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This blog presents my different wargames armies, after action reports, campaigns which I have run, some scenarios and a presentation of some of the different rules I play. The pages at the top of the blog contain historical information on the periods that interest me. They are an aid to my poor memory, and not in any way exhaustive nor necessarily correct. As I am an Englishman living in France, some pages are in English and others in French...sorry, I am too lazy to translate...

I hope this blog offers you much enjoyment and some inspiration !

Colonial Period

CHINA 1850-1900

At the dawn of the Opium Wars, the Chinese Empire, whose heartland includes the vast and inhospitable Manchurian region, had an enormous sphere of influence in Asia. The Emperor was liege lord to the petty kings of Chinese Turkestan (the Tarim basin, on the Silk Road), and suzerain of Annam (the future Indochina), Tibet, Mongolia and Korea. Chinese and Russian empires met along the Amour River, watercourse that separates Siberia from Manchuria and which joins the sea at Vladivostok.

The British government, who did not wish to pay for Chinese silk and tea with currency, forced the Empire to exchange these products against opium produced in British India. The First Opium War was the result of this commercial policy, and China suffered a severe defeat.

The treaty of Nankin (1842) forced sixteen Chinese ports to accept a European presence, in the form of "legations". These legations were large districts leased to a specific European nation for anything from 10 to 99 years, off-bounds to Chinese, dominated by European architectural styles and harbouring European merchants and diplomats. Europeans were also granted extraterritoriality, that is, the right to be tried by their legational courts and not by Chinese law.

The treaty of Peking (1860) allowed Christian missionaries to settle anywhere in China. In 1870, there were no more than 3500 Europeans settled in China, but half a million Chinese would convert to Christianity by 1890.
The steam railway - present in Europe as early as the 1840s - began to play a major role in Chinese history from c.1875. The European powers obtained numerous "concessions" from the Empire, bands of land 60km wide in which they could build their railways and have the monopoly over all mineral resources. The sale of a concession, and customs revenues from resulting trade did provided badly needed currency to the Emperor, but the European powers gained thusly the lion's share of Chinese resources.

In 1884, the French decided to detach Annam from the Chinese sphere of influence. The resulting war, which lasted from 1884-1885, was a resounding defeat for the Emperor, despite the assistance brought by Taipings (old rebel movement) to the Imperial army.  Around this time, the European powers acquired the right to station troops in their concessions, as well as powerful naval contingents, the essential element of "gunboat diplomacy".

As an apparent counterweight to Chinese decline, a new Asian power was growing. The Japanese had learnt from, rather than rejected, the Europeans. The brilliant Meiji era had made of Japan, in the space of a few decades, a world power. Events in China were about to prove it.

THE 1894-1895 WAR
The Japanese had been interfering in Korean politics since 1875, causing a split in the kingdom. Korean conservatives wished to retain their relationship with the Chinese Empire, whereas reformers wished to draw closer to Japan. A political assassination and revolt in 1894 led to the king of Korea calling on Chinese troops.  The Japanese were ready to pounce. When Chinese troops continued to station in Korea even after the suppression of the rebellion - contrary to a Sino-Japanese treaty of 1885 - a large Japanese army was dispatched to the peninsula. After some naval skirmishes, war was officially declared on August 1st 1894.

The Chinese suffered a series of defeats around Seoul and Pyongyang and were forced northwards. Further Japanese divisions had already landed on the Liaoyang peninsula to their rear, in southern Manchuria, and seized the fishing village of Lushun - known to Westerners as Port Arthur, a key site for future events. On September 17th, the Chinese fleet was annihilated at the battle of the Yalu River. Weihaiwei fell on February 2nd, and, with Peking threatened, the Chinese surrendered, signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895.

The rapidity of the Japanese victory demonstrated the weakness of China. Worse yet, the war indemnity that it had to pay to Japan forced China to accelerate the sale of concessions. By 1898, the British had acquired a 25 year concession in Weihaiwei, and the Germans a 99 year lease on southern Shandong province (Tsingtao,...). The Russians, ignoring the protest of other world powers who favoured an "open door" policy in Manchuria, gained a 99 year lease over Port Arthur, and a concession allowing them to link the town to the Trans-Siberian railway. The very nature of the foriegn legations changed, becoming political and military bases assuring, via the network of concessions and their all-important railway lines, the de facto domination of vast economic zones.

