Turkey in the First World War
ranking military authority in the Ottoman Empire was, according to both the
constitution proclaimed in 1908 and the Ottoman tradition, the Sultan
himself, who had the title of Head Commander (başkomutan).
Although Ottoman sultans of earlier eras were leading their armies personally
on the battlefield and taking an active part in battles and campaigns, for
those in the early 20th century, namely Abdülhamit II, Mehmet Reşad and
Vahdettin, the title of Head Commander remained only in theory, and this
authority was exerted through either a group of high ranking staff officers
and/or an Acting Head Commander (başkomutan vekili).
In the aftermath of the abolition of Janissaries as an institution in 1826, the Ministry of War (Harbiye Nezareti) became the highest body of army organisation. Until the reinstallment of the constitutional rule in 1908, this Ministry was far from functioning efficiently. It had only three departments (infantry, artillery and cavalry) among which there was no coordination at all. Reformation of the Ministry of War began with Mahmut Şevket Paşa, who was appointed minister in 1910. A process of substantial restructuring took place of the following two years in which Mahmut Şevket Paşa received a great support by young and well educated officers in the ministry.
period, the main departments in the Ministry of War were the general staff, infantry, heavy artillery, field artillery, cavalry,
transportation, medical, veterinary, communications, engineering, judiciary,
supplies and accounting. Additionally, there were also the Inspectorate
General of Fortified Zones, Inspectorate General of Education, Directorate
of Military Factories and the Gendarmerie Command, which were
directly reporting to the Ministry of War.
The War Council (Askeri Şura) was established in 1909 as a commission within the Ministry of War. It had both permanent and provisional members. The War Council was chaired by the minister of war and the permanent members were the chief of general staff, commanders of First, Second and Third Armies and the Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division. Provisional members attended the meetings of the council when it was necessary and they were the cavalry commanders of the First and Third Armies and the deputy chief of general staff. Heads of departments could attend the meetings only on occasions when they were asked to express their opinion on specific issues, but they had no voting rights.
Council had the task of discussing issues related to the organisation of the
army, mobilisation, strategies, training, armaments, fortified zones and
promotions of generals. It convened whenever it was deemed necessary or when
the sultan called for a meeting. Regular meetings were held on the first
Monday of every month.
Staff (Erkan-ı Harbiye-i
Umumiye Dairesi) was a
department within the Ministry of War. Before the proclamation of the
constitution in 1908, it had only secondary importance and was responsible
for work such as recruitment, reserves, judiciary and printing charts,
because at that time the main military institution was the office of the
head commander, which basically meant the group of high ranking staff
officers that was close to the sultan.
Paşa’s work produced good results and he managed to provide a better and
much more efficient structure for the General Staff. At the outbreak of the
Balkan Wars, the General Staff was divided into seven departments and it
formed the headquarters of Nazım Paşa, the acting head commander. When the
war was lost, further changes were needed and these came with Enver Paşa,
who on January 3, 1914 replaced Ahmet İzzet Paşa as both the minister of war
and the chief of general staff. With the advice he received from the German
Military Mission, he restructured the General Staff. At the same time there
was also the office of the acting head commander that was
also held by Enver Paşa.
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