Ottoman entry into World War I

The Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I began when two recently purchased ships of its navy, still manned by their German crews and commanded by their German admiral, carried out the Black Sea Raid, a surprise attack against Russian ports, on 29 October 1914. Russia replied by declaring war on 1 November 1914 and Russia's allies, Britain and France, then declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 5 November 1914. The reasons for the Ottoman action were not immediately clear.[1] The Ottoman government had declared neutrality in the recently started war, and negotiations with both sides were underway.

This decision would ultimately lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ottomans, the Armenian genocide, the dissolution of the empire, and the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate.[2][3][4]


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire had a reputation as the "sick man of Europe", after a century of slow relative decline. The empire was weakened by political instability, military defeat, civil strife and uprisings by national minorities.[5]

The economic resources of the Ottoman Empire were depleted by the cost of the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. The French, British and Germans had offered financial aid, during which, a pro-German faction influenced by Enver Pasha, the former Ottoman military attaché in Berlin, opposed the pro-British majority in the Ottoman cabinet and tried to secure closer relations with Germany.[6][7][8] In December 1913, the Germans sent General Otto Liman von Sanders and a military mission to Constantinople. The geographical position of the Ottoman Empire meant that Russia, France and Britain had a mutual interest in Turkish neutrality, should there be a war in Europe.[6]

In 1908, the Young Turks seized power in Constantinople and installed Sultan Mehmed V as a figurehead in 1909.[6][9] The new regime implemented a programme of reform to modernise the political and economic system of the empire and to redefine its racial character. The Young Turks restored the Ottoman constitution of 1876 and reconvened the Ottoman parliament, effectively started the Second Constitutional Era. Young Turk movement members once underground (named committee, group, etc.) established (declared) their parties.[10] Among them, the "Committee of Union and Progress" (CUP) and the "Freedom and Accord Party"—also known as the Liberal Union or Liberal Entente (LU)—were major parties. A general election was held in October and November 1908 and CUP became the majority party.

Germany, an enthusiastic supporter of the new regime, provided investment capital. German diplomats gained influence and German officers assisted in training and re-equipping the army, but Britain remained the predominant power in the region.[11]

During this period the Ottoman Army faced many challenges including the Italo-Turkish War(1911), the Balkan Wars (1912–13), unrest on the periphery (such as in the Yemen Vilayet and the Hauran Druze Rebellion), and continuous political unrest in the empire: the 1909 counter coup had been followed by a restoration, and then another coup d'état in 1912, which was followed by a raid on the Sublime Porte in 1913. Thus, at the onset of the First World War, the Ottoman Army had already been involved in continuous fighting for the previous three years.

The international political climate at the beginning of the twentieth century was a multipolar one, with no single or two states pre-eminent. Multi-polarity traditionally had afforded the Ottomans the ability to play-off one power against the other, which, according to author Michael Reynolds, they did a number of times with consummate skill.[12] Germany had supported Abdul Hamid II's regime and acquired a strong foothold. Initially, the newly formed CUP and LU turned to Britain. The empire hoped to break France and Germany's hold and acquire greater autonomy for the Porte by encouraging Britain to compete against Germany and France.

Hostility toward Germany increased when her ally, Austria-Hungary, annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. The pro-CUP Tanin went so far as to suggest that Vienna's motive in carrying out this act was to strike a blow against the constitutional regime and provoke a reaction in order to bring about its fall.[13] Two prominent CUP members, Ahmed Riza and Dr Nazim, were sent to London to discuss the possibility of cooperation with Sir Edward Grey (British Foreign Secretary) and Sir Charles Hardinge (a senior Foreign Office official).

Our habit was to keep our hands free, though we made ententes and friendships. It was true that we had an alliance with Japan, but it was limited to certain distant questions in the Far East.[a]
The [Ottoman delegate] replied that Empire was the Japan of the Near East (alluding to Meiji Restoration period which spanned from 1868 to 1912), and that we already had the Cyprus Convention which was still in force.
I said that they had our entire sympathy in the good work they were doing in the Empire; we wished them well, and we would help them in their internal affairs by lending them men to organise customs, police, and so forth, if they wished them.[13]

At the start of 1914, in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars (1912–13), CUP became convinced that only an alliance with Britain and the Entente could guarantee the survival of what remained of the Empire. Britain's response, Sir Louis Mallet, who became Britain's Ambassador to the Porte in 1914, noted that

Turkey's way of assuring her independence is by an alliance with us or by an undertaking with the Triple Entente. A less risky method [he thought] would be by a treaty or Declaration binding all the Powers to respect the independence and integrity of the present Turkish dominion, which might go as far as neutralization, and participation by all the Great Powers in financial control and the application of reform.[14]

—  Sir Louis du Pan Mallet

The CUP could not possibly accept such proposals. They felt betrayed by what they considered was the European Powers' bias against the Ottomans during the Balkan Wars, and therefore they had no faith in Great Power declarations regarding the Empire's independence and integrity on the abstract; the termination of European financial control and administrative supervision was one of the principal aims of CUP's movement. Sir Louis Mallet, Ambassador, seemed totally oblivious to that.[14]

Russian position

Russia's expanding economy was quickly becoming uncomfortably dependent on the Ottoman Straits for exports. Indeed, a quarter of Russian products passed through Straits.[15] Control of the Straits and of Constantinople was a high priority for Russian diplomatic and military planning.[16] During the public disorders of the Young Turk Revolution and Ottoman countercoup of 1909, Russia considered landing troops in Constantinople.[17] In May 1913 the German military mission assigned Otto Liman von Sanders to help train and reorganise the Ottoman army. This was intolerable for St. Petersburg, and Russia developed a plan for invading and occupying the Black Sea port of Trabzon or the Eastern Anatolian town of Bayezid in retaliation.[18] Russia could not at the time find a military solution for a full invasion, which this small occupation might become.[19]

If there was to be no solution through Naval occupation of Constantinople, the next option was to improve the Russian Caucasian Army.[19] In supporting their army, Russia established local links to regional groups within the Empire. They resolved that the army, navy, ministries of finance, trade, and industry would work together to solve the transport problem, achieve naval supremacy, and increase the number of men and artillery pieces assigned to amphibious operations, which this Army would need to achieve during mobilisation. They decided also to expand Russia's Caucasian rail network toward the Ottoman Empire.[19] The Russian drums of war set in 1913. At the time Russia was demanding the implementation of an Armenian reform package.

German position

More than anyone else, Germany had been paying favourable attention to the Ottoman Empire in recent decades. There was collaboration in terms of finance, trade, railroads and military advice. German general Liman von Sanders in 1913 became the latest in a series of German generals working to modernise the Ottoman army. When the war began he was given command of the defence of Gallipoli and defeated the Allies.[20]

There had been a long-standing conflict between Britain and Germany over the Baghdad Railway through the Ottoman Empire. It would have projected German power toward Britain's sphere of influence (India and southern Persia). It was resolved in June 1914. Berlin agreed not to construct the line south of Baghdad, and to recognise Britain's preponderant interest in the region. The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides and did not play a role in causing the war.[21]

Enver Bey, later Enver Pasha, Ottoman Minister of War


During the July Crisis over the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, German diplomats offered Turkey an anti-Russian alliance and territorial gains in Caucasia, north-west Iran and Trans-Caspia. The pro-British faction in the cabinet was isolated because the British ambassador had taken leave until 18 August. As the crisis deepened in Europe, Ottoman policy was to obtain a guarantee of territorial integrity and potential advantages, unaware that the British might enter a European war.[22] On 30 July 1914, two days after the outbreak of the war in Europe, the Ottoman leaders agreed to form a secret Ottoman-German Alliance against Russia, although it did not require them to undertake military action.[23][24][6]

On 22 July Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of War, had proposed an Ottoman–German alliance to Baron Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim, the German ambassador in Constantinople. Germany turned down the proposal, considering that Turkey had nothing of value to offer. The grand vezir Said Halim Pasha had made similar propositions to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador.[25] Enver had been military attaché in Berlin from 1909–11, but his relations with the German military mission (mainly personal relation to Otto Liman von Sanders) were not good; he put his faith in his soldiers and army, and deeply resented German military intervention.[25] Neither diplomat received the proposals with acceptance.[25] Cemal Pasha, was sent to Paris in July 1914 for this purpose. He returned to Constantinople with French military decorations but no alliance.[26] Initially, the Ottoman government, especially Minister of State Talaat Pasha, had advocated siding with the British. But Britain said no.[25]

On 28 July 1914 Winston Churchill asked for the requisition of two modern warships being built by British shipyards for the Ottoman navy. These were Sultân Osmân-ı Evvel, which had been completed and was making preparations to leave, and Reşadiye. Despite questions about the legality of such a seizure, the request was granted at a Cabinet meeting on 31 July, together with an offer to Turkey to pay for the ships. On 2 August, the British requisitioned them, thereby alienating pro-British elements in Constantinople.[27] Enver Pasha, knowing Turkey was about to lose them, had offered to sell the ships to Germany in a renewed attempt at obtaining a treaty of alliance.[28] After Enver's 22 July approach to Germany had been rejected, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered that it be reconsidered. Renewed negotiations started on 28 July, involving Enver, Talaat, and Said Halim Pasha. In the resulting secret defensive treaty, signed on 1 August, Germany undertook to defend Ottoman territory if it was threatened, and Turkey would join with Germany if German treaty obligations with Austria forced it into war, but would not actually fight on Germany's side unless Bulgaria also did.[29]

The German government offered SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau to the Ottoman Navy as replacements, to gain influence. The British Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau failed when the Ottoman government opened the Dardanelles to allow them passage to Constantinople, despite being required under international law, as a neutral party, to block military shipping.[30]

On 2 August 1914 the Ottoman Empire ordered general mobilisation, announcing that it would remain neutral. The Ottoman authorities expected mobilisation to be complete within four weeks. Said Halim wanted to have some time to see the development of events, before any more engagements with Germany. He wanted to see the outcome (conclusion) negotiations with Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.[31] Said Halim took two decisions.[31] First, he directed that the German ambassador not interfere with military affairs, or the German commander, General Liman von Sanders, with politics. Second, he directed that negotiations be reopened with the French and Russian ambassadors. On 9 August, Enver Pasha assigned Liman von Sanders to First Army. Russians interpreted this assignment as improvement of Strait defences. In fact, Liman von Sanders was cut from high level decision cycle by being in the First Army.[32] In the middle of August, Liman von Sanders officially requested to be released and return to Germany. He was completely surprised when his staff relayed the information regarding Battle of Odessa.[citation needed]

On 3 August, the Ottoman government officially declared neutrality.

On 5 August, Enver informed the Russians that he was willing to reduce the number of troops along the Russian frontier and strengthen the garrison in eastern Thrace, to prevent Bulgaria or Greece from giving thought to joining the Central Powers. On 9 August, Said informed the Germans that Romania had approached Constantinople and Athens about forming a trilateral (Ottoman–Greek–Romanian) neutrality pact.[33]

On 6 August 1914, at 0100 hours, Said Halim summoned the German ambassador to his office to inform him that the Cabinet had decided unanimously to open the Straits to the German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau, which were being pursued by ships of the Royal Navy, and to any Austro-Hungarian vessels accompanying them. Said then presented Wangenheim with six proposals—not conditions—which the ambassador immediately accepted and which were signed later that day:

  1. Support in abolishing the foreign capitulations.
  2. Support in negotiating agreements with Romania and Bulgaria.
  3. If any Ottoman territories were occupied by enemies of Germany during the course of the war, Germany would not make peace until these were evacuated.
  4. If Greece should enter the war and be defeated by the Ottoman Empire, the Aegean islands would be returned to the Ottomans.
  5. An adjustment to the Ottoman border in the Caucasus to bring it up to Muslim-inhabited Russian Azerbaijan.
  6. A war indemnity.[33]

The German government later gave its approval to these proposals, since it appeared they would only come into play in the event that Germany was in a position to dictate terms at the peace conference.

