill had discussed the question of opening the Dardanelles in November 1914 in the context of a new strategic offensive in southern Europe to win over the Romanians, Bulgarians and perhaps the Greeks as allies; however, this plan was not pursued due to a lack of available forces. Only at the beginning of January 1915, in response to a request from Russia, who wished to take the pressure off their Caucasus front, was further planning resumed in London. However, since the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, did not want to make troops available for the Orient Front, the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, Vice Admiral Sackville Carden, was asked how this task could be achieved. He replied on 5 January that although he could not take the Dardanelles by a surprise rush attack, he could take them with the fleet in a large and extended operation. This statement formed the basis for the decision of the British Military Council on 28 January 1915, which recommended an attack on the Dardanelles solely as a fleet action. Preparations for this attack took several weeks. In mid-February it was believed that the plans for attack were ready. On 19 January, Russia had been informed of the intended operation; in London it was expected that with the operation to force the Dardanelles, Russia would at the same time carry out a naval attack on the Bosphorus and a landing on the Turkish Black Sea coast. This, however, was rejected by Moscow due to insufficient forces being available.
Meanwhile the Allied fleet, lying off the Dardanelles, had been considerably strengthened. In addition to the sixteen large British battleships and cruisers, four French battleships and the Russian protected cruiser Askold arrived in January, so that at least twenty-one large warships were now off the Dardanelles. At first the Allied fleet limited itself to continuous monitoring of the entrance to the Dardanelles. From mid-January 1915, there were signs that the Western powers intended an attack on the Straits. On 15 January a French submarine broke through the defensive anti-submarine net stretched across the Dardanelles. Through the courageous intervention of Navy Lieutenant Prince Reuss, who set course in a small ship towards the submarine and dropped depth charges, the submarine was forced to surface at Nagara and fired on by coastal batteries. The Austro-Hungarian Military Representative in Turkey, Field Marshal Lieutenant (Feldmarschalleutnant) Josef Pomiankowski, reported:
‘As an enemy submarine appeared shortly thereafter, it was immediately fired upon and severely damaged, leaving the commander with no choice but to surrender. The crew was captured, but the boat – it was the French submarine Saphir – was towed to Constantinople, where I had the opportunity to inspect it. Saphir belonged to a very outdated type, and was also much neglected. German naval officers told me that in the German fleet boats of this type no longer existed.’
Beginning on 2 February, individual ships began to shell the outer fortifications. On 19 February the Anglo-French fleet again shelled the outer fortifications of the Dardanelles with twelve warships. Admiral von Usedom described this in detail and thus gave an example of the leadership qualities of the German forces taking part:
‘The French used their heavy artillery, the Englishmen [sic] followed soon thereafter with their medium artillery, so that now broadside salvoes were being fired at three minute intervals against all four forts. The batteries were heavily hit; and clear hits could be made out in the fort at Seddulbahr and in the Kumkale battery. At Fort Orhanié the clouds of smoke from the explosions were right in front of the traverses. The ships came closer and closer to the forts. Apparently they believed the batteries to have been fully destroyed. This now gave Orhanié and Ertugrul the opportunity to counter-fire at 16.45 hrs. At the same time all hell broke loose, in which all the ships now seemed to take part. At intervals of 40 seconds, salvo followed salvo. At times, the forts were completely obscured by the black clouds of the explosions. Nevertheless, Orhanié and Ertugrul continued firing. Towards18.00 hrs, the enemy broke off the bombardment. The battery commander of Orhanié, Lieutenant Hans Woermann, as well as the Turkish interpreter and telephonist, who had been in the second observation station of the battery, were killed at 16.10 hrs by 2 shells of 15 cm calibre, after being forced to abandon the first observation post as a result of it being hit. Deputy Ordnance Technician Joerss, sheltering with others outside the battery, assumed the post of the dead battery commander. Since the phone line was out, he no longer had communications with the other batteries. On his own initiative, when the second enemy ship came into bearing from the left, he opened fire at a distance of 44 hm [4400 metres]. Then the Englishman immediately turned to starboard to increase the range.’
The losses caused by this attack totalled four dead, including two Germans, and nine wounded on the Turkish side. Lieutenant Colonel Kannengiesser wrote about this attack:
‘The first attack on 19 February 1915 was aimed at the outer forts of Seddulbahr and Kumkale at the entrance [of the Dardanelles], which were fired at from long range, and vanished under a dense hail of shells, smoke, dust and splinters. Aircraft directed the fire. How can 30-year old guns with quite outdated traverse and firing methods counter this? As Carden withdrew his ships when darkness falls, the loss of people and materiel is insignificant.’
The destruction was judged to be low in relation to the estimated 800 to 1000 shots fired by the Allied naval guns. At Kumkale, only a 28-cm gun had been permanently knocked out, but Fort Seddulbahr had suffered greater damage. In preparation for the breakthrough and also for landing operations, the forts at Kumkale and Seddulbahr were systematically bombarded almost every day. With field artillery support, the forward Turkish infantry managed to beat off the smaller Allied daylight landings, which were aimed at demolishing gun barrels and ammunition bunkers in the forts. On 25 February 1915 the Allied fleet made another attack on the outer forts, which were almost completely destroyed after a seven-hour bombardment.
These initial experiences of the Allied fleet and their limited visible successes led to new British operational planning. The experience during the British fleet’s 1807 Dardanelles breakthrough was also remembered, in which, after entering the Marmara Sea, fleet re-supply was disrupted by Turkish troops on either side of the Dardanelles. Therefore land forces had to be included in the planning to secure the coastal areas after the breakthrough. The basic decision was made on 16 February 1915, but it was only on 10 March that the total strength of the Expeditionary Force was finalised: four English divisions and one French division. However, the exact operational role for this force had not yet been defined. It should follow the outcome of the fleet operations, which were maintained. Thus there was still no joint or coordinated operational planning for the deployment of Allied naval and land forces.
Despite the Entente’s limited success so far, the attacks on the Dardanelles had caused great concern in Istanbul. Although Turkey had already been a Central Powers’ alliance partner for several months, deliveries of much needed supplies from Germany still could not be transported there and unrest began to grow against the background of the imminently anticipated attack on the Dardanelles. On 1 March Enver wrote to von Falkenhayn that the situation was serious, as the Allied fleet was gradually destroying fortifications and could thus force a passage through the Straits. In a second telegram of 8 March, Enver recalled the precarious situation and described the opening-up of an overland transportation route through Serbia as the ‘vital question for Turkey’.300 On 10 March, Admiral von Usedom wrote to von Falkenhayn: ‘Despite the relatively meagre success of the enemy, destruction of all the Dardanelles fortifications cannot be prevented in the long run, if the munitions and mines which have been on order for months do not arrive as soon as possible.’
The Foreign Office warned:
‘Should the Dardanelles and Constantinople fall, this would not only signify a great moral boost for the Entente, with immense repercussions for all of Islam and for Turkey’s existential endangerment, but also a revitalisation of the war effort in Russia and France, thus not only prolonging the war but also driving all the Balkan states (Bulgaria and Romania) into the arms of the Entente.’
A naval artillery observation post on land: standing left, Lieutenant Franz Wodrig, right Lieutenant Rolf Carls.
Meanwhile, a major Allied landing operation at Kumkale on 3 March underlined the urgent nature of the munitions question. The almost 400 man strong landing detachment of the Royal Marine Light Infantry was, however, beaten back. The attackers suffered casualties totalling seventy dead and wounded. From the equipment left behind, the Turks concluded that this was not just a temporary landing but was apparently intended to occupy permanently the extreme tip of the Asian side of the Dardanelles.
However, the attacks now beginning to be made against the inner defensive positions only made little progress. To carry these out the fleet had to enter into the waters of the Dardanelles and thus loose its freedom of movement and ‘passive’ protection. In addition to the danger from the guns of the defence emplacements and the minefields in the waterway, the attackers also faced the threat of the mobile 15 cm howitzer batteries on both sides of the coast. The ships were therefore forced to manoeuvre quickly, which consequently reduced their firing accuracy. Thus they succeeded in neither destroying the Turkish batteries nor in clearing the numerous minefields.
On 5 March the batteries at Kilid Bahr, on the opposite side of Canakkale, were shelled by indirect fire. This attack was reciprocated by indirect fire from the Turkish ships of the line, Barbarossa and Torgut. In anticipation of these battles, the German captain of the Barbarossa, Lieutenant Commander Joachim von Arnim, had already been ashore to set up a fire control observation post on the heights of the southern peninsula. Although this post came under fire later, as it had revealed its position by the use of signal ammunition, by a rapid relocation the post could continue support the Turkish ships for effective fire. In the days which followed these observation posts were expanded, surveyed and connected to telephone exchanges. Lieutenant Rolf Carls, the gunnery officer of the Breslau, was commended for his actions in this work.
On the morning of 7 March, two large British warships, the Agamemnon and the Lord Nelson, accompanied by several French vessels, entered Karanlik Bay and began shelling Dardanos and the inside forts. Firing at the same time from Kaba Tepe, the Queen Elizabeth bombarded the forts, while HMS Dublin shelled the Bulair fortifications from the Gulf of Saros. The British warships moved inside the straits to push closer to the forts, but then they came within range of the Turkish coastal artillery. The naval guns fired in quick succession, but the warships withdrew after a short time because of the hefty resistance and without having inflicted (or incurred) any significant damage. During the bombardment it was observed that the Allied ships remained mostly in the Bay of Erenkeui, where they were largely outside the range of the fortress guns. Again and again, the 15-cm howitzers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle, expending the then huge tally of 800 shells, had fired on the enemy warships in the Dardanelles, which forced them to keep moving and thus ensured that the ships simply ‘wasted ammunition’.
