2450) Engels on the Ottomans

 © This content Mirrored From TurkishArmenians  Site armenians-1915.blogspot.comThe Communist Manifesto, published by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1848, stands as one of the most important political tracts ever written. It was written at a time when Europe had emerged as the dominant world force, economically and militarily. But even . . in the mid-19th century, the view in an Oriental direction proved more cluttered with opposition than casual readers of European history might think. The Ottoman Empire, not yet in the throes of its “sick man of Europe” stage, still thrived. In 1855 Engels published a series of articles in Putnam’s Monthly on “the Armies of Europe,” including his assessment of the Turkish army. Given the recent knocking on the EU door by modern Turkey, a re-read of Engel’s commentary is worthwhile . .

I. The Turkish Army
by Frederick Engels (1855)

The Turkish army, at the beginning of the present war, was in a higher state of efficiency than it had ever reached before. The various attempts at reorganization and reform made since the accession of Mahmud, since the massacre of the janissaries, and especially since the peace of Adrianople, had been consolidated and systematized. The first and greatest obstacle — the independent position of the pashas in command of distant provinces — had been removed, to a great extent, and, upon the whole, the pashas were reduced to a discipline somewhat approaching that of European district commanders. But their ignorance, insolence, and rapacity remained in as full vigor as in the best days of Asiatic satrap rule; and if, for the last twenty years, we had heard little of revolts of pashas, we have heard enough of provinces in revolt against their greedy governors, who, originally the lowest domestic slaves and “men of all work,” profited by their new position to heap up fortunes by exactions, bribes, and wholesale embezzlement of the public money. That, under such a state of things, the organization of the army must, to a great extent, exist on paper only, is evident.

The Turkish army consists of the regular active army (Nizam), the reserve (Redif), the irregular troops, and the auxiliary corps of the vassal states.

The Nizam is composed of six corps (Orders), each of which is raised in the district it occupies, similar to the army-corps in Prussia, each of which is located in the province from which it recruits itself. Altogether the organization of the Turkish Nizam and Redif is, as we shall see, copied from the Prussian model. The six Orders have their head-quarters in Constantinople, Shumla, Toli-Monatzir, Erzeroum, Bagdad, and Aleppo. Each of them should be commanded by a Mushir (field marshal), and should consist of two divisions or six brigades, formed by six regiments of infantry, four of cavalry, and one of artillery.

The infantry and cavalry are organized upon the French, the artillery upon the Prussian system.

A regiment of infantry is composed of four battalions of eight companies each, and should count, when on its full complement, 3,250 men, inclusive of officers and staff, or 800 men per battalion; the general strength, however, before the war, seldom exceeded 700 men, and in Asia was almost always much less.

A cavalry regiment consists of four squadrons of lancers, and two squadrons of chasseurs, each squadron to contain 151 men; in general, the effective strength was here even more below the standard than in the infantry.

Each artillery regiment consists of six horse and nine foot batteries, of four guns each, thus representing a total of sixty guns.

Every order was thus expected to number 19,500 infantry, 3,700 cavalry, and sixty guns. In reality, however, from 20,000 to 21,000 men in all is the utmost, ever reached.

Beside the six Orders, there are four artillery regiments (one of reserve, and three of garrison artillery), two regiments of sappers and miners, and three special detachments of infantry sent to Candia, to Tunis, and Tripoli, of a total strength of 16,000 men.

