Ottoman Uniforms
Ottoman Uniforms

1876 TILL 1908 SULTAN ABDUL-HAMID II IMPERIAL GUARD ARMY

Imperial Guard Infantry Regiments 

Right - From an 1895 French magazine illustration showing attending the Sultan on parade:

  • Imperial guardsmen, identified by his red shoulder boards [1]; and,
  • Zouave of the Imperial Guard (discussed below).

The Imperial Guard were formed into an Army Group during the reign of Abdul Hamid II (ruling from 31 August 1876 until he was deposed on 27 April 1909).

  • We do not know a lot about the IG, because the history of these troops has been poorly documented in the past.
  • However, contained in the US Library of Congress is the photo collection of Sultan Abdul Hamid which contains many pictures of the IG and from the photo captions we can with reasonable accuracy recreate the likely units, titles and structure for these troops.

The IG units represented in the Abdul-Hamid II Collection (Library of Congress), created between 1880 and 1893, has photo captions identifying the following units.

  • First Infantry Regiment of the IG.
  • Second Infantry Regiment of the IG.
  • Fifth Infantry Regiment of the IG (which also presumes that Infantry regiments 3, and 4 were not organised). However, it is now known that the 3rd regiment existed (as a tunic button has been identified belonging to them - discussed below).
  • Seventh Infantry Regiment of the IG (not mentioned in the photo collection of Sultan Abdul Hamid, however a tunic button has been identified belonging to them - discussed below).
  • Sapeurs of the Imperial Guard (discussed below).
  • Regiment of Zouaves of the Imperial Guard (discussed below).
  • First Albanian Regiment of the Imperial Guard (discussed below).

Right - Extracted from a group photograph tiltled: "A platoon from the First Battalion of the First Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Guard (Abdullah Frères)", Abdul-Hamid II Collection (Library of Congress), created between 1880 and 1893. Clearly shows a soldier from the 1st Line Infantry regiment, between 1876 and 1908.

Till 1876, there had been two Imperial Guard Infantry (1860-1876), dressed in zouave uniforms, in addition to the line infantry.

  • After, 1876, this organisation disapears, and is replaced by a much expanded Imperial Guard, that appears to have taken as volunteers from the 1st Army Corps infantry regiments 1-8, leading to the soldiers having dual appointments in two different regiments (i.e. 1st Imperial Guard, and the 1st Infantry, at the same time).

The Imperial Guard infantry wore individualised numbered tunic buttons to identify each regiment (following the French, and Austrian Army models) [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

The double postings of guardsmen only changed in 1908, with the disbandment of the Imperial Guard, and the "the old IG, the members of which have gradually been sent home and mustered out of service” (Foreign Correspondence’s "SOLDIERS OF TURKEY FAVOR NEW REGIME", THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 27, 1908).

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[1] The Imperial Guard infantry wore the same plain red shoulder board edged yellow following the older pre-1860s Imperial Guard's uniform.

[2] Right - The 1st Imperial Guard Division, composed of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Imperial Guard infantry regiments wore their own individually numbered button. Evidence for these numbered tunic buttons is: 1st Regiment Button: Illustrated in Askeri Müze ve Kültür Sitesti Komutanligi. (1986) Osmanli askeri teskilat ve kiyafetleri: 1876-1908 [Ottoman military organization and uniforms] Yayinlari; The 2nd regiment, found by the Great Arab Revolve Project archaeology digs in 2009; and one in a US Collection. The 3rd regiment also found by the GARP in 2009.

[3] Right and Above/Right  - Two examples of 2nd IG Regiment buttons. One in the Andrew Hall's collection, Australia; One in a US Collection. The last in a US Private Collection (shown on Axis Forum). The button back details are damaged, but displays BREVETE near a star and crescent. This was for "T.W. & W. / Paris / Brevete", who extensively supplied the pre-1908 Ottoman Imperial Army, from 1845 to 1902 (the word "Brevete" is French for Patent[ed]).

[4] Right - Buttons for the 5th and the 7th regiments show that more of the Imperial Guard infantry were distinguished with their own individual regimental button. The remaining IG infantry regiments such as 6th (the 4th may never have been raised) have not been seen.

[5] Callwell, C.E. (CAPT.) (1892) Handbook of the Turkish Army. London: Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane (HMSO): 9-10, 21. Makes no mention of the Imperial Guard, except for the ‘zouave regiments’.

[6] The only other regiments mentioned stationed in the Constantinople garrison are the 1st-8th line Infantry regiments.

