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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 18 March 2023

Anzac Soldier v Ottoman Soldier

 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.


  1. I must admit having a passing interest in the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Try as they might there were sooo many challenges to face.
    In addition, although I’d be willing to game Palestine or Gallipoli (or even the Turkish efforts Post 1918) I can’t decide what scale - 6/10/15/20/28 mm all offer something. Decisions, decisions… - or, more likely, continued dithering on my part.

    1. I have them in 28mm and 15mm. But if I was starting afresh, I might go for 10mm.

    2. Ah, the eternal conundrum of choosing a figure scale! It always helps to work out what your priorities are and consider other factors like which particular battles you're interested in and what rules to use.
      For me, the epic landscapes are an important part of the appeal here (e.g. Gallipoli cliffs, Judean Hills, Tigris & Euphrates Rivers, Caucasus mountains), so I would look at smaller scales where mountains and rivers will look more plausible on the tabletop with paddle steamers, biplanes and armoured trains more viable, but then I would want the figures to be big enough for the different headgear to be recognisable (especially for all the various British Empire troops), because otherwise it might get tricky distinguishing between troops in 50 shades of khaki.
      For rules, 'If the Lord Spares Us' by Nick Skinner and Richard Clarke is for brigade level actions with a figure-to-man ration of 1:20 and ground scale of about 1:2,230. They originally used 15mm (1:100) figures from MiniFigs, but it seems many players of these rules now use the 10mm (1:150) figures by Pendraken.
      However, sticking to 15mm has the advantage of making the same figures suitable for company-level actions using the 'Through the Mud and the Blood' rules with a figure-to-man ratio of 1:1 and a ground scale of 1:120, which achieves the rare feat of ground scale almost matching the figure scale. Also, individually based figures are needed for 'Mud & Blood', which I think would be tricky with 10mm figures. There are superb (but expensive) 15mm figures from Eureka, as well as a good quality and comprehensive range from QRF.
      Yes, there are some brilliant figures in 28mm from Eureka (again), Woodbine / Gripping Beast, Copplestone and Artizan, but anything larger than platoon or company level is going to be too much of a compressed caricature on the tabletop for my tastes.
      Finally, I'd like to give an honorable mention to the 20mm rangers by Early War Miniatures and B & B Miniatures. For all the advantages of 15mm, I still appreciate the greater anatomical accuracy possible with 20mm figures.

    3. Good point about 20mm. I use that scale for moderns and was using them at the club on Sunday. Several members made the same point.

  2. Thanks for the helpful review, but "pan-Turanism expansion on the Russian front" was not just an opportunistic afterthought: It was a major war aim from the outset:
    “The Russian Empire during the last three hundred years has caused our country to suffer many losses in territory, and when we finally arose to that sentiment of awakening and regeneration which would increase our national welfare and our power, the Russian Empire made every effort to destroy our attempts, either with war or with numerous machinations and intrigues.
    “Russia, England, and France never for a moment ceased harbouring ill-will against our Caliphate, to which millions of Muslims, suffering under the tyranny of foreign dominations, are religiously and whole-heartedly devoted, and it was always these powers that started every misfortune that came upon us.”
    - Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V proclamation, 14th November 1914.
    “Our participation in the world war represents the vindication of our national ideal. The ideal of our nation and people leads us towards the destruction of our Muscovite enemy, in order to obtain thereby a natural frontier to our empire, which should include and unite all branches of our race.”
    - Enver Pasha proclamation, November 1914.