The total strength of the Nizam, or regular standing army, before the war, should, therefore, have been as follows:

36 reg. of infant. averaging 2,500-90,000
24 “ cavalry 660-670-16,000
7 “ field artillery 9,000
3 “ garrison 3,400
2 “ sappers and miners 1,600
Detached corps 16,000
Total 136,000

The soldiers, after having served five years in the Nizam, are dismissed to their homes, and form, for the seven following years, part of the Redif or reserve. This reserve counts as many orders, divisions, brigades, regiments, etc., as the standing army; in fact, it is to the Nizam what in Prussia the first levy of the landwehr is to the line, with the sole exception, that in Prussia, in larger masses than brigades, line and landwehr are always mixed, while in the Turkish organization they are to be kept separate. The officers and non-commissioned officers of the Redif are constantly assembled at the depots, and once a year the Redif are called in for exercise, during which time, they receive the same pay and rations as the line. But such an organization, presupposing a well-regulated civil administration, and a civilized state of society, far from having been reached in Turkey, must in a great degree exist on paper only, and if we count, therefore, the Redif as equal in numbers to the Nizam, we shall certainly put it down at its highest possible figure.

The auxiliary contingents consist of troops from:

1. The Danubian Principalities 6,000 men.
2. Servia 20,000 ”
3. Bosnia and Herzegovina 30,000 ”
4. Upper Albania 10,000 ”
5. Egypt 40,000 ”
6. Tunis and Tripoli 10,000 ”
Total, about 116,000 “

To these troops must he added the volunteer Bashi Bazouks, whom Asia Minor, Kurdistan, and Syria can furnish in great numbers. They are the last remnant of that host of irregular troops which, in past centuries, flooded Hungary, and twice appeared before Vienna. Mostly cavalry, their inferiority, even to the worst-equipped European horseman, has been proved by two centuries of all but constant defeats. Their self-confidence has disappeared, and now they serve no other purpose than to swarm around the army, eating up and wasting the resources upon which the regular body should subsist. Their love of plunder and unreliable temper make them even unfit for that active outpost duty which the Russians expect from their Cossacks; for the Bashi Bazouks, when most wanted, are least to be found. In this present war, it has, therefore, been found desirable to keep their numbers down, and we do not think that there were ever collected more than 50,000 of them.

Thus the numerical strength of the Turkish army, at the beginning of the war, may he estimated as follows:

Nizam 136,000
Redif 136,000
Auxiliaries, regulars from Egypt and Tunis 50,000
Do. irregulars, Bosnia and Albania 40,000
Bashi Bazouks 50,000
Total 412,000

But again, from this sum total several deductions have to be made. That the Orders stationed in Europe were in pretty good condition, and as near their full complement as can be expected in Turkey, seems pretty certain; but in Asia, in the distant provinces where the Mussulman population predominates, the men might be ready, while neither arms, nor equipments, nor stores of ammunition were forthcoming. The Danubian army was formed from the three European Orders principally. They were the nucleus around which the European Redifs, the Order of Syria, or, at least, a good part of it, and a number of Arnauts, Bosnians, and Bashi Bazouks were collected. Yet the excessive caution of Omer Pasha — his constant unwillingness up to the present time to expose his troops in the field — is the best proof that he has but a limited confidence in the capabilities of this, the only good regular army Turkey ever possessed. But in Asia, where the old Turkish system of embezzlement and laziness was still in full blossom, the two Orders of the Nizam, the whole of the Redifs, and the mass of the irregulars were unable to withstand a Russian army vastly inferior in numbers; in every battle they were beaten, and, at the end of the campaign of 1854, the Asiatic army of Turkey had all but ceased to exist. There, then, it is clear that not only the details of the organization, but a great proportion of the troops themselves had no real existence. The want of arms, equipments, ammunition, and provisions, was the constant complaint of the foreign officers and newspaper correspondents in Kars and Erzeroum; and they plainly stated that nothing but the indolence, incapacity, and rapacity of the Pashas was the cause of it. The money was duly sent to them, but they always appropriated it to their own uses.

The equipment of the Turkish regular soldier is on the whole imitated from the western armies, the only distinction being the red fez or skull-cap, which is about the worst head-gear possible in that climate, where, during the heats of summer, it causes frequent sun-strokes. The quality of the articles furnished is bad, and the clothing has to stand longer than can be expected, in consequence of the officers generally pocketing the money destined for its renewal. The arms are of an inferior description, both for the infantry and cavalry; the artillery alone has very good field-guns, cast at Constantinople, under the direction of European officers and civil engineers.

