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    Posted: 13 Oct 2010 at 17:08

Military career of Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk

Kemal Pasha
Died 10 November 1938
General Mustafa Kemal.jpg
General Kemal, c. 1919
Allegiance Ottoman Empire
Years of service 1893 - 8 July 1919
Rank General
Commands held 19th Division - XVI corps - 2nd Army - 7th Army - Thunder Groups Command
Battles/wars Tobruk - Anzac Cove - Chunuk Bair - Scimitar Hill - Sari Bair - Bitlis
Awards List (24 medals)
Other work President of Republic of Turkey
Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk (series)
Personal life Birth date 路 Name 路 Early life (Education) 路 Family 路 Character 路 Religious beliefs 路 Will 路 Publications
Military career Early period 路 Gallipoli 路 Caucasus 路 Sinai and Palestine
Independence War Establishment 路 Conflicts 路 Peace
Atat眉rk's Reforms & Kemalist ideology
Gallery: Picture, Sound, Video

Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk (1881 鈥 November 10, 1938) was an army officer, revolutionary statesman, and founder of the Republic of Turkey as well as its first President. Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk's military career explains his life between graduation from Ottoman War College in Istanbul as a lieutenant in 1905 to his resignation from the Ottoman Army on July 8, 1919.


Early period

Mustafa Kemal commanding Libyan fighters against Italian occupation, 1911

Mustafa Kemal graduated as a lieutenant in 1905 and was assigned to the 5th Army based in Damascus. There he soon joined a small secret revolutionary society of reformist officers called "Motherland and Liberty" (Turkish: Vatan ve H眉rriyet) and became an active opponent to the regime of Abd眉lhamid II. In 1907, he was promoted to the rank of captain and assigned to the 3rd Army in Manast谋r. During this period he joined the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

In 1908, the Young Turk Revolution seized power from the then reigning Sultan Abd眉lhamid II and Mustafa Kemal became a senior military figure. As one of the first members of the CUP, he played a role in the revolution of 1908. However, in later years he became known for his opposition to, and frequent criticism of, policies pursued by the CUP leadership. Soon thereafter, Mustafa Kemal's relationship with Enver Pasha deteriorated. As a result, when Enver Pasha emerged as the foremost military leader after 1913, Mustafa Kemal was excluded from the center of power.[1]

In 1910, Atat眉rk took part in the Picardie army maneuvers in France, and in 1911, served at the Ministry of War (Turkish: Harbiye Nezareti) in Istanbul. Later in 1911, he was posted to the province of Trablusgarp (present-day Libya) to oppose the Italian invasion. Following the successful defense of Tobruk on December 22, 1911, he was appointed Commander of forces at Derne on March 6, 1912.

He returned to Istanbul following the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in October 1912. During the First Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal fought against the Bulgarian army at Gallipoli and Bolay谋r on the coast of Thrace. He also played a crucial role in the recapture of Edirne and Didymoteicho during the Second Balkan War. In 1913, he was appointed military attach茅 to Sofia, in part because Enver Pasha viewed him as a potential rival and sought to curtail his involvement in any political intrigue in Istanbul. By March 1914, whilst serving in Sofia, Mustafa Kemal was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

World War I

While in Sofia, Mustafa Kemal became a vocal critic of Turkey's entry into the war on Germany's side. On July 16, 1914, he sent an official dispatch from Sofia to the Ministry of War in Istanbul, urging a policy of Turkish neutrality in the event of war, with a view to possible later intervention against the Central Powers.[2] However, the Minister of War, Enver Pasha, favoured an alliance with Germany, leading to a secret alliance treaty being signed between the two governments. The Ottoman Empire eventually entered the First World War on Germany's side.

Battle of Gallipoli, 1915鈥1916

Mustafa Kemal commanded the 19th division at the Battle of Gallipoli, with which he confronted nearly all of the Allied landings

The German Marshal Otto Liman von Sanders was assigned to defend the Dardanelles in command of the 5th Army. Mustafa Kemal was given the task of organizing and commanding the 19th Division attached to the 5th Army. On 8 January 1915, the British War Council launched an operation "to bombard and take the Gallipoli peninsula with Istanbul as its objective".