China had a long tradition of secret societies, one of whom was the "Fists of Righteous Harmony", known to the Western powers as the "Boxers". Indoctrinating both peasants and townspeople, they were violently xenophobic, and anti-Christian (their first victims being Christian Chinese). Their agitations grew in number and importance and, despite repression by the Imperial Army being ordered, they obviously had support amongst senior mandarins (Chinese officials).

On December 1st 1899 the first white missionary was killed by the Boxers. By the spring of 1900, the Boxer movement, openly tolerated now by the Dowager Empress, Tseu-hi, was out of control. After several massacres and ultimatums, the European powers announced their intention to put down the Boxer rebellion by their own means. 
On May 31st, reinforcements were sent to the Legations in Peking. They would be the last foreign troops to enter the Chinese capital until August 14th, and would have to withstand one of the most epic sieges in history, the "55 Days of Peking".

Attacks on Western property began in Peking on June 9th, and Imperial troops were already (secretly) involved. In response, a relief column of some 2100 men, under Admiral Seymour, was dispatched from Tien-tsin to Peking along the railway line. The troops never reached their destination. The countryside was teeming with Boxers, and the railway line was frequently destroyed. By June 15th, Seymour had covered only two-thirds of the distance and, with supplies low, the rails cut and Boxer activity increasing, he had no choice but to head back towards Tien-tsin.

On June 18th, a detachment of his German cavalry reported to Seymour that Imperial troops seemed to have joined the Boxers. The following day, he reached the Yang Tsun bridge only to find it badly damaged. He was forced to abandon his trains and march back, carrying the many wounded, along the banks of the Pei Ho river.

Events had already greatly accelerated. On June 15th, Boxer rebels had taken control of Tien-tsin, the largest city in China, putting pressure on the International Settlement there. Although the Chinese government was still officially neutral, Imperial troops had reinforced the Taku forts and mines were being laid in the entrance to the Pei Ho. Both actions would stop Western forces from reaching Tien-tsin or Peking.

On June 16th, the combined committee of Allied admirals sent a message to Chinese officials at Taku, indicating that they would seize the forts, with or without Chinese permission, at 2am the following morning. The Chinese commander answered the ultimatum by way of a salvo of cannon fire. The battle of Taku, which opened hostilities between China and the foreign powers present in the country (Britain, France, Russia, Japan, America, Austria and Italy), was quickly over. The forts might have been recently equipped with modern Krupp guns, they could only fire out to sea and were defeated by light gunboats attacking from the river.

In response to this attack, the Chinese government informed the Europeans in Peking that their safety could not be guaranteed, and ordered them to leave. The legation staff and their guards refused, and the Chinese Imperial Army opened fire at 4pm on June 20th. War was officially declared on the Allied powers on June 21st.

The Boxers had almost overwhelmed the International Settlement in Tien-tsin on June 17th. With the fall of the Taku forts, relief forces were able to reach Tien-Tsin on June 23rd. Despite further reinforcements on June 28th, bringing Allied numbers up to 9000 men (4000 Russians, 3000 Japanese and 2000 others), the Westerners had to remain on the defensive. It was not until the arrival of more Russian and French troops - the latter dispatched from Indochina - that an offensive could finally be launched, on July 13th. The attack was a total success, however, and Chinese forces were thrown out of Tien-tsin by the following evening.

Seymour's debacle inspired much caution in the Allied High Command, and they would wait until August 4th before leaving Tien-tsin. By that time, they could rely on a force of 20,000 men (10,000 Japanese, 4000 Russians, 3000 British - mostly Indian troops - 2000 Americans, 800 French and a few hundred Germans, Austrians and Italians). The Chinese Imperial Army, let alone the poorly armed Boxers, could do little against such a force, supported by 70 cannon and machine-guns, and by gunboats. Swept aside at Pai-Tsang on August 5th, and routed at Tungchow on the 12th, the Chinese could not prevent the Allies from camping beneath the walls of Peking on August 13th.

The Legations of Peking, with the reinforcements that arrived shortly before the cutting of the railway line, could count on around 400 men of all nationalities, mostly marines. 75 civilian volunteers reinforced them. The thousands of Christian Chinese refugees who fled to the compound were not armed, but provided labour for the shoring up of barricades and the distribution of food and water. These Chinese suffered from appalling conditions throughout the siege. The Allies had two strongholds, completely separated one from the other - the Legation Quarter itself, surrounded by a high wall, and the Cathedral, manned by 41 French and Italian sailors and two officers.

