Ottoman Uniforms
Ottoman Uniforms

WW1 OTTOMAN ENGINEERS; ARTILLERY; RAILWAY TROOPS; AND ARTISAN SOLDIERS REGIMENT

Engineers: Grenade Pioneers

Right - Turkish using a British Leach-Gamage Catapult. In 1915, over 150 were made and sold by Gamages department store in London. The Royal Engineers made copies during the Gallipoli Campaign. These were produced between March–October, 1915. The effective firing range was 200 yards (180m).

The Ottoman imperial army, fielded pioneers engineering companies specifically to throw and catapult Turkish made ball grenades [1].Two accounts confirm these specalised soldiers:

“A feature of the fighting at Quinn’s was the bombing. In the early days the advantage here lay with the Turks as the Anzacs possessed no grenades while the Turks had a seemingly endless supply of cricket-ball shaped bombs.” [2]

The Australian War Memorial collection has photograph A05300, carries the caption:

“Gallipoli, 1915 Turkish soldiers specially trained as a ‘hand grenade throwing squad’ waiting in a trench.” [3] 

The Australian War Memorial collection has a Turkish Improvised 75 mm Trench Mortar captured by the First Infantry Brigade at Lone Pine on 6 August 1915. The AWM comments state this weapon was made from a 75 mm shrapnel projectile and wooden stock shaped like a rifle butt stock. This has five holes drilled in to the rear of the butt stock which act as elevation points when the mortar is attached to base plate and cradle arrangement. The cradle for the mortar is missing.

However, it appears that this was also intended as a hand-held weapon - as an attempt has been made to provide it with a rifle butt stock. This may have been used by engineers to fire ball grenades (Right).

Below - The Austrian Experimental M1847 Pioneer Sword (Projektsäbel für die KuK Pioniertruppen M1847). The book – states that the origin of these tool weapons was that ‘after not passing the trials with the Austrians, whatever few remaining were sold-off to the Ottoman Empire’. However, prior to 1914 the Imperial Army had ten, four company battalions of Engineers. With each company fielding some 125 pioneers, this would mean that around 5000 of the Austrian pioneer swords were actually made. This example is stamped with Ottoman 4-numeral on one of the quillons. This is an individual weapon registry number, so this is the fourth tool weapon accepted into Imperial Army service. These tool weapons are: Overall Length: 663.0 mm (27.1/8" inches); Blade Length: 532.0 mm (20.3/4" inches); and Blade Width: 46.2 mm.

Below - Made in Turkey during the massive early-war expansion of the Pioneer/Engineering troops, from 40 companies in 1914 to over 70, by 1916. This required a new tool-weapon to be issued, replacing the obsolete 1876 sawback sword (Austrian experimental M1847 Pioneer Sword: Projektsäbel für die KuK Pioniertruppen M1847).

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[1] British General Staff. (1995) 1916 Handbook of the Turkish Army. Battery Press, Nashville: 111. Mentions several foundries for the casting of bombs and grenades, at Kalafat, Yeri Foundries (Between the two bridges on the Golden Horn, Galata Side); and Kirej Kapu (opposite Galata Passenger Custom House).

[2] Quinn's Post.

[3] The Anzac history repeatedly refers to the “Turkish bombers”, in terms not unlike a dedicated soldier-type. As well, from Turkish sources there is the picture of the Turkish ball grenade catapult team, which supports the view of specifically trained groups of soldiers, using and employing these weapons.

Engineer Officers

Right - Two pictures of Engineers Officers, extracted from a US Library of Congress collection picture of a "Marine Signal Staff near Nebi Samuel, 1917". As can be seen, these officers in 1917 are still wearing the 1876-1908 Engineers Officers' collar insignia (illustrated below). One officer has a light blue collar, the other a post-1916 pattern with light blue piping. These uniform combinations date back to 1908/09. Engineering officers served the following specialised troops (Sub-Banches of the Engineers):

  • Field Engineers.
  • Engineers Telephone Companies.
  • Wireless Telegraphy Battalion.
  • Pontoon Sections.
  • Fortress Engineers.
  • Searchlight Sections.
  • Grenade Pioneers.
  • Military Science (Research and Development) Unit.