Mustafa Kemal in Gallipoli with his soldiers, 1915

British naval attacks, however, failed to break through the Dardanelles Strait and the British decided to support their fleet with a land attack. The land campaign took place between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916. With his division stationed in Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal found himself at the centre of the Allies' attempts to force their way onto the peninsula.

On 25 April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces were to move inland after landing their troops at Anzac Cove, but were soon met with a Turkish counter attack, commanded by Mustafa Kemal. Mustafa Kemal engaged the enemy forces on the hills, held them and retook the high ground. Largely due to him and his command, the ANZAC forces were contained, and British land forces failed to attain their objectives.[3]

Before the encounter between the two forces, Mustafa Kemal told his troops:

I don鈥檛 order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time it takes us to die, other troops and commanders can come and take our places.[3]
鈥擬ustafa Kemal

By nightfall the ANZAC had suffered 2,000 casualties and were fighting to remain on the beach.[4] For the following two weeks the Allies failed to advance and lost one third of their force.[4] Because he successfully had held off the Allied forces at Conkbay谋r谋 (Chunuk Bair), Mustafa Kemal was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the early stages of the land campaign. The second stage of the Gallipoli campaign, which began on August 6, placed Mustafa Kemal only three hundred meters (approximately 330 yards) away from the firing line. He was also the Turkish commander assigned to many of the major battles throughout the Gallipoli campaign, such as the Battle of Chunuk Bair, Battle of Scimitar Hill and the Battle of Sari Bair.

Words of Atat眉rk on the monument at Anzac Cove

The Gallipoli campaign became a disastrous defeat for the Allies as they were pinned down by the Turks for ten months of incessant fighting and were unable to advance past the low lying beaches of Gallipoli.[4] The Allies finally decided to call off the offensive and successfully evacuated their troops. On the Ottoman Empire's side, Otto Liman von Sanders (5th Army) and several other Turkish commanders attained significant achievements in their role in the defense of the Turkish Straits. However, Mustafa Kemal became the outstanding front-line commander and gained much respect from his former enemies for his chivalry in victory. The Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk Memorial has an honoured role during ANZAC Day parades in Canberra, Australia. Mustafa Kemal's speech commemorating the loss of the hundreds of thousands of Turkish and Anzac soldiers who perished during the Gallipoli campaign is inscribed on a monument at Anzac Cove:

"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives 鈥 you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours鈥 You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."

Caucasus Campaign, 1916鈥1917

Kemal established his post at Diyarbak谋r and took the command of the XVIth Corps of the Ottoman 2nd Army

Following the Battle of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal first served in Edirne until the January 14, 1916. He was assigned to the command of the XVIth Corps of the 2nd Army and sent to the Caucasus Campaign. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on April 1. Most historians[who?] believe that Enver Pasha deliberately delayed his promotion.

Mustafa Kemal in the Caucasus Campaign

When Mustafa Kemal was assigned to his new post, the 2nd Army was facing the Russian army under General Tovmas Nazarbekian, the detachment of Armenian volunteer units commanded by Andranik Toros Ozanian and the Armenian irregular units which were in constant advance. After the Van Resistance an Armenian provisional government under the leadership of Aram Manougian was formed with a progressive autonomous region.[5] The Armenian administration had grown from its initial set-up around Lake Van.[6] The initial stages of the Battle of Bitlis and the Battle of Mu艧 were already developed. On arrival Kemal found chaotic conditions. The region was inhospitable at the best of times.[7] Communication lines were under insurgency attacks. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them Kurds, which had bitter relations with Armenian units, came flooding in front of the advancing Russian armies.[8] Mustafa Kemal's initial task was to bring order to the frightened people so that his corps could function during this period of human suffering.