The garrison did not wait to be attacked, but often took the initiative, advancing to entrap Boxer columns in the narrow streets.  On July 13th, however, they suffered a serious setback when a Chinese mine blew up part of the French legation, killing several sailors and setting fire to the building. Thankfully, a mysterious ceasefire settled over the city on July 17th until August 4th (with one or two brief interruptions). Soldiers of both sides fraternised, and Tseu-hi even sent several carts bearing rice, fruit and ice to the beseiged forces !

The lull was especially welcome in the Pei T'ang Cathedral where the situation was hopeless. 4000 Chinese had taken refuge there, and four Chinese mines had taken a terrible toll amongst them and the defenders.

The fighting began again on August 4th, with a peak on the 12th and 13th, with gunfire lasting throughout the night. Both Legations and Cathedral held, and were finally relieved on the 14th.

The technological superiority of the Western armies was evident throughout the Boxer campaign. Despite a 55 day siege by ten thousand or more enemy, the 400 defenders of Peking lost but 64 killed and 156 wounded. The Chinese had some modern weapons, but were poorly trained in their use, and used outmoded tactics. The majority of Boxers were armed with nothing better than swords, halberds, or just their bare hands. If the Chinese were occasionally able to threaten Allied positions by their sheer numbers, they were unable to achieve a single victory.

The Boxer Campaign assembled the forces of several competing nations under one flag, in a show of military cooperation never seen before or since. Nonetheless, too much emphasis should not be placed upon it.  Rivalries were evident from the start, but the worst offenders were the Russians and the Japanese (who provided the bulk of the Allied contingent). The Japanese desire to show their might led to them frequently outdistancing their erstwhile allies, getting them into trouble on more than one occasion. As for the Russians, they chose to attack Peking ahead of schedule, and ignored their designated gate to take one that they considered more worthy of their dignity. This, in turn, led to the Japanese and the Americans breaking camp, and the end to any hope of a coordinated attack on Peking. A little later, as American troops reached the heart of the Imperial Palace after a hard-fought offensive, the other Allied powers ordered them back in the "best interests of all the Allied powers".

Fighting against the Boxers went on throughout September, but without any serious action : the sect members generally fled as soon as the enemy approached. Towards the end of the month, the "East Asia Brigade", composed mostly of German volunteers who had sailed in early August, accompanied by other Western European contingents, arrived in China. They brought the Allied presence in China to a new height, demonstrating its importance to their eyes.

The very last Boxer resistance ended on October 20th at Pao Ting Fu. A series of war crimes trials followed, and Boxers and Chinese mandarins were put to death by the hundred. Huge fines were levied against Chinese towns to pay for the cost of the Allied expeditions, city walls were dismantled and ammunition destroyed.

Official peace negotiations, which had begun at the end of September, led to the presentation of an official document to the Chinese government on December 22nd 1900. Although it was not presented as a treaty, the Chinese were expected to apply its "suggestions", and the conditions were draconian. Some high officials were executed, civil service recruitment was cancelled for five years in areas that had been in rebellion and an embargo placed on arms imports for two years. In May 1901, the Chinese agreed to pay an enormous war indemnity to the allies, payable over 30 years at a 4% interest rate. The official Peace Protocol of Peking was signed on September 7th 1901, by which time the majority of the Allied armies had trickled out of China. The exception was in Manchuria, where Russia maintained a huge military presence. It would increase the already latent tension with Japan, and lead to the Russo-Japanese war in 1905...


The Hsi-Yu « Western Region » was divided by the Chinese, who conquered it in 1759, into two administrative districts, the T’ien Shan Pei Lu (“the Way North of Tien Shan”) with its capital at Kuldja (=Ili), known colloquially as Dzungaria; and the T’ien Shan Nan Lu (“the Way South”), comprising the Tarim Basin with its capital at Kashgar. The whole area was typically called Chinese Turkestan by Western observers.

The Hsi-Yu, whose status was that of a Manchu colony, was administered by an Imperial Commissioner, who presided over a committee of Ambans, one in each of the major cities of the region, the most senior posted at Kuldja and at Yarkand. They commanded a fairly substantial army of Chinese, Tungan and some Manchu troops, parceled out in small garrisons across the vast region they had to cover.

They were protected by substantial forts called yangikurgans whose thick mud walls were 8-12 ft high, as well as a network of lesser structures called impan (“defensive camps”) and karawals. The latter were outposts holding no more than 20 men, described by one Westerner as ‘only useful in keeping in check badly armed Kirghiz or bands of robbers’. As for civil administration, it was apparently left in the hands of the Muslim population.