Right - The Engineers officer's collar patch used from 1908 into WW1.

Engineers: Searchlight Section

Right - Extracted from the Imperial War Museum collection, a "Turkish Portable searchlight at Chanak, November 1918." In 1913, some 24 field searchlights were bought from Britain and France [1]. During the war, Austro-Hungaria and Germany provided more of these. The searchlights played an important role in coastal defences, spotting Allied ship movements.

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[1] British General Staff. (1995) 1916 Handbook of the Turkish Army. Battery Press, Nashville: 85.

Military Science (Research and Development) Unit

The Military Science Unit (appears to be a sub-unit of officers within the Engineers). Beginning in 1908, it is recorded that: "Ottoman Imperial Army officers began to write and publish their thoughts and ideas about various aspects of the military, especially their combat experiences and criticisms of past campaigns. Various journals and newly opened literary clubs became the centres of discussion for the exchange of ideas. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of the empire, the military authorities encouraged these activities. Illustrating this, the official military science journal Mecmua-i Askeri (Military Magazine), became the most important vehicle for the transmission of new ideas and critiques in the Ottoman military renaissance." [1] [2] In June 1911, an Aviation Commission was established under the umbrella of the Scientific Research Unit of the Ottoman Ministry of War [3]. 

Right - This WW1 period Imperial Army Lieutenant wears a cast-brass collar badge. This not identified. It does not appear to be any of these badges:

  • Imperial Gendarmerie.
  • Imperial Army General Staff.
  • Firemen Regiment.

Right - The same badge, as seen in the WW1 photograph above, from a private collection. The round/oval objects with connecting tubes, and sitting on a three-leg stand looks distinctly like a set of early chemistry laboratory flasks.

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[1] Mesut Uyar, and Edward J. Erickson. (2009)  A Military History of the Ottomans (Greenwood): 241.

[2] The issue of the Military Journal was administered by the 'Ministry of War, Department of the Chief of the General Staff, 1st Section (Staff Services), which also looked after "military history, and development of the art of war" (British General Staff. (1995) 1916 Handbook of the Turkish Army. Battery Press, Nashville: 17).

[3] http://www.turkeyswar.com/aviation.html

1916 Flamethrower Unit

The Ottoman Army's use of flamethrowers, was limited to August 1916, when the German Army gave two flame throwers to the 15th Army Corps [1] [2] [3] [4]. A platoon of flamethrowers was sent to Mesopotamia, and was in Baghdad before its evacuation.

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[1] Erickson's work states that the Germans gave the Ottomans, up to 30 flame throwers.
[2] There is no information on any battle as to where these were used, or against whom.

[3] These weapons would have been handed onto the engineering/pioneer company attached to the corps.

[4] Below - Thomas Wictor. Flamethrower Troops of World War I. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (Sept. 29 2010): Contains a photograph  showing Ottoman flamethrower unit wearing helmets during a live fire training in Rohatyn, Galicia.

Telegraph and Telephone Companies

Following 1909, Engineer's Telegraph companies were established in each Army Corps [1]. No special insignia or buckles were provided to these troops. Notwithstanding, a fake '1909 Turkish Telegrapher's Belt Buckle(s)' have appeared on the market recently [2]. No original example of a special buckle used by this troops is known to exist/or were used originally.

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[1] British General Staff. (1995) 1916 Handbook of the Turkish Army. Battery Press, Nashville: 84-85.

[2] One of several recently seen Fake 1909 Turkish Telegrapher's Buckles. All exhibit the same 'burnt-chemical-crosion/aging'. These are made from a fake WW1 German telegraph troops' buckle. These are easy to identify as they have two extra reinforcing plates on the back of the telegraph wire frame loops. The Fake buckles have four solder holes on the back (these are typical of the fake WW1 German buckles). The Turkish shield added-on is also reproduction.

Artillery Branch

Right -  A Turkish made 1876 artillery button, used well into WW1. This was a direct copy of the French artillery button used in the same period.

Mountain Artillery Battalion(s)

The British General Staff’s Handbook of the Turkish Army identifies various Artillery collar insignia as – mountain artillery the letter ‘J’.These letters would have been in Ottoman Turkish script, and the Handbook of the Turkish Army identifies a list of Ottoman communication alphabetic script-letters that show the 'J'.

