This new book by Si Sheppard in the Osprey Combat series looks at the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns of WW1.
My immediate reaction to this was not another book on Gallipoli. My bookcase already groans with them, and this is a rare example of the Turkish archives being much more open. I picked up some detailed studies based on them during my last visit to Turkey. I am less familiar with the Palestine campaign, although Rob Johnson's book, The Great War and the Middle East (2016) is very good. So, the first question is what is there that the general reader might find that is new?
Well, the context chapter has an excellent map, something often missed out in other studies, which highlights the ambiguous Ottoman strategic objectives in declaring war. Nationalism and modernisation seem a poor reason for war. However, as the conflict proceeded, the Ottomans had to defend their territorial integrity, face down the Arab Revolt, and opportunistically go for some pan-Turanism expansion on the Russian front.
There is a substantial chapter on the two sides with some nice colour plates. A reminder that Australia had a volunteer army that included a staggering 416,809 men enlisting out of a population of fewer than five million. There were 98,850 men from New Zealand – 79,302 volunteers and 19,548 conscripts – from a pool of approximately 250,000 men of eligible age in 1914. This may partly explain Australian attitudes to uniforms, equipment and discipline. Five times more Australian troops were behind bars than other Empire troops!
A key problem for the Ottomans that I had not fully appreciated was the logistical challenge. For example, enlisted men were required to bring their own uniforms (or at least appropriate clothes that could serve the function of uniforms) and good shoes. According to a report by the commander of the 17th Division, more than half of the troops were still wearing civilian clothes even as late as mid-1915. By September 1918, rations had declined to 125g of bread and beans in three meals. In contrast, they were trendsetters in organisation, introducing the triangular division before others. However, attempts to copy German small unit tactics often resulted in expensive bayonet charges, not least because they lacked the educated NCOs vital to the German tactics.
The bulk of the book covers three battles; Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli, and Beersheba in Palestine. While these are well-written and nicely illustrated chapters, they don't offer much that is new. Inönü is often criticised, as he was by the Germans, for his handling of Ottoman III Corps in the battle. However, this is a more balanced recognition that he held out until nightfall and extracted a significant proportion of his troops under great pressure. This battle included the famous cavalry charge by the Australian Light Horse, brilliantly portrayed in the film The Light Horsemen.
Overall, if you haven't read much about the Ottomans and ANZACs in WW1, this is a good introduction. For those who have, you will find some interesting snippets and fine illustrations. Osprey books are good value for money, so you may think it is worth it for that.
|Some of my 28mm Turkish infantry.