Even though by night there were entire flotillas of ships, protected by smaller vessels and destroyers, trying to clear the minefields, the Turks were constantly laying new mines. A special line of mines, which had been laid in the turning circle of retiring Allied warships, was to acquire decisive significance. The planning was carried out by Major Nazim Emin, the Chief of the Dardanelles Mine Service, who had a comprehensive knowledge of the currents and depth conditions. The Coastal Inspectorate assigned the minelayer Nusret for this task, while Naval Engineer Lieutenant Commander Arnholdt Reeder, of the German Imperial Navy, represented the SoKo (Special Command) on board. A torpedo specialist, Lieutenant Commander Paul Gehl, was assigned by the Straits Command to be on board Nusret as well.
Lieutenant Commander Reeder submitted his report to the MMD on this operation, which made a major contribution to thwarting the Allied naval attack of 18 March 1915:
‘On 7 March, at 11.30 in the afternoon [sic], I went on board the minelayer Nusret with Hafis Nasimi, the Turkish Mine Captain and Petty Officer Rudolf Bettaque, the German torpedo-man, to make the necessary preparations for minelaying. While I was personally double-checking the engine room and then got the boilers ready for smokeless sailing, the torpedo-man, Bettaque, and the Turkish mine-laying crew cleared the mines ready for launch. Two German NCOs and stokers were at my disposal for the operation of the engines and boiler. This was to guarantee that my commands were executed quickly and correctly. At 5 o’clock in the morning I had the anchor raised. The weather was good for this operation. A light mist lay on the water, which gradually turned into a steady rain. With an average of 140 revolutions, the minelayer made its way from Nagara along the Asian coast.
Since it was still dark and several minefields had to be negotiated, great caution was needed. However, the Turkish Mine Captain knew the critical points exactly, and so Nusret arrived safely at its destination. Throughout the voyage, [engine] revolutions were maintained according to my orders. This enabled me to sail completely smokeless, although the Turkish Eregi coal is very unsuitable for this purpose. At 07.10 hrs I had us turnabout and bound for home; simultaneously, I had the mines laid at 15 second intervals by Hafis Nasimi, the Turkish Mine Captain. Overall, 26 mines were laid in the general direction of SW-NE. Meanwhile the morning was already beginning to turn grey. The enemy guard piquet had apparently already withdrawn; within the Dardanelles no enemy ship could be seen. The visibility towards Canakkale was too low due to the rain and the dark background. With reasonable certainty I can therefore assume that the laying of the mines was not noticed by the enemy. At 8 o’clock in the morning, I was able to anchor again at Canakkale.’
This line, which had been laid with twenty-six Carbonit mines supplied from Germany, remained undetected until the attack on 18 March 1915. Churchill later wrote that ‘the Nusret may have changed the world’, as these mines shattered the dream of reaching Istanbul. This example of effective cooperation between Turkish and German military personnel has unfortunately been wholly ignored since by the Turks and this successful minelaying operation attributed exclusively to the Turkish crew.
The Allied fleet attacks on the Dardanelles, as well as mine clearance, were therefore far less successful than was assumed by the British and French. Nevertheless, rumours were heard in Istanbul that a successful attack by the Entente was imminent, causing unrest and sometimes panic in the city. When an official visit to the fortifications by the Diplomatic Corps was organised, the Austro-Hungarian Military Attaché, Josef Pomiankowski, reported:
‘We left Constantinople on the morning of 14 March. As far as I could tell, Enver Pasha had organised this excursion mainly for the American Ambassador, Mr. Morgenthau, who spread the most alarming rumours among the diplomatic corps, about the hopeless situation of Turkey and the forthcoming appearance of the Anglo-French fleet off Istanbul. […] The greatest interest was aroused by the battery at Dardanos, so named after the still visible ruins of the eponymous city of antiquity. This battery was located at the top of the heights and visible from afar, consisting of a one-metre high earthen breastwork of the ordinary type, behind which cannons were placed so that the barrels could shoot just above the ridge line. To protect the gun crew, they were provided with small steel shields., The enemy ships (especially on 7 March) had already bombarded this battery with a thousand shells, without somehow damaging it. By contrast, the entire area in front, as well as the forward part of the earthworks, were literally ploughed up and turned over by shells. On the protective shields one noticed only two dents, which apparently originated from exploding fragments. The crew serving the guns had suffered no losses; however, on 7 March, a shell had hit the observation post of the battery commander, which was about 15 steps away, and had killed him, along with other soldiers near him. In the afternoon we visited the forts of the European side, then returned aboard the Jürük, which started the journey back in the evening and arrived in Istanbul on the morning of the 16th.’
On 18 March the major Allied naval attack began, aiming to force a passage through the Dardanelles. Sixteen large warships, accompanied by many destroyers and minesweepers, approached the entrance of the Dardanelles. However, their approach had already been discovered in the early morning of that same day during the first flight of the new squadron at Canakkale. Captain Erich Serno, together with Lieutenant Commander Karl Schneider, the 2nd General Staff Officer at von Usedom’s headquarters, had made a reconnaissance flight. They spotted the enemy fleet and immediately afterwards warned of the apparently imminent attack. Schneider reported:
‘Early in the morning, we climbed up […]. We were flying at an altitude of 1,600 metres. The aircraft was at its ceiling. We realised that we had just flown over old Troy. At Tenedos we easily counted forty ships at anchor. All types were represented […]. Six battleships now headed in line towards the mouth of the Dardanelles. The battleship Inflexible led with the admiral’s flag flying.’
Both knew what this gathering of ships meant and flew back immediately to report the impending attack. As far as was possible in the short time available, coastal batteries and artillery units could be forewarned, Six large British battleships, including the Queen Elizabeth, with her 38-cm guns, started to attack the defences at Canakkale and Cape Kephes at around 11.30 am – initially staying out of range of the forts.
The Turkish coastal batteries and the mobile artillery units returned fire at the incoming French squadron, which consisted of four battleships and passed the line of British warships at about noon. All the battleships now came closer to their targets – but also within the range of the defending artillery. At around 2 pm the French squadron, which was under great pressure, was relieved by a squadron of six older British battleships. The battle then took an unexpected turn for the Allies, as the French battleship Bouvet hit a mine at about 2 pm, capsized in just two minutes and dragged almost the entire crew of 600 men down into the depths with it. Some of the other French ships were badly damaged and retired; the Gaulois was heavily damaged by artillery and a mine explosion and had to be beached at Tenedos. At 4 pm the Inflexible hit a mine and was barely able to escape out of coastal artillery range into safe waters. Shortly after, the Irresistible was hit so badly that she was abandoned and sank in the evening. These heavy losses caused the Allied Fleet Commander to break off the attack at 5 pm. When trying to take the Irresistible in tow, the Ocean also hit a mine and later had to be abandoned as well. The remaining nine English warships departed the Dardanelles westwards at full speed.
That date, 18 March 1915, marked an unforgettable day of victory for the defenders of the Dardanelles and is still celebrated every year in Turkey – especially in the Armed Forces – as ‘Canakkale Day’. The attackers had suffered heavy losses and forfeited the initiative, while the defenders had suffered relatively little damage. Admiral Souchon wrote home about the day’s events:
‘Yesterday’s heavy attack by the English [sic] and French on the Dardanelles ended as a great success for us. Here there is a great joy of victory. The French battleship Bouvet ran on to one of the mines laid on 6 March, and sank immediately. The English [sic] battleship Irresistible remained shot up, lay immobilised, the English [sic] battleship Ocean managed to steam away slowly with a heavy list. A destroyer sunk. Minimal loss on the Turkish side. In total, 2 heavy guns are damaged, of us Germans 2 dead, 7 badly, 7 slightly wounded. Hopefully the Englishmen [sic] will come again today and suffer such losses again. If they really want to succeed, they will have to do it before all the damage to the earthworks, telephones, etc. is completely repaired. Patching up will naturally be the case again this morning.’
As recognised later, the losses suffered by the Allies had been achieved to a large extent by the mines laid on 8 March by the Nusret. The Allied fleet had thought this area was already swept clear. In addition, in the days prior to 18 March, there had been no incidents in the area of this particular line of mines. However, it is not clear whether all the ships that sank were all as a result of mines. Von Usedom wrote about this in his report:
‘When Bouvet came into sight of the headquarters observation post at around 14.00 hrs, a strong smoke emission and listing could be observed, which got bigger and bigger. Three minutes later, Bouvet sank. From the speed of its sinking it was concluded that it had run into one of the mines set in the Erenköy Bay on 8 March, especially as it was also in the longitudinal location of this barrier. From later reports by the forward observers and Lieutenant Colonel Wehrle, commanding the howitzer batteries on the European shore, it became clear that the ship had suffered its heavy damage, whilst east of the mines, through artillery fire from Fort Anatoli Hamidié, causing the rapid sinking. It can also be concluded from the behaviour of the other ships that the enemy itself had not reckoned with the presence of mines, for Triumph, Majestic, Suffren, Gaulois and Charlemagne were heading for the scene of the accident. Suffren launched a boat. Motor boats, destroyers and later some mine-sweepers were trying to fish out survivors. In the process, a destroyer sank when hit by shells from the howitzer batteries, and sometime later a mine-sweeper. […] During this time, Dardanos had been able to clear its guns and at 6 o’clock in the evening, opened a lively and effective fire against Irresistible, which was sunk at quarter-past seven in the evening.’
This report puts into better perspective the sometimes over-exaggerated performance and impact of the mines laid down by the Nusret. It also shows the viciousness of this merciless battle, as even vessels that were clearly engaged in saving the lives of shipwrecked sailors and which had already put themselves into the minefield danger zone were nevertheless fired upon. Today this would be a clear violation of international military law, which prevailed at that time. This indictment must be made against the German and Turkish forces that took part in this battle and, in retrospect, casts a shadow on their victory over the Allied fleet.
