Ordered to Die; A History of the Ottoman Army in WWI

Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War (Contributions in Military Studies) Hardcover – November 30, 2000
by Edward J. Erickson  (Author)
Quick review by Major Amin
This is a very interesting, must read book.
The Ottoman Army was not logistically equipped to fight the huge battles that it was forced to fight in First World War. The main culprit was Ottoman Defence Minister Enver Pasha a man of myopic vision and petty intellect (Normal problems in Muslim world).The bottom line is that Ottoman Turkey had no reason to go to war but unnecessarily joined the war because of phenomenal stupidity of Enver Pasha.
The odds that Ottoman Army confronted were too heavy.This is the writers basic and most balanced assessment.
In Egypt the attack on Suez was a logistic miracle and Ottoman failure because of massive allied naval guns was a foregone conclusion.
In Caucasus Russian Army was vastly superior to Ottomans logistically and materially.
In Mesopotamia British numerical superiority was massive after 1916 and Ottoman failure was a foregone conclusion.
Despite all these huge odds Ottoman Army kept itself intact to finally save Turkey under Mustafa Kemal as nationalist army.
It fielded 2.8 Million troops and suffered 750,000 fatal casualties,proportionately one of the highest.
Like all third world armies it was outstanding in defense and weak in attack where greater military dynamism and superior numbers are required.
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7 Replies to “Ordered to Die; A History of the Ottoman Army in WWI”

  1. Serbian army (with help from Bulgarians and Greeks) defeated Turkish army and liberated southern Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Greece in 1912. In the WW1 Serbia lost 62% of male population (18-55 years old), 53% killed and 9% crippled. Its army of 450.000 was reduced to only 62.000 before their return to Serbia after their exile at Corfu. They broke so-called ‘the Thessaloniki front’, entered Serbia via high mountain Kaymakchalan (2000m) and in 12 days after non-stop running and wining over Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian occupators liberated Belgrade. French cavalry could not follow the Serbian infantry. Kaiser Wilhelm wrote that it was the shame that 62.000 exhausted Serbian soldiers decided the WW1. Serbian win caused the immediate capitulation of Germany and their allies. Later, Ataturk, whose family was originally from Bitolj (Serbia) developed friendly relationships with new Yugoslavia.

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  2. In fact the entire Janisseries were built on the principle of ordered to die. They were kidnapped from Balkan Christian families, though slaves of the Sultan were elite army for the Ottoman.

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    1. Except for the facts that intrude; Janisarry system was corrupted starting 1453, and was destroyed by 1826 ; Sultan Mahmud 2 replaced it by a census-based system [1].

      From 1443 (attack on Thrace), janisarries became a thorn on the side of the turkish Sultan. The Sultans influence degenerating, the Janissaries proceeded to emulate the Praetorian Guards, became wielders of power, regarding the Sultan as a tyrant and a mere puppet to be placed and kept on the throne as long as convenient to them. Their numbers grew enormous, and in the seventeenth century are said to have reached 100,000. Twelve Sultans were deposed and mostly murdered by them. It would be tedious to describe all of this history. Throughout Turkish history they were made use of as instruments by unscrupulous and ambitious statesmen, and in the 17th century they had become a praetorian guard in the worst sense of the word. Until the arrival of Sultan Mahmud in 1806, the Janisarries were no “ordered to die” but “live to usurp power”.

      [1] Stanford J. Shaw
      THE OTTOMAN CENSUS SYSTEM
      AND POPULATION, 1831-1914

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      1. I did not mean to say Janisseries took part in WW1,. Their ethos of strong ‘espirit de corps’ and self-sacrifice was a strong historical precedent for Ottomon Turkish army, notwithstanding their annihilation in Ottomon politics of the 19th century.

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        1. VV, you are absolutely right. Turks kidnapped many thousands of Serbian boys and made them Janissaries. They became the elite part of Turkish army based on their height and excellent physical predispositions comparing to short-legged Turks. Many Janissaries of Serbian origin (I think 13) became Grand viziers. Turkish Generalstab was often dominated by Serbs and sometimes, military plans were made in Serbian language and later translated to Turkish.

          Turks decimated Serbian population (and later Armenian), when they came to Balkan there was the same number of Serbs and English, when they left, the number of Serbs was one fifth of the number of English (in England alone).

          We should not forget also a large number of indigenous Serbs who lived in Anatolia before Turkish invasion. There are now about 9 million Turks who state their Serbian origins.

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