The Turk, in himself, is not a bad soldier. He is naturally brave, extremely hardy and patient, and, under certain circumstances, docile. European officers who have once gained his confidence, can rely upon him, as witness Grach and Butler at Silistria, and Iskender Bey (Ilinski) in Wallachia. But these are exceptions. On the whole, the innate hatred of the Turk for the “Giaour” is so indelible, and his habits and ideas are so different from those of a European, that, so long as his remains the ruling race in the country, he will not submit to men whom he inwardly despises as incommensurably his inferiors. This repugnance is extended to the very organization of the army, ever since it has been put upon a European footing. The common Turk hates Giaour institutions as much as the Giaours themselves. Then the strict discipline, the regulated activity, the constant attention required in a modern army are things utterly hateful to the lazy, contemplative, fatalist Turk. The officers, even, will rather allow the army to be beaten than exert themselves, and use their own senses. This is one of the worst features in the Turkish army, and alone would suffice to make it unfit for any offensive campaign.

The private and non-commissioned soldiers are recruited by volunteers and the ballot; the lower grades of officers are sometimes filled by men promoted from the ranks, but generally by the camp-followers and domestic servants, the tshibukdjis and kafeidjis of the higher officers. The military schools at Constantinople not very good in themselves, cannot furnish young men enough for the vacancies. As to the higher ranks, a system of favoritism exists, of which the western nations have no idea. Most of the generals were originally Circassian slaves, the mignons of some great man in the days of their youth. Utter ignorance, incapacity, and self-sufficiency rule supreme, and court-intrigue is the principal means of advancement. Even the few European generals (renegades) in the service would not have been accepted, if they had not been absolutely necessary to prevent the whole machine from falling to pieces. As it is, they have been indiscriminately taken, both from men of real merit and mere adventurers.

At present, after three campaigns, no Turkish army can be said to exist, except the 80,000 men of Omer Pasha’s original army, part of which is stationed on the Danube, and part in the Crimea. The Asiatic army consists of about 25,000 rabble, unfit for the field, and demoralized by defeat. The remainder of the 400,000 men are gone nobody knows where; killed in the field or by sickness, invalided, disbanded, or turned into robbers. Very likely this will be the last Turkish army of all; for, to recover from the shock received by her alliance with England and France, is. more than can be expected from Turkey.

The time is gone by when the contests of Oltenitza and Citate created an exaggerated enthusiasm for Turkish bravery. The stubborn inactivity of Omer Pasha sufficed to raise doubts as to their other military qualifications, which not even the brilliant defense of Silistria could entirely dispel; the defeats in Asia, the flight of Balaklava, the strictly defensive attitude of the Turks in Eupatoria, and their complete inactivity in the camp before Sebastopol have reduced the general estimate of their military capabilities to a proper level. The Turkish army was so constituted that a judgment on its- general value was hitherto completely impossible. There were, no doubt, some very brave and well-managed regiments, capable of any duty, but they were greatly in the minority. The great mass of the infantry lacked cohesion, and was, therefore, unfit for field-duty, though good behind intrenchments. The regular cavalry was decidedly inferior to that of any European power. The artillery was by far the best portion of the service, and the field-regiments in a high state of efficiency; the men were as if born for their work, though no doubt the officers left much to desire. The Redifs appear to have suffered from a general want of organization, though the men no doubt were willing to do their best. Of the irregulars, the Arnauts and Bosnians were capital guerrillas, but nothing more, best used in defending fortifications; while the Bashi Bazouks were all but worthless, and even worse than that. The Egyptian contingent appears to have been about on a level with the Turkish Nizam, the Tunisian nearly unfit for anything. With such a motley army, so badly officered and subject to such maladministration, no wonder it is all but ruined in three campaigns.