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Middle Eastern Theatre (Royale: The Second Great War)

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The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I (November 2, 1914 - March 15, 1920) fought between mainly the Ottoman Empire of the Central Powers and primarily of the British and the Russians of the Allied Powers with the Arabs who participated in the Arab Revolt, the Armenians initially with Armenian Resistance extending to the Armenian Corps of Democratic Republic of Armenia. This theatre encompassed the largest territory of all the theatres of WWI. It comprised five main campaigns: the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the Mesopotamian Campaign, the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign and the Gallipoli Campaign. There were also minor operations of Arabia and Southern Arabia Campaign, and Aden Campaign. Besides the regular forces both sides used the asymmetrical forces in the region. The theater ended with the Russians after the Armistice of Erzincan (December 5, 1917) resulting with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918), with Armenians after the Trabzon Peace Conference (March 14 - April 5 1918) resulting with the Treaty of Batum (June 4 1918) and the Treaty of Cairo (March 15, 1920 with the rest of the allied forces.


The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in October–November 1914, through the secret Ottoman-German Alliance signed on August 2, 1914, threatened Russia's Caucasian territories and Britain's communications with India and the East via the Suez Canal. The main objective of the Ottoman Empire in the Caucuses was the recovery of its territories in Eastern Anatolia lost during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. The objective of the Caucasus Campaign was to retake Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, and the port of Batum.

A success in this region would mean a diversion of Russian forces to this front from the Polish and Galician fronts. The plan found support with the German advisory. From an economic perspective, the Ottoman, or rather German — strategic goal was to cut off Russian access to the hydrocarbon resources around the Caspian Sea. Germany established Intelligence Bureau for the East on the eve of World War I. The bureau was involved in intelligence and subversive missions to Persia and to Afghanistan, to dismantle the Anglo-Russian Entente.

British controlled Anglo-Persian Oil Company supplied oil for the Royal Navy. The Anglo-Persian Oil fields in Persia were a major stategic asset for the British, they feared the Turks might attack and capture these oil fiefds. The British had the exclusive rights to petroleum deposits in southern Persia.

The Russians viewed the Caucasus Front as secondary to the Eastern Front. The fortresses of Kars from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and subsequently feared a campaign into the Caucasus aimed at retaking Kars and the port of Batum. In March 1915, when the Russian foreign minister Sergey Sazonov meet with British ambassador George Buchanan and French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue stated that a lasting postwar settlement demanded full Russian possession of the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, the Straits of Bosphorus and Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, southern Thrace up to the Enos-Midia line as well as parts of the Black Sea coast of Anatolia between the Bosphorus, the Sakarya River and an undetermined point near the Bay of Izmit. The Russian Tsarist regime planned to replace the Muslim population of Northern Anatolia and Istanbul with more reliable Cossack settlers.



Early July 1914, The political situation had changed dramatically after the events in Europe. Ottoman Empire forced to have a secret Ottoman-German Alliance on 2 August 1914, followed by another treaty with Bulgaria. Ottoman War ministry developed two major plans. Bronsart von Schellendorf began to revise a plan and completed it on 6 September 1914. Accordingly, the Fourth Army was to attack Egypt, whereas the Third Army would launch an offensive against the Russians in Eastern Anatolia. In the Ottoman Army there was a dissident to Schellendorf. The most voiced opinion was Schellendorf planned a war which benefited the German operations rather than taking account the conditions of the Ottoman Empire. Hafız Hakkı presented the second campaign plan. This plan was much more aggressive, but took the conflicts to opposing side. This plan concentrated on Russia, and based on forces to be shipped to the eastern Black Sea coast, where they would develop an offensive against Russians. Hafız Hakkı’s plan shelved because the Ottoman Army had not enough resources. Schellendorf plan which was fought in the Ottoman territory had direct consequences to Empire's own people. Schellendorf’s "Primary Campaign Plan" became the dominant choice. It was proven later that his plan also challenged with lack of resources, but he had a better concentration plan for organizing the command and control of the army and positioning it to execute the plans, also a better mobilization plan for generating forces and preparing them for war. Among some historical documents within the Ottoman War minister's archives today are the War plans drafted by General Bronsart von Schellendorf, dated 7 October 1914, included Ottoman support to the Bulgarian army, a secret operation on Romania and Ottoman soldier's landing in Odessa and Crimea with the support of German Navy. One unique characteristic for the Palestine campaign was until the defeat in Palestine and later Mustafa Kemal’s appointment as the commander of the Seventh Army, most of the staff posts in the Yıldırım Army Group were held by German officers which their influence was so great that even the correspondence within the headquarters was done in German language though there was no German soldiers on the front lines of the battle fields.

During July 1914, there were negotiations between the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and Armenians at the Armenian congress at Erzurum. The public conclusion of this congress was "Ostensibly conducted to peaceful advance Armenian demands by legitimate means". The CUP regarded the congress as the seedbed for establishing the decision of insurrection. Historian Erikson concluded that after this meeting the CUP was convinced on strong Armenian — Russian links with detailed plans aimed at the detachment of the region from the Ottoman Empire.

On October 29, 1914, The Ottoman Empire's engagement with the first armed conflict with Allies occurred when German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau, operating under Ottoman flag shelled the Russian Black Sea port of Odessa, after the Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau.


Mesopotamian Campaign: On November 6 1914, the British offensive began with the naval force bombarding the old fort at Fao. The Fao Landing of British Indian Expeditionary Force D (IEF D) comprising the 6th (Poona) Division led by Lieutenant General Arthur Barrett, with Sir Percy Cox as Political Officer was opposed by 350 Ottoman troops and 4 cannons. On November 22, the British occupied the city of Basra against a force of 2900 Arab conscripts of the Iraq Area Command commanded by Suphi Pasha. Suphi Pasha and 1,200 prisoners were captured by the British. The main Ottoman army, under the overall command of Khalil Pasha was located 275 miles north-west around Baghdad. They made only weak efforts to dislodge the British.

Caucasus Campaign: On November 1, the Bergmann Offensive was the first armed conflict of this front. The Russians crossed the Russo-Turkish frontier first, and planned to capture Doğubeyazıt and Köprüköy. Russians had two wings. On the right wing, the Russian I Corps crossed the border and moved from Sarıkamış toward the direction of Köprüköy. On the left wing, the Russian IV Corps moved from Yerevan to Pasinler Plains. The commander of 3rd Army, Hasan Izzet was not in favor of an offensive action in the harsh winter conditions. His plan to remain in defense to launch a counter attack at the right time was overridden by the War Minister Enver Pasha. On November 7, the 3rd Army commenced its offensive with the participation of the XI Corps and all cavalry units supported by Kurdish Tribal Regiment. By 12 November, Ahmet Fevzi Pasha's the IX Corps reinforced with the XI Corps on the left flank supported with the cavalry began to push the Russians back. The Russian success was along the southern shoulders of the offensive where Armenian volunteers were effective and took Karaköse and Doğubeyazıt. By the end of November, the Russians hold to a salient 25 km into Ottoman territory along the Erzurum-Sarıkamış axis. On December 22, 3rd Army received the order to advance towards Kars, which will be the Battle of Sarikamish. In the face of the 3rd Army's advance Governor Vorontsov planned to pull the Russian Caucasus Army back to Kars. Yudenich ignored Vorontsov's order. Enver Pasha assumed the personal command of the 3rd Army and ordered the forces to move against the Russian troops.

Persian Campaign: In December 1914, at the height of the Battle of Sarikamish in the Caucasus Campaign, General Myshlaevsky ordered withdrawal of Russian forces to be used against the Enver's offense. Only one brigade of Russian troops under the command of the Armenian General Nazarbekoff and one battalion of Armenian volunteers scattered throughout Salmast and Urmia. While main Ottoman troops were preparing for the operation in Persia, a small Russian group crossed the Persian frontier. After repulsing a Russian offensive toward Van-Persia mountain crossings, Van Gendarmerie Division, a lightly equipped paramilitary formation commanded by Major Ferid, chased the enemy into Persia. On December 14 1914, Van Jandarma Division occupied the city of Kotur. Later, proceeded towards Hoy. It was supposed to keep this passage open to Kazım Bey (5th Expeditionary Force) and Halil Bey units (1st Expeditionary Force) who were to move towards Tabriz from the bridgehead established at Kotur. However, the Battle of Sarıkamısh depleted the Ottoman forces and these expeditionary forces needed elsewhere.

Gallipoli Campaign: In November, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill put forward his initial plans for a naval attack, based at least in part on what turned out to be erroneous reports regarding Ottoman troop strength, as prepared by Lieut. T. E. Lawrence. He reasoned that the Royal Navy had a large number of obsolete battleships might well be made useful supported by using a token forces from the army being required for routine occupation tasks. The battleships ordered to be ready by February 1916.


