Turkey: Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War

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Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in The First World War, by Edward J. Erickson. Westport, CT and London, UK: Greenwood Press, 2001. xxii + 216 pages. Maps. Appends to p. 249. Sel. bibl. to p. 255. Index to p. 256. $62.50 paper.

The historical consequences of the First World War were enormous, and to appreciate them fully one must look beyond immediate diplomatic and political repercussions to an understanding of how the war was waged - how the warring nations mobilized and deployed their human and economic resources and to what effect. Armies were particularly important, for the First World War was first and foremost a struggle between armies; their successes and failures in 1914-18 not only shaped the course of the conflict and determined its outcome, but cast long shadows in the post-war era. Nor is the matter one of simple demographics: Verdun, the Somme and Caporetto owed their political significance not just to the staggering loss of human life, but to how those lives were lost. The French high command's bungling produced the May 1917 mutinies that brought General Petain to prominence; Caporetto begat Mussolini; the tactical and operational competence of the German high command combined with its strategic ineptitude to lay the groundwork for the stab-in-the-back legend; and so on. The Ottoman Army - or Turkish Army, as the author of the work under review prefers, and with good reason - looms large in this regard, for it formed the core around which the Turkish Republic coalesced. Nor was the role of the Turkish Army in the conduct of the First World War inconsequential. Beyond the defense of Gallipoli, the one generally acknowledged Turkish triumph, the Turks engaged major Russian forces in the Caucasus, sent significant expeditionary forces to fight alongside the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in Romania and Galicia, and fought with success in Mesopotamia and Palestine until well into 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian and German armies were dissolving.

The Turks have received short shrift in the history of World War I. This is largely a function of Anglo-American historiographical predominance; directly in that few modern military historians read Turkish, let alone Ottoman; and indirectly in that Anglocentrism has focused attention on Britain and the Western Front. In the basic texts, save for the obligatory chapter on Gallipoli and perfunctory mention of Mesopotamia, British General Allenby's Palestine campaign, and the Arab revolt, the Turks are all but ignored. …