[7] The four-battalion firemen regiment is listed as well (Callwell, C.E. (CAPT.) (1892) Handbook of the Turkish Army. London: Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane (HMSO): 9-10, 21).

[8] The 1892 ‘Handbook of the Turkish Army’, also states: “The zouaves and firemen are attached to the 1st Ordu ... [military district] ..., and belong to the garrison of Constantinople”.

Sapeurs of the Imperial Guard

Right - The Sapeurs of the Imperial Guard, was an African unit based on the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's ‘Grenadier Sapeurs of the Imperial Guard’.

  • The interesting feature of this uniform is that he is wearing an actual Green turban, similar to the head gear of the Guard Zouave Regiment, where they wore a green keffiyeh (the traditional Arab cloth headdress) under a fez, with it wrapped around the base [1].
  • Under the black apron (these were brown in the rest of the Imperial Army, and the significance of the colour 'black', is that it specifically signifies 'the time of war' in Islamic culture traditionally).
  • They wear the same uniform as the Zouave Regiment (from the 1860s period).
  • However, they have a special cuff insignia consisting of a single red tape chevron, finished with a trefoil.

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[1]  It should be noted that the significance of the green keffiyeh, at the time “denotes a man who has religious privileges” (The War Office. (2008) 1915 Notes on the Turkish Army: With a Short Vocabulary of Turkish Words and Phrases. N & M Press: 19).

1st Albanian Regiment of the Imperial Guard (1890-1908)

Callwell, C.E. (CAPT.) (1892) Handbook of the Turkish Army. London: Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane (HMSO): 9-10, 21. Mentions the ‘zouave regiments’, describes one regiments, stating it has two battalions – “One is Albanian, the other Tripolitan”; and, “The man are mostly volunteers, or are specifically selected and form a species of guards”.

Above - These troops were dressed in uniforms based on traditional Albanian national costume, which were made to resemble the French 4th Zouave regiment uniform. Confusingly, the Albanian regiment are often referred in modern books on the Ottoman military as one of the four battalions of Zouave troops. The Albanians wore a distinctively uniform:

  • Tall Albanian fez.

Were equipped with a traditional Balkan weapons belt, incorporating a belly wallet, called a “Bensilan” (pictured below).

  • The Bensilan allowed for the traditional "yatagan" curved sword to be carried across the waist - hence the reason for the unusual curvature of the blade.
  • These were the last O-T troops to be equipped with this particular weapon, and trained in the traditional fighting arts associated with this sword.
  • However, toward the mid 1880s these were increasingly replaced with US M1874 Turkish Peabody-Martini contract yataghan bayonets.

In addition these troops were also armed with M1874 Peabodies, fitted with the socket type bayonets.

  • Both bayonets were made for the same rifle.
  • For the rest of the Ottoman Imperial Army, the NCOs were typically issued the Yataghan bayonet while enlisted men received the socket type.
  • However, the Albanians IG appear to have received both of these weapons.

As a final note, each soldier in the regiment could have a red star and crescent badge on their cuff, identifying them as Aides-De-Camp to the Sultan.

Right  - The Albanians were equipped with a traditional Balkan weapons belt, incorporating a belly wallet, called a “Bensilan”. This wallet also accommodated a pistol - traditional Turkish pistols, then later weapons like Colt and Mauser.

Right - Dating from 1898, the Albanian regiment first received their white uniform, with black embroidery.

The colour plate is from the NYPL collection, and this appears a close match for the New York Times description of a 1898 special Imperial Guard uniforms used for the visit of the Kaiser.

The Albanian regiment's white uniform, with blue embroidery is taken from the 1908 dated illustrations in 'Askeri Muze ve Kultur Sitesti Komutanligi. (1986) Osmanli askeri teskilat ve kiyafetleri: 1876-1908 [Ottoman military organization and uniforms] Yayinlari.'

Regiment of Zouaves (Tripolitan Zouaves) of the Imperial Guard (1876-1908).

“The Tripolitan zouaves wear short blue jackets and waistcoats with braiding of green, baggy red pantaloons, scarlet cummerbunds, white gaiters and ankle boots, and fez with green turban; the cloak is dark grey.” (Callwell, C.E. (CAPT.) (1892) Handbook of the Turkish Army. London: Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane (HMSO): 13). This passage suggests that the Tripolitan zouaves originally wore the 1860's Rifles' zouave uniformjackets and waistcoats.

