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Thread: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

  1. #1

    Default ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    hello everyone

    how was the ottoman army in napoleonic wars ? what were the units ? how did the uniforms look ? and how was it organized ?

  2. #2

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Jannisaries I would assume...

    Shoot coward! You are only going to kill a man!

  3. #3

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    nothing special ?

  4. #4

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    It was for the most part still a medieval army, being recruited around a core of professionnals and loads of regional levies and irregulars.

    Though, that professionnal core, the janissaries, was less and less efficient because of the political power it represented (and the various privileges they came to enjoy wich badly affected their training and loyalty).
    Still, Napoléon after defeating a force of janissaries decisively at Aboukir talked highly of their musketry (accuracy and speed).
    Regional forces were comprised of janissaries too, but recruited by the local governors as their police/guard force, they weren't as efficient as the true janissaries (except maybe the guards of the Dey of Alger or the Cairo janissaries) and loads of irregulars (bashi bouzouks etc).
    The janissaries were kind of uniformed, the others forces wore local dress.
    Cavalry was composed of the guards of the Sultan as a core and of the still feodal sipahi force (who contributed to the destruction of the janissaries) for the heavy cavalry. And another time, loads of irregulars light cavalry. Good to raid, ambush and pillage, but inept for all others task of light cavalry of the time, at least according to european accounts. Lacking discipline, will to fight and efficient leadership.

    Artillery was largely obsolete, too many calibers and lacking uniformisation. Several reforms were led though in the XVIIIth century, including one led by a french artillery officer. Resistance from the conservatives didn't allow a full success.

    The "nizzam i cedid" corps was a try to impose european training and discipline in the ottoman army (the janissaries seeing themselves as an elite force with a medieval martial ethos refused the drill and to use bayonets etc, the irregulars, being irregulars, fought in their traditionnal ways), it started (iirc at least) as a small force of prisonners and european renegades willing to fight for the sultan. The experience being rather sucessfull was enlarged to become a new small modern army inside the old ottoman army. The janissaries being jealous and fearing for their privileges and power, being supported by the conservatives in the court and the army obtained the disbanding of the nizzams. They were recreated after the napoleonic wars when the janissaries were themselves disbanded and became the core of the new ottoman armies.

  5. #5

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    nice , very informative , but why did the jannisaries stick to their old fighting ways knowