Ottomans Back Germany in Exchange for German Gold.
Moves Threaten Spread of War to Middle East and Beyond.
Special to The Great War Project
(12-13 October) Intrigue continues to swirl in Constantinople about which side in the war will win the allegiance of the Ottoman Empire.
Germany is working intensely and covertly to bring the Ottomans in on their side. That can help Germany spark jihad – holy war – in the Arab Middle East and among the millions of Muslims in Central Asia and British India.
On the allied side, from Cairo, the British eye the Arab lands.
And Russia has age-old designs on Constantinople itself, which would provide Russia’s Black Sea fleet protected southern access to the sea.
On the surface, Turkey is neutral. But secretly “the countdown to war had now begun,” writes historian Sean McMeekin. Led by the Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha, most of the Ottoman leadership decides to back Germany. “All that remained were the terms of entry.”
There is a minority faction among the Ottoman leadership that favors Britain, but it is weak. Enver seeks ways to provoke a Russian attack, which would provide Enver and his faction with sufficient excuse to get into the war on the German side. “This had been Enver’s idea” when in September he authorizes attacks on the Russian fleet.
Germany is also sending large shipments of weapons and ammunition to Constantinople, and the newspapers there are full of pro-war coverage. “A submarine and two warplanes were expected soon,” McMeekin reports, “along with two shipments of German gold” equivalent to about one billion dollars a century later.
“The visible evidence of approaching belligerence was hard to ignore.”
On these days a century ago, the intrigue in Constantinople engineered by Enver Pasha appears to “stack the decks for war.” A secret meeting finds Enver and most of the others in the Cabinet “agreed on a pro-intervention policy, whether or not” they could bring along all the members of Turkey’s leadership.
But the policy is not put into motion yet. There is no Turkish declaration of war, not until the German gold arrives.
On the Western Front, Germany continues its powerful offensive. After the fall of Antwerp, nearly all of Belgium is in German hands. And it takes but a few days for the northern French city of Lille to surrender to the Germans. Bombardment of Lille is heavy, and when the city capitulates, attacking German troops are so exhausted, reports historian Martin Gilbert, that “many lay down on the pavements and slept.”
At the same time, the British drive German forces out of nearby Bailleul. “Before leaving,” Gilbert writes, “the Germans had opened the doors of the local lunatic asylum, leaving hundreds of its inmates to wander about the countryside unaided. Many were later found dead by the roadsides or in the woods.”