Wangenheim, on behalf of the German government, secretly purchased Ikdam, the empire's largest newspaper, which under the new ownership began to loudly abuse Britain, France and Russia as Islam's greatest enemies while reminding its readers that the German emperor was the self-proclaimed "protector" of Islam.[34] Increasing large numbers of Germans, both civilians and soldiers began to arrive in Constantinople, who, as the American ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. reported, filled all the cafes and marched through the streets "in the small hours of the morning, howling and singing German patriotic songs" while German officers were "rushing through the streets every day in huge automobiles".[35]

On 9 August 1914, following the Said Halim Pasha's 2 August decision, Enver was communicating with the Russian Ambassador Giers. These talks reached to a point that Enver proposed an Ottoman-Russian Alliance at this day.[36] Historians developed two positions on Enver's proposal. One group believes proposal was a ruse to hide German alliance. Other group believes Enver was acting along the decision of Said Halim and they were sincerely trying to find a viable solution to keep the Empire out of war at this junction.[36] It is clear that there was no member of Ottoman leadership committed to war at this point, they were trying to maximise their options.[36]

On 19 August 1914, an Ottoman–Bulgarian alliance was signed in Sofia during the opening month of the First World War, although at the time both the signatories were neutral.[37] The Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pasha, and President Halil Bey of the Chamber of Deputies signed the treaty on behalf of the Empire and Prime Minister Vasil Radoslavov on behalf of the Kingdom of Bulgaria.[38] The Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria showed sympathy to one another because they suffered as a result of the territories lost with the conclusion of the Balkan Wars (1912–13). They also held bitter relations with Greece. It was natural and beneficial for them to work for the development of policies that enabled them to gain better positions within the region. The Ottoman–Bulgarian alliance may have been a prerequisite for Bulgaria's joining the Central Powers after Turkey entered the war.[39]

On 9 September 1914, the Porte unilaterally abrogated the capitulations granted to foreign powers.[40] The British, French, Russian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and German ambassadors signed a joint note of protest, but privately the Austro-Hungarian and German ambassadors informed the Grand Vizier that they would not press the issue. On 1 October, the Ottoman government raised its customs duties, previously controlled by the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, and closed all foreign post offices.[33]

On 28 September, the Ottoman government in defiance of the 1841 treaty regulating the use of the Turkish straits linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, closed the Turkish straits to international shipping, causing an immense blow to the Russian economy.[41] The Straits were vital for Russian commerce and for communications between the Western Allies and Moscow.[42]

On 2 October, the British cabinet decided to drop its century-long support for the Ottoman Empire against Russian threats. The decision was that the Russian alliance was more important. The key decision was to keep Russia out of Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Sofia by giving it Constantinople after the Ottomans were defeated. Russia had always wanted control of Constantinople and the Straits, primarily so it could have free access to the Mediterranean Sea and it agreed to these terms in November.[43]


Two ships and One Admiral

Ahmet Cemal Pasha was the navy minister and the commander-in-chief of the Ottoman fleet, and had close contact with British through the British Military Mission to help the Empire to improve the Ottoman Navy. The head of the British mission was Admiral Arthur Limpus since April 1912. Admiral Wilhelm Anton Souchon commanded the Mediterranean squadron of the Kaiserliche Marine (German "Imperial Navy"), consisting of the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and the light cruiser SMS Breslau. At the outbreak of the war, elements of the British Mediterranean Fleet pursued the German ships. They evaded the British fleet and arrived at Messina in neutral Italy on 4 August 1914. The Italian authorities insisted that the Germans depart within 24 hours, as required by international law. Admiral Souchon learned that Austria-Hungary would provide no naval aid in the Mediterranean and that the Ottoman Empire was still neutral and therefore he should no longer make for Constantinople. Souchon chose to head for Constantinople anyway.[44]

