Ottoman Uniforms
Ottoman Uniforms

1909 TILL 1918 OTTOMAN RANK INSIGNIA

Generals

Right - An original example of a 1909 General  officer's rank shoulder cords. To distinguish it from lower rank grades (below) the generals’ pattern is smaller and square shaped. It is only 4.6 cm x 9.2 cm, The general's pattern used the gold cord flecked with red cotton/silk.

Higher ranked generals were identified with German styled star with five rays, or older (pre-1908) French five-point stars (below), to indicate rank grading in WW1.

Right - Illustrates a five-cord yellow cotton weave and indicating rank using the older 1876-period French five-point stars [1]. Early, in WW1 the pattern changed to more closely resembled the German period pattern using a three-cord weave, made with gold cords incorporating red-flecks (above). These boards are typically small (like all Ottoman Turkish insignia). This is a‘Ferik’ (Lieutenant-General). The post-1909, the rank insignia for a Marshal (‘Mushir’) in the Army is three stars.

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[1] Flaherty, C. (2011) An Ottoman Turkish Generals’ Jacket. The Armourer Militaria Magazine, Issue 106 (July-August, 2011): 25-28.

Majors to Colonel

Right - An original example of a 1909 Major (Bimbashi) officer's rank shoulder cords. To distinguish it from the generals’ pattern (above) it is longer and more triangular appearing and more narrow being 4cm x 11cm; and like the general's pattern the gold cord could be flecked with red cotton/silk.

Higher ranked Lieutenant-Colonel (‘Kaimakam’), and Colonel (‘Miralai’) were identified with German styled star with five rays, or older (pre-1908) French five-point stars to indicate rank grading in WW1.

Lieutenant to Captain

Right  - Illustrates a typical version of a Lieutenant ‘Mulazim-i-sani’, Full-Lieutenant ‘Mulazim-i-evvel’, and Captain ‘Yuzbashi’ shoulder straps, and/or cords/boards. These are clearly patterned after German officer’s shoulder cords/boards for the same period, and differ greatly from the higher ranking officer’s shoulder insignia, in particular lacking the red highlights. Some were constructed in gray rather than gold, some did include red highlights, and some were cloth covered. It should also be noted, that in 1916, a new all-grey version was ordered.

These insignia measure typically 4 cm across and 8.5 cm lengthwise. This is particularly long for WW1-period cords/boards, as the Ottoman Turkish arsenals tended to manufacture these as short as 4 x 4 cm, The most common type encountered by collectors, today are the plain post-1909 gold wire cords/boards. These have a fixed bronze or zinc small plain button (split-pin type), and the distinctive blacken wire attachment hook running down the back. So far all insignia of this type examined so far, seem to have identical features, indicating mass-issue of a universal form of insignia to all Ottoman Turkish officers in the Army, and the Navy in WW1. The base is covered with poor quality dark grey/green wool cloth. These were issued irrespective of an officer’s particular service branch.

Right - A common WW1 veriation made from gold wire and red thread embroidery.

Right - Frequently, seen in WW1 pictures of Turkish officers their shoulder boards photograph as black, seen here on a pre-WW1 jacket (identified by the presence of epaulette bridles). These are versions of the WW1 universal version made with gold cord. Prior to 1908 Ottoman uniform lace used identically patterned black cording, which by WW1 was available and may have been utilized in lieu of grey cord called for by the new 1916 laws governing these. This type of production variation is very typical in the Ottoman period. Another possibility is that the Ottomans adopted, and continued during the WW1 period the European practice of wearing black covered, or black versions of epaulette insignia during periods of official mourning (which traditionally lasted between four weeks and one year).

Secretary Officers (Battalion and Regiment Clerks)

Below - Extracted from the 1911 Italian Army's 'Turkish Army Handbook' illustrations of the collar and shoulder board insignia for the secretary officers in battalion and regimental administrative offices.

Unidentified WW1 Higher Junior Officers' Rank Insignia Shoulder Boards

(Sanjakdar (Standard Bearer) Ranks)

Right - Extracted from a WW1–period group photograph of Ottoman army officers, this individual wearing shoulder boards, with a flat tape edging. Note, as well, that he clearly displays epaulette bridles below the boards, indicating that he is wearing an older styled pre-WW1 tunic. He is also wearing collar insignia (not identified).

This type of shoulder board belongs to a particular officer, who in the 1876-period, was called a ‘Kolagasi Muavimleri’ (an Assistant Adjutant-Major); described frequently as the same as a ‘Aley Emini’ (a Regimental Adjutant in 1876). These higher ‘Kolagasi’ were in the process of being pensioned from service, or promoted as the rank itself had been abolished, in 1909 (but in reality the existing officers continued to serve in that rank). The British Army Handbook 1916 [1], advised that these officers were still serving (either awaiting retirement/promotion) in 1914-16 (when it was written), These junior officers may still have been in service - or called out from the reserves (again either awaiting retirement, or promotion in 1914-16).

Right - This board displays a double thick gold cord outer edge, with one wide lace bar across the centre, divided by two central bars of pink/red highlights, representing three gold cross bars (separated by red lines).

Right - This three cross bars on his shoulder boards, which is correct for the Bascavus (Sergeant-Major).

  • However, he has an addition of a thick outside gold cord, added to the edge of the board.
  • As well, he is wearing an Officer's pattern tunic (with six buttons - which a Bascavus can wear).
  • He is wearing an 1909 Officer's Portepee (which is also correct for a Bascavus).
  • However, his 1909 Officer's Portepee should be on a side-arm, not a sword unless he is in the cavalry or the field artillery.
  • Notwithstanding, in this case he is actually armed with an officer's sword, as well as wearing an officer's belt buckle, which were worn by officers - Lieutenant and above only.

Right - Dated with the European date - 1915, this picture of a Turkish junior officer, and he appears to have Bascavus Muavini (Assistant Sergeant-Major) - two cross bars on his shoulder boards, with the addition of a thick outside gold cord, added to the edge of the board. As well, he is wearing an Officer's pattern tunic (with six buttons), and full 'branch of service' coloured collar (again indication an officer's rank grade).

Right - This shoulder board is seen in a WW1 picture published in Tunca Orses. Necmettin Ozcelik. (2007) Dunya Savasi'nda Turk Askeri Kiyafetleri 1914-1918. Militärmuseum, Istanbul: 71. It displays a double thick gold cord outer edge, with a single cross bar.

Right - Another Ottoman WW1-wartime variation shoulder board with an embroidered gilt wire edge, and gold tape (with red center line) arranged in a hatch-lines pattern.

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[1]The War Office. (2008) 1915 Notes on the Turkish Army: With a Short Vocabulary of Turkish Words and Phrases. N & M Press: 12..

Left - In the British 1916 Handbook on the Turkish Army (pg. 134), the Sanjakdar, is both listed as an officer (in British terms of reference), and is listed in seniority as below a Regimental Clerk Officer, and above the rank of Sergeant-Major.

Left - The British 1916 Handbook on the Turkish Army (pg. 47), lists the 'Colour Bearer' as a Sergeant-level officer, in a Regiment Staff. 

Zabit Namzedi

Right - After the war began a new rank was created for the 3rd year students (who had not graduated), but whom were still sent to the frontline as a ‘junior officers’. The ‘Zabit Vekili’ (Sub-Lieutenant), is illustrated, wearing a WW1 field uniform, retaining as ‘rank insignia’ the three collar bars of a 3rd year, the same as the pre-war uniform. The shoulder boards that can be seen does not display rank. This has been misinterpreted in David Nicolle [1], where such an officer is illustrated wearing officer’s shoulder board as well. This is incorrect, as these boards display instead Ottoman script – ‘War Academy’.

The picture on the right clearly shows as well the 1909 officer's portepee even being worn by officer cadets. In this case it is displayed on a service bayonet. This photo also shows:

  • The 1876 Turkish Army buckle, which has been engraved with some Ottoman script.
  • His shoulder board has three Bascavus (Sergeant-major) gold bars. This was a cadet rank used in the Military School.

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[1] David Nicolle. (2010) Ottoman Infantryman 1914-18. Osprey Publishing: 38.

Junior Officers

In addition to the 1909 junior officer's ranks, a new arrangement was also made on 30 May, 1916 for the Infantry, the creation of the Takim Basi rank. This rank between the Bascavus (Sergeant-major), and Mulazim-i-sani (2nd Lieutenant). Their duty was team commander.

Right - As can be seen from this picture, and the junior officers such as this 'Assistant Sergeant Major' are pictured wearing both cuff (taken from the Gendarmes) and corresponding shoulder insignia at the same time.

The Bascavus (Sergeant-Major), and the 1916 Takim Basi ranks wear's an 1909 pfficer's portepee. From 1909, the ‘Bascavus’ (Sergeant-major), with three gold bars on his shoulder board, included with his uniform, the display (of what has been described as) “a red tassel to their side-arm” [1]. These ‘red tassels’ have never been identified. And period photographs clearly show all officers, wearing the same pattern sword portepee regardless of rank [2].

 

The 1909 army junior officer's shoulder boards were commonly worn along with 1915-16 system of colour cuff lace, to show the same rank (which had been borrowed from the Gendarmes, first adopted in 1909). In 1915/16, the Army NCOs adopted alternative cuff ranks – both could be worn on the same uniform [3]. The cuff strip/tape was of the same width, for all ranks; except for the CAVUS which used a narrow cord as well. These were in corresponding branch service colours.

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[1] The War Office. (2008) 1915 Notes on the Turkish Army: With a Short Vocabulary of Turkish Words and Phrases. N & M Press: 14.

[2] Flaherty, C (2010) Ottoman Turkish Army M1909 Officer’s Portepee. The Armourer Militaria Magazine, Issue 100 (July-August, 2010): 99.

[3] The War Office. (2008) 1915 Notes on the Turkish Army: With a Short Vocabulary of Turkish Words and Phrases. N & M Press: 14.

Imam and Muftis

Throughout the 1870s till the end of the Ottoman empire in 1923, every regiment, and battalion had an Imam to assist soldiers in the performance of their religious duties [1]. An Imam is an Islamic leadership position, often the worship leader of a mosque and the Muslim community. Imams may lead Islamic worship services, serve as community leaders, and provide religious guidance. It may also be used in the form of a prefix title with scholars of renown. A Muftis is from Arabic ‘to give a (legal) decision’, is a Muslim legal expert and adviser on the law of the Koran. In the former Ottoman empire, was the leader of the religious community.

Right - A WW1-period prayer meeting featuring the wall rug, with an Ottoman star and cresecent worked into the rug pattern. The Imam leading prays appear to be regular army officers.

Left - An extract from the 1917 Red Cross Report on Turkish 'Prisioners of War' in Egyptian internment camps illustrates that in WW1 not all imam held officer roles.

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[1] Askeri Müze ve Kültür Sitesti Komutanligi. (1986) Osmanli askeri teskilat ve kiyafetleri: 1876-1908 [Ottoman military organization and uniforms] Yayinlari: 16.

Company Sakka

Each company had a Water Carrier, called a 'Sakka', as part of the company rank and roles structure [1]. The role of the 'water carrier' was not to provide drinking water, it specifically related to the requirement for men to wash their hands befor prays were said. An important religious duty, in Islamic culture is the Wudu procedure for washing parts of the body using water, typically in preparation for formal prayers. The permitted water types:

  • Rain water.
  • Spring, sea or river water.
  • Water of melting snow or hail.
  • Water of a big tank or pond.
  • Well water.

Even though all soldiers have a personnel water canteen, this was likely seen as a 'Prohibited water to use for the Wuda'; thus the company water carrier had a specific role in the imperial army, to maintain a supply of permitted water, and to dispense it prior to prayers, which was required up to three or more times a day, and specifically at sunset, in the Ottoman period.

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[1] British General Staff. (1995) 1916 Handbook of the Turkish Army. Battery Press, Nashville: 46; 146 (Infantry Company Water Carrier), p.48 (Machine Gun Company Water Carrier), and p.79 (Artillery Company).

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