The British Empire Library

Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914-1922

by Andrew Hyde

Andrew Hyde has written a very useful book that examines the strategic and military imperatives of the war against the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East and the consequences of that war. It is actually quite nice to have such a narrowly focussed book that does not get too sidetracked by the minutiae of the military actions but explores the wider picture of what was going on during these crucial years although the title rather misleadingly claims to finish in 1922 but at the very least should really have set that date to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 if not beyond even that.

The book inevitably follows the course of the First World War and the role of the Young Turks in tying Ottoman fortunes so closely to that of the Central Powers. Although, the author explains that no less a person than Winston Churchill accelerated this fatal attraction through the seizure of two Turkish battleships being built in Britain at the outbreak of war. This grievance gave the Germans an opportunity to ingratiate themselves yet further with the fledgeling Young Turk leader by providing two of their own battleships. It is interesting to see just how influential and important Winston Churchill was throughout this entire period with his involvement in the Admiralty and the Gallipoli campaign but also his post war jobs as Secretary of State for War and Air and then for the Colonies. Churchill was loyal (although not always uncritically) to Lloyd-George when others in the cabinet were growing warier of his judgements. It is interesting that an ill timed attack of appendicitis upon Churchill left Lloyd-George without a crucial ally as he was fighting for his political life in the aftermath of the Chanak crisis. Of course the other name that dominates this book is Mustapha Kemal. Mustapha also had the knack for being in the right place at the right time but unike the other Young Turks of his government he had genuine military talent, expertise and judgement. He undoubtedly played a key role in saving the Dardanelles from the Allies but he also managed to avoid much of the blame for the collapse of the Ottomans as the war slowly but surely turned against the Turks.

The sheer breadth and variety of the fighting is covered from the Ottomans encouraging the Senussi to rise up and fight the Italians and British in North Africa; the threats to the Suez Canal; the clash with the Russians; the sorry plight of the Armenians; the fighting in Mesopotamia; the Arab revolt; and the British advance through Sinai into Palestine and Syria. It is nice to have the whole strategic picture presented which helps to explain the ebb and flow of the various troop deployments and relative successes and failures of the two sides and helps to put into context the post-war consequences of the fighting.

The book is very well paced and provides good background and context throughout but where it really comes into its own is in its description of the aftermath of World War One and how the British government found itself almost by accident having to fight another war in the region. This all came down to three fundamental problems: The first was very harsh Treaty of Sevres which set down very punishing terms on the Ottoman Turks and for which the newly installed Sultan Mehmed VI who was forced to sign it. Sevres was to the Turks what Versailles would be to the Germans - a grievance that rallied Nationalist opinion against the victorious powers. The second error was Lloyd-George agreeing to Greek demands to expand their influence into Thrace and around Smyrna in Anatolia unleashing a sequence of events (very clearly detailed by the author) that saw Greek influence expand way beyond what was agreed before imploding in the face of renewed vigour and anger channeled once more by the eponymous Mustapha Kemal (with a little help from the Soviet Union). Mustapha created a new Nationalist Turkish force that challenged the existing Sultan and the victorious Allies and the Greeks in a dynamic and effective manner. He also exploited that third fundamental problem of a lack of Allied solidarity. As nationalist Turks evicted the Greeks forcefully from Anatolia and with their savage massacre at Smyrna Lloyd-George tried to draw a line in the sand at Chanak along the Straits of the Dardanelles assuming that the French and Italians would be at his side. Both of these European nations melted away as they felt aggrieved at their junior status behind the British and sought their own deals with Mustapha's Nationalists. Lloyd-George was still prepared to sabre rattle alone but soon discovered just how isolated he had become; both internationally and politically at home. Fortunately, his man on the spot, General Sir Charles Harington, realised that defending the Neutral Zone and the Dardanelles Straits from a determined attack would be beyond what his troops were capable of achieving. He managed to come to a face-saving negotiated settlement until a new Peace Treaty could be formally signed. This threat of war was too much for Lloyd-George's Conservative coalition colleagues who formed their famous 1922 Committee to discuss and eventually ditch Lloyd-George and replace him with the far less bellicose Bonar Law. This gave the British the opportunity to negotiate a new Treaty of Lausanne to replace the vindictive Treaty of Sevres in what proved to be a far more equitable agreement which gave Turkey clear borders and more secure financial arrangements whilst still dividing up her old colonies and keeping the Dardanelles Straits open for navigation. The real loser was Greece which had already seen its Pyhrric imperial ambitions turn to dust but this was now confirmed once and for all by Treaty.

As far as the British Empire is concerned, there are some really interesting linkages made for the wider Empire. Firstly, the relative success of Mustapha Kemal's nationalism inspired nationalists in other British colonies like Egypt and most notably in India where many Muslims joined with the largely Hindu dominated Congress Party and Mahatma Gandhi at a crucial time in Indian politics. This was in the wake of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 and saw a pan-Indian independence movement cohere for the first time and provide a genuine threat to imperial rule which only increased in the coming decades. The other interesting impact was on the Dominions. Lloyd-George's isolated government (from the French and Italians in particular) had unwisely assumed that all the Dominions would back them if war did break out in Chanak in 1922. The Canadian government in particular took umbrage at this assumption and made it clear to London that only its own Parliament could make commitments on this scale. This was an important divergence point that would lead ultimately to the 1931 Westminster Conference that saw the Dominions effectively become independent nations within the Commonwealth. It is interesting that an avoided war in the Middle East could have such ripples throughout the wider Empire.

I do wish the book had more and clearer maps. It would be useful to be able to follow the ebb and flow of the war without having to get maps up on the computer. There are two maps included but they are unclear and really only refer to the Sykes Picot plans which never really came to pass as they had been intended. More military maps for the war against the Russians and the war against the Greeks would have been particularly useful. There were also a few inconsistencies on spellings (such as Montagu (Montague)) for instance and a little more proof reading would have been helpful - but these are minor quibbles for a book that covers a lot of history and geography but in an approachable manner. The author conveys his thoughts clearly and keeps the reader interested throughout. This book was never a chore and every chapter taught me something I did not know. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in World War One in the Middle East but more importantly on its aftermath and consequences.

British Empire Book
Andrew Hyde


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