The losses of the Allied fleet were high. Of eighteen ships, six had sunk or been put out of action for a long time. On the side of the defenders, however, only 114 men, including twenty-two German soldiers, were killed or wounded. Of a total of 176 guns, including those of the mobile howitzer batteries, only nine were destroyed. The forts had not been substantially damaged – even though massive numbers of shells had been fired at the fortifications. Of the ten lines of mines in the Dardanelles, nine were still intact. However, the ammunition situation on the Turkish side was critical after this battle. The medium howitzers and minefield batteries had fired half of their ammunition. The five 35.5-cm guns of the fortress artillery had only rounds left; for the eleven 23-cm guns there were only between thirty and fifty-eight rounds available per gun; while the reserve of high-explosive shells, the only effective munition against the battleships, was almost completely used up. A second, similarly heavy, attack would therefore have been difficult to fend off due to a lack of ammunition; a third attack would probably not have been opposed.
In the course of the battle, Major Binhold, a German commander of a field artillery battery, experienced an example of the Turkish custom whereby it was not common practice to pass on bad news. Binhold despatched his Turkish aide-de-camp to find out what had happened to a 15-cm howitzer that was being brought forward. The adjutant found the gun; it had fallen down a slope and the crew were in the process of recapturing the oxen. Returning to his CO, the ADC reported that the howitzer was not far off. Hours later, the aide was sent again to look for the long overdue howitzer. He found that the recovery work was still in progress, but reported back that the howitzer would arrive soon. Not a word of the accident was mentioned as such, as it would surely just lead to trouble. As more time passed by, Binhold set off on horseback himself during a lull in the fighting and saw that the ox-team was finally approaching the position. The circumstances of the delay were eventually explained; because he was familiar with the Turkish mentality, Major Binhold took a lenient view and closed the matter with a simple admonition.
After the 18th, the Commander-in-Chief of the Straits sector, Admiral von Usedom, immediately transferred the remaining ammunition available in the Bosphorus batteries to the Dardanelles. He also had ammunition from the fleet reworked for the calibres in use at the Straits. Mines were brought from Trebizond and Smyrna, even though they were indispensable there too. Although some stocks could be replaced from the modified munition factories in Istanbul, the Turkish government continued to urge Germany finally to provide adequate supplies.
Three days after the Allied naval attack, von Falkenhayn again tried to persuade his Austrian ally to campaign actively against Serbia. Enver Paşa also urged support for the opening of the land route to Germany and said optimistically in a letter to von Falkenhayn on 23 March:
‘I do not want our alliance with Germany and Austria to be a burden for these powers, but I am only anxious to help the allies with all we have at our disposal. This would be done to a much greater degree if Serbia is subjugated, thereby ensuring a reliable Bulgaria, as well as making Romania docile, and establishing an open route between us and Germany-Austria. I hope to be able to make other significant forces available for common purposes. Turkey still has half a million trained soldiers in reserve, who can be deployed immediately if armaments are available.’
This letter underlined the strategic importance of Turkey and strengthened von Falkenhayn in his planning. The resulting demand by the German government to the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorff, to carry out the Serbian campaign was answered with requests for troops from Turkey. Austria thought such an advance would be possible if Bulgaria took part, Germany provided four divisions, and Turkey ‘[protects] Bulgaria against Greece and Romania if they intervene and […] as far as possible, with about two corps [participate] under the Bulgarian Supreme Command directly.’ At the beginning of April 1915, von der Goltz was able to deliver a letter from the Kaiser to the Sultan, which announced the start of a Serbian campaign in the ‘near future’. This came after von der Goltz himself had been appointed as mediator to Conrad von Hötzendorff to explain the necessity of the war option against Serbia.
Enver responded to the demand from Vienna for troop dispositions on 12 April. In a letter to von Falkenhayn, Enver agreed to ‘provide two Army Corps to the Bulgarian Army for a joint operation against Serbia’.315 But once again the campaign against Serbia did not materialise, which is why Berlin had to think of different ways of solving the transportation problem for ammunition. It even considered using Zeppelins and large aircraft but, unsurprisingly, these methods were rejected because they were impractical.
The defence against an Allied landing operation at the Dardanelles, which was growing more likely with each day that passed, now had to be planned quickly, taking into account the lack of material support from Germany.
The WWI victors meant now to divide up the Ottoman Empire: Italians in the south-west, British in Iraq, Palestine and the Constantinople region, the French all over Syria and the south-east. There were proxies. Armenians now dreamed of a Greater Armenia, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and they claimed some American support. There was a further possibility: Kurdestan. Of course the Powers quarrelled among themselves, and the British decided to use the Greeks, whose prime minister, the nationalist Venizelos, was greatly admired and trusted by Lloyd George especially. In mid-May 1919 they were encouraged to occupy partly Greek Smyrna and their troops spread out over that area, expelling the Turks and behaving sometimes with much cruelty (one of their army commanders, Prince Andrew, father of the Duke of Edinburgh, said that he had not believed any human beings could behave in this way, let alone Greeks).
Meanwhile, the Sultan, now Mehmet VI Vahdettin (r. 1918–22), and his cronies were defeatist. The Ottomans had after all tried everything – Tanzimat secularization, a constitution, co-operation over the Debt, Islamic reaction, revolution of a sort, alliance with Britain, alliance with Germany: nothing had worked. The Sultan saw a future only as Caliph, Muslim figurehead for the entire world, including, of course, British India, where he thought he still held some trumps. In other words, he would become a sort of Aga Khan (head of a civilized variant of Islam and also very rich). His men signed the Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, which carved up the empire and left him with a small state in central Anatolia, the capital of which might even have been Ankara. It was a humiliating treaty, designed to bring civilization to the Turks, who undertook to grease the brakes on locomotives and not to sell dirty postcards. In the Smyrna region, a governor was moved in, Aristidis Stergiadis, who, as a Cretan, was supposed to understand Muslims and who had been the first Greek governor of occupied Salonica. His ways were in fact mild, mild enough to enrage the local Greek nationalists. The Greeks even set up a university of the eastern Mediterranean, meant to re-Hellenize the local Muslims. Meanwhile, the Armenians occupied Kars, and drove towards Trebizond and Erzurum; their megalomania was such that their first action after the armistice was to attack Georgia, on the grounds that Batum, a considerable port, really belonged to them.
All of this brought a Muslim reaction – we can fairly call it ‘Turkish’, but at the time ordinary locals, especially in the east, would have defined themselves by religion. A leader of genius now emerged, Mustafa Kemal, whom the world knows from his later, adopted, name, as Atatürk, or ‘Father of the Turks’. He had been a very successful general, at Gallipoli and elsewhere, and he played a careful game, initially getting approval from the Sultan (who maybe suspected what he was really about) and then departing on a pretext and on a Clyde-built steamer to Samsun, on the Black Sea, on 19 May 1919. Travelling along the dusty roads in an abandoned German staff car (which frequently broke down) he rallied support. The Armenians, who had been massacring quite diligently on their own account, caused the Muslims, including Kurds, to unite as they might never otherwise have done, and Mustafa Kemal had the charisma and the cunning to become their leader. Then he challenged the Sultan’s government. By chance he hit upon Ankara as his base, because it was on a railway line and because it had a telegraph office, which he used to great effect. Soon, Mustafa Kemal was collecting adherents from occupied Constantinople, and a ‘Grand National Assembly’ met in April 1920 in the clubhouse of the Young Turks. It was no rubber stamp; running it was difficult, and great concessions had to be made (such as a prohibition on alcohol and religious provisions for women’s dress). However, there was in existence an army, which had retreated from the Caucasus, and though the French in the south-east, with an Armenian legion in tow, and the Greeks in the west advanced, there was gathering resistance to them.
In 1920 a new factor entered the calculations. In Russia the Bolsheviks had won the civil war, but they greatly feared an Allied intervention, and they needed support. They had come to understand that, under the banner of anti-imperialism, they could recruit Muslims; and after some experimentation with Enver, they somehow guessed that Mustafa Kemal would be their man. Messages went between Ankara and Moscow, followed by envoys, and a deal was done. In 1920 Soviet gold and arms came over the Black Sea, and the first effect was felt on the eastern front, where the Armenians collapsed. Then the nationalists sent support to the south-eastern front, where the French soon came to terms, and also did a deal over the Syrian border. By 1921, the Turks had enough strength to resist the Greeks who, sure of British support, advanced wildly towards Ankara. At a great battle on the Sakarya river, in August–September, they were stopped, and it was a victory that ran round the world, especially the Muslim world: telegrams of congratulation came from all sides.
Mustafa Kemal then showed his qualities in another way: he knew when to stop. He did not want to provoke British intervention, and refrained, for a year, from attacking; instead (and this needed management) he built up his domestic position in Ankara, which was acquiring the rudiments of a capital (the French embassy was the railway buffet). Then in August 1922 he attacked, and this time it was the Greeks’ turn to collapse. Their army broke (even the high command was captured) and on 9 September the Turks entered Smyrna (which subsequently became İzmir). The Greeks, retreating, had set fire to various places, and there were, in the great bay, some thirty Allied warships. Smyrna contained about 300,000 Greeks and other Christians, and the Turkish general, Nurettin, in any event an embittered, not to say maddened, man who had lost his sons in this war, probably decided to prevent any reconquest. The non-Muslim (and non-Jewish: on the whole the Jews had taken the nationalist side) part of the city was burned, in a fire that lasted for five days, while hundreds of thousands of refugees clustered on the coastal road and the harbour, waiting for help that diplomatic niceties did not allow for all of that time. It is an episode that has entered the world’s subconscious. At any rate, the nationalists had won. Mustafa Kemal entered the city, and found that, on the steps of the government house, a Greek flag had been draped for him to walk over. He would not: chivalry meant that he had to respect a flag for which men had died.
In the event, his forces moved on Constantinople, and there encountered a British cordon. Lloyd George was adamant that the Turks could not be allowed to win, and sent a telegram to the local commander, ordering him to fight. The commander, ‘Tim’ Harington, was a man of great common sense and humanity; in any case the British army had come to respect the Turks and, as it turned out, some of the survivors of Kut-el-Amara even spent their summer holidays, years later, with their old guards. Harington kept the telegram in his pocket and pretended that it had not arrived. Then he negotiated sensibly with the Turks, agreeing to let them into what is now Turkey-in-Europe, and, in November, into Constantinople. The Sultan, fearing the worst, was smuggled onto a British warship and taken, with his five wives, to Malta (where he was presented with a bill). In 1923, a peace treaty followed, at Lausanne, and it established Turkey’s present-day borders, although these were extended, in 1939, when the French handed back the area of Antakya, the old Antioch, which had originally been assigned to their Syrian colony. Then, in 1923 and 1924, came the crowning and dismal consequence of all of this. Hatred between Turks and Greeks had of course grown and grown, and co-existence was hardly possible. An exchange of populations followed: about half a million Muslims, some of them Greek-speaking, from Greece, and about a million Greeks, many Turkish-speaking, from Anatolia. Misery followed, and both countries were set back a generation, although in Constantinople itself about a quarter of a million Greeks were permitted to go on residing with their Patriarch in the old Fener district. But by now a separate and national Turkish state had been established, and Mustafa Kemal proclaimed it a republic on 29 October 1923.
Greece finally entered World War I, in its very last phase, on the side of the Entente. Greece’s territorial gains this time proved to be short-term. After the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) Greece took over the administration of the Smyrna region in Asia Minor, a former Ottoman land. Despite Venizelos’s diplomatic triumph in the elections of 1920 he was defeated by the royalists, who took advantage of the war weariness of the population, and Constantine returned to the country. Greece sent troops to Asia Minor to defend its territorial gains against the rising tide of Turkish nationalism led by Mustafa Kemal. The Greek military campaign against the Turkish troops failed, and the Turkish counteroffensive resulted in the defeat of the Greek army and the expulsion of the entire Greek populations from Asia Minor in 1922.
After WORLD WAR I, the Allied Powers supported Greek occupation of Smyrna, which had been part of the German- allied Ottoman Empire. In the meantime, Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938) (later renowned as Kemal Atatûrk) successfully led a revolution against the government of Sultan Muhammad VI (r. 1918–22) and set up a new provisional republican Turkish government at Ankara in 1920. For their part, the Greeks wanted to expand what the post–World War I Treaty of Sèvres had given them, Smyrna, to include Thrace and as much of Anatolia as they could manage to acquire. On June 22, 1920, the Greek army under Alexander I (1893–1920) began its advance inland, taking Alasehir on June 24. The advance paused here while Greeks and Turks negotiated at Constantinople (later Istanbul). Muhammad VI had agreed to certain concessions, which Kemal now refused to honor. The negotiations broke down, and the Greek offensive resumed on March 23, 1921.
At Inönü 150 miles west of Ankara, a Turkish force under Ismet Pasha (1884–1973) retarded the advance of 37,000 Greek troops. By August 24, 1921, however the Greeks had reached the Sakarya River, 70 miles outside Ankara, where they would fight the decisive battle of the war. The battle commenced on August 24, 1921, and pitted 50,000 Greeks against 44,000 Turks, who were subsequently reinforced by an additional 8,000. Although the Greeks initially succeeded in driving back the Turkish center, on September 10, Kemal led a small reserve force in an attack on the Greek left flank. Fearing envelopment, the Greeks disengaged and withdrew to Smyrna, having lost 3,897 killed and 19,000 wounded. An additional 15,000 had been captured or were missing in action. Turkish losses were 3,700 killed, 18,000 wounded, and 1,000 missing or taken prisoner.
Following their victory at the Sakarya, the Turks intensified their counteroffensive, beginning on August 18, 1922, laying siege to Smyrna. It fell to the Turks on September 9, and the Greek forces were expelled from the island.
The flight of about 1.3 million Greeks from Turkey was later ratified by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which also provided for the transfer of 380,000 Muslims to Turkey in the framework of the forced exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The defeat in Asia Minor caused a major political crisis. A Revolutionary Committee of officers forced Constantine to leave the country for a second time and a Commission of Inquiry put the blame for the Asia Minor debacle on leading royalist ministers and officers: six of them were sentenced to death and executed. Constantine abdicated and retired to Sicily, where he died soon after. After a plebiscite in April 1924 the monarchy was abolished and Greece was proclaimed a republic.
Further reading: Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York: New Mark Press, 1999).
It was in 1526, the traditional invasion road that led into the Balkans was taken once again by the Ottomans. Most such annual campaigns had culminated in the siege of some Danubian fortress town, but this year was to be different. For the Hungarian army composed of King Louis II, his bishops, magnates, nobles and knights, had advanced to give battle.
The opposing forces
In the 1526 campaign the Ottoman army may have numbered some 60,000 provincial cavalry (the Rumelian and Anatolian troops) and standing forces (janissaries [the sultan’s elite infantry troops], cavalry and artillery) and perhaps a not her 40,000-50,000 irregulars and auxiliaries. Due to the long, four-month march, rainy weather and sieges, a good portion of this army must have been lost by the time it reached Hungary. Thus the estimate of Archbishop Pál Tornori, commander-in-chief of the Hungarian army, who, based on intelligence he received, put the whole fighting force of the sultan’s army at about 70,000 men, seems more realistic than the exaggerated figures of 150,000 to 300,000 men suggested by later historians. However, even this more modest estimate suggests a considerable Ottoman numerical superiority. Since the Croatian and Transylvanian forces, numbering some 10,000 to 15,000 men each, could not join the king in 1526, the Hungarian army that met the Ottomans south of Mohács – near the intersection of modern Hungary, Croatia and Yugoslavia – was only about 25,000 to 30,000 strong. A similar Ottoman superiority can be seen with regard to firepower: whereas the Ottomans deployed some 200 cannons, mainly small-calibre ones, the Hungarians had only about 80 cannons.
The Fall of Petervarad and Ujlak. The Ottoman Army Reaches the Drava
As already mentioned, on June 19, during the advance along the valley of the Morava, Grand Vezir Ibrahim was instructed by the sultan to capture Petervarad. According to Ottoman sources the castle was a “stumbling block” along the “highway of the holy struggle” by which we must understand that it closed off access to the Danube, hampering the movements of the fleet. Moreover, it could endanger the supply lines if by-passed and left in the rear of the Ottoman armies. Thanks to reconnaissance conducted by Bali Beg, the Ottoman high command obtained the following correct information about the Hungarians: on July 8 the king was still in Buda, over 1,000 troops were stationed at the castle of Petervarad, and the “accursed priest”, Tomori, was in the vicinity with 2,000 soldiers.
Ibrahim launched the siege of the castle on July 14 with the Rumelian army, the 2,000 janissaries assigned to him, the 150 artillery pieces, and the flotilla. Once under the castle they immediately started constructing the siege trenches and battery positions and soon, together with the artillery, launched a barrage. On July 17the Anatolian army joined the besiegers. The garrison of the castle held out bravely and made a few sallies. It repelled the assaults of the Ottomans repeatedly and inflicted on them significant losses. The Ottomans were able to take the castle on July 28 only after undermining and blowing up one of the bastions and storming it through the breach. With only a handful of men on the northern bank of the Danube Tomori could not come to the rescue of the defenders. By this time the troops of the bishop of Pecs, of the chapter of Esztergom, and of the abbey of Szekszard were all in his camp, to be joined later by Peter Perenyi and his banderium; yet his forces still numbered no more than 4,000.
It seems the Ottoman command wanted to present the union of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania with the royal forces by dispatching the army of Ibrahim with extraordinary urgency from Petervarad to Ujlak, the siege of which was launched as ear]y as August 1. It was undertaken with the same generous expenditure of materiel as that of Petervarad. The defenders of this much weaker castle were compelled to surrender in a week.
In the meantime, smaller units captured the castles of the Sremone by one, sometimes even without a fight, because the garrisons fled rather than await the arrival of the enemy. Thus the road towards the Drava lay open. Touching upon Sotin, Vukovo, and Borovo, the army reached Eszek on August 14. The ships arrived there at the same time or shortly thereafter, as we know from one of Burgio’s reports. The fact that the Ottomans began to build the bridge “in a great hurry” as soon as they reached Eszek also indicates important it was for the Ottoman command to advance as rapidly as possible. The bridge was ready by the 19th; the crossing began on the 21st, went on continuously, and was completed by the23rd. The bridge was dismantled or burnt down while the army was on its way to the river Karasso.
After the fall of Petervarad Tomori moved to Bacs. A few days later he proceeded to the mouth of the river Karasso and, crossing the Danube, stopped somewhere in the area of Baranyakisfalud and Hercegszollos, sending only smaller patrols on detail to the Drava.
Where to Fight the Battle? Conflict between Court and Notability
We have already mentioned that since the Hungarian government was well aware that it would not be able to hold up the Ottomans either at the Sava or at the Drava, it decided to fight a pitched battle. It may be assumed that Mohács had been selected as the battlefield from the start. The letters of Louis II indicate that he wanted to move further southward, leaving Tolna behind, and we also know that in the last week of June the palatine asked the king to send money and troops to Mohács.
It is possible, however, that the king accepted this p]an only under pressure from the military council; in reality, along with his immediate entourage, he wanted either to avoid battle altogether, or to fight it much further to the north, awaiting the arrival of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania and of the foreign mercenaries. Naturally this line of thinking implied that the southern parts, or an even larger portion of the country, would have to be forfeited. It is impossible to arrive at a precise assessment of these different intentions because of the contradictions and the chronological inaccuracies in the sources available to us. At any rate all signs indicate deep divisions between the court and the nobility.
To begin with, the king’s decision to wait so long in Buda needs tobe explained. He left on July 20, according to Burgio, on the 23rd, according to Brodarics. He was supposed to have reached Tolna three weeks earlier. Presumably the reason for the delay was not merely that it took a long time to form the royal banderium because of a lack of funds, as Burgio maintains, or that the nobility likewise reached Tolna with considerable delay, but also the fact that the king and his entourage were becoming increasingly convinced that no battle must be fought before uniting all possible forces. Some nobles seem to have got wind of this dilatory plan, which caused unrest in their ranks. After describing the king’s lack of preparedness, Burgio’s report of July 5 read:
My opinion is rather that His Majesty will retreat, and we will end up by losing even the areas on this side of the Drava…. It cannot be denied that His Majesty’s life is in danger. If they do not go down to the battlefield he will fall into the hands of his own subjects, and that could end only badly, for no one would hesitate to blame him and his advisers for the fall of the country. But if His Majesty does go down to fight all the way to the Drava, he would be poorly equipped and ill prepared and I dare say that in addition to the dangers from the enemy his own subjects would also present a threat, because everyone is dissatisfied with him. Especially the voivode Szapolyai and his followers are against him and–it is strongly suspected–they are in cahoots with the Turks. So his Majesty will have no other recourse than to flee the country.
It is curious that Burgio wrote this report after the session of the diet at which the nobility unanimously backed the king, granting him plenipotentiary powers and leaving 0lerboczi in the lurch. Either Burgio was wrong or, if not, there was a sudden change in the mood of the nobility. The only thing one can think of is that the court’s military projects had aroused the distrust of the nobility. Incidentally, there is no foundation to Burgio’s remark about Szapolyai’s attitude and intentions. From our point of view what matters were the hesitations of the king: should he remain in Buda or go to war?
Nor can we know which party, the court or the nobility, was responsible for the delay of the assembly at Tolna. Brodarics wrote that the king advanced towards Tolna slowly, hoping that others would “join him along the way.” This, however, seems most unlikely, if only because most of the nobility, coming from different regions of the country, would not use the Buda-Tolna road. We also know from Burgio that the Palatine himself told the king that the nobility would go to war only once the king was on his way. In Burgio’s report of July 8 we again find hints that the court wanted the king to remain in Buda. Although the royal banderium was not yet outfitted, in Burgio’s opinion, “it would be better for the king to proceed than to await the arrival of the Turks in Buda.”
These clues jibe with the reluctance shown by the king to get involved in battle, and the fantastic project of a campaign against Bulgaria and Serbia which he entertained during these very weeks; only in the days immediately preceding his departure from Buda did he definitely give up on this project. Some light is shed upon the secret intentions of the king by Burgio’s report of August 5:
The king told me he will go down to Tolna and will prevent the Turks from crossing the Drava. Failing this he would like to withdraw to Slavonia, for two reasons: first, because the bishop of Zagreb and the ban of Croatia, Ferenc Batthyany, are in Slavonia and he considers them his most loyal men, and because this is where he has least to fear from the intrigues of his subjects, moreover, because in this province he and Archduke Ferdinand have a good many castles….
The king reached Tolna on August 6 and remained there until the 13th. .According to Brodarics, “they held protracted debates” there. Once again the palatine was instructed to hurry and to reach the Drava before the enemy to prevent his crossing. Some magnates, however, refused, while others referred to their privileges and their right, as great lords, to fight only under the banner of the king; in short, the idea of defending the Drava line was dropped. The palatine had already reached Mohács, while the others remained behind talking about privileges. Brodarics tells us that the king declared in the general assembly:
“I can see that everyone is using my person as an excuse…. I accepted this great danger personally exposing my own life to all the fickleness of fortune, for the sake of the country and for your welfare. So that none may find an excuse for their cowardice in my person and so that they would not blame me for anything, tomorrow, with the help of God omnipotent, I will accompany you to that place w here others will not go without me.” Then the king issued orders to set off on the following day, although there were some who, well aware of the dangers involved, tried to dissuade him from this undertaking, but in vain.
Burgio, on the other hand, provides the following account:
the king sent Ambrus Sarkany from Tolna to Eszek to defend the castle and prevent the Turks from throwing a bridge across the Drava, by way of troops he ordered part of the papal infantry to accompany him. His Majesty also sent down Count Palatine Istvan Bathory, along with some lords, their banderia, and the soldiers from the provinces, while the archbishop of Kalocsa, who is now at Bacs, is to cross the Danube and join Sarkany and Bathory as well.
Two days later he wrote: “The only news since the thirteenth, when I wrote my last letter, is that His Majesty ordered those lords and noblemen from the provinces he had dispatched to Eszek previously, but had not gone, finally to get on their way; and now indeed they are moving.”
There is diametrical contradiction between the accounts provided by Brodarics and by Burgio; according to the latter the noblemen finally agreed to go–although almost certainly they did not go to the Drava, as we shall see. The problem common to both accounts is that there could have been no serious intent of defending the line of the Drava: as we have seen, at this time the Ottomans were much closer to the Drava than the Hungarians at Tolna. Thanks to his reconnaissance, Tomori knew with almost hourly precision where the Ottoman forces were and which way they were heading. Of course the court was kept duly informed.
While it is true that Brodarics knew precious little about military affairs, he was surely not that inept at comprehending military discussions. The debate must have been about whether or not to fight the battle. After all, in his very first sentence Brodarics states that the “king’s continued advance” was also mentioned. The last sentence of the king’s outburst–“I will accompany you to the place here others will not go without me”–points clearly to the fact that the main issue was whether to advance to meet the enemy, and not whether to defend the Drava. The contradiction is so blatant that one cannot help suspecting that Brodarics was silent about the essence of the debate because by describing the scene in such pathetic tones he meant to erect an immortal monument to the tragic fate of the young king.
Whatever was debated in Tolna, major decisions were not made until the discussions at Bata on August 16. The king summoned Tomori, who was stationed at the Karasso, and appointed him together with Gyorgy Szapolyai as commanders-in-chief, with the proviso that should Janos Szapolyai and Frangepan arrive, they would take over. The council also reached final decision about fighting the battle at Mohács. We know this partly because, according to Brodarics, “the leaders left” right after the debate “in order to designate a camp site near the town of Mohács.” Here we must add that it was probably not just a matter of finding a camp site, but rather to reconnoiter thoroughly the prospective battlefield and its vicinity. We also know, from Ottoman sources, that it was at Batathat they decided to fight the battle at Mohács. Suleyman’s clerk noted on August 19: “A scoundrel came here [to Eszek] from Buda, and brought the news that ‘at the fifth stage after crossing the Drava, you will meet with the evil king.” The battlefield was actually five days’ march from the Drava, and the Ottomans indeed reached it five days after their crossing.
It was also decided that the troops along the Karasso would be brought up to Mohács. After Tomori and Perenyi explored the field at Mohács they went to the Karasso. A strange scene took place there. It is reported by Brodarics as follows:
After he arrived here and called together his soldiers and the commanders of his units, he informed them about the king’s wish to pull back the camp, which was also his own wish. The soldiers, however, grumbled and objected to pulling back just when they were within reach of the enemy. They felt they had to confront the enemy and fight bravely, as true men ought…. They also insisted they knew that the formerly courageous and invincible army of the Ottomans had perished, first at the battle of Belgrade and then at the siege of Rhodes…. Let them isolate the king and all the brave warriors from the cowardly mass of priests and other war-dodgers bent on softening the king, so outstanding in body and in spirit, whom they wanted to spoil with their cowardice and their unmanly advice, in order to turn the brave youths into their own image.
Several insights may be gained from this scene. First, it shows the lack of discipline among the soldiers, a lack, one should point out, which mirrored the anarchic conditions prevailing in society at large. Second, the soldiers, inspired resolve to fight is noteworthy. We already spoke of the high morale of the troops, especially those fighting in the border areas, and how superior they felt to the Ottomans. This morale was not due to lack of self-criticism or to overconfidence, but rather to an awareness deriving from the successful skirmishes fought in the border areas over several generations. The reference to the losses suffered by the Ottomans in the battles of the preceding year is also striking. Burgio’s report of May30 had already made the same claim, almost word for word:
The archbishop of Kalocsa advises the king to leave for the border areas immediately, and he encourages everyone by saying that the Turkish army is large in numbers only, but is not well trained, the troops being too young and inexperienced in war because the Turks lost the flower of their soldiery on the island of Rhodes (where they had been fighting against the Knights of Saint John), as well as in other wars.
This assessment must have originated with Tomori, the very Tomori who had felt that the struggle against the overwhelming power of the Ottoman Empire was hopeless and tried to talk the kinginto signing a peace. Most likely he meant to compensate for the news regarding the might of the Ottomans; while he could not increase the effectiveness of the Hungarian forces or improve its equipment, at least he could enhance its morale. We shall see that he would try to do so again at a critical moment.
From all this follows that the debates at Tolna centered not on the defense along the Drava, but whether or not to engage the enemy in a decisive battle, and, if so, when and where. We have seen the negative effect the court’s hesitation had on the mood of the nobility. The reports on the discussions at Tolna only exacerbated matters. The troops knew about the proposed delay, for–as we know from Brodarics’s communication–the discussions were held in a “populous assembly.” Thus when Tomori tried “to persuade them”—as Brodarics puts it–to draw back further, the troops were convinced that the king’s point of view had prevailed in the discussions and, even when Tomori assured them of his own commitment to the order, refused to follow.
Hence the forces under the command of Tomori and Perenyi remained by the Karasso, while the other part of the army marched southward to the field at Mohács, where more and more units were gathering. The king himself remained at Ujfalva, immediately to the north of Mohács. Then late one night the camp at Mohács, and eventually the king himself, received a report from reconnaissance that the bulk of the Ottoman forces had already crossed the Drava;at the same time the lords at the Mohács camp requested the presence of the ruler in order to discuss what was to be done. All this must have taken place in the night of the 23rd to the 24th, for we know the army of Rumelia and the janissaries of the sultan were onthe northern side of the river by the dawn of the 23rd; only the army of Anatolia and the baggage train had yet to cross. The person bearing the news must have left at this time; since his path was difficult, often across the swampy terrain, even a good horseman must have needed 12-14 hours to cover the distance of 70 km separating the Drava from the Karasso, and from there 20-25 km more to Ujfalva.
The battlefield was bordered by the marshes of the Danube from the east and by a plateau 25 to 30 m (82-98 ft) high from the west and south. The Hungarian command planned to charge against the much larger Ottoman army in increments as it descended from the steep and, given the heavy rainfall in the weeks before the battle, slippery plateau.
Facing southwest, the army lined up in two echelons. On the right and left wings of the first echelon stood the Hungarian heavy cavalry, facing the Rumelian and the Anatolian timariot cavalry of the sultan respectively. The 10,000strong Hungarian infantry stood ten ranks deep in the middle facing the janissaries. Louis II stood in the second echelon behind the Hungarian infantry, whereas Süleyman, guarded by his central cavalry, stood behind the janissaries. Ottoman cannons were placed in front of the janissaries.
However, this battle order evolved only gradually. The Hungarians initiated the combat when only the Rumelian army was on the plain. Süleyman and his cavalry were still descending from the plateau and the Anatolian troops of the right flank were further behind. The skirmishes of the light cavalry forces were already underway when the Hungarian artillery opened fire at the Rumelian army about to camp on the plain. It was followed by the cavalry charge of the Hungarian right flank that broke the resistance of the Rumelian cavalry. But instead of chasing the fleeing enemy, the Hungarians set out to loot. By then, the janissaries had arrived at the bottom of the terrace and inflicted major destruct ion on the Hungarians with their volleys. Although the Hungarian infantry and the left wing fought bravely, they were unable to break the obstacles erected in front of the cannons and janissaries and were slaughtered by janissary volleys. Contrary to general belief, it was not the Ottoman cannons (which shot beyond the Hungarians) but the insurmountable wall and firepower of the janissaries that figured decisively in the Ottoman victory.
The consequences and historical significance of the battle
Such a grave defeat had not been inflicted on the Hungarian armed forces since the battle of Muhi in 1241 against the Mongols. The king, most of the magnates and prelates, about 500 noblemen, 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantrymen perished. Hungary also lost its century-and -a-half-old struggle to contain the Ottoman advance into central Europe, More importantly for Europe, the battle led to the direct confrontation of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, for a group of Hungarian aristocrats elected Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, younger brother of Charles V, as their king (1526-64). However, Ferdinand was able to control only the north-western parts of Hungary, for the middle and eastern parts were under the rule of Janos Szapolyai, also elected king of Hungary (1526- 40), whose pro-Ottoman policy temporarily postponed the clash. Szapolyai’s death in 1540 and Ferdinand’s unsuccessful siege of Buda in the spring and summer of 1541 triggered the sultan’s campaign which led to the Ottoman occupation of central Hungary, and turned the country into the major continental battleground between the Habsburgs and Ottomans.
The political vacuum caused by the slaughter of the Hungarian nobility on the field of Mohács would take some six years to sort itself out. The Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand (Charles V’s younger brother) and Sultan Suleyman each tried to absorb chunks of the ancient kingdom of the Magyars. This dispute over Hungary would culminate in the Ottoman siege of Vienna, which still echoes through the European subconscious, although the essential truth was that the two opponents were geographically too far apart to do each other much damage. It took the Ottoman army four months to march from Istanbul to Vienna in 1529, so there were only two weeks left for the actual siege. When you compare this with the six months that it took the Ottomans to reduce the city of Rhodes, the seriousness of the attack on Vienna is put in perspective. There was, however, another time for the Ottomans to show the Austrians how efficient they were as an army of engineers. The siege trenches were cut in double-quick time and artillery batteries established, but then it was time to pack up tools and return home. Nor was there any great disparity in armaments or siege-craft between the two sides. If anything, the Germans alone had a slight technical edge over the Ottoman janissaries, for they were the acknowledged world leaders in mining and smelting.
The inconclusive, unpredictable, and expensive nature of large campaigns, low-level border conflicts and raids (kleinkrieg) gained importance and became the essential part of the battle environment and lifestyle of the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier after the long reign of Süleyman. This situation was exaggerated by frontier populations, which consisted of thousands of mercenaries who sought employment through war. Within certain limits both sides tolerated these raids and conflicts within. Occasionally, events spiraled out of control, however, provoking large campaigns. The Long War (Langekrieg) of 1593 to 1606 was a good example of this type of escalation. In 1592, the governor of Bosnia, Telli Hasan Pasha, increased the level of raids and began to conduct medium-sized attacks against specific targets by using his provincial units only, although he probably had the tacit support of some high-ranking government officials. Initially, he achieved a series of successes but suffered a decisive defeat near Sisak in which nearly all his army was wiped out and he himself was killed. The new Grand Vizier, Koca Sinan Pasha, used this incident as well as a popular mood inclined toward war to break the long peace.
The ambitious Sinan Pasha began the war eagerly but did not show the same enthusiasm during the actual start of the military campaign. The army mobilization was very slow and haphazard after long decades of inaction on the western frontier and from the repercussions of the draining and tiring Iranian campaign. Consequently, the campaign season of 1593 was wasted, and real combat activity only began in 1594 when the Ottomans easily captured Raab (Yanik) and Papa. However, a joint revolt and defection of the Danubean principalities of Wallachia, Moldovia, and Transylvania negated these gains and put the army in the very difficult position of facing two fronts at the same time. Moreover, the revolt threatened the security of the Danube River communications, which was essential for the supply of the army. The Wallachian campaign of 1595 to suppress the revolt ended with a humiliating defeat and huge loss of life. In the meantime, Habsburg forces captured the strategic fortress of Gran (Estergon).
The ever-resourceful Ottoman government immediately reacted to the consequences of these disasters, which had damaged especially the morale and motivation of the standing army corps. A new campaign was organized, and the reluctant sultan, Mehmed III, was persuaded to lead the expeditionary force in person. The presence of the sultan gave a big boost to army morale, and it advanced to the main objective, the modern fortress of Eger (Eğri), in good order. The Ottomans demonstrated their pragmatism and receptivity once again by applying the same effective siege artillery tactics that their Habsburg enemies had used against Estergon, and Egğri capitulated on October 12, 1596.
After the successful resolution of the siege, the Ottoman army had to face the relief force. Initially the Ottoman high command underestimated the danger and sent only the vanguard to deal with them. After the defeat and retreat of the vanguard, however, it decided to advance and attack the enemy with the entire army. The Habsburg army was deployed mainly in well-fortified defensive wagenburgen formations and it controlled all the passes in the swampy region of Mezökeresztes (Haçova). Even though captured prisoners had revealed the enemy strength and intentions two days before, the Ottoman high command insisted on an offensive strategy after spending only a single day passing through the swamps and thereafter deploying immediately into combat formation. The entire Ottoman first line joined the assault on October 26. The daring Ottoman plan failed, the assaulting units were stopped by massive firepower, and were then routed by Habsburg counterattacks. Fortunately, the Habsburg units gave up pursuit to loot the Ottoman camp. The day was saved at the very last moment with the daring counterattack of auxiliary units and cavalry against the Habsburg flanks and rear. As the disorganized and looting Habsburg soldiers panicked, the retreating Ottoman units immediately turned around and joined the auxiliary units. The Habsburg army suffered huge casualties in the following mayhem, and the Tatars decimated the remainder during the pursuit.
The Ottoman high command ended the campaign and returned to winter quarters instead of exploiting the advantage gained by these two victories. The reason was understandable considering the command elements of the army in this campaign. Except for a few operational level commanders, none of the military or civilian members of the high command (including the sultan) had the knowledge, experience, or courage to lead the army forward. This failure is contrasted by the strong performance of the standing army corps and provincial units, which executed their combat tasks properly and in some cases better than in previous campaigns. The Habsburg side also had the same leadership problems as well as other structural problems, such as mercenaries and the conflicting interests of regional magnates. The outcome of this mutually inarticulate strategic vision was to drag the war out into a series of seasonal campaigns launched against each others’ fortresses.
The Long War continued on for 10 more years, during which both armies, the Habsburgs especially, avoided large-scale battles. Because of the unpredictability of the outcome of pitched battles, both sides focused more on smaller battles revolving around key fortresses. After the disastrous year of 1598 in which Yanik was lost and the Ottoman army suffered numerous difficulties caused by harsh weather, the balance began to tip to the advantage of the Ottomans. Repeated attempts by the Habsburgs to capture Buda (Budin), the capital of Ottoman Hungary, failed whereas the Ottomans captured the mighty fortress of Kanisza (Kanije) and managed to keep it against all odds. The rebellious Danubean principalities, likewise, could not withstand the sheer weight of the war and one by one gave up. An unexpected revolt of the Transylvanians against the Habsburgs effectively wiped out the remaining chances of Habsburg success, while the Ottomans reconquered strategic Estergon. Once again, however, the Ottomans were unable to exploit their success effectively. This time it had nothing to do with the government or the strategic direction of the war but, rather, because of the collapse of the eastern frontier defensive system against a new Safavid offensive and the immediate security threat of renewed popular revolts (Celali). The Long War concluded with the Zsitvatorok peace agreement of 1606, which itself was the outcome of mutual exhaustion and other urgent issues.
Even though the Ottoman government failed to achieve a complete victory in the Long War it still gained considerable advantage by retaining such critical territorial conquests as Kanije and Eğri. This forced the Habsburgs to spend large amounts of money and time to build up a new defensive line against the Ottomans. Another advantage occurred with the influx of large numbers of western mercenaries, who introduced new weapon systems, tactics, and techniques into the Ottoman military. The Ottoman military benefited greatly from these new innovations, thanks to its receptivity and pragmatism. For the first time in Ottoman history, the government enlisted groups of mercenaries who had deserted from the Habsburg camp. The most well-known example involved the desertion of a French mercenary unit in the Papa fortress to the Ottoman side on August 1600. Afterwards, they served on various campaigns during the Long War, and some of them continued to serve well after the end of war. Even though this was extraordinary and not representative of a generalized trend, it demonstrates that the Ottoman government of the seventeenth century was far from being the reactionary and conservative organ that is still a commonly held conviction about its identity today.
