Glories of the Ottoman (Turkish) Army
By Zuhdi Farhan
While I was in Turkey for my exchange program, in one of my history classes I came across the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leader of the Indepence War of Turkey and the First President of the Turkish Republic, as he said:
“The distance between the trenches is eight meters, which means that death is inevitable. Those in the first trenches, they all fall without any survivors, but they are rapidly replaced by those in the second. Can you imagine what a distinguished determination and faith this is? He sees the fallen, he knows that he will die within three minutes, but he does not hesitate at all. There is no trembling whatsoever. Those who are literate have the Koran in their hands, preparing to get into the paradise; those who are not are saying prayers. This is an example showing the spiritual power of the Turkish soldier. You can be sure that this spirit is what brought the victory in Çanakkale.”
On 10th May 2017, I joined a day-trip to Çanakkale with the chairman of MyCARE, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hafidzi Mohd Noor, co-organized by Jejak Uthmaniyyah and Jom Venture. The objective of this trip was to visit the site of the battles in World War I, Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula. Here are my notes on the historical event, which I want to share with you today:
- The Battle of Çanakkale – Canakkale Savaşı, in Turkish – also known as Battle of Gallipoli, Gallipoli Campaign, and Dardanelles Campaign, was officially fought from February 19, 1915 until January 9, 1916. Allied forces were comprised of the British, French, Australia and New Zealand Armed Corps (ANZAC), and troops from the colonies of Britain. The Ottoman forces came from all over the empire plus several German officers.
- On November 9, 1914 2 British cruisers, Indefatigable and Indomitable bombarded Seddülbahir and Ertuğrul batteries on European shore while French Suffren and Verite attacked Kumkale and Orhaniye batteries on the Asian shore. A British submarine B11 entered the Strait of Dardanelles and torpedoed Ottoman warship Mesudiye on December 13, 1914 resulting new submarine nets to be installed in the strait. The Dardanelles was under blockade by Allied fleet, commanded by British Vice Admiral Carden, comprised of 49 British and 13 French ships.
- On January 15, 1915 War Council in London accepted ‘Carden Plan’. The main reason for the assault on Strait of Dardanelles was to facilitate the way to Istanbul through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. Allies also intended to eliminate Ottoman entirely from the war by taking over Istanbul. Supplies and weapons would be channelled to Russia easily should the waterway fell into their control.
- Ottoman minelayer ship, Nusrat, under the command of Capt. Hakkı Bey laid 26 new mines paralled to the shore. On March 18, French warship Bouvet struck the mines and sunk. British warships Irresistible and Inflexible suffered also heavy damage due to the mines. Inflexible was paralyzed and left aground off Bozcaada. Gaulois was left aground off Rabbit Island. Another ship, Ocean struck a mine when it tried to pull Irresistible out of the strait. Both ships then sunk.
- Allied began its land operation on April 25, 1915. The landing at Ariburnu and Kabatepe was met with fierce Turkish defense. The ANZACs were halted at the beachhead. At Seddülbahir, British forces had landed in five different locations. Those were Ertuğrul Bay, Teke Bay, Pınariçi Bay, İkiz Bay, and Morto Bay. Naval gunfires were used to facilitate the landings however, Ottoman troops defended fiercely and were successful in halting the advance of Allied forces.
- Bolayır town was bombarded and French units landed at Kumkale. However, both occasions were only diversions to distract a large number of Ottoman forces while the real landings occurred on European shores. On April 25 alone, 16700 Ottoman troops were up against 31750 invading Allied forces.
- Stalemate at Ariburnu and Anafartalar forced the opposing sides to dig trenches. In some area, the trenches were only eight metres apart. This was later mentioned by Mustafa Kemal Bey (Ataturk) in his memoirs. At Seddülbahir, Allied Forces trying tring to take control of the village Kirte with the First and Second Battle of Kirte but to no avail. They suffered a total of almost 9500 casualties and were still 3km from Kirte. On June 4, the failed Third Battle of Kirte was fought for three days, with casualties of 7500 and 10000 for Allied and Ottoman respectively. Allies gained 1km inward initially but retreated at the end of the day as the troops did not have support.
- Mustafa Kemal was one of the commanders of the Ottoman army. At the start of the battle, he was a Lieautenant Colonel and later promoted to Colonel. He was in charge of 19th Division, defending Kocaçimen and Conkbayırı against the ANZACs. He then succeeded Colonel Ahmet Feyzi Bey as the commander of Anafartalar Group Command. Other prominent officers were Major General Esat Paşa (III Corps), Brigadier General Cevat Paşa (Çanakkale Fortified Zone), Colonel Halil Sami Bey (9th Division), and General Otto Liman von Sanders (Fifth Army).
- The next few months saw the battles at Zığındere, Suvla Bay, Kocaçimen, and Conkbayırı. For some multiple occasions the Allies managed to gain some lands but the Ottoman would quickly tried to regain them. As of August 1915, the fight had turned to be a static trench warfare, a stalemate, neither side able to gain territory anymore.
- In early November, Allies had decided to withdraw from Gallipoli Peninsula. By December 20, withdrawal in Ariburnu and Suvla Bay was completed. French units evacuated completely by January 1, 1916. Ottoman last attack on the Allied Forces was executed on January 7, 1916 and two days later, there was not a single Allied troop left on the peninsula.
- Battle of Çanakkale/Gallipoli saw more than a million troops fought for both sides. Total number of casualties for both sides amounted to almost half a million. It was a significant victory for the Ottoman and Central Powers against the Allied Forces in the war. The battle significantly being very important to the Turkish as it became a symbol of resilience and showed the spirit of patriotism, paving the way for Turkish Liberation War. “Çanakkale geçilmez”, meaning “Çanakkale is impassable” has became the slogan of the region.
Writer is a final year student at the Department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia