The Rifles of Turkey 1914 to 1915 



    by Dan Reynolds

On the eve of World War One, the Ottoman Empire was in the advanced stages of decay.  The Sultan was the nominal head of this cosmopolitan empire which had experienced numerous revolts and wars for the preceding century as nationalist sentiment had flared between disaffected subject ethnic groups and major powers had seized lands from the so called "sick man of Europe.” 
The "Young Turk" revolt of 1909 displaced the old Sultan Abdul Hamid Kahn and attempted to introduce liberal reforms to modernize and preserve the Empire in the face of constant losses.  Especially in Albania the reforms proved counter productive.  German advisers were brought in to help improve the Army.   Despite this, a series of defeats to Italy and then to the allied Balkan states followed and large numbers of rifles were lost or rendered unserviceable as a result. 

The rifles available to arm Ottoman troops, police and Muslim militia forces included the Snider type conversions of caplock Enfields to cartridge firing 14.5mm breech loaders, both rifle and half stock carbines, Peabody and improved Peabody -Martini .45 Turk single shot rifles, blacck powder M1887 Mauser tube magazine 9.5mm rifles and carbines, five shot Mauser box magazine M1890 7.65mm rifles and carbines, Mauser M1893 7.65mm rifles with magazine cut offs fitted, 98 type Mauser M1903 7.65mm rifles and M1905 7.65mm Mauser carbines.   A small number of Steyr 6.5x55mm Norwegian Krag carbines were rumored to have been acquired around 1904 to arm the Sultan Abdul Hamid Kahn's mounted bodyguard.  He was a gun buff and wanted the Turkish Cavalry to adopt this weapon, but the 1905 Mauser was selected.  Perhaps 200-300 Krags were obtained. Small quantities of Mannlicher rifles  and  carbines, M88/90, M94 and M95 in 8x50mm, M93, 6.5x54mm, M1903 Mannlicher Schonauer, and various Serbian Mausers  were taken in the course of the Balkan Wars.  Some Egyptian 11mm Remingtons were on issue in Arabia. 

In June of 1913, the Sultan's Grand Vizir requested that the Kaiser of German send a  Military Mission of German officers headed by a leading German General Officer to Turkey to reorganize the Ottoman Army.   In November, General of the Cavalry, Liman von Sanders, led a mission of forty-two officers to Constantinople to undertake the task.  The Turkish Navy was being assisted by a British Naval Mission under Admiral Limpus, RN.  The Imperial Military Police  were 80,000 strong and armed with some of the best rifles, under a French General, as the Ottoman Turks attempted to balance the "Great Powers". 

In 1913, the last batch of new Mauser rifles, Model 1910 in 7.65mm was delivered from Oberndorf.   It was intended to re-equip the army with as many as 300,000 of this pattern had not the start of the World War cut off deliveries after a small number had been shipped.  According to John Wall’’s research, perhaps only slightly more than 1,000 of these Mausers were shipped.   It is not known for sure what the official Ottoman model designation for this series was.  They may have been considered M1903, but the date 1910 is rolled on the ring.  The rifles delivered had the western commercial export markings and numbers.  The only identifier of Turkish ownership being the toughra of the deposed Abdul Hamid on the butt of the long bayonet supplied with these rifles and the old style Turkish script on the blade near the hilt indicating the date of 1907.  These rifles/bayonets may have been assembled from parts on hand at the factory. 

Liman von Sanders was made Marshal and Inspector General of the Turkish Army as of 14 January 1914.  This did not mean he controlled the Army.  The real power in Turkey was the "Committee" of Young Turks, the names of the actual members being obscure to outsiders.  They installed Enver Pasha as Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Army and Enver informed the Sultan after the fact.  A purge of the officer corp ensued eliminating 1100 men, key members being imprisoned if deemed a threat to the new order.  The Germans were kept out of the loop.  The core of the Ottoman Empire was the Anatolian Turks, but other ethnic groups were represented among the officials and officer corp, including Bosnians, Albanians and Arabs among others.  The Turkish Army was in poor condition with the troops poorly trained and clothed, many without shoes, lacking in proper medical care, basic equipment and especially modern serviceable rifles.   In the short period leading up to the start of war, German officers took over and reorganized various schools to train officers, were placed on various unit staffs as advisers, and tried to improve sanitary measures. 

