The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920
Allen Lane (2015), Hardcover, 512 pages
Some time ago I reviewed Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I. Now here is a book looking at the fate of the third member of the Central Powers alliance. It was generally believed that when the crumbling and archaic Ottoman Empire entered the war that it was on its last legs. The British, French and Russians quickly planned how they were going to carve up the territory they would win when they administered the inevitable swift coup-de-grace to the supposedly rotting edifice. They were in for a rude shock, because the supposedly tottering empire put up more fight than anyone had planned for, a lot more. In fact, the Ottomans fought doggedly for the entire 4 years, in fact, the Turkish garrison in Medina held out until January 1919, a staggering 10 weeks after the armistice, making the Ottomans the last power to officially lay down all its arms. Along the way, they inflicted two massive and humiliating defeats on the British, at Gallipolli and the Siege of Kut, as well as stubbornly resisting in many theatres where the Allies had assumed an easy victory. Most of the individual campaigns, such as Gallipolli, the Arab Revolt and the assault on Palestine have been well dealt with in individual books, but is this the first book I have read that covers the whole of the Middle East theatre as one coherent narrative. Skilfully written, fast-moving, and laced with accounts from individuals who lived through it, this is entertaining history. Some of it is sobering, Rogan pulls no punches in assigning guilt for the horrendous Armenian genocide to the Turkish leadership, but overall this is an enlightening work. There are some basic historical errors, mostly relating to the ANZAC troops, which should have been caught, but it doesn’t diminish the appeal of this work. Really, in this 100th anniversary year of Gallipolli, where the world discovered the true fighting ability of the humble Ottoman soldier, this is a must-read.