The Teutonic Convalescence of Turkey
How German Medicine Has Restored The "Sick Man Of Europe" To Military
Reasons For The Allies' Failure At The Dardanelles And An Analysis Of The Military
Situation In The Levant
[The World's Work, September 1915]
The military efficiency of Turkey has constituted thus far one of the great surprises of the war. And there can be no question that the regalvanizing of a nation which is at heart essentially military back into effective military function has been due to elixir Teutonicus. The effect of immediate German supervision of the Turkish army has been to raise Turkey to the rank of a military Power of the second class. Her military system, established by the German mission several years ago, is now working smoothly under tremendous pressure and grinding out trained soldiers with steady precision. The material has always been there. It was military organization that the Turk has hitherto lacked. That military organization is now almost complete.
In August, so far as trained men are concerned, Turkey had not yet even strained her resources. She is, however, somewhat short of many of the appliances of war possessed by the Powers of Western Europe, and her reserve of ammunition has run dangerously low. At the beginning of August it was, despite every effort, far below what the Turks needed, but a great deal was being received from Austria, and recently-built Turkish mills are constantly turning out an increasing proportion of the total amount of ammunition used.
In so far as the Turkish theatre is concerned the principal focus of attention centres on the Gallipoli Peninsula, where the Allies, after their fruitless attacks of the last three months, have accomplished nothing of permanent value and are literally holding on by the skin of their teeth to a few miles of Turkish soil.
From a military standpoint a main attack across the Gallipoli Peninsula unsupported from any other areas is open to very serious objections either as a means of rapidly opening up the Dardanelles themselves or of destroying Turkey's military power. When it became evident that the allied ships, unsupported by land forces, could not force a passage through the Straits it should have, become perfectly evident that the next consideration was the reduction and destruction of the Turkish field army. Until this army was destroyed the shores of the Dardanelles could not be occupied nor could the Turkish batteries controlling the mine fields and adjacent waters be taken.
Now the Turkish field army, which is available in what may be termed the Marmora theatre of operations, consists of no less than six full army corps (about 240,000 men), with all their auxiliaries, their first line troops, and with a practically inexhaustible reserve of fairly well trained personnel. So extremely narrow is the Gallipoli Peninsula at its widest part, that no more than two army corps need be deployed to resist the most determined attacks. In other words, if more than 80,000 Turks are deployed in this area at any one time they merely get in each other's way. Consequently, even if the Turks now in the Gallipoli trenches were destroyed an even greater number of them immediately in reserve would have to be destroyed later on in order to make the operation a complete success.
Consequently, as a main theatre of operations the Gallipoli Peninsula has the great disadvantage for the Allies of being so small that the main Turkish army cannot be engaged at one time and therefore renders a single decisive battle impossible.
For a secondary operation the Gallipoli Peninsula offers the advantage of the shortest land approach to the great group of Turkish works known as the Kilid Bahr forts. But no matter what theatre or theatres were selected for the main attack, sufficient military strength had to be brought to bear for destroying the Turkish field army. In all that region Gallipoli presents the most difficult locality for the proper development of an attack without absolutely overwhelming numbers and supreme efficiency. Neither of these characteristics do the Allies posses.
For these reasons the Allies had little chance of a reasonably quick success at the Dardanelles.
In their councils the Allies may have taken into account the probability of a Greek expeditionary force joining them. But at best Greece cannot furnish an expeditionary force of more than 150,000 troops of questionable tactical value. Even could such a Greek contingent be provided and transported, they, with the force of 100,000 sent by England and France, would not have been sufficient. Very probably a Russian contingent of 200,000 men was counted upon also. But on account of the unsettled status in the control of the Black Sea, it became evident from the start that Russia could not be depended upon with certainty to add anything except a diversion in the Caucasus.
It was known then, and is well known now, that the whole Dardanelles expedition was a creation of Great Britain, and there is very good reason to believe that the former First Lord of the Admiralty was its moving spirit. In its execution it has been a military fiasco from a strategic standpoint. It is therefore at least fair to suppose that the reasons which impelled the initiation of the expedition and which now inspire its continuance are not purely military. They must be very largely political.
Since England initiated the idea it is reasonable to suppose that the political reason back of it was either the possession of Constantinople, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles to have and to hold for herself, or was for the purpose, as has been previously stated, of keeping Russia from being driven into a separate peace with Germany. It will be remembered that the Dardanelles expedition was started at the conclusion of the winter campaign in East Prussia, in which Russia had suffered serious defeats. At that time it was announced by England that the expedition against Turkey was for the purpose of opening up the Dardanelles, thereby allowing Russia to have a free line of communication through which she could import munitions of war and at the same time ship out accumulations of wheat in southern Russia for the use of England and her allies.
If England's political strategy was to obtain Constantinople for herself it has been a failure. If it was to keep Russia from making a separate peace it has been a success so far. The whole matter, however, awaits a final decision on the battle fields of Poland, and the future of Turkey will be determined neither on the shores of the Aegean nor the Black Sea, but by the clash of the armed hosts in Western Europe.
The actual landing and subsequent fighting of the British and French contingents on the Gallipoli peninsula itself have approached the sublime. Here the partially-trained Anglo-Saxon troops have shown heroism, self-sacrifice, and devotion never exceeded in war. In the first place, they forced a landing under the greatest difficulty. The first organizations ashore lost practically all their men. They have held the narrow strips of land they occupied against the most ferocious attacks from an organized, brave, determined enemy. As their own ranks have thinned they have stood for three months and seen the numbers of the enemy constantly grow.
The Allies are unable to advance and the Turks have been unable, up to the present, to drive them into the sea. The Allies, all told, number about 50,000 men on the offensive lines, and the Turks double that number. The total losses of the Allies have been about 50,000 out of their original force of 100,000. The Turks' losses also have been heavy, but as they are fighting at home with a great reserve of forces behind them their losses can quickly be made up. At the present rate of consumption of the personnel the Allies will have to be heavily reenforced or get out. This is so to a greater extent now than it has been for the-last three months because in the first place the number of submarine boats at the disposal of the Turks is being constantly increased, and also because that part of the peninsula where the Allies are now situated has very little fresh water on it. The major portion of their water supply, consequently, will have to be obtained from water vessels.
Where are the necessary accessions of men and material coming from to continue the Allied enterprise? They cannot come from Russia at present or for some time to come on account of the military situation in Poland, where Russia needs every trained man she can get. Greece alone will make little difference even if it shoved participate. Italy might send troops, but to obtain results in a reasonable time she must send a contingent of at least 300,000 men. Italy may need every soldier she possesses on her northern frontier at any time to repel a Germanic invasion, and to tie up a large army in Anatolia would be to play directly into Austrian hands. A small contingent would be merely like sending good money after bad. Bulgaria, with her efficient army, undoubtedly holds the key and it is therefore evident that the greatest endeavors are being made by England with every means at her disposal to induce Bulgaria to enter the fray. After Bulgaria's experience in the last Balkan war the evidence must be very complete to show her exactly what she would gain by coming in. Bulgaria's eyes, then, are turned northwest toward the battle fields of Poland in an endeavor to foresee the outcome of the gigantic contest now taking place in that unfortunate country.
In addition to the theatre centering around, the Dardanelles there are four other theatres in which the Turks are playing their part. These are the Caucasus, the Tigris and Euphrates valley, the Egyptian frontier, and a small region near the British naval station at Aden.
Of these campaigns the one in the Caucasus engages the greatest number of men, approximately 200,000 on the Russian side and an equal number on the Turkish side. In this theatre fighting of a desultory character is taking place in the same areas that have been the scenes of operations for the last five months. The forces are distributed along the international frontiers. One side takes the offensive in a small way and then the other. Nothing approaching a decision or even the seeking of a decisive battle has yet been manifested.
Small demonstrations are still being made by the Turks in the Egyptian theatre. These for the last few months have amounted to little more than an attack of the hostile patrols. The Turks, however, under German supervision, are engaged in constructing railroads from the Damascus-Mecca line toward the Egyptian frontier. This in itself is evidence that they have in no way abandoned the idea of ultimately invading Egypt. What deters them from doing it now is, of course, the campaign around the Dardanelles and the fact that they must hold sufficient troops in readiness in the latter theatre to meet any additional forces which may be launched against them either from the Balkans, Italy, or reenforcements for the Allied troops that are already there.
About 50,000 Allied troops are in Egypt. These are all British with the exception of a French colonial contingent of about 5,000 men. Such contingents are available either to replenish the Allied troops for the losses incurred on the Gallipoli peninsula or to defend the Suez Canal. In addition there are about 30,000 wounded in the Egyptian hospitals that centre at Alexandria. Egypt has served as a main base for the operations against the Dardanelles, the secondary base being at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, and there is also a small depot on the island of Tenedos.
The British-Indian contingent has advanced a considerable distance up the Tigris and Euphrates and has control of the Turkish province of Amara. The object of this expedition, mainly political, is for the purpose of holding for the British Crown this valuable outlet of the commerce of the Euphrates Valley. It is in this area that German commerce has been so highly developed during the last few years.
At Aden, far down on the southern side of the Arabic peninsula, the Turks, aided by the tribes living in that area, are attacking the British garrison. The port of Aden itself constitutes a strong and important British naval base. It forms a haven for the British warcraft detailed to keep watch over the entrance to the Red Sea, the main gateway to the Suez Canal from the east. It also is a naval control point for the Arabian Sea, which stretches from Arabia to India. If the attack against Aden is considered in combination with the attack against Egypt it is evident that if the Suez Canal were occupied by the Turks and submarines could get through it, with Aden in their hands, they could, in all probability, by the use of submarines alone, entirely control the Red Sea and possibly also the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is by way of the Persian Gulf that the British troops who are operating in the Euphrates Valley have to go on their way from India. The ultimate idea behind the Turkish attacks against Egypt and Aden, then, is to control the water route to India and prevent Indian troops from getting across seas to Europe by the Persian Gulf. So far the operations have resulted only in small attacks by the Turks and Arabs in which they have easily been driven off by the British garrison.
Though the main issue of the whole European war will be determined in Western Europe, the centre of Turkish interest is around the Dardanelles, and the Turkish operations in the smaller theatres are all being subordinated to that area.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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By J. Fred MacDonald