On 6 August 1914, at 0100 hours, Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha, summoned the German ambassador to his office to inform him that the Cabinet had decided unanimously to open the Straits to Goeben and Breslau, and to any Austrian vessels accompanying them.[45]

On 9 August, the Grand Vizier requested that the Goeben be transferred to Turkish control "by means of a fictitious sale"; the government in Berlin refused. On the afternoon of 10 August, before any agreement had been reached, the German ships reached the entry of the Dardanelles, and Enver authorised their admittance into the Straits. The Vizier objected that the presence of the ships was premature and could trigger an Entente declaration of war before the necessary agreement with Bulgaria had been reached. He renewed his request for a fictitious sale.[33]

On 11 August 1914, Souchon's ships arrived at Constantinople, having escaped the British. Winston Churchill stated about the escape of these ships:

Admiral Souchon was cruising irresolutely about the Greek islands endeavoring to make sure that he would be admitted by the Turks to the Dardanelles. He dallied 36 hours at Denusa and was forced to use his telltale wireless on several occasions. It was not until the evening of the 10th that he entered the Dardanelles, and the Curse descended irrevocably upon Ottoman Empire and the East.[46]

On 16 August, Cemal Pasha presided over the formal commissioning of the Goeben and Breslau, renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli, respectively, and their officers and crews into the Ottoman Navy. The sailors put on fezzes. In light of the British seizure of the Ottoman dreadnoughts, the "purchase" of the German ships was a propaganda coup for the Ottomans at home. Souchon's real title at this moment is unknown.[47] As a German commander of a fleet in a foreign country, Souchon was under the aegis of Ambassador Wangenheim.[47] Germany had a military mission under General Otto Liman von Sanders accredited to Turkey on 27 October 1913. Souchon was not part of the military mission and had little to do with Liman von Sanders.[48] At this point, Said Halim feared that neither Souchon nor his ships were under Ottoman Control.[48]

In September 1914, the British naval mission to the Ottomans since 1912 was recalled, due to increasing concern that Turkey would enter World War I; Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon of the Imperial German Navy took command of the Ottoman navy.[49][50] Acting without orders from the Ottoman government, on 27 September, the German commander of the Dardanelles fortifications ordered the passage closed, adding to the impression that the Ottomans were pro-German.[50] The German naval presence and the success of the German armies in Europe, gave the pro-German faction in the Ottoman government sufficient influence over the pro-British faction to declare war on Russia.[51]

On 14 September, Enver directed Souchon to take his ships into the Black Sea and to fire upon any Russian vessel they encountered.[48] This was problematic in many ways. This directive, which went over the head of Cemal Pasha, the Navy Minister, was presumably issued by Enver as acting commander-in-chief, although Souchon's place in the chain of command was unclear. Said Halim forced a cabinet vote on the issue of Enver's directive and it was countermanded. At the same time, Souchon wanted to "conduct training cruises".[48] Souchon complained to Wangenheim, who authorised him to approach the Ottoman government directly. Talks between the German admiral and Said Halim were held on 18 September. Said Halim, who was also assured by Wangenheim, was unhappy about this request.[48] Said Halim feared that neither Souchon nor and his ships were under Ottoman control.[48] The British naval mission was vacated by Admiral Limpus on 15 September; it was proposed[by whom?] that Souchon should take over the departing admiral's role.[48] In early September, a German naval mission, comprising about 700 sailors and coastal defence specialists under Admiral Guido von Usedom, arrived to bolster the defences of the Straits.[33] As per the naval mission headed by Guido von Usedom, Souchon was to receive a one-year commission in the Ottoman Navy, which would place him directly under the orders of Cemal Pasha.[48] Also, Germans were forbidden to exercise in the Black Sea.[48]

On 24 September 1914, Admiral Souchon was commissioned in the Ottoman Navy with the rank of Vice Admiral.[47] As Vice Admiral, Souchon had direct command of instruments of war. Liman von Sanders never reached that level of independence. Souchon's allegiance to the Ottoman Empire was questionable, but through him Germany was able to use the Ottoman war machine independently.[47]

Said Halim brought Souchon and his ships "somewhat" under Ottoman control. There was an ineffective command relationship between the Empire and Souchon.[47] Navy Minister Ahmet Cemal Pasha, appropriately ignored these events in his memoir. Cemal Pasha also paused his memories between 12–30 October.[48]

Casus belli

In October, Cemal Pasha instructed senior officials that Souchon was entitled to issue orders.[52] Cemal Pasha did not write why he gave this order in his memoir. Souchon at his commission to Ottoman Navy agreed on not to exercise in the Black Sea. In October, Souchon took his heavily flagged and bedecked ships out to the Black Sea.[48]

On 25 October, Enver instructed Souchon to manoeuvre in the Black Sea and attack the Russian fleet "if a suitable opportunity presented itself"[52] This was not passed through normal command-chain, the Ministry of Navy ignoring it. The Ottoman cabinet, including Sait Halim, was not informed.

On 26 October, the Ottoman Navy received orders for the supplying the ships stationed at the Hydarpasha. Ships were declared leaving for a reconnaissance exercise. There was also a sealed order from Souchon.[53]

On 28 October, the Ottoman fleet reorganised in four combat wings. Each one went to separate locations along the Russian coast.[53]

On 29 October (1. wing), Souchon was on his preferred warship, the Goeben. Several destroyers accompanied him. He opened fire on shore batteries on Sevastapol, at 6h 30 (2. wing). The Breslau reached the Black Sea port of Theodosia exactly 6h 30. He informed the local authorities that hostilities began in two hours. He shelled the port from 9 h until 22 h. Then he moved to Yalta and sank several small Russian vessels. At 10h 50 he was at Novorossisysk, informed the locals, fired on shore batteries and laid sixty mines. Seven ships in the port damaged and one sunk (3. wing). Two destroyers engaged the Battle of Odessa (1914) at 6:30 am. They sank two gun-boats and damaged granaries.[53]

On 29 October, the Allies presented a note to Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha indicating that they had made an agreement with Egypt, and that any hostility towards Egypt would be treated as a declaration of war.

On 29 October, the whole Ottoman fleet returned to Constantinople. Enver wrote a congratulatory letter at 17h 50.[53]


The Ottomans refused an Allied demand that they expel German naval and military missions. The Ottoman Navy destroyed a Russian gunboat on 29 October 6:30 A.M. at Battle of Odessa. On 31 October 1914, Turkey formally entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.[54][55] Russia declared war on 1 November 1914. The first conflict with Russia was the Bergmann Offensive of Caucasus Campaign on 2 November 1914.

On 3 November, the British ambassador left Constantinople and a British naval squadron off the Dardanelles bombarded the outer defensive forts at Kum Kale on the northern Asian coast and Seddülbahir on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. A British shell hit a magazine in one of the forts, knocked the guns off their mounts and killed 86 soldiers.[56]

On 2 November the Grand Vizier expressed regret to the Allies for the operations of the Navy. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Sazonov, declared that it was too late and that Russia considered this raid an act of war. The Ottoman Cabinet explained in vain that hostilities were begun without its sanction by German officers serving in the Navy. The Allies insisted on reparations to Russia, the dismissal of German officers from the Goeben and Breslau, and the internment of the German ships until the end of the war.