The massive Russian offensive reached the Anatolian key cities of Erzurum, Bitlis and Mu艧. On 7 August, Mustafa Kemal rallied his troops and mounted a counteroffensive.[9] He had so strengthened the morale of his force, following its defeat, that within five days, two of his divisions captured not only Bitlis but the equally important town of Mu艧, greatly disturbing the calculations of the Russian Command.[10] Emil Lengyel wrote: "He demonstrated anew that the Turk was a fine soldier if he was given the right leadership. Again the Turks took note of the uncommon competence of a general whose name was 'Perfection'".[9]

However, Izzet Pasha, on the other parts of the front, failed to match these successes. In September, Mustafa Kemal retreated from Mu艧 under the heavy advance of the Russian Army and Armenian volunteer units. However, Mustafa Kemal could claim the only Turkish victory in a round of defeats.[10] He also concentrated on the strategic goal of confining the enemy within the mountainous region. That same year, as a recognition of his military achievements and his success in improving the stability of the region, he was given the medal Golden Sword of the Order of "Imtiyaz".

On March 7, 1917, Mustafa Kemal was appointed from the command of the XVI Corps to the overall command of the 2nd Army. Meanwhile, the Russian Revolution erupted and the Caucasus front of the Czar's armies disintegrated.[9] Mustafa Kemal had already left the region being assigned to another fighting front.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign, 1917鈥1918

The Sinai and Palestine Campaign in 1918, during which Mustafa Kemal commanded the Ottoman 7th Army based in Nablus

His command of the 2nd Army was cut short, as he was transferred to the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. He was assigned the command of the 7th Army. After a short visit to the 7th Army headquarters, he returned to Istanbul on October 7. He joined the crown prince Mehmed Vahdettin (later Sultan Mehmed VI) on a visit to Germany. During this trip he fell ill and stayed in Vienna for medical treatment.

He returned to Aleppo on August 28, 1918, and resumed the command of the 7th Army. His headquarters were in Nablus, Palestine. Like in Gallipoli, he was under the command of General Liman von Sanders, whose group headquarters was based in Nazareth. Mustafa Kemal studied Syria thoroughly once again and visited the frontline. His conclusion was that Syria was in a pitiful state (the 1915鈥1917 period had left 500,000 Syrian casualties to famine).[11] There was no Ottoman civil governor or commander. There was an abundance of British propaganda and British secret agents were everywhere. The local population hated the Ottoman government and looked forward to the arrival of the British troops as soon as possible. The enemy was stronger than his own forces in terms of men and equipment. To describe the desperate situation, he said "we are like a cotton thread drawn across their path".[12]

Mustafa Kemal also had to deal with the Arab Revolt, organized by Great Britain which encouraged the local Arabs to revolt against the Turkish rule. Liman von Sanders lost the Battle of Megiddo, leaving 75,000 POW behind, on the first day alone. Now, nothing stood between General Allenby's forces and Mustafa Kemal's 7th Army. Concluding that he didn't have enough men to encounter the British forces, Mustafa Kemal retreated towards Jordan to establish a stronger defensive line. In a couple of days, the total number of the deserters reached 300,000.[13] Mustafa Kemal's war was changed drastically from fighting against the Allies to fighting against the disintegration of his own forces. He sent a furious telegram to Sultan:

The withdrawal 鈥 could have been carried out in some order, if a fool like Enver Pa艧a had not been the director-general of the operations, if we did not have an incompetent commander鈥Cevat Pa艧a鈥攁t the head of a military force of five to ten thousand men, who fled at the first sound of gunfire, abandoned his army, and wandered around like a bewildered chicken; and the commander of the 4th army, Cemal Pa艧a, ever incapable of analyzing a military situation; and if, above all, we did not have a group headquarters (under Liman von Sanders) which lost all control from the first day of the battle. Now, there is nothing left to do but to make peace.[14]
鈥擬ustafa Kemal

Mustafa Kemal was appointed to the command of Thunder Groups Command (Turkish: Y谋ld谋r谋m Ordular谋 Gurubu), replacing Liman von Sanders. In the autumn of 1918 allied forces, having captured Jerusalem, prepared for their final lightning offensive under General Allenby on the Palestine front, in the words of an Arab historian to sweep Turks "like thistledown before the wind".[15] Mustafa Kemal established his headquarters at Katma and succeeded in regaining control of the situation. He deployed his troops along a new defensive line at the south of Aleppo, and managed to resist at the mountains. He stopped the advancing British forces (last engagements of the campaign). Kinross wrote:

Once again the Turkish hero of the campaign was Mustafa Kemal, who, after a masterly strategic retreat to the heights of Aleppo, found himself in command of the remnants of the Ottoman forces now defending the soil of Turkey itself, of which it was the natural frontier. They were still undefeated when news was received of the signature of an armistice between Britain and Turkey-leaving him, at the end of the struggle, the sole Turkish commander without a defeat to his name. Behind him were those Anatolian homelands of the Turkish race, where his future destiny and that of his people lay.[15]

Mustafa Kemal's position became the base line for the Armistice of Mudros. There were regions, such as Yemen, which was still under the Ottoman control at the time of armistice. Kemal's last active service to the Ottoman Army was organizing the return of the troops that were left behind the south of his line.

Partitioning of the Empire, 1918

WWI occupation of Istanbul.ogg
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Kemal arrived to the capital during the Allied occupation of Istanbul. There he famously declared that the Allied Powers "will leave just as they have come."[16]

On 30 October 1918 the Ottomans capitulated to the Allies with the Armistice of Mudros. Beginning with the armistice, the creation of the modern Arab world and Turkey began. At the end of the war, Mustafa Kemal was 37 years old. In the final stages of WWI, he was assigned to command the largest remaining Ottoman Army division, the Thunder Groups Command. After the armistice, however, Thunder Groups Command was dissolved, and Mustafa Kemal returned back to an occupied Istanbul on November 13, 1918.

Mustafa Kemal found himself surrounded with conditions in Istanbul that he fought to prevent. The "dark days of the armistice" was the common saying among the Muslim members of the Empire. He met with Rauf Bey and the Grand Vizier Ahmet Izzet Pasha. He wanted to resign from the army.[17] Ahmet Izzet Pasha persuaded him to stay. He was given an administrative position at the Ministry of War (Harbiye Nezareti). Ahmet Izzet Pasha's term ended sharply and replaced by Tevfik Pasha on November 18. High Commissioner Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe was assigned as the Allied military adviser to Istanbul. His first task was to arrest some thirty former members of the CUP on 29/30 January 1919. They were taken to Bekiraga Bolugu, the military detention center. Mustafa Kemal was not one of them. Ottoman government needed respected officers to control the army. Older generals, such as Abdullah Pasha, could not control the army. The war minister Cevat Cobanli, declared that serving officers could not form associations and Musta Kemal claiming to advocate political neutrality of the armed forces was not perceived as a threat.[18]

The British, Italian, French and Greek forces began to occupy Anatolia. The occupation of Istanbul along with the occupation of 陌zmir mobilized the establishment of the Turkish national movement and the Turkish War of Independence.[19] As a reaction to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks waged the War of Independence, which eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

See also


  1. ^ Z眉rcher, Turkey : a modern history, 142
  2. ^ Kinross, Atat眉rk: The Rebirth of a Nation, 60
  3. ^ a b Australian Government (2007). "The dawn of the legend: Mustafa Kemal". Avustralian Government. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  4. ^ a b c "Gallipoli: Heat and thirst". BBC News. November 3, 1998. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  5. ^ "Section:Western Armenia". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  6. ^ "Section:Transcaucasia". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  7. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 160
  8. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 161
  9. ^ a b c Lengyel, They called him Atat眉rk, 68
  10. ^ a b Kinross, Atat眉rk: The Rebirth of a Nation, 100
  11. ^ Spangnolo, The modern Middle East in historical perspective : essays in honour of Albert Hourani, 234鈥254
  12. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 179
  13. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 180
  14. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 181
  15. ^ a b Kinross, Ottoman centuries, 608
  16. ^ Yuksel Atillasoy (2002), "Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: First President and Founder of the Turkish Republic", Woodside House, page 12
  17. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 198
  18. ^ Mango, Atat眉rk, 204
  19. ^ Mustafa Kemal Pasha's speech on his arrival in Ankara in November 1919


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