Eastern Europe

In the mosaic of the First World War, the contribution of Turkish forces in the Eastern European theatre often lurks in the shadows, dismissed as a mere footnote in the epic tale of Turkey's wartime journey. The common perception, even among the Turkish populace, tends to confine military engagements within the fortress of the Ottoman Empire's borders. Yet, this narrative is a distortion, for Turkish forces were not confined to the defense of home soil. In 1916, a formidable force of nearly 100,000 Turkish troops ventured to the Eastern European front, driven by a singular mission – to bolster the Central Powers against the formidable Russian army.

Amidst the tumult of European battlefields, these Turkish troops etched their mark, playing a pivotal role in the grand theater of war. Their presence, though often overshadowed, demands recognition for its strategic significance. The elite ranks of the Ottoman Army, carefully chosen for this expedition, prompt contemplation. Could these seasoned warriors have been strategically deployed elsewhere, in theatres where their valor was indispensable for the safeguarding of the homeland?

As the war's tapestry unfolds, the Eastern European front emerges as a crucible where Turkish forces, with unwavering resolve, faced the challenges of a distant battleground. Their story, interwoven with the broader narrative, beckons a closer examination, casting light on the nuanced role played by Turkey beyond the confines of its borders.

There exists a lack of consensus within Turkish sources regarding the origins of Turkish involvement on the European Eastern Front. In his extensive biography of Enver Pasha, Şevket Süreyya Aydemir contends that Turkey's allies did not explicitly request troop support. In fact, Enver's overtures to deploy troops were purportedly rebuffed by General Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff. Aydemir asserts that Falkenhayn's successor, Hindenburg, eventually acquiesced, albeit with reservations. Conversely, other scholars posit that Germany had long-standing intentions of mobilizing Turkish forces to the European theatre, a proposition allegedly accepted by the Turkish authorities. Noteworthy is the assertion that war plans formulated by General Bronsart von Schellendorf, the German chief of the Ottoman general staff, and promulgated on 7 October 1914, encompassed strategic elements such as Turkish assistance to the Bulgarian army, a Turkish offensive against Romania, and Turkish amphibious operations in Odessa and Crimea.

Enver Paşa with Field Marshal Mackensen in Romania

The summer of 1916, post-Brusilov Offensive, cast a stark shadow on the Central Powers' Eastern Front. A dearth of manpower loomed large, prompting General Falkenhayn to urgently beseech the Turkish High Command. The call resonated with a desperate need for Turkish troops to buttress the Central Powers' faltering military campaign. Austro-Hungarian hesitancy wavered under the sway of German persuasion, asserting that Turkey harboured a surplus of deployable divisions, a vestige of the Gallipoli denouement. Thus, a pact was forged, etching the deployment of the XV Army Corps to Galicia, XI Army Corps to Romania, and the XX Army Corps alongside the 177th Infantry Regiment to the Macedonian theater. The die was cast, and the Turkish chapter on the Eastern Front unfurled.

The Ottoman forces dispatched to Europe bore distinct characteristics in comparison to those defending the homeland. Comprising elite officers of the Ottoman Army, these divisions showcased youthful, robust, and well-equipped troops. Enver Pasha, aiming to deploy the Ottoman Army's finest to the European fronts, made this strategic decision, albeit diverting manpower from units engaged in defending the Turkish homeland.

Between 117,000 and 130,000 Turkish military personnel were deployed to the Eastern Front in Europe, as reported by various Turkish sources. Of this contingent, around 8,000 individuals succumbed to combat-related fatalities, and an additional 22,000 sustained injuries. A significant aspect of Turkey's participation in the European theatre of war was that the Ottoman government was solicited by its allies to bear the entire financial burden associated with the involvement of Turkish forces in the Eastern European theatre of war. This financial obligation covered expenditures such as ammunition, provisions, and medical supplies. While deploying troops to Europe incurred substantial financial outlays, the contribution of equipment and armaments from Turkey's allies should not be disregarded.