Moreover, the length and difficulty of the war forced the Ottoman military to the limits of its capabilities and drastically transformed it. In order to meet the requirements of war, the Ottoman government had to reorganize the empire’s financial system and to recruit or mobilize all available manpower. The obvious outcome of the financial reorganization and enlargement of eligible population groups to the privileged Askeri class not only changed the face of the military but also had a huge impact on Ottoman society as a whole. Moreover, the increased need for musketeers further weakened the traditional military classes, especially the Sipahis and other cavalry corps.
From every aspect, the Ottoman military ended the war with a completely different army. Instead of mounted archers in loose formations, the army employed infantry with firearms in deep formations of several rows of men. Instead of a regionally based provincial army, a salary-based standing army supported by provincial mercenaries became the dominant military organization. Moreover, that army was becoming highly evolved as an institution that had formalized ranks, corps of specialists, training, and battlefield flexibility. Therefore, it can be safely said that the classical period of the Ottoman military effectively ended with the signing of the Zsitvatorok agreement on November 11, 1606.
Joseph I’s reign was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), which pitted Bourbon France and Spain against the ‘‘Grand Alliance’’ led by Austria and the Maritime Powers. Born to Emperor Leopold I and Eleonore of the Palatinate-Neuburg, Joseph’s upbringing was notable for the absence of Jesuit influence and the resurgence of German patriotism during lengthy struggles against France and the Ottoman Empire. In 1699 he married Wilhemine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who his parents hoped would tame his youthful excesses, which included wild parties and a string of indiscriminate sexual escapades. He was soon admitted to the privy council, where he became the center of a ‘‘young court’’ of reform minded ministers eager to resolve the daunting financial and military crises that confronted the monarchy during the opening years of the war, which Leopold had entered to secure the far-flung Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI). Their first victory came in 1703, with the appointments of Prince Eugene of Savoy and Gundaker Starhemberg to head the war council (Hofkriegsrat) and treasury (Hofkammer). Shortly afterward, John Churchill, the duke of Marlborough, was induced to march a British army into southern Germany, where it combined with imperial troops in destroying a Franco-Bavarian force at Blenheim (August 1704).
Although the great victory saved the monarchy from imminent defeat, Joseph had to overcome a succession of new challenges after succeeding his father (5 May 1705), which included the need to wage war on multiple fronts in Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, the Low Countries, and Spain, while simultaneously suppressing a massive rebellion in Hungary led by Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi. Joseph’s strong German identity informed vigorous initiatives within the empire, including reform of the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) and the banning of several renegade German and Italian princes who had sided with the Bourbons. Yet he gave little assistance to the imperial army fighting along the Rhine frontier or to the Maritime Powers campaigning in the Low Countries. Instead, he focused his resources (together with considerable Anglo-Dutch loans) on Italy, which Prince Eugene delivered in a single stroke at the battle of Turin (1706), after which the French evacuated northern Italy, much as they had abandoned Germany after Blenheim. A small force expelled Spanish forces from Naples the following spring. Joseph’s other principal concern was Hungary, where Rákóczi had aroused widespread support against Leopold’s regime of heavy taxation and religious persecution. Although Joseph dissociated himself from his father’s policies and promised to respect Hungary’s liberties, he refused Rákóczi’s demand that he cede Transylvania as a guarantee against future Habsburg tyranny. As a result, the war dragged on for eight years, as Joseph committed roughly half of all Austrian forces to the difficult process of reconquering the country. Once victory was assured, relatively generous terms were granted the rebels at the peace of Szatmár (April 1711), signed just ten days after Joseph’s death.
With Italy secured and the Hungarian rebellion under control, Joseph shifted his attention to the last and least pressing of his war aims—his brother’s acquisition of the rest of Spain’s European and American empire. Prince Eugene and a small force were sent to join Marlborough’s Anglo-Dutch army in the Spanish Netherlands, most of which fell after their victory at Oudenarde (1708). Joseph also instigated a short war with Pope Clement XI at the end of 1709, forcing him to recognize Charles as king of Spain. By 1710, the first Austrian troops were fighting alongside their British, Dutch, and Portuguese allies in Spain itself. Nonetheless, a combination of logistical difficulties, timely French reinforcements, and the Spanish people’s dogged support for the Bourbon claimant, Philip V, doomed the allied effort. Unsuccessful peace negotiations at The Hague (1709) and Gertruydenberg (1710) failed to deliver what the allies could not win for themselves. Finally, a new British cabinet initiated secret peace talks with Louis XIV at the beginning of 1711, foreshadowing the Peace of Utrecht two years later.
Despite his untimely death from smallpox (17 April 1711), Joseph attained his two main objectives: securing an Italian glacis to the southwest and reconciling Hungary to Austrian domination, albeit with constitutional safeguards. Indeed, both achievements endured until 1866. Much of his success rested with a talent for choosing and managing able ministers to whom he could delegate much of the responsibility for realizing policy objectives. At the same time, Joseph jeopardized these gains through extramarital liaisons, which prevented his wife from bearing children after he gave her a venereal infection in 1704. Although he was survived by two daughters, the absence of a male heir foreshadowed the dynasty’s extinction in 1740.
It is not without some irony that bombards, all but abandoned as obsolete by most European powers by 1453, played a critical role that year in the fall of Constantinople, the last Christian stronghold in the East. For centuries the Byzantine capital’s great walls and defenders had repulsed invaders, including an earlier 1422 attempt by Sultan Murad II (r. 1421–1451). Although Murad had employed bombards against the city, they were rather ineffective, and he subsequently withdrew. His successor, however, Mohammad II, sometimes known as Mehmed II (b. 1432; r. 1444–1446, 1451– 1481), and also known as Muhammad the Conqueror, possessed an innate appreciation for artillery and its use in siege craft.
Muhammad, lacking technical experts among his own subjects, subsequently obtained the services of Christian gun founders to design and build cannons especially suited for the siege. Among these was reportedly a famed Hungarian cannon maker known as Urban. Urban (or Orban) had previously been hired by the Byzantines but had deserted their cause after they failed to meet his fees. Muhammad, unlike the Byzantines, appreciated Urban’s considerable, although mercenary, talents and “welcomed him with open arms, treated him honorably and provided him with food and clothing; and then he gave him an allowance so generous, that a quarter of the sum would have sufficed to keep him in Constantinople” (De Vries, X 356).
Urban quickly established a gun foundry at Adrianople where he oversaw the casting of both a number of large iron and bronze guns. These included at least one huge bombard of cast iron reinforced with iron hoops and with a removable, screw-on breech. Typical of such large breechloading cannons, the gun was fitted with slots around the breech’s circumference to accept stout wooden beams. For loading and unloading, these beams were inserted in the slots to act as a capstan and provide the leverage to unscrew the heavy powder chamber. Weighing more than 19 tons, the gun was capable of firing stone balls weighing from approximately 800 to 875 pounds. The sheer size of the bombard, known as Basilica, required forty-two days and a team of sixty oxen and a thousand men to traverse the 120 miles to its firing site at Constantinople.
Muhammad began preparations for the siege in February and ordered the positioning of fourteen artillery batteries around the city. As a further preparation, he ordered his navy, also equipped with artillery, to cut Constantinople off from the sea. For his part, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI (b. 1409; r. 1449–1453), did possess some artillery, but it was for the most part obsolete and numerically insufficient to reply to Muhammad’s forces. The Byzantines had long lost the technological superiority they had held in previous centuries, and they soon found themselves reckoning with their shortsightedness in snubbing Urban the Hungarian.
Muhammad began the bombardment of the city on 6 April 1453. With a keen eye for the city’s weaknesses, he concentrated his guns against its most vulnerable points, including the Gate of St. Romanus, where they affected a breach on 11 April. His success was short lived, however, as the defenders counterattacked and repaired the damage. Muhammad also faced other setbacks when Urban was killed when a cannon he was supervising exploded, and when his giant bombard cracked after a few days of firing, necessitating repairs. The sultan, however, proved his own resourcefulness in the use of artillery and made much better use of his smaller guns—weapons that were capable of a much higher rate of fire than Basilica’s three rounds a day and were also more maneuverable. These included eleven bombards capable of firing 500-pound shot and fifty guns firing 200-pound balls.
The Ottoman barrage continued day and night, wearing down both the city’s walls and its defenders. A witness described its effect:
And the stone, borne with tremendous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be nearby. Sometimes it demolished a whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannon-ball. (ibid., X 357–358)
Finally, on 29 May 1453, the walls on either side of the St. Romanus Gate collapsed, and the Turks stormed the city. The Emperor Constantine fought valiantly in the defense of his city, but he was killed as overwhelming numbers of Turkish troops rampaged through the city for three days, killing, looting, and raping. With the fall of its capital, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and with it the last vestiges of the Roman Empire.
Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as his capital in 323. He occupied the former city of Byzantium, which for centuries controlled the straits separating Asia and Europe. It lies on the Sea of Marmara, flanked to northeast by the Bosphorus and to the southwest by the Dardanelles, two narrow passages linking the Mediterranean and the Black seas. The only direct route from Europe into Asia Minor is at Constantinople, so it has been an extremely strategic possession for land and naval warfare and trade.
Constantinople became the seat of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. It not only was the political capital of much of the Mediterranean and Middle East, but also the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church, rival to the power of the pope in Rome for the souls of Christians everywhere. In the end it was that religious rivalry that spelled Constantinople’s doom.
