An Important New History of the Ottoman Theatre of War,
This review is from: The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power (Hardcover)
This book is about attempts by Imperial Germany to forge links with Ottoman Turkey and invoke a holy war against Great Britain and its allies in the years running up to, and including, the First World War. Britain, as a result of its colonies in India and Africa was the largest Muslim empire in the world at the time and the thought of provoking an Islamic revolution in these territories had great appeal to the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his bid for increased world power. The Berlin-Baghdad Express of the title plays a recurring part in this story as it was the key supply line for German weapons and materiel into Mesopotamia, Arabia and Persia. A key element is that the war started before the line could be completed and the missing section through the Taurus and Amanus mountains resulted in massive logistical problems that spelt failure, especially for the Turco-German attempt to attack the Suez Canal in 1915.
The, at times comical, attempts to invoke holy war were masterminded by an outlandish character Baron Max von Oppenheim and a small number of Arab experts, the German Foreign Office having far greater expertise in this area than the British. The author, Sean McMeekin, has utilised German and more unusually Turkish archives to chart the activities of this group and tells a story of adventure and intrigue spread across many countries of the Middle East and often drawing parallels with the fictional work of John Buchan, 'Greenmantle'.
This is an important book, and clearly the result of much research, as it throws new light on aspects of the Turco-German campaign and gets away from the oft repeated histories of Gallipoli and the activities of T. E. Lawrence. The attitudes of the various Arab, Persian and Afghan leaders approached by Oppenheim's agents is interesting and the massive subsidies (bribes) paid to these leaders and the resultant bidding wars between Great Britain and Germany are very revealing. Not all attempts at invoking jihad were failures and the attack upon Anglo-Egypt from Libya by the Sanussi tribesmen of a latter day Mahdi was new to me. In passing it is interesting to note how powerful the Royal Navy was at this time, despite the debacle of the Dardanelles, for wherever the Germans went in their intrigues they found trade and coastal regions (and oilfields) securely controlled by the British Navy.
An excellent book which will provide new information to Western readers and which should give pause for thought to Western politicians who appear to have a mania for interfering in the Middle East, usually disastrously so. Minor criticisms are too frequent American colloquialisms and an absence of a cast-list given the many characters in the book.