Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Otto Liman von Sanders (1855-1929), Commander of German-Turkish Forces in World War I

Equestrian portrait of Otto Liman von Sanders in a picture taken between circa 1910 and circa 1915. Probably before the Kassel Ottoneum

A portrait of Otto Liman von Sanders taken in 1914. As commander of the German Military Mission, Otto von Sanders was given the rank of Turkish marshal and command of the First Army Corps. Under his guidance the mission provided an infusion of experience and professionalism that had previously been lacking in the Turkish Army. Specialist troops, artillery units, armaments and other military supplies were provided as part of this alliance

A portrait of Otto Liman von Sanders taken in 1914. He is wearing Turkish fez, German general jacket and Pour le Mérite in his neck

A portrait of Otto Liman von Sanders taken in 1916. He is wearing Turkish fez and Pour le Mérite in his neck

Otto Liman von Sanders (sitting, 3rd from right) with Turkish officers, 1914. Depicted in this picture: Hüseyin Rauf Bey, chief of staff of the ottoman admirality; Vehib Pasha, Commander of the south group (Gallipoli); Esat Pasha, Commander of the north group (Gallipoli); Süleyman Pasha, head of the medical service; and Cevat Pasha, military governor of İstanbul

Generalleutnant Otto Liman von Sanders (February 17, 1855 – August 22, 1929) was a German general who served as adviser and military commander for the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

He was born in Stolp in Pomerania region in Germany. His father was a Jewish nobleman. Like many other Prussians from aristocratic families, he joined the military and rose through the ranks to Lieutenant General. Like several Prussian generals before him (e.g., Von Moltke and Baron von der Goltz), the unpopular Liman served in numerous staff and divisional commands before being appointed director of a German military mission to Turkey in 1913 intended to reorganise the army of the Ottoman Empire.

Liman's appointment brought a storm of protest from Russia, who suspected German designs on the Ottoman capital. A compromise arrangement was subsequently agreed whereby Liman was appointed to the rather less senior (and less influential) position of Inspector General in January 1914.For nearly eighty years, the Ottoman Empire had been trying to modernize their army along European lines. Liman von Sanders would be the last German to attempt this task.

Liman had little time to organize the defences, but he had two things in his favor. First, the Ottoman 5th Army was the best army they had, some 84,000 well-equipped soldiers in six divisions. Second, he was helped by poor Allied leadership. Instead of using their massive fleet to force a passage through the straits to Istanbul, the British and French admirals called for ground troops to capture the Dardanelles peninsula so their battleships could sail on into the Sea of Marmara unmolested. Liman had just over a month to prepare. Then, on 23 April 1915, the British landed a major force at Cape Helles. One of Liman's best decisions during this time was to promote Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) to commander of the 19th division. Kemal's division literally saved the day for the Ottomans. His troops marched up on the day of the invasion and occupied the ridge line above the ANZAC landing site, just as the ANZAC troops were moving up the slope themselves. Kemal recognized the danger and personally made sure his troops held the ridge line. They were never forced off despite constant attacks for the next five months.

From April to November 1915 (when the decision to evacuate was made), Liman had to fight off numerous attacks against his defensive positions. The British tried another landing at Suvla Bay, but this also was halted by the Ottoman defenders. The only bright spot for the British in this entire operation was that they managed to evacuate their positions without much loss. However, this battle was a major victory for the Ottoman army and some of the credit is given to the generalship of Liman von Sanders.

Early in 1915, the previous head of the German military mission to the Ottoman Empire, Baron von der Goltz arrived in Istanbul as military advisor to the (essentially powerless) Sultan, Mehmed V. The old Baron did not get along with Liman von Sanders and did not like the three Pashas (Enver Pasha, Cemal Pasha and Talat) who ran the Ottoman Empire during the war. The Baron proposed some major offensives against the British, but these proposals came to nothing in the face of Allied offensives against the Ottomans on three fronts (the Dardanelles, the Caucusus Front, and the newly opened Mesopotamian Front). Liman was rid of the old Baron when Enver Pasha sent him to fight the British in Mesopotamia in October 1915. (Goltz died there six months later just before the British army at Kut surrendered).

In 1918, the last year of the war, Liman von Sanders took over command of the Ottoman army during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, replacing the German General Erich von Falkenhayn who had been defeated by British General Allenby at the end of 1917.

Liman was hampered by the significant decline in power of the Ottoman army. His forces were unable to do anything more than occupy defensive positions and wait for the British attack. The attack was a long time in coming, but when General Allenby finally unleashed his army, the entire Ottoman army was destroyed in a week of fighting (see the Battle of Megiddo). In the rout, Liman was nearly captured by British soldiers.

After the war ended he was arrested in Malta in February 1919 on charges of having committed war crimes, but he was released six months later. He retired from the German army that year.

In 1927 he published a book he had written in captivity in Malta about his experiences before and during the war (there is an English translation). Two years later Otto Liman von Sanders died in Munich at the age of seventy-four.

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