Howitzer Batteries

The 1909 ‘Topcu Cephene Bascavus’ Rank: A four-bar rank, was a continuation of the 1876 Artilleryman's rank, above the infantry Sergeant-Major, which at this time was indicated by four red ‘French-styled’ sleeve chevrons, there appeared to be higher ‘technical’ grades, such as the Artillery Armourer Sergeant-Major (a ‘Topcu Cephene Bascavus’), with two red and two gold chevrons displayed on the tunic sleeve [1].

The British General Staff’s Handbook of the Turkish Army identifies various Artillery collar insignia as – Howitzer batteries the word “Obus”.

Right - The Ottoman word for Howitzer actually appears in Redhouses’ Turkish-English Dictionary of 1884 [2].

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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: 62.

[2] Redhouse, James W. (James William), Sir, 1811-1892. A lexicon, English and Turkish, showing in Turkish, the literal, incidental, figurative, colloquial and technical significations of the English terms, indicating their pronunciation in a new and systematic manner and preceded by a Sketch of English etymology, to facilitate to Turkish students the acquisition of the English language (1884). Constantinople, Printed for the Mission by A. H. Boyajian.

Horse (Field) Artillery

The British General Staff’s Handbook of the Turkish Army identifies various Artillery collar insignia as – horse artillery having a letter ‘S’ under the battalion numeral.These letters would have been in Ottoman script, and the Handbook of the Turkish Army identifies a list of Ottoman communication alphabetic script-letters that show the 'S',

Fortress Artillery 

Railway Troops

Right - The collar badge for the Railway battalions.

The origin of the Railway battalions in the Ottoman Imperial Army, appears to relate to the order (Irade) of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, announced on 1 May 1900, the construction of the railway from Damascus to Medina was decided, and the local Ottoman Army Command supervised its construction. The staff was divided into the construction engineers, construction supervision, local contractors and laborers.

The labour units in the Railway Troops were  mainly composed of soldiers and locally hired workers. The proportion of military personnel in 1900 summed up to approximately 600 men, but rose rapidly to 5,500 men and reached the 1907 level of 7,500 men. However, this larger force would have been local imperial army labour battalions.

By WW1, there were four Railway battalions, of four companies each. Two were in Syria. Two in Constantinople.

Below - A Raialways Troops' buckle (US provate collector). Likely a wartime-WW1 manufactured cast-brass buckle that appears to have been made specifically for a soldier in one of the four Railway Battalions. Incorporated into the design is the collar badge of the Railway Battalions (picture - Above, as well seen on the collar of the officer from a Railway Troops unit - Right), this is combined with an army crescent badge.

Artisan Soldiers Regiment (Former Mechanical Engineers)

Along with the Railway troops, a machinist-specialists, from the pre-1908 Mechanical Engineers regiment, and the unusual cuff insignia denoted this, giving the wearer a special authority.

  • Prior to 1908, the 'Tophane-i Amire Nezareti' (Ministry of Imperial Ordinance), which was independent of the Ministry of War - that controlled the field Imperial Army, and it looked after production, repair and supply of weapons and military equipment.
  • As well, had responsibility for guarding the Straits of the Black Sea and the Bosphous, and the training of technical personnel.
  • Under the command of a Pasha with the rank of Marshal, he commanded a group of regiments, such as the Mechanical Engineers.

It is stated by modern historians, namely, that after 1909, these regiments were re-designated, as the 'Regiment of Artisan Soldiers'. As well as, transformed into regular maintenance and manufacturing units (as standard auxiliary corps). 

  • Following 1908/1909, the increasing automation of the Imperial Army with the formation of railway troops and other mechanical transport being mobilised, would have required the continuation of Mechanical Engineers specialists, moving into the newly expanded engineering and railway service.
  • Their uniform insignia is not identified, from this period.
  • As much of the pre-1908 rank insignia continued to be used well into WW1, with soldiers and officers called the colours at the onset of WW1, who had designations from prior to 1908, it is likely this particular rank insignia was still used.
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