When war broke out in August 1914, Turkey remained neutral.  Six Army Groups were established, but most were mere shadow organizations with infantry companies sometimes numbering 20 rifles.   Eventually by 1918, nine Army Groups had been formed, but these were more form than substances being inadequately manned, armed and supplied.  At the end of October 1914, the German Admiral von Usedom took command of the defenses along the Dardanelles and the Bosporus as Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.  Enver Pasha was pro German and the "Committee", despite some dissent, had approved Enver's plan to persuade the Grand Vizir to sign, on 2 August, a secret undertaking to enter any war arising from Germany aiding Austro Hungary against Russia. 

Turkey's entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers was a great victory for German diplomacy.   Russia declared  war on Turkey on 1 November.  The French and British attacked the forts protecting the Dardanelles on 3 November and declared war on 5 November.  The Dardanelles was a narrow strait of water separating Europe from Asia and gave access to the Sea of Marmara and Constantinople and the Bosporus and Black Sea.  A British force seized Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf on 21 November, and a plan evolved to advance up the Tigris River and capture Bagdad, capital of the Ottoman province of Mesopotamia. 

The Turkish forces were ill equipped to begin a major war and von Sanders tried to get Enver to adopt prudent, limited action in line with available resources.  Enver for geopolitical reasons wanted to take the offensive on a grand scale and was supported by certain German officers not attached to von Sander's Mission.  The best armed, trained and supplied troops were the First Army around Constantinople.  These forces were generally fairly up to strength in manpower. Other Armies were not nearly as well off. 

The Third Army in the Caucasus, despite shortages, met the Russian invasion in November and brought it to a halt.   In December, Enver took personal command of this Army and launched a winter offensive which ended in disaster, losing more than 80,000 rifles.   By New Year 1915, the Turks had lost some 120,000+ rifles through capture by the enemy, desertions, theft and damage.  Before the war, Germany had been the main supplier of small arms.  Up to now, supplies had been cut off as Germany needed all the rifles it could muster for her own forces and shipment was interdicted by Allied control of seas.  The neutrality of Romania, Greece and Bulgaria which made rail shipment not feasible until Serbia was smashed by Bulgarian entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers some nine months later. 

On February 3, 1915, Turkish forces had attacked the Suez Canal, but it was only a raid and a withdrawal was ordered into the Sinai.   Arab troops in the Turkish force showed signs of panic.  Troops were armed with 7.65mm Mausers. 

At the end of April, the Allies began the invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula on the Dardanelles.  The battle was to last more than eight and half months.  The ANZAC CORP, Australian and New Zealand troops, were the major Allied component and suffered very heavy casualties.  Liman von Sanders took personal command of the campaign and the Turk Fifth Army was the major Ottoman army group.  Ammunition was very short on the Turk side while the Allies were very well supplied with everything from the sea and enjoyed the Big Gun support of the Royal and French Navies.  As Turkish casualties mounted, the Second Army was sent in at Sedd el Barr on the south front.  In September, Bulgaria entered the war opening a land/rail link from Germany, though war material did not arrive until November.  Late in September, Arab troops replaced units of the Second Army in the line and they proved to be inadequate in training and elan. They had to be stiffened by reliable units and confined to defensive operations. 

Supplies of Moisin Nagant M1891 rifles and ammunition had reached Turkey by late fall 1915.  These supplemented the small numbers the Turks had captured from the Russians. Austria, as well as Germany may have supplied some of these. 

Late in November, Austrian and German troops arrived in Gallipoli and the Allied position began seeming more futile to the Allied leadership.  On 20 December 1915, under cover of a dense fog, the Allies withdrew to their ships abandoning a huge amount of war material.  Vickers MG's and S.M.L.E.  Enfields and .303 ammunition came into inventory and were issued.