​The Regiment of Zouaves of the IG were later uniformed in the 1861 Ottoman zouave uniform, this was a copy of the French 4th Zouave regiment.

In addition to which, they wore a green keffiyeh (the traditional Arab cloth headdress) under a fez, with it wrapped around the base. It should be noted that the significance of the green keffiyeh, wrapped turban-like around the base of the Fez, at the time “denotes a man who has religious privileges” (The War Office. (2008) 1915 Notes on the Turkish Army: With a Short Vocabulary of Turkish Words and Phrases. N & M Press: 19).

Above/Right - Illustrated in Askeri Müze ve Kültür Sitesti Komutanligi. (1986) Osmanli askeri teskilat ve kiyafetleri: 1876-1908 [Ottoman military organization and uniforms] Yayinlari [1]; the officers in the Regiment of Zouaves of the IG, wore:

  • Full red collars on their 1876 Army jackets.
  • Red trousers with broad black side-stripes edged in yelllow.

Right - A figure of a Zouave Regiment officer (identified by his red pants with black side stripes), is seen walking to the side of the Sultan’s carriage in a colourised picture postcard that reads “S.M.J. le Sultan se rendant au Selamilk après la Proclamation de la Constitution 1908.” [Sultan visiting the Selamilk after the Proclamation of the Constitution 1908] The Selamilk was the Sultan’s palace reception hall where traditionally white uniforms were worn.

Imperial Guard Engineers

This was known as the 'First Regiment of the Imperial Guard Corps of Engineers'.

Imperial Guard Firemen

Imperial Guard Artillery

Imperial Guard Cavalry

The Imperial Guard Cavalry [1] [2] [3]:

  • First Regiment of Lancers of the IG (discussed below).
  • Ertugrul Cavalry Regiment of the IG (discussed below).
  • Second Cavalry Regiment of the IG (uniform unknown).
  • Fifth Cavalry Regiment of the IG (uniform unknown)

​This list appear to indicate that the 3rd, and 4th Imperial Guard Cavalry regiments, were never organised/raised.

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[1] Callwell, C.E. (CAPT.) (1892) Handbook of the Turkish Army. London: Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane (HMSO): 15-17. Makes no mention of the several regiments of Imperial Guard cavalry, except for two guard regiments stationed in the Constantinople garrison, forming part of the 1st Ordu:Military District; and these “guard regiments are known respectively as the Ertoghrul and Rehmunut regiments”.

[2] The 1892 ‘Handbook of the Turkish Army’, also states: the 1st-6th line cavalry regiments are part of the 1st Ordu:Military District.

[3] The 'Rehmunut Regiment', appears to be the 1st Regiment of Lancers. However, there was also a "REMONT Regiment' in the Cifteler Harasi (Stud Farm) which bred around three-hundred horses a year for the army (Askeri Müze ve Kültür Sitesti Komutanligi. (1986) Osmanli askeri teskilat ve kiyafetleri: 1876-1908 [Ottoman military organization and uniforms] Yayinlari: 18).

1st Regiment of Lancers of the Imperial Guard (Rehmunut Regiment)

Right - The  pre-1908 full-dress uniform of a Major, identified by the three-gold stripes on his cuff-patch, as well by the epaulettes which have a loose fringe (Majors, Lieutenant-Colonels, and Colonels).

  • He is an officer in the 1st Lancers.
  • The tunic has its distinctive Paraderabatte (red button-on chest lapels).

First Regiment of Lancers, and the Ertugrul Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard, were a co-joined regiment sharing the same group of troopers, who wore -

  • White metal shoulder scales (in the Ertugrul Cavalry), and attached a parade holster-bag cover.
  • Yellew metal shoulder scales (in the 1st Lancers). As well, wore the full red tunic lapel cover.

In 1897 a German-pattern cloth lancers' belt was introduced in blue cloth with red tape edging.

Ertugrul Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard

Right - The special Ertugrul Cavalry tunic button.

Two separate regimental staffs existed, one for the 1st Lancers (in Lancer uniforms), and one for the Ertugrul Cavalry in their particular green uniforms. The reason for this stituation, is that the it was likely intended to fully raise two complete regiments, however the economic problems facing the Ottoman empire in the 1876-1908 period precluded this from fully happening.

The Ertugrul Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard, after 1909 become the basis for the mounted lancers called the "Leibgarde-Kavallerie-Regiment" "Ertogrul".

A special 'Test Uniform' was developed for at least one squadron attached to the separate regimental staff  for the Ertugrul Cavalry, which were blue uniforms.

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