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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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Tuesday 15 August 2023

Ottoman Armies 1820-1914

 This is the latest in the Osprey Men-at-Arms series by Gabriele Esposito. It fills a gap in the Osprey coverage of Ottoman armies, although specific conflicts in this time frame have been covered before. In particular, Ian Drury's 1994, The Russo-Turkish War 1877, inspired me to build a 15mm army for the conflict and later an essential reference for a 28mm force.

The author takes a chronological approach to the period, which was one of considerable change. The period starts at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which I covered in my new book, The Frontier Sea. Many attempts had been made to reform the Ottoman military, and this was finally achieved in the 1820s with the disbandment of the Janissaries (The Auspicious Incident) and, later, the semi-feudal cavalry, the Sipahis. By the end of the decade, the Ottoman state had the core of an army organised on modern lines. However, it was only a core, insufficient for a wartime army, and irregulars remained an essential element of the military during wartime.

This was demonstrated during the Tanzimat period 1840-53, particularly when challenged by Egypt in the war of 1839-41. So, in 1843 the army was expanded considerably, including conscription (1848) and the creation of a reserve (Redif). Regular light infantry and cavalry units were also introduced. 

The Ottoman armies that fought in the Crimean War have not always been given the credit they deserve, with most accounts ignoring the fighting in Moldavia and in the Caucasus. Even less well known are the irregular units officered by British and French officers, and the line regiments bolstered with British cadres. There were also Polish volunteer units.

This painting is of Tunisian troops sent to Balkans in 1877, in the Tunisian Military Museum.

The Russo-Turkish war of 1877, has been the subject of detailed work since Ian Drury's 1994 Osprey. Most notably, Quintin Barry's War in the East, and a special favourite of mine Frank Jastrzembski's, Valentine Baker's heroic stand at Tashkessen 1877. The Ottoman forces had to be reformed again after this war, which addressed the manpower shortages, but not the quality. There were some minor reforms in 1890s, with irregular units (Hamidye) still required in border regions.

Finally, we have the Young Turks period, with further reforms that took the army through the Balkan Wars and the First World War, which ended the Ottoman Empire. There are also descriptions of the vassal states, including Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia, Montenegro, Moldavia and Wallachia. These also provide some of the most colourful and original colour plates in the book. Moldavian lancers look terrific, as do Egyptian cuiraissiers. 

If you have any interest in the Ottomans, this is a must read. 

My 28mm Turkish cavalry and artillery for 1877


  1. Thanks for the review. The book is currently sat in my Amazon “basket” whilst I mull over whether I need to order anything else… TBH I want plenty, but what I need & actually purchase is likely to be something else. 🤔

    1. As always! You probably wont find a lot of new stuff in the text, other than the reforms outside the main conflicts and the vassal states. However, the colour plates are superb.