On 5 November, before the Ottoman Government responded, the United Kingdom and France also declared war on the Ottomans. The Ottomans declared a Jihad (holy war) later that month, beginning the Caucasus Campaign with an offensive against the Russians, to regain former Ottoman provinces.[57] The Mesopotamian Campaign began with a British landing at Basra.[58]

On 11 November 1914 Sultan Mehmed V declared war on Britain, France and Russia.[59] On 13 November 1914 there was a ceremony in which justification of the war was presented to the Sultan Mehrned V. On 14 November came the official declaration of war by the CUP (party of majority at the chamber).[60] The Chamber's declaration (CUP's) could be stated as "declaration of existence of the war". The entire affair was completed in three days. The Ottomans prepared an offensive against Egypt in early 1915, aiming to occupy the Suez Canal and cut the Mediterranean route to India and the Far East.[61] The war began in August 1914 in Europe, and the Ottoman Empire had joined the war on the side of Germany and Austria within three months. Hew Strachan wrote in 2001 that in hindsight, Ottoman belligerence was inevitable, once Goeben and Breslau were allowed into the Dardanelles and that delays after that were caused by Ottoman unreadiness for war and Bulgarian neutrality, rather than uncertainty about policy.[62]

Date Declarer On
1 November Russian Empire Russia Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
2 November Kingdom of Serbia Serbia Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
3 November Kingdom of Montenegro Montenegro Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
5 November United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom
France France
Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
21 August Kingdom of Italy Italy Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
31 August Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire Kingdom of Romania Romania
2 July Kingdom of Greece Greece Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire


The Battle of Odessa instigated a crisis environment within the Ottoman leadership. Sait Halim and Mehmet Cavit Bey presented strong protests to Enver. The attack was weak and in dispersed naval raids, so it could only be a political provocation, rather than as a serious naval operation.[63] Talat told Wangenheim that the entire cabinet excluding Enver opposed to the naval action.[63]

Over the next two days everything was in chaos. Sait Halim to Sultan and several others to Sait Haim offered their resignations. Mehmet Cavit Bey, the Finance Minister, was one of four ministers to resign, declaring,

It will be our country's ruin—even if we win.[64]

—  Cavit Pasha

Casualties at Gallipoli validated his comment. Although the engagement is considered a "victory" for the Ottomans, they would suffer the staggering loss of up to a quarter of a million soldiers out of an army of 315,500.[65]

This chaos finally showed signs to resolve itself when Enver explained to Talat his reasons for a pro-interventionist stance.[63] However the biggest calming effect came from Russia. Russia declared war on 1 November, short of two days from 29 October. Sait Halim found himself talking to Russia, Britain, and France, in this turn.

Military preparedness

The Şeyhülislam declaring a Holy War against the Entente Powers

A new military conscription law had been prepared after the Young Turk Revolution by the Ministry of War in October 1908 (see Conscription in the Ottoman Empire). According to the draft law, all subjects between the ages of 20 and 45 were to fulfill mandatory military service.

[66]This draft law allowed for more than 1 million soldiers to be mobilized by the state in attempt to be better prepared for the war. According to A History of the Modern Middle East (2018) by William L. Cleveland, the declining empire had various unlikely successes during the war. He claimed that "its ability to endure four years of total warfare testified to the tenacity with which its civilian and military populations defended the Ottoman order."

On 13 November 1914 at a ceremony in the Sultan Mehmed V's presence and with the relics of the Prophet, 'holy war' was proclaimed.[67] Five juridical opinions legitimised the call, for the first time called for all Muslims—particularly those in territories ruled by the colonial powers of Britain, France and Russia—to rise against the infidel.[67] There was some enthusiasm for this appeal to the Muslim community at large among Arab clerics, but the Sharif of Mecca's support was critical, and Sharif Husayn, refused to associate himself by stating that it may provoke a blockade, and possibly bombardment, of the ports of the Hijaz by the British (which controlled the Red Sea and Egypt).[67] The reaction from the wider Islamic world was muted. In Egypt and India, for instance, juridical opinions asserted that it was obligatory to obey the British.[67]