The military history of this region, up until 1865, is intimately linked to the activities of the Khoja, descendants of the Muslim ruling class ejected by the Chinese in 1759. If the “Black Khojas” associated themselves at an early date with the Chinese, this was not the case of the “White Khojas” who, taking refuge across the mountains – especially in Khokandia – launched periodic attempts to regain their kingdoms.  They were on occasions supported by the Khokhandian army, for example in 1826 and again in 1830, when Khokandian generals led armies of 20,000 men or more over the passes. Although preparations were made in 1831, China was never able to strike at Khokhandia itself.

In 1862, the Moslem populations of neighbouring Kansu broke out into open rebellion, which spread to Chinese Turkestan in 1864 (the “Tungan Rebellion”). Taking advantage of the chaos, in 1865, the last of the White Khojas, Buzurg Khan, led a small army out of Khokhand to reclaim his lost kingdom.
The regent of Khokand assigned, to accompany him as military commander, a certain Yakub Beg, a court official of high rank, though born in 1820 of humble parents.

Yakub Beg’s army – a small force of Khokandian (Andijani), Afghan, Kazakh and Kirghiz adventurers – found Kashgaria plunged into chaos, divided between a half-dozen petty chieftains. He set about methodically eliminating both them and the remaining pockets of Chinese resistance.  In 1865, when Buzurg Khan fled at the key battle of Khanarik River, Yakub Beg had him imprisoned. In 1867 he became the de facto ruler of western Kashgaria after defeating Rasheddin Khoja, his last remaining rival. In 1870, in the wake of a Tungan assault, Yakub Beg advanced on eastern Kashgaria, reaching Urumchi and then Turfan by the end of December.

The Russians viewed all with a more than wary eye. They considered themselves free to act since Yakub Beg would not receive international recognition until 1873.  The only title conferred on Yakub Beg was a purely honorific one bestowed by the Amir of Bokhara, for whom Yakub Beg was the Atalik Ghazi (“Guardian of the Warriors of Islam”).

For Russia, intervention was an urgent affair, for many of her newly conquered Central Asian subjects sought refuge across the mountains in Kashgaria, where they fomented rebellion.  Kashgaria also attracted interest from the British, who saw it as an ideal buffer state against Russian ambitions in Central Asia. They had already warned Russia, before 1870, that any Russian move into Kashgaria “would be met with immediate countermeasures”. This did not however deter the Russians from invading Kuldja, Yakub Beg’s ally.

During the 1864 uprising, the Tungans had seized the city of Kuldja and established an independent province in the Ili Valley.  Rumours that Yakub Beg was to annex Kuldja led Russian forces (albeit only 2,000 strong) to invade the Ili Valley in 1871. This small force was adequate to deal with the 15,000 man army of the Tungan leader Abdul Oghlan. Voting against a more radical plan to push further east to “liberate” Urumchi, the Russians sent a message to Peking ensuring the Chinese that they would occupy the region only until such time as the Manchus could send sufficient forces to do so themselves.

In the winter of 1871/72, twenty thousand men were mustered for a Russian invasion of Kashgaria, attack that was only put off when Yakub Beg proposed a favourable commercial treaty to its Imperial neighbour.
To make matters worse, when international recognition did come, in 1873, it was from the Sultan of Turkey, the Sublime Porte bestowing upon Yakub Beg the official title of “Amir”.  The diplomatic embassy was accompanied by a few dozen military advisors and thirty modern guns. All this was a red rag to Russia, of whom Turkey was a traditional enemy, with whom they would shortly enter into a major war in 1877-78. In reprisal, a second Russian expedition was put together. Yakub Beg was only saved by a serious uprising in Russian-conquered Khokhand, which diverted the forces meant to be sent against him. To survive, the Amir of Kashgaria now resorted to the very dangerous game of playing the British and the Russians off against one another.

As real as the danger of war with Russia was, it was, unexpectedly, the Chinese that brought about Yakub Beg’s downfall. Preparations for a Chinese invasion of Kashgaria had begun in 1874, but it took until the end of 1876 to put an army together.  92 battalions – nominally 46,000 men, but doubtless considerably less – had by then assembled in Eastern Turkestan under the Chinese commander Tso Tsung-t’ang. 40-45,000 more were available in neighbouring Kansu if required.

The first major action was fought on August 13th 1876, from which the Chinese clearly emerged victorious. By the time the severe local winter put an end to operations, the Chinese had occupied Urumchi. Further decisive actions took place in March and in April 1877, with recurring defeats for the Kashgarians.

