The outbreak of the great war on the Eastern Front
The Great War broke out in 1914. For those who live in the western world impressions of that catastrophic conflict are, perhaps inevitably, inspired by images of the Western Front with its ‘No Man’s Land’ of mud and miles of trenches fringed with barbed wire. Although the soldiers who struggled in France and Belgium were northern Europeans, British and Empire soldiers and later in the war, Americans, this was a truly world war fought from Asia to Africa, and, of course, in Eastern Europe where the spark that ignited the conflagration first burst into life. John Buchan’s writings on the opening stages of the First World War have been compiled by the Leonaur Editors into a comprehensive three volume set. This volume concerns a conflict little known or understood by many English speaking people though it describes the collision of mighty armies, momentous battles such as Tannenburg, and campaigns which swept over enormous tracts of land. In 1914 on the Eastern Front, German and Austro-Hungarian forces engaged with the might of Imperial Russia and the armies of the Balkan states. This final book of ‘John Buchan’s 1914’ trilogy is essential reading for all those requiring a complete understanding of how the world went to war a century ago. Buchan’s incisive narrative has been enhanced by the inclusion of photographs, diagrams and maps not present in the original text.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Meanwhile, under German direction an attempt was made to preach a Holy War throughout the Moslem provinces. It was represented that the Kaiser was a convert to Islam, and that presently the Khalif would order a Jehad against the infidel. Stories were told of the readiness of the Mohammedan subjects of Britain, Russia, and France to revolt at this call, and preparations were made for the manufacture of Indian military uniforms at Aleppo to give proof to the Syrians that the Indian faithful were on their side. Egypt, which had long been the hunting-ground of German emissaries, was considered ripe for revolt, and the Khedive was known to be friendly. The Mohammedan world was believed to be a powder-magazine waiting for the spark. All this activity was not the work of a united government. There were serious differences of opinion in the higher Turkish councils. The Sultan was consistently averse to a breach of neutrality, and did his best to prevent it.
The Grand Vizier, a weak man, could not at first be persuaded of the danger, but was as strongly against war as his nature permitted. Djavid Bey, the Minister of Finance, was well aware that the Treasury was empty, and stoutly opposed the designs of the militarists. Nor were the Turkish people at large in any way hostile to the Allies. They had been offended by Britain’s action in preventing delivery of their two battleships, the Sultan Osman and the Reshadie; but this feeling was passing, and they had little love for the military junta who ruled the land with an oppressiveness at least as great as in the old days of Abdul Hamid. But the Turkish people were voiceless, and the Turkish Government was in the hands of the army, which, in turn, was in the hands of the strangely-named Committee of Union and Progress, of Enver, the commander-in-chief, and of his German patrons and paymasters.
The Turkish nation had been unhappy under its old masters, but it was infinitely more unhappy under the new. When the Young Turkish movement in 1909 drove Abdul Hamid from his throne, the Western critics of the former regime proclaimed the dawn of a nobler world, and burned foolish incense before the shrines of the revolutionaries. It needed little familiarity with Turkey and with the character of the new leaders to see that the latter end of the country would be worse than the beginning. Turkey’s strength lies in her religion and in her peasantry. For a strong Turkey we need an Islamic revival and a pure government which will relieve the burdensome taxation of her provinces.
The Young Turks were anti-national, and they were fully as corrupt, as unscrupulous, and as brutal as their predecessors. Their creed was the sort of thin Comtism which the Western world has more or less forsaken. Their aim was dominance for their own sect and faction, and their leader was Enver, a tinsel Napoleon, who dreamed of himself as the master of the Mohammedan world. They insulted the Sheikh-ul-Islam, and neglected orthodoxy, forgetting that the whole strength of Turkey lay in her faith. When honest men stood in their path they removed them in the fearless old fashion, beginning with journalists and politicians, and ending with the ablest soldiers, Nazim and Mahmud Shevket. They envisaged a Holy War, engineered by unbelievers, which should beguile the Mohammedan populations of Africa and Asia, and they naturally leaned on the broad bosom of Germany, who made a speciality of such grandiose visions.
There was never a chance of such a Jehad succeeding. To begin with, the Committee of Union and Progress were too deeply suspect. They had proved themselves both corrupt and incompetent. They had led Turkey to defeat in two great wars, and in the matter of oppression their little finger was thicker than Abdul Hamid’s loins. Again, the ordinary Turk had not forgotten his old alliance with Britain, and he had no natural leaning toward the German side. In the great days of Turkey’s history the grand vizier had been wont to assemble the standards at the Adrianople Gate for the march to Vienna, and it was in that direction that the Turkish war should roll in the eyes of the conservatives of a deeply conservative people. In a pure-blooded race, too, birth counts for much, and the Committee’s origin was too patently mongrel.
