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Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Turkish Army, Hucum Mufrezesi - Storm Troopers
Topic: Tk - Army

Turkish Army

Hücüm Müfrezesi - Storm Troopers 

 

 Kress inspecting Ottoman Storm Troopers, late 1917.

 

The following account of the Storm Troopers in the Ottoman Army is extracted from the book written by Ed Erickson called Ottoman Army effectiveness in World War I: a comparative study, Oxford, 2007, and taken from pp. 103-5:

 

Tactical innovations from the western front were also introduced on a routine basis in Palestine. On 25 October 1917, German Colonel Hergote, fresh from the western front, delivered a presentation to the 21st Infantry Regiment on the principles of assault and battle training, and also on reconnaissance training.

The 7th Infantry Division was simultaneously engaged in a major restructuring of its tactical organisational architecture. After its arrival in Beersheba, the division inactivated the 4th Company of each infantry battalion on 28 June. On 10 August reflecting the most current tactical thinking, the division activated a machine-gun company, armed with light machine guns, in every infantry battalion.' This reorganisation was repeated in every Ottoman infantry division in Palestine. Thus as the 7th Infantry Division lost a quarter of its rifle strength it gained offensive and defensive capability by the addition of light machine guns within infantry battalions.`"

On 17 July 1917, the division activated an assault detachment (hücüm müfrezesi) of fifty men. (This was the Turkish version of German Stosstruppen.) This was a local initiative implemented by von Kressenstein, who wanted to introduce the most current western front tactical innovations into his army. He assigned Major Kiehl to supervise the training of the Ottoman assault troops 'with good results' . Kress inspected the companies in September 1917 and mentioned, `it is evident that proper training and grooming would bring out the best in these brave, obedient, and humble Anatolian soldiers' . In the absence of written doctrinal information, an unofficial manual on assault troop tactics was written and distributed by the 19th Infantry Division commander, which was based on the experiences of that division in Galicia.

The fact that the Ottoman Army raised, trained, equipped, and employed stone troops has escaped general notice in the English language historiography of World War 1. However, in 1994, Dr. David Nicolle published a clear photograph of a platoon of Ottoman Army storm troops in Palestine in the summer of 1918. The men are outfitted in well fitting uniforms, German-style steel helmets, have under-arm grenade bags with stick grenades, German Mauser rifles, and puttee leggings. This unique photograph is important because the men look confident and fit, well fed, and arc thoroughly equipped - indeed, a picture that is at odds with our historical perception of the Ottoman Army in Palestine. Although it is dangerous to draw a generalised conclusion from Nicolle's photograph, it is obvious that the Turks, at least in one locality, gave a high priority to the selection of men for, and to the maintenance of, its assault troop formations.

On I September 1917, Enver Pasha ordered the general activation of assault troops within the Ottoman Army. Enver directed the XV Corps, the First Army, and the Fourth Army to activate the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Assault Battalions respectively. Additionally, he ordered each infantry division in the Yildirim Army Group and in the Fourth Army to activate assault detachments. Enver was very specific that only the best officers, NCOs, and men (`from the best units in the division, who were intelligent, healthy and hardy, and not more than twentyseven years of age') were selected for these elite units. Additionally, the assault units received better rations, a distinctive badge (an embroidered hand grenade), and conducted a one-month assault course. Later the divisional assault detachments matured into assault battalions. Initially, the Ottoman armies in Mesopotamia, western Anatolia, and Caucasia were excluded from the requirement to activate assault troops.

In the creation of assault battalions the Ottoman Army returned to an organisational architecture that it had abandoned in 1913. One of the Ottoman General Staff's organisational changes in 1914 was the abolition of the organic rifle regiment at army corps level and the organic rifle battalion at infantry division level. These highly specialised regiments and battalions were the Ottoman Army's equivalent of German Jäger or French chusseurs. The reason for this action was the inability of the army during the Balkan Wars to utilise effectively the rifle regiments and battalions in their proper doctrinal role. In fact, during the First Balkan War, Ottoman commanders tended to misuse their rifle battalions as immediate reserves or as a nucleus for ad hoc provisional formations. They were almost never used properly in reconnaissance, screening, or flank guard missions. Consequently, the Ottoman General Staff deactivated the rifle units in the spring of 1914 because the misuse of concentrations of hand-picked men degraded the overall quality of the regular infantry regiments. It should be noted that after World War 2 the US Army deactivated its Ranger battalions for the same reason - the concentration of elite soldiers in specialised units weakened the army's regular infantry establishment and there did not seem to be an appropriate tactical return on such an investment.

The activation of the assault battalion (hücüm tahur) essentially returned the Ottoman Army to the elitist organisational architecture of 1910-14. Each infantry division had three infantry regiments (of three infantry battalions) and one assault battalion, within which there was a high concentration of aggressive and fit officers and men. Unlike the German Army, the Turks formed no specialised assault or storm troop divisions.

By the end of 1917 the strategic and operational initiative in Palestine had passed to the British. Consequently, both the practical and technical need of the Ottoman Army to possess assault troops also passed. Nevertheless, the assault troop battalions of the Ottoman Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth Armies were retained, possibly with a view to future offensive operations of the Yildirim Army Group. It should be remembered that until the failure of the Ludendorff offensives in the spring of 1918, the strategic posture of the Central Powers appeared favourable.

 

Turkish Storm Trooper casualties at Tel el Ful, 27 December 1917

 

With the falling moral of the Ottoman Army during the first half of 1918, the elite units also suffered a decline. A secret memo detailing the state of the Yildirim Army Group in July 1918 states the following:

 

Attack Units

VIIth Army Attack Battalion.

This battalion is camped about two miles south of Narblus. All men are equipped with steel helmets and gas masks. At present it is used in arresting deserters, but in case of the British advance it is to be used to counter attack.

XX Army Corps Attack Battalion.

This battalion is in reserve in the XXth Army Corps area. Its strength and equipment are similar to those of the VIIth Army Battalion.

20th Division Attack Company

This company is camped near Jalud (C.5/O.2.a.) and is 130 strong. It formerly numbered 180, but three weeks ago, 50 men deserted, taking with them two machine guns stolen from a Regimental Machine Gun Company. (Officer deserter, 4/78th Regiment, 10-9).

Comment -
The above strengths are greater than in the case of other formations and are probably exaggerated.

 

Further Reading

The Battle of El Burj, 1 December 1917

Turkish Army

 


Citation: Turkish Army, Hücüm Müfrezesi - Storm Troopers


Posted by Project Leader at 1:06 PM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 July 2009 1:13 PM EADT

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