The main burden of providing combat manpower fell on the Turkish peasantry of Anatolia, which accounted for some 40 per cent of total Ottoman population at the outset of the war.[68]


There were a number of factors that conspired to influence the Ottoman government, and encourage them into entering the war. According to Kemal Karpat:

Ottoman entry into the war was not the consequence of careful preparation and long debate in the parliament (which was recessed) and press. It was the result of a hasty decision by a handful of elitist leaders who disregarded democratic procedures, lacked long-range political vision, and fell easy victim to German machinations and their own utopian expectations of recovering the lost territories in the Balkans. The Ottoman entry into war prolonged it for two years and allowed the Bolshevik revolution to incubate and then explode in 1917, which in turn profoundly impacted the course of world history in the 20th century. [69]

Russian threat

Russia was the pivotal factor politically. When Britain was drawn into the Triple Entente and began to cultivate relations with Russia, the Porte became distrustful. The Porte had gradually drifted, with opposition from the parliament, into close political relations with Germany. The relationship between the United Kingdom and France had encouraged Italy to seize Tripoli. Russian designs on the Straits (for open access to the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean from its Black Sea ports) were well known. These conditions put the United Kingdom, France, and Russia against Germany. Even the pro-Entente Cemal Pasha recognised that Empire had no choice but to conclude an agreement with Germany to avoid being left isolated in another moment of crisis.

The Porte's policy would naturally be inclined toward dependence on Berlin. The Ottoman-German Alliance promised to isolate Russia. In exchange for money and future control over Russian territory, the Ottoman Government abandoned a neutral position and sided with Germany.

Financial position

The total pre-war debt of the Empire was $716,000,000. Of this, France held 60 per cent of the total, Germany held 20 per cent, and the United Kingdom comprised 15 per cent. Siding with Germany, with the minimum debt holder (20 per cent compared to 75 per cent), put the Empire in the position to settle its debts or even receive a war indemnity. Indeed, on the day of the signing of the alliance with Germany, the government announced the end of foreign debt repayments.[70] The German ambassador proposed a joint protest with the empire's other creditor—states,[clarification needed] on the grounds that international regulations could not be unilaterally abrogated, but no agreement could be reached on the text of the protest note.[70]

Inevitability of war

The undisputed point, in all these arguments is that a small group of politicians tied the state to the Central Powers.[64] The more important question was what choices they had. The empire tried to walk a neutral path for as long as they could.[63]

The Empire was portrayed as risking everything to resolve regional issues.[63] At this point of time, from the record, the Empire did not have finely tuned war aims.[63] Germany lost nothing but created a strategic problem for the Entente. Germany strategically gained most from the Empire's entry into the war.

It is not correct to state the Empire risked all. The Empire went unwillingly into the war.[63] Enver Pasha has to be excluded from this position. His celebration of the Battle of Odessa (1914) separated him from other cabinet members. It is proposed that Enver Pasha knew the consequences of Odessa beforehand. His defence made him complicit.[63]

In three months time, the Empire shifted from a neutral position to full-fledged belligerence.

The Ambassador Wangenheim and Vice Admiral Souchon was credited for the change of the Empire's position.[63] Ambassador Wangenheim was assigned to the Empire. Wilhelm Souchon's presence was accidental. Wilhelm Souchon was awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military order, on 29 October 1916.

The Ottoman Navy lacked heavy power. British Naval Mission was established as an assistance branch.[71] Admiral Arthur Limpus arrived in April 1912. The British Naval Mission was to turn into a full-blown mission with the arrival of two warships built in British yards as planned.[63] The British terminated the usefulness of Admiral Arthur Limpus to the Empire after she seized Sultân Osmân-ı Evvel and Reşadiye on 2 August 1914. With the questionable legality of the British requisitioning of two modern battleships and the public outrage that followed, that action opened the position to Admiral Souchon. Germany manoeuvred and filled the gap. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty claimed the Curse descended irrevocably upon the Ottoman Empire and the East[citation needed].

See also