Enver was half a Pole; Djavid was a crypto-Jew from Salonika; Cavasso was a full Jew; Talaat was a Bulgarian gypsy; Achmet Riza was partly Magyar and partly Circassian. It was as if the German armies, battling for the cause of Teutonic culture, had been directed by names like Levinski and Cohen and O’Toole and Mackintosh. In the Tripoli war the Arabs had been scandalized by the infidelity of the Young Turk officers, and news spreads fast through the Moslem world. The sultan’s title to the khalifate, too, was being fiercely questioned. The Turks had won it originally by conquest from the Abbasids, and the Arabs had never done more than sullenly acquiesce. But a title won by the sword can only be held in the same way, and to the faithful of Islam it looked as if the sword had grown blunt in degenerate hands. Most important of all, the Turco-German alliance was breaking: its head against an accomplished fact.
By September the whole of Mohammedan India and the leaders of Mohammedan opinion in British Africa were clearly on the Allied side, and their forces were already moving to Britain’s aid, while forty thousand Arab Moslems were fighting for France in the battles of the West. Islam had made its choice before Enver sent his commissaries to buy Indian khaki in Aleppo and inform the Syrians that the Most Christian Emperor had become a follower of the Prophet.
Of all the neutral Powers the action of Italy was most vital to the struggle, for she held a strategical position on the flank of both combatants. Her intervention on behalf of her colleagues of the Triple Alliance would menace the French right wing; and if she joined the Allies she could turn the Austrian left, while her fleet would establish a crushing superiority against Austria in the Mediterranean. When Italy became a kingdom she had two features in her foreign policy—a dislike of Austria and a not unnatural suspicion of France. The assistance which Napoleon III. had given to the Risorgimento was counterbalanced in Italian eyes by the price he had exacted for it, and by the obstacles he had placed in the way of Garibaldi’s seizure of Rome. Besides, her position compelled her to be a naval Power, and France’s naval activity and the French colonization of the North African littoral alarmed her susceptibilities. The direct result of the Congress of Berlin, which gave Cyprus to Britain and Tunis to France, was the formation in 1881 of the Triple Alliance between Italy, Austria, and Germany. Italy was a very new Power; the arrangement gave her powerful backers at a most critical time; and the Italian statesman, Crispi, did what at the moment was the wisest thing for his country.
The Alliance was renewed in 1887, in 1891, in 1902, and in 1912, but in each case under changed conditions. From 1882 onwards Italy began her colonial adventures, undertaken by Crispi at the instigation of Bismarck, who aimed at setting France, Russia, and Britain by the cars. A commercial war with France did not improve her relations with the Republic. Then came dark days, days of industrial distress and colonial misfortunes, culminating in the disaster of Adowa on March 1, 1896. Italian ambition was sobered, and the disappearance of Bismarck from the European stage removed the chief rivet which bound her to the Triplice. Relations with France began to improve, and in 1896 and 1898 commercial treaties were signed.
Then, in 1904 came the Entente between France and Britain, which was tested in the following year at the Conference of Algeciras, when Italian sympathy leaned against the German claims. In 1908 Austria’s annexation of Bosnia, with the consent of Germany, annoyed Italy acutely, and in 1911 her declaration of war with Turkey over Tripoli showed that she was aware of, and resented, Germany’s policy in the Near East. Probably the only thing that still kept her in the Triplice was the partnership of Russia in the Entente, for she feared above all things a Slav advance to the Adriatic.
Italians, however, have always shown an aptitude for realpolitik far greater than the nation that invented the term. By 1913 Italy had acquiesced in the rise of the Balkan states, provided her own interests were safeguarded. She refused to join Austria in an attack on Serbia, and there is reason to believe that she curtly rejected the Austro-German plans which were unfolded to her in the spring of 1914. Her interests were becoming clearly defined. Some day she wanted Trieste and the hinterland of Istria, and, less urgently, the Trentino. She must rule in the Adriatic, and especially must hold the Albanian port of Valona (Avlona), which was only forty miles from her shores. No great Power other than herself must dominate Albania. These were the essentials, and they brought her sharply up against both her colleagues of the Triplice. When war broke out Italy’s interests were, on the whole, opposed to those of Germany and Austria; her relations with France were good and with Britain cordial; and the sympathies of her people were by an enormous majority on the side of the Allies. Her neutrality, at least, was assured.