At some point in April, Yakub Beg died in mysterious circumstances, some say from apoplexy, others from empoisonment. Every adventurer in the country now tried his hand at seizing the Emirate.  The Chinese did not at first intervene, perhaps due to supply issues, but resumed their onward march in September 1877, defeating various small Kashgarian armies in a series of hard-fought skirmishes. Two more serious engagements took place in October against Kashgarian armies more than 10,000 strong; the Chinese won both, due principally to their powerful modern artillery. With the remaining Kashgarian forces torn apart by infighting, the Chinese marched into Kashgar on December 18th. Yarkand fell three days later, and Khotan in January 1878, putting an end to the short-lived Emirate.

Following the reconquest of Kashgaria, Chinese and Russian ambitions clashed in the Ili Valley. Surprised by Chinese successes in Kashgaria in 1877-1878, the Russians were now demanding compensation for their “police” duties in Kuldja, demands which the bankrupt Chinese government were unable to meet.
In September 1878, war between Russia and China in the Ili Valley seemed inevitable, with sixteen thousand Chinese troops camped just in front of the Russian positions. The stand-off continued for quite some time – at one point, the Russian Pacific Fleet was sent into the Yellow Sea – but in 1881 a compromise was reached, and the Russians evacuated three-quarters of the Ili Valley. The Hsi-Yu was directly incorporated into the Chinese Empire as of 1882 and received its modern name of Sinkiang (“New Dominion”).


During the "concession race" in China, from 1896 to 1898, the Russian Empire had acquired important economic and strategic advantages in the Far East. Among them, a 99-year lease on Port Arthur, offering them their only ice-free port on the Pacific coast, and the right to build a Trans-Manchurian railway to link Port Arthur to the Trans-Siberian.

Thanks to continuing chaos in China, and the building of the garrison-town of Harbin, the Russians used these concessions to take de facto control of the abundant resources of Mandchuria.
Despite the agreement of all the Allied Powers to a phased withdrawal from China after the Boxer Rebellion, the Russians actually reinforced their presence in Mandchuria. By 1902, they had over 100,000 troops there.  The same year, Russian interference in Korea led to the collapse there of the pro-Japanese regime. During an official seminar in 1904, the Japanese government openly expressed its fears : Japan was doomed to disparition if Russian ambitions in the Far East went unchecked.
In truth, it was Japanese expansionism, rather than Japan itself, that was threatened. The Japanese were also confident, as they had two major allies. In 1902, they had signed a treaty with Britain, whose Indian colonies were ever-menaced by Tsarist ambitions. The Japanese also had Roosevelt's ear. The Americans had no intention to intervene directly, but let it be known that they would stand in the way of any Russian ally (France, for example) that thought to intervene in a future Far Eastern conflict.
A one-on-one fight with Russia was a gamble that the ambitious Meiji were ready to take.

The Russo-Japanese war took place in its entirety on territory that was, theoretically, under Chinese sovereignty. Nothing illustrates better the disintegration of China and the colonial "opportunities" that this opened in the Far East.
Although some fighting did occur in Korea (and on the Russian-owned island of Sakharin at the very end of the war), Southern Manchuria was the main theatre of operations. This region was accessed by both belligerants only with difficulty. Russian reinforcements were brought up by the Trans-Siberian railway, which ran over thousands of kilometres in inhospitable conditions, and was often blocked or in need of repair. As for the Japanese, if they could use Korea as a rear zone, they essentially relied on the Sea of Japan, which had to be kept open.

The initial Japanese objective was Port Arthur. If Port Arthur could be taken - or at least blockaded - the Russian fleet would have to sail out of Vladivostok, much further to the north. To reach the Sea of Japan, this fleet would have to pass through narrow straits, where it could be intercepted with relative ease. Vladivostok was also ice bound during the winter.
The small size of the Japanese population, in comparison to the endless manpower resources of Russia, meant that the Meiji sought a swift victory. By threatening Harbin, they could bring the Tsar to the negotiating table.
Russian objectives were, of course, to conserve their hold on Manchuria, in a climate of degrading political stability at home.

On February 8th 1904, before any official declaration of war, the Japanese fleet launched a surprise torpedo attack on Port Arthur. The Russo-Japanese war, which was to last until August 8th 1905.
After landing in Korea, the Japanese advanced to the Yalu River, which separated Korea from Manchuria. The Russian defensive position was strung across a series of sandy islands overlooked by low hills. Their position was ill-prepared, but there was nonetheless no bridge across the river. By a series of brilliant ruses, the Japanese seized the low hills, bridged the river and overran the enemy during a day of fighting (April 30th).
In the meanwhile, Japanese troops had landed on the Liaotung peninsula to isolate Port Arthur. The Russian outer defences, though skilfully led, were heavily outnumbered.
The Japanese were able to lay siege to Port Arthur as of early June : it was to be a long affair.
Russian hopes of quickly relieving Port Arthur were dashed at the battle of Telissu (14 June), where Russian generals demonstrated the lack of reactivity that would dog their army throughout the war.
The Japanese field army began its advance towards the north. Its initial target was Liaoyang. The battle of Liaoyang (Aug 26th - Sept 5th) was the first "major" battle of the war. 158,000 Russians and 609 guns faced 128,000 Japanese and 170 guns. The Russian belief that they were outnumbered, however, gave the Japanese the edge. This battle - which has given rise to a campaign game presented in the relevant section of this blog - was a Japanese victory. With the modern weapons at the disposal of both armies, casualties were important : 23,000 Japanese dead and wounded, and 18,000 Russian.

Pressure to mount a new offensive grew in the Russian camp, after Liaoyang. Port Arthur was still holding out, and hopes to relieve it remained alive. The Russian C-in-C, Kuropatkin, had even claimed a victory at Liaoyang and received reinforcements from the west.
This Russian offensive at Sha-ho, launched on October 5th, started well : Kuropatkin's plan lulled the Japanese. The painful slowness of Russian command decisions, however, gave the enemy time to react. One important Corps level order, for example, took 11 hours to arrive ! The Russian attack degenerated into a chaotic fiasco, and finally broke down on October 17th. The Russians had lost 40,000 men (dead and wounded), the Japanese "only" 20,000. Still, limited Russian successes on October 17th allowed Kuropatkin to claim another "victory". He was apparently believed, despite the fact that Port Arthur must now inevitably fall.

Both field armies now took advantage of a winter lull, the Manchurian winter being particularly bitter. During this time, Japanese attacks on Port Arthur continued. On January 1st, after enduring a 7 month siege, the Russian garrison capitulated, just after the Russian naval commander had scuttled the rest of his fleet.
Spring renewed Russian confidence. Kuropatkin now had 275,000 men under his command, with 1,439 guns. The Japanese could count on 200,000 men and 924 guns. Knowing they were outnumbered, the Japanese decided to attack swiftly, before the situation got worse. They completely wrong-footed the Russians. The battle of Mukden (Feb 25th - March 9th 1905) was an overwhelming Japanese victory, but losses were dreadful. 75,000 Japanese and 90,000 Russians were killed, wounded or missing, an ominous prelude to the carnage to come on the battlefields of Western Europe.

The Japanese strike, and then siege, of Port Arthur effectively blockaded the Russian fleet there. Numerous attempts to escape were thwarted, and led to the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10th. Six Russian battleships, along with 3 cruisers and 14 destroyers ran afoul of a Japanese fleet of 4 battleships, 11 cruisers and 46 minor vessels. A lucky shot hit the Russian flagship, killing Admiral Vitgeft, jamming the helm and swinging the flagship onto a wide circle, followed by the rest of the fleet. The Russian fleet broke up, many ships fleeing to neutral ports and being interned.
The Vladivostok fleet was active, but its opportunities were limited. It was decided to turn the Baltic Fleet into the "2nd Pacific Squadron", and send it on an epic, but pathetic, 18,000 km journey around the world.

Beset by coaling problems, by mechanical failures due to the decrepitude of many ships, and tropical disease, the fleet reached the warzone in May 1905, after an 8-month voyage. Morale was so low that suicides had become a plague.
This fleet was annihilated at the Battle of Tshushima on May 27th 1905.

1905 was a restless year in Russia. The mutiny of the Potemkin, following the defeat at Tshushima, showed the mutinous state of the army and the navy. As for Japan, its efforts had exhausted the nation. Roosevelt indicated his readiness to mediate. Sporadic fighting - including a Japanese invasion of Sakharin - continued until August, when formal peace negotiations began.

Japan had won its daring bet.


The Ottoman Empire, which still ruled at the turn of the 20th century over a vast region stretching from the Balkans to Mesopotamia and to Libya, was but a shadow of its former greatness, beset by resistance to social and industrial change and splintering under the effect of local revolutions. The political watershed marked by the “Young Turk” revolution of 1908, which restored Parliament (suspended in 1878) contributed to its slow disintegration. This section mentions deals only with the Middle Eastern possessions of the Ottomans, neglecting the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and subsequent Turkish involvement on the Eastern Front during WWI.

