Turkish Army at Gallipoli, March Defense & August Counteroffensive, 1915
v.1.0 March 24, 2002

Ravi Rikhye

No matter how many times one studies World War I, the question arises and remains unanswered: why were the combatant nations willing to sustain such heavy casualties for so little purpose? Did it have something to do with nationalism? Did the increase in population in previous decades, consequent on growing prosperity and public health, make people less sensitive to losses? Did the combatants feel helplessly caught in the insane grip of some  irresistible higher force that wanted blood as a sacrifice?

Battalions, regiments, brigades, divisions, corps and armies maintained their cohesiveness despite casualties that would have collapsed World War II armies, losses so heavy they are akin to those that might be suffered on an atomic battlefield. In earlier wars, battles were fought over the span of a day or two or three, but now cohesiveness stood up through weeks and months of the most fearful combat.  How did this happen?

We have no answers to these questions.  We can however, describe some of the history of World War I. Gallipoli 1915 was just a sideshow in World War I. "Only" 800,000 men became casualties, 500,000 of them Turkish, in an area measured in a handful of square kilometers. It is doubtful most people would know anything about Gallipoli - any more than they know about the immense Italian-Austrian-German campaigns in the Alps - but for the ANZACs.  Australians and New Zealanders keep alive the memory of Gallipoli because the young men of these young nations sacrificed more at Gallipoli than they had sacrificed before or after, and the terrible losses bonded the people at home, strengthening nascent national identities. For Turkey, Gallipoli saw the rise of Mustafa Kemel, who went from division commander to corps commander to army commander in less than two years, and then continued to overthrow the Turkish government and lay the foundations of modern Turkey. Conversely, it was the high point in the final act of the last play of the old, glorious Ottoman empire. We have the simultaneous play of  decay and regeneration, the age old themes of human history.

Our attempt to construct orbats for Turkish forces at Gallipoli should be considered crude and preliminary. Little is available on the web, much is available in old books beyond our physical and financial reach. As always, we invite others better informed to correct and to add to these orbats.


A useful revisionist insight

Edward J. Erickson, "Strength Against Weakness: Ottoman Military Effectiveness at Gallipoli, 1915," The Journal of Military History 65 (October 2001): 981-1012.

Allied official historians ascribed the failure of the Allied offensive at Gallipoli in 1915 to inadequate intelligence, insufficient forces on hand, and the steadfastness of the Turkish defense. Apologists later placed heavy blame on poor Allied leadership at the strategic and operational levels. The German commander of the Ottoman Fifth Army, Major General Otto Liman von Sanders, further muddied the historical waters by exaggerating his own role in planning the defense. Unfortunately, the resulting historiography of the campaign tends largely to ignore the question of Ottoman military effectiveness.

This essay is based on hitherto unused Turkish official histories. It seeks to assess the effectiveness of the Turkish commanders and formations engaged in the campaign and offers new insights about the Turkish defensive campaign. The capabilities of the Ottoman commanders and the effectiveness of the Ottoman infantry divisions participating in the Gallipoli Campaign are examined, along with the development of the Ottoman defensive plans for the peninsula dating back to the First Balkan War in 1912. Finally, the essay concludes with force ratio comparisons at selected points in the campaign.

The Allies landed against the most heavily defended and best-prepared position in the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, the defending infantry divisions and commanders, although outnumbered, were the best available in the Ottoman Army, a factor which significantly affected the outcome of the campaign. Finally, the essay advances the idea that man-for-man, the Turks were as effective as their Allied counterparts.

Gallipoli: Turkish Defense, March 25th,  1915

HQ 5th Turkish Army [Vehip Pasha]

HQ 3rd Army Corps, Gallipoli

HQ ?? Army Corps

Canakkale Fortress Command (includes 115 guns in 15 forts)

1st Aircraft Squadron (later in the campaign a German detachment joined the Turkish squadron, still later, in early 1916, as the Allies were withdrawing, the 6th Aircraft Squadron joined.)

[Turkish Navy deployments are given separately]

5th Division, Bulair

7th Division, Bulair

3rd Division, Kum Kale

11th Division, Kum Kale

9th Division, Cape Hellas

19th Division, Gaba Tepe (in reserve) [Mustafa Kemal]



Gallipoli: Turkish Counteroffensive, August 1915

[Not only are details scarce about units and formations - we consulted approximately 30 websites just to get the little we have - because the battle arena was geographically small, Turkish regiments and divisions were all mixed up, with the situation getting worse as the counteroffensive progressed. Reconstructing an accurate orbat is difficult under these circumstances. We have put down such corps, divisions and regiments as was possible.]

3rd Turkish Army [Kemal Yer]

5th Turkish Army [Vehip Pasha]

3rd Army Corps [Ehad Pasha; Chief-of-Staff  Fahrettin Bey] Deployed opposite ANZAC

5th Division

-         14th Infantry Regiment

9th Division

-         25th Infantry Regiment

-         64th Infantry Regiment

16th Division

-         47th Infantry Regiment

-         48th Infantry Regiment

-         77th Infantry Regiment

-         125th Infantry Regiment

19th Division [Mustafa Kemal]

-         18th Infantry Regiment

-         27th Infantry Regiment

-         57th Infantry Regiment

-         72nd Infantry Regiment

4th Cavalry Brigade [deployed north, to protect Tayfi area]

16th Army Corps (also called Saros Group) [Fevzi Bey] Reinforces and takes position in

 area Bulair-Enez-Kavak

6th Division

7th Division

12th Division

??th Army Corps (is the Asian group of three divisions?) [Faik Pasha] Might have been

an ad hoc formation

4th Division

8th Division [Ali Reza Beg]

-         10th Infantry Regiment

-         23rd Infantry Regiment

-         24th Infantry Regiment

11th Division

Unidentified Regiments

-         13th, 15th, 28th, 30th, 41st , and 64th Regiments are mentioned in the 3rd Corps Area

-         11th and 25th Regiments are mentioned, as are 16th and 19th Regiments

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All content © 2003 Ravi Rikhye. Reproduction in any form prohibited without express permission.