Planning Jihad in Istanbul; Smashing the Lines in Antwerp
Special to The Great War Project
(30 September) The focus of the war on the Western Front is shifting to the Belgian fortified city of Antwerp near the English Channel.
Antwerp “possessed Belgium’s last great ring of forts,” observes historian Martin Gilbert. The British command wants the defenders of the city to hold out as long as they are able, thereby making the possibility of invading Britain across the Channel less likely.
“Even one week’s resistance,” Gilbert writes, “would enable the British army to form a defensive line in Flanders, from which an attack could then be launched to liberate Belgium, and then drive the Germans back to Germany.”
The British immediately send heavy artillery to Antwerp and entreat the French to match them.
The Germans begin the bombardment of Antwerp on this day, a century ago. There are three lines of defense that ring Antwerp. The German general in command devises a way to crack these defense lines.
He orders a siege train of “super heavy guns” to be transferred to his command. The Germans quickly crack the Allies’ first line of defense and send their infantry through.
The British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, sends a letter to his mistress on this day, writing “the Belgians are rather out of ‘morale.’”
Meanwhile, intrigue continues to simmer in Istanbul.
German agents there continue to press the Muslim Ottoman leaders to embark on jihad against the British in the Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan, and – the jewel in the crown – British India.
It begins to look like a Hollywood mystery thriller.
Writes historian Sean McMeekin, “By October 1914 holy war fever was raging high on the Bosphorus. Every day trains were arriving at Constantinople’s Sirkeci station full of suspicious-looking characters from Central Europe, along with German gold, guns, and ammunition.”
And it isn’t just potential supporters of the German cause, McMeekin writes. “The Pera Palace Hotel was swarming with Allied spies, whose job was made considerably easier by the loose tongues of would-be German jihadis.”
A key German agent writes that “not only in Turkey and Egypt but in British India and even Persia, the world’s Muslims were praying for the triumph of German arms in the mosques.”
It is true, this German agent concedes, that Germany is not an Islamic power. “This was why the war on the Entente powers [Britain, France, and Russia] needed to be endorsed with the seal of the Sultan-Caliph,” then the leader of the Ottoman Empire. Once this endorsement is given…
“the entire world of Islam would be enlisted…in the greatest war that has ever erupted on this earth…
…with Germans and Muslims fighting together, shoulder to shoulder, for their very existence.”
As yet though, the Ottomans decline to enter the war.