Italy declared war on Turkey in September 1911, taking Tripoli and the Cyrenaica, seizing also the Dodecanese Islands.  20,000 Italians comprised the initial expeditionary force, faced by an Ottoman Army principally made up of local Bedouin and Arab troops, supported by a handful of regular Turkish units. Their resistance led the Italian army to be swelled to around 100,000 men, including armoured cars and the very first combat aircraft ever employed. The Italians had naval supremacy, but were often unable to advance beyond a narrow coastal strip. In October 1912, the two powers signed a treaty which maintained a formal Ottoman suzerainty over Libya whilst effectively leaving it in Italian hands.

Egypt and the Sinai
Although theoretically an Ottoman protectorate, Egypt was in reality under British control, whose troops were stationed along the Suez Canal. German insistence leads to the Turkish IVth Army being launched against the Suez Canal in January 1915.  Beset by logistical problems, this attack is run down by solid British defenses, whilst naval artillery bombards its flank. The Turks will get no closer to the Suez Canal throughout the war.
During the summer of 1916, the Turkish army, trying a second time to neutralize the Suez Canal, crossed however the Sinai desert, where they run into Murray’s British army at Romani, the battle lasting from August 3rd to August 5th. During this battle, the importance of cavalry units – and the valour of the ANZAC Light Horse and Mounted Rifles – was amply demonstrated.

After the battle of Romani near the Suez, the Turkish withdrew back to Palestine, pursued by the Eastern Expeditionary Force, laying down railway tracks behind them. Rafah, on the Palestinian frontier, fell in January 9th.  The British, numbering four infantry and two cavalry divisions, were now in control of the Sinai and within striking distance of Gaza, the key to Palestine. The Turkish line of defense stretched from Gaza on the coast to Beersheba, an important road, protected by numerous fortified points, linking the two.

The British and Commonwealth forces launched their attack in March 1917. The ANZAC cavalry, having infiltrated the Turkish lines under cover of a sea mist, began to operate in the enemy’s rear at Gaza whilst a British mounted division, and the Camel Brigade, prepared to cut off reinforcements to Gaza from Beersheba. The infantry and artillery, however, proved less adroit. After a series of command failures, and even though they were about to seize the Ali Muntar redoubt that would have opened the eastern gate to assault, the Commonwealth troops were ordered to fall back.

The failure of this initial attack gave the Turkish army time to reorganize. Gaza was soon garrisoned by around 20,000 troops, benefitting from a network of trenches and barbed wire. On April 17th, Murray – reinforced with an additional infantry division as well as tanks, gas and aircraft – launched the second battle of Gaza, which opened with an intense land and naval artillery barrage the likes of which no Turkish army on this front had ever been exposed to. The attacking infantry meets however solid resistance; as for the tanks, they are rapidly engaged by Turkish artillery and most are put out of action. Turkish reports do not even mention gas, suggesting it was too widely dispersed to take effect.  6,000 British and Commonwealth troops were killed or seriously wounded.

In June 1917, Murray is replaced by Allenby. The British government is convinced that rupture of the Gaza line will cower Turkey out of the war, but the task is difficult indeed. The Mehmetcik have lost no time turning the Gaza line into a fortress; Beersheba alone, due to its isolated position in an arid and waterless zone improper for an infantry assault, has been neglected.
Allenby decided toattack the eastern section of the Turkish defenses. ANZAC cavalry was to raid Beersheba, seize the wells there, and attack the enemy defenses from the rear. The XXth Army Corps would then launch a frontal assault, supplied by a water pipeline drawn from Rafah, and by 30,000 camels. The battle begins on October 31st 1917.

The Australian Light Horse pull off the raid on Beersheba with incredible brio, forcing a reorientation of the Ottoman line of defense, kept under constant pressure. Cut off from the East, Gaza is taken after a several days of bloody combats, falling on November 7th. Allenby pursues the Turkish army, and its German contingent, with vigour, but solid rearguard actions allow the Ottomans to stabilize the front on a Jericho-Jaffa defense line running just north of Jerusalem. This line is held by some 40,000 Turks and 7,200 Germans of the Asia Korps. It is however unable to resist the final offensive of the Commonwealth troops in September 1918 which leads the Ottoman Empire to capitulate on October 30th 1918.

