The Ottoman Defence Against the Landing at Anzac

May 15, 2015

I would like to say that I have been waiting 100 years for this book, but there are obvious flaws in that statement. What I will say is that this book covers a side of the campaign that has been missing for 100 years.

Uyar very succinctly outlines one of the reasons this is so in the first paragraph of his preface: ‘stereotypes, common mistakes … continue to obscure the true picture of the Ottoman Army.’ This much could also be claimed of the Australian perception of the Gallipoli experience, especially at the Landing. The author continues that ‘Turkish historiography contains little description of the respective unit commanders, officers and soldiers who shouldered the burden of war’, and then sets out to correct this oversight.

Another great contribution of this book is that, as its title implies, it tells us what the Turks did at Anzac on 25 April, as opposed to what we believed they did. This sounds simple, but for Australian historians, this has been the side of the story that has been missing all these years. This is not just important for interest’s sake, but is essential for working out what happened on the day. One of the reasons the Gallipoli Landing has been so little understood for so long is that, with a few recent exceptions, the story established by C.E.W. Bean in 1921 has been apparently endlessly repeated, but, with some notable recent exceptions, it has rarely been examined, or if so, this has generally been done from the point of view of similar sources as the 1921 history. Re-interpretation, or re-wording, of the existing story is commonplace; for re-examination one needs a counter-point. By giving us the most thorough Turkish account yet, one that interprets many previously unseen Turkish sources, Uyar has provided one such counter-point.

On 25 April 1915 the Australian troops saw what they saw, or what they thought they saw. They had the impression they were confronted by thousands of Turks armed with numerous machine guns; they pushed inland until striking the main Ottoman forces or the enemy counter-attack. For one hundred years Australian history has largely been interpreted from this viewpoint. But how many Turks were really there, and at what times? Who were they and what did they see and do? Who commanded them and what kind of soldiers were they?

Uyar provides the most thorough answer to such questions we have yet seen. His account begins long before the war to describe the background to the forces we met that day, so that we can understand why the Ottoman army was what it was in 1915. With his military background, Uyar can also add an insight into the reason things were happening, how the battle was controlled, what the commanders knew at the time and why they made their decisions. In some cases Uyar provides Ottoman maps from the time, and detail missing from the popular books that have flooded the market in recent years. There is a risk inherent in modern military men interpreting the events of 100 years ago, as they may view events from the perspective of their own training and experience more than their subject’s, but I feel Mesut is providing insight more than judgement.

Despite the great detail in this book, it is easy to read and is for the general reader as well as the enthusiast.

I have spent many years wringing as much evidence, meaning or understanding as I could from the few available English language, Turkish sources on the Landing. For want of choice I primarily examined the 1935 account of Lieutenant-Colonel Sefik Aker. Uyar contextualises Sefik’s account, and surrounds it with the rest of the story, essentially populating the parts of the battlefield that were previously empty to me. I read The Ottoman Defence Against the ANZAC Landing with my heart in my mouth – did I get it right? I am relived to say, so far so good … this book confirms rather than refutes my conclusions; but what it has done for me is transform the day from black and white to colour.

Hopefully this will not be the end of Uyar’s work – I look forward to his next book.

Dr James Hurst – April 2015

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