In the seventh century Muhammad the Prophet founded Islam. By coincidence (or divine intervention) he appeared in Arabia just as the two major Middle Eastern powers, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, had fought each other to an exhausted standstill. He therefore conquered a massive amount of land hand in hand with the spread of his faith. Both Persia and the Byzantines suffered major territorial losses as well as major losses of converts to Islam, who found it less oppressive than the ultraconservative Orthodox Church.
For seven hundred years the forces of Islam and Orthodoxy struggled, with both sides trading ascendancy. By the fifteenth century, however, the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to almost nothing: Constantinople and a handful of Aegean islands. An earlier Islamic threat to the city resulted in the Crusades in the twelfth century, but that too ended in further alienating the Catholic and Orthodox churches. When in 1452 Sultan Mohammed II, son of Murad II, decided to attack Constantinople, European responses to pleas for help were almost nonexistent. England and France were just winding down the very costly Hundred Years War; Germanic and Spanish princes and kings offered aid but sent none. Genoa and Venice, however, did not want to see Constantinople fall into the hands of Arab merchants, and Rome promised aid if the Orthodox Church would submit to papal will. The emperor did all that he could to prepare for the siege. Envoys were sent to Venice, Genoa, the Pope, the Western emperor, the kings of Hungary and Aragon , with the message that, unless immediate military help was provided, the days of Constantinople were numbered. The response was unimpressive. Some Italians, embarrassed at their government’s impotence, came as volunteers. Reluctantly Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus agreed to Rome’s demand, but it netted him a mere 200 archers for his meager defenses as well as the hostility of his people; many claimed they preferred Turkish domination to Roman.
In the spring of 1452 Mohammed II sent 1,000 masons to the Bosphorus to build a fort to protect his army while crossing the straits. Constantine could do little more than lodge a protest. Among his populace were a mere 5,000 native and 2,000 foreign soldiers. The Venetian colony in Constantinople and many citizens in Pera, opposite Constantinople, also stayed, as did Orhan, the Ottoman pretender with his Turks. Some 30,000 to 40,000 civilians who rendered valuable service by repairing the 18-mile-long walls of the city before and during the siege. He had tradition on his side, however, for the triple walls that blocked the city from the landward side had survived twenty sieges, even though at this point they were not in good repair. As of January 1453, he also had the services of Italian soldier of fortune Giovanni Giustiniani, who brought 700 knights and archers. Giustiniani was well known in Europe for his talents in defending walled cities. Mohammed also had some European assistance in the form of a cannon maker named Urban from Hungary, who provided the Muslim army with seventy cannon, including the “Basilica,” a 27-feet-long canon that fired stone balls weighing upwards of 600 pounds. It could only fire seven times a day, but did significant damage to anything it struck.
As part of the Ottoman military preparations, some 16 large and 60 light galleys, 20 horse-ships and several smaller vessels were constructed in the Ottoman arsenal of Gallipoli. The sultan’s army of 80,000 to 100,000 men was assembled in Edirne, the Ottoman capita l, In the Edirne foundry some 60 new guns of various calibres were cast. Some of them threw shots of 240, 300 and 360 kg (530-793 lb), The largest bombard that the Hungarian master Urban made for the sultan fired, according to the somewhat contradictory testimonies of contemporaries, stone balls of 400 to 600 kg (800-1,322 lb), It was transported to Constantinople by 60 oxen.
A single wall that ran the circumference of the city’s seaward sides defended the rest of Constantinople. Mohammed sent his men across the Bosphorus north of the city, so the southern approach to the Mediterranean was open. A chain boom protected the primary harbor, the Golden Horn, across its mouth supported by twenty-six galleys. Thus, if anyone sent relief, the route was open.
Mohammed II arrived on 6 April 1453. He led 70,000 regular troops and 20,000 irregulars called Bashi-Bazouks, whose sole pay was the loot they might gain if and when the city fell. The premier troops were the Janissaries, slave soldiers taken captive in their youth from Christian families and raised in a military atmosphere to serve the sultans. They were heavily armored and highly skilled, and at this time they were beginning to use personal firearms. Mohammed first seized the town of Pera, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. At first this action was little more than symbolic, but it had serious ramifications later. He then deployed his forces on the city’s western face and began the siege. A single wall near the imperial palace protected the northern end of the city. It was there, the Blachernae, that Constantine placed most of his men.
For twelve days the Muslim cannon pounded the city walls, and on 18 April Mohammed decided that had softened up the defenses sufficiently. The Byzantines easily defended a narrow breach in the walls, killing 200 attackers and driving off the rest without loss to themselves. On the 20th, four ships approached from the south: three Genoese transports with men and supplies from Rome and a Byzantine ship hauling corn from Sicily. After a hard fight with the Muslim fleet they broke through, cleared the boom, and entered the Golden Horn. Mohammed decided he had to control the harbor. He could not pass the chain boom, so he ordered ships dragged overland, through the town of Pera, to the harbor. It was a monumental engineering feat and on 22 April thirty Turkish ships were in the Golden Horn. An agent of the sultan betrayed the Byzantine counterattack, which managed to destroy only a single Turkish ship. In spite of this Turkish accomplishment, it had little effect on the siege.
Mohammed continued his cannonade against the walls. By 6 May it had opened a breach at the Gate of St. Romanus, where the Lycus River enters the city. Giustaniani built a new wall just behind the breach, rather than trying to repair the wall while under fire. The Turks attacked on 7 May but their 25,000 men were thrown back after three hours of fighting. On the 12th another force assaulted a breach in the wall at Blachernae; only quick reinforcement by Constantine and the Imperial Guard stemmed the tide. Mohammed then tried mining the walls. Constantine’s engineer Johannes Grant managed to locate each of the mining attempts and either undermine the mines or destroy the attackers inside with explosives, flooding, or the incendiary Greek fire. None of the fourteen mines succeeded.
Mohammed then determined to scale the walls. His men built a siege tower and rolled it into place before the Charisius Gate, the northernmost opening in the city walls. Muslim artillery fire had destroyed one of the defending towers, and the siege tower was able to provide covering fire for Turks filling in the moat. Constantine’s call for volunteers to attack the siege tower produced spectacular results. The sally surprised the Turkish guards and the Byzantines broke pots of Greek fire on the wooden siege tower. Meanwhile, their compatriots spent the night rebuilding the city wall and its destroyed tower. The next morning Mohammed saw the charred remains of his assault machine smoldering before the newly rebuilt tower in the city wall.
In both camps officers debated the progress of the siege. The defenders were exhausted and running out of supplies. In Mohammed’s camp, some factions wanted to end the siege before a rumored rescue fleet could arrive. The sultan favored those who counseled continuation and decided to launch one more attempt before withdrawing. As the most serious damage to the walls had been inflicted along the Lycus River entrance to the city, it was there he proposed to launch his final assault. Constantine learned of the plan from a spy, but could his dwindling force survive another battle? The Bashi-Bazouks began hurling themselves against the Byzantine defenses at 0200 on 29 May. For two hours the Byzantines slew them with arrows and firearms, but grew increasingly tired in the process. With the first attack repulsed, Mohammed threw in a second wave before the defenders could recover. Even though these were regular troops with better discipline and equipment, the narrow breach provided the defenders with less area to cover and they threw back that assault as well.
After another two hours of fighting the Byzantine troops could barely stand. Mohammed sent in the third wave, made up of Janissaries. Constantine’s exhausted troops managed to repulse them as well. During this fighting, a small band of Turks discovered a small open gate and rushed a handful of men through before it could be closed. They occupied a tower near the Blachinae and raised the sultan’s banner, and the rumor quickly spread that the northern flank had been broken. At the same moment, Giovanni Giustiniani was severely wounded. Hearing of his evacuation, coupled with the report from the north quarter, the defenders began to fall back. Mohammed quickly exploited his advantage. Another assault by fresh Janissaries cleared the space between the walls and seized the Adrianople Gate. Attackers began to pour through.
Constantine XI led his remaining troops into the Turkish onslaught, dying for his city and his empire. Almost all his co-defenders as well as a huge portion of the civilian population joined him, for the Turks went berserk. Mohammed II limited very little of the pillage, reserving the best buildings for himself and banning their destruction. He claimed and protected the Church of St. Sophia, and within a week the Hagia Sophia was hosting Muslim services. Thirty ships of a Venetian fleet sailing to Constantine’s relief saw the Turkish flags flying over the city, turned around, and sailed home.
The looting finally subsided and the bulk of the population that was not killed, possibly 50,000 people, were enslaved. The bastion of Eastern Christianity fell after more than 1,100 years as Constantine the Great’s city. Mohammed II proceeded to conquer Greece and most of the Balkans during the remaining twenty-eight years of his reign.
Western Europe, which had done so little to assist Constantinople, was shocked that it fell after so many centuries of standing against everyone. In Rome, the Catholic Church was dismayed that they would now have no Eastern Christians to convert, for they were all rapidly becoming Muslim. The Eastern Orthodox Church survived, however, for Mohammed allowed a patriarch to preside over the Church. It remained a viable religion, now far from the reach of the Catholic Church’s influence. As such, its survival encouraged others who resented the Catholic Church. Within sixty years Martin Luther led a major protest against the Church, starting the Reformation.
The trading centers of Genoa and Venice feared having to deal with hard-bargaining Arab merchants who now controlled all products coming from the Far East. The major cities of eastern Europe began to fear the Turkish hordes approaching their gates, and for the next 450 years Austria and the Holy Roman Empire carried on the European/Christian struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks established themselves as the premier Middle Eastern Muslim power, controlling at their height almost as much as had the Byzantine Empire: the Balkans, the Middle East, much of North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.
The flood of refugees from southeastern Europe, especially Greece, brought thousands of scholars to Italy, further enhancing the peninsula’s Renaissance. Italian merchants, shocked at the prices the Muslims charged for spices and silks from the East, began to search for other ways to get those goods. Certainly the age of European exploration came much sooner because of Constantinople’s fall.