Mesopotamian Campaign: Enver Pasha realized the mistake of underestimating the importance of the Mesopotamian campaign. On January 2, Süleyman Askeri Bey assumed the Iraq Area Command. The Ottoman Army did not have any other resources to move to this region as the Gallipoli Campaign was in the horizon. Süleyman Askeri Bey sent letters to Arab sheiks in an attempt to organize them to fight against the British. On January 3, at the battle of Qurna Ottoman forces tried to retake the city of Basra. They had been under fire from Royal Navy vessels on the Euphrates while British troops had managed cross the Tigris. Judging that the earthworks were too strong to be taken, the Ottomans surrendered the town of Al-Qurnah and retreated back to Kut. On April 12, Süleyman Askeri attacked the British camp at Shaiba with 3800 troops early in the morning. These forces provided by Arab sheiks did not produce any results. Süleyman Askeri was wounded at Shaiba. The disappointed and depressed Süleyman Askeri shot himself at the hospital in Baghdad. Due to the unexpected success British command reconsidered their plan in favor of aggressive operations. In April 1915, general Sir John Nixon was sent to take command. He ordered Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend to advance to Kut or even to Baghdad if possible. Enver Pasha worried about the possible fall of Baghdad. He sent German General Colmar von der Goltz to take the command. On 22 November, Townshend and von der Goltz fought a battle at Ctesiphon. The battle was inconclusive as both the Ottomans and the British ended up retreating from the battlefield. Brits halted and fortified the position at Kut-al-Amara. The rapid advance of the British up the river changed some of the Arab tribes perception of the conflict. There was already an initial Arab Revolt in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Realizing that the British had the upper-hand, Arabs in the region joined the British efforts. They raided Ottoman the military hospitals and massacred the soldiers in Amara. On December 7, the siege of Kut began. Von der Goltz helped the Ottoman forces build defensive positions around Kut. Brits established new fortified positions down river fended off any attempt to rescue Townshend. General Aylmer made three major attempts to break the siege, but each effort was unsuccessful.

Caucasus Campaign: In January, the battle of Sarikamish ended. Result was a stunning defeat for the Ottoman 3rd Army. Only 10% of the 3rd army managed to retreat back to its starting position. Enver gave up command of the 3rd army. During this conflict Armenian detachment units challenged the Ottoman operations at the critical times: "the delay enabled the Russian Caucasus Army to concentrate sufficient force around Sarikamish". In February, General Yudenich promoted to command to Russian Caucasus Army replacing Aleksandr Zakharevich Myshlayevsky. On February 12, commander of the 3rd Army Hafız Hakkı died of typhus and replaced by Brigadier General Mahmut Kamil Paşa. Kamil took the task of putting the army in order which was depleted after Battle of Sarikamish. The British and France asked Russia to relieve the pressure on Western front. Russia needed time to organize it's forces. The operations in the Black Sea gave the chance to replenish Russian forces also the Battle of Gallipoli helped the Russian forces in this front to reorganize. In March 1915, 3rd army received new blood by the reinforcements from the 1st and 2nd Armies although these supplements were no stronger than a division. On April 20, the Van Resistance brought the conflicts into city of Van. On April 24, Talat Pasha with the order on April 24 (known by the Armenians as the Red Sunday) claimed that the Armenians in this region organized under the leadership of Russians and rebelled against Ottoman government. On May 6, General Yudenich began an offensive into Ottoman territory. One wing of this offensive headed towards Lake Van to relieve the Armenian residents of the Van Resistance. The Fedayee turned over the city of Van. On May 21, General Yudenich received the keys to the city of Van, citadel of Van and confirmed the Armenian provisional government in office with Aram Manougian as governor. Fighting shifted farther west for the rest of the summer with Van secure. On May 6, the Russian second wing advanced through the Tortum Valley towards Erzurum after weather conditions changed to milder. The Ottoman 29th and 30th Divisions managed to stop this assault. The X Corps counter-attacked the Russian forces. On the southern part, Ottomans were not as successful as they have been in the north. On 17 May, Russian forces at the city of Van continued to push back the Ottoman units. On May 11 city of Malazgirt had had already fallen. Ottomans supply lines were being cut, as the Armenian forces caused additional difficulties behind the lines. The region south of Lake Van was extremely vulnerable. During May, Ottoman's had to defend a line of more than 600 km with only 50,000 men and 130 pieces of artillery. They were clearly outnumbered by the Russians. On May 27, during the high point of Russian offensive Ottoman parliament passed the Tehcir Law. The interior minister of Talat Pasha, ordered a forced deportation of all Armenians out of the region. The Armenian's of the Van Resistance and others which were under the Russian occupation were spared from these deportations. On June 19, the Russians launched another offensive. This time northwest of Lake Van. The Russians, under Oganovski, launched an offense into the hills west of Malazgrit. The Russians underestimated the size of the Ottoman forces in this region. They were surprised by a large Ottoman force at the Battle of Malazgirt. They were not aware of the fact that the Turkish IX Corps, together with the 17th and 28th Divisions was moving to Muş as well. 1st and 5th Expeditionary Forces were positioned to the south of the Russian offensive force and a “Right Wing Group” was established under the command of Brigadier General Abdülkerim Paşa. This group was independent from the Third Army and Abdülkerim Paşa was directly reporting to Enver Paşa. The Turks were ready to face the Russian attacks. On September 24, General Yudenich become the supreme commander of all Russian forces in the region. This front was quiet from October till the end of the year. Yudenich used this period to reorganize. At the turn of the 1916, Russian forces reached a level of 200,000 men and 380 pieces of artillery. On the other side the situation was very different; the Ottoman High Command failed to make up the losses during this period. The war in Gallipoli was sucking all the resources and manpower. The IX, X and XI Corps could not be reinforced and in addition to that the 1st and 5th Expeditionary Forces were deployed to Mesopotamia. Enver Pasha, after not achieving his ambitions or recognizing the dire situation on other fronts, decided that the region was of secondary importance.

Gallipoli Campaign: On 19 February, the first attack began when a strong Anglo-French task force, including the British battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, bombarded artillery along the coast. Admiral Carden sent a cable to Churchill on 4 March, stating that the fleet could expect to arrive in Constantinople within fourteen days. On 18 March the first major attack was launched. The fleet, comprising 18 battleships as well as an array of cruisers and destroyers, sought to target the narrowest point of the Dardanelles where the straits are just a mile wide. The French ship Bouvet exploded in mysterious circumstances, causing it to capsize with its entire crew aboard. Minesweepers, manned by civilians and under constant fire of Ottoman shells, retreated leaving the minefields largely intact. HMS Irresistible and HMS Inflexible both sustained critical damage from mines, although there was confusion during the battle whether torpedoes were to blame. HMS Ocean, sent to rescue the Irresistible, was itself struck by an explosion and both ships eventually sank. The French battleships Suffren and Gaulois were also badly damaged. The losses prompted the Allies to cease any further attempts to force the straits by naval power alone. On April 25, the second set of campaign, took place at on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the European side of the Dardanelles. The Allies decided to seize the European side of the Dardanelles with an amphibious assault. The troops were able to land but could not dislodge the Ottoman forces after months of battle that caused the deaths of an estimated 131,000 soldiers, and 262,000 wounded. Eventually the Allied forces withdrew. The campaigning represented something of a coming of age for Australia and New Zealand who celebrate April 25 as ANZAC Day. Kemal Ataturk, who would go on to become the leader of the Ottoman Empire distinguished himself as a Lieut. Colonel in the Ottoman forces there.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign: The Ottoman Empire tried to seize the Suez Canal in Egypt with the First Suez Offensive and they supported the recently deposed Abbas II of Egypt, but were pulled back by the British on both goals.

Arab Revolt: The British, based in Egypt, began to incite the Arabs living in Hejaz near the Red Sea and inland to revolt to expel the Ottoman forces from the Arabian peninsula.


Arab Revolt: In 1916, a combination of diplomacy and genuine dislike of the new leaders of the Ottoman Empire (the Three Pashas) convinced Sherif Hussein ibn Ali of Mecca to begin a revolt. He gave the leadership of this revolt to two of his sons: Faisal and Abdullah, though the planning and direction for the war was largely the work of Lawrence of Arabia.

Caucasus Campaign: The Russian offensive in northeastern Turkey started with a victory at Battle of Koprukoy and culminated with the capture of Erzurum in February and Trabzon in April. By the Battle of Erzincan the Third Army was no longer capable of launching an offensive nor could it stop the advance of the Russian Army.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign: The Ottoman forces launched a second attack across the Sinai with the objective of destroying or capturing the Suez Canal. Both this and the earlier attack (1915) were unsuccessful, though not very costly by the standards of the Great War. The British then went on the offensive, attacking east into Palestine. However, two failed attempts to capture the Ottoman fort of Gaza resulted in sweeping changes to the British command and the arrival of General Allenby, along with many reinforcements.


Mesopotamian Campaign: British Empire forces reorganized and captured Baghdad in March 1917.

Caucasus Campaign: On December 16, The Armistice of Erzincan (Erzincan Cease-fire Agreement) was signed which officially brought the end to the hostilities between Ottoman Empire and Russians. The Special Transcaucasian Committee also endorsed the agreement.

Arab Revolt: The Sinai and Palestine Campaign was dominated with the success of the revolt. The revolt aided the General Allenby's 1917's operations.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign: Late in 1917, Allenby's Egyptian Expeditionary Force smashed the Ottoman defenses and captured Gaza, and then captured Jerusalem just before Christmas.


Sinai and Palestine Campaign: The Ottoman Empire could be defeated with campaigns in Palestine and Mesopotamia and the Spring Offensive delayed the expected attack. General Allenby was given brand new divisions recruited from India. The British achieved complete control of the air. General Liman von Sanders had no clear idea where the British were going to attack. Compounding the problems, withdrew their best troops to Caucasus Campaign. General Allenby finally launched the Battle of Megiddo, with the Jewish Legion under his command. Ottoman troops started a full scale retreat.

Arab Revolt: T. E. Lawrence and his Arab fighters staged many hit-and-run attacks on supply lines and tied down thousands of soldiers in garrisons throughout Palestine, Jordan, and Syria.

Caucasus Campaign: On March 3, the Grand vizier Talat Pasha signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Russian SFSR which stipulated that Bolshevik Russia cede Batum, Kars, and Ardahan to Ottoman Empire. The Trabzon Peace Conference held between March and April among the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Transcaucasian Diet (Transcaucasian Sejm) and government. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk united the Armenian-Georgian block. Democratic Republic of Armenia declared the existence of a state of war between the Ottoman Empire. In early May, 1918, the Ottoman army faced the Armenian Corps of Armenian National Councils which soon declared the Democratic Republic of Armenia. The Ottoman army captured Trabzon, Erzurum, Kars, Van, and Batumi. The conflict led to the Battle of Sardarapat, the Battle of Kara Killisse (1918), and the Battle of Bash Abaran. Although the Armenians managed to inflict a defeat on the Ottomans at the Battle of Sardarapat, the Ottoman army won the later battle and scattered the Armenian army. The fight with Democratic Republic of Armenia ended with the sign the Treaty of Batum in June, 1918. However throughout the summer of 1918, under the leadership of Andranik Toros Ozanian Armenians in the mountainous Karabag region resisted the Ottoman 3rd army and established the Republic of Mountainous Armenia. The Army of Islam avoided Georgia and marched to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. They got as far as Baku on the Caspian Sea. They threw the British out in September 1918 with the Battle of Baku.


Mesopotamian Campaign: The British defeat the Ottomans in the battle of Mosul catpuring the remnants of the Turkish Sixth Army.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign: The Yildirim Army Group under Mustafa Kemal reinforced by the German Twentieth Army stall the British advances at Hims and turn the tides against them. Throughout the rest of the year they would push back the British and retake most of Syria including Jerusalem.

Arab Revolt: Even with the arrival of German troops in January the revolt continuously bugged down the advances made by the GEF and the Ottomans. However the crack down dealt by the advancing forces increasingly took it's tool on the insurgents.


Mesopotamian Campaign: The British hold ground firmly until the last day of the war. They remove their forces as ordered by the Treaty of Cairo. 

Sinai and Palestine Campaign: The Ottomans with aid from GEF push the British back to the Suez Channel and successfuly capture it.

Arab Revolt: T.E. Lawrence evacuates with the British forces and the revolt is crushed.


On March 15, 1920, the Treaty of Cairo was signed in the Egyptian capital between the Central Powers and the British Empire. British activities at all active campaigns were terminated.

Revival of Ottoman expansionism

The discovery of vast amount of oil reserves in Mesopotamia, Persia and Saudi Arabia prompted the Ottomans to expand their domain over their neighbors whilst the British were busy conquering China. This policy which led to the Turko-Saudi war and later the Turko-Persian war is credited to their success in World War I.

Categories: World War I (Royale)

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