Intent on preserving their access to the petroleum fields of the Persian Gulf, the British government sends the Army of India into Mesopotamia as of November 1914. They take Bassorah in the Euphrates Delta and resist a counterattack by the Turks, who, trapped by floodwaters, surrender in droves. British intelligence indicates that since the departure of the bulk of Turkish forces for the Syrian and Caucasian fronts, only a handful of battalions remain, with reinforcements several weeks away. The overly hasty decision to march on Baghdad is taken; it transpires that a larger Turkish army is present, including 1,600 Germans. Leading 14,000 men accompanied by a cavalry brigade 32 guns and a heterogeneous river flotilla, General Townsend captures Nasriyah and Kut el-Amara, on the Baghdad road, in mid-September 1915.

The British offensive, however, relying on a line of communications over 600km long and numbering many Indian troops on the verge of mutiny, runs out of steam at Ctesiphon, where it is forced to retreat in the face of a Turkish counterattack of around 12,000 infantry and 400 cavalry in November. The Commonwealth forces retreat into the fortifications of Kut and await reinforcements, and the siege of the city begins in December under the direction of the German Feldmarschall von der Golz, with 30-40,000 men available and 70-80 guns. The Turks even have one or two German aircraft which bomb the defenders.
A relief column, led by General Younghusband, attempts to intervene but is mauled at Sheikh Saad in January, losing over 6,000 men, and then held up by heavy rains, before finally withdrawing in March.

The fall of Erzerum to the Russians fails to draw away the Turkish besiegers, as does a Russian diversionary attack in Kurdistan. With no help forthcoming, Townsend is forced to capitulate in April 1916. To the 13,000 men lost (killed and captured) in Kut must be added the 22,000 lost in the attempt to relieve them, a serious defeat for the Commonwealth forces in the region.
The tide is however turning. Von der Golz dies however of typhoid that same month, leaving 18,000 uninspiringly-led Turks to face a renewed Commonwealth army of some 49,000 men, 174 guns, and aircraft. Once organized, the Allied offensive of December 1916, commanded by General Maude, inevitably overruns the enemy, and Baghdad falls in March 1917.

In April 1915, an Anglo-French expedition force lands at Gallipoli. Beset by disastrous command and communication problems – troops are for example embarked independently of their ammunition ! – all effect of surprise is lost and the expeditionary corps and the Turkish VIth Army settle in for a long battle of attrition. After a long battle which faithfully reproduces all the horrors of the Western Front, the Allies evacue Gallipoli in mid-January 1916.

The Caucasus
On November 2nd 1914, the Russians launch an assault in the Caucasian mountains, whose objective is Erzerum. Enver Pacha’s IIIrd Army gets however the upper hand, and crosses into Russian territory. Trapped by the snows, it is however seriously mauled by a Russian counterattack, and the front is stabilized.

A new Russian offensive in January 1916, however, catches the IIIrd Army by surprise, and leads to the fall of Erzerum, loss that is carefully concealed by the Turkish government from public opinion. Over 30,000 men deserted from the IIIrd Army, and Trebizond falls. The Russian offensive halts only in November 1916 due to the need to send troops to the Eastern Front. Fortunately for the Turks, revolutionary torment in Russia hampers all further war efforts in this region.

The Arab Revolt
The context of The Arab Revolt is that of growing nationalism among the peoples of the Ottoman Empire, including the Turks themselves (the “Young Turks” revolution of 1908).

An Arab uprising in Syria in 1915 is bloodily repressed; the Great Arab Revolt begins in the Arabian Peninsula in June 1916, with the occupation of Mecca but a severe defeat at Medina. Among its leaders are the three sons of Hussein, cherif of Mecca : Abdullah, Ali and Fayçal.
It is the latter that is singled out by T.E. Lawrence as the most likely leader of Arab nationalism. The two men unofficially meet in October 1916 during a period of “home leave” for Lawrence. In January 1917, British High Command in Egypt names Lawrence as liaison officer with Fayçal; “Lawrence of Arabia” is born. Arab raids against the Turkish Hedjaz railway line signal the opening of a new phase of hostilities. On July 6th, the Arab army captures Aqaba on the Red Sea.

Via Aqaba, the British are able to supply Fayçal’s army with modern weapons, armoured cars and British liaison officers. Raiding and disruption continues behind Turkish lines, a cat and mouse game as dangerous for one side as for the other, with a great success at Tafileh in January 1918 which leads to the loss of 700 Turkish troops. The Arab Revolt is integrated into Allenby’s war plans for the Palestinian front, who reinforces it with the Camel Corps.
When Allenby breaks through the Jericho-Jaffa line in September 1918, the Arab forces are ordered to harass the retreating Ottoman armies. Joining with General Darrow’s cavalry division, they seize Damas in late September, which Allenby reaches in October. The military phase of the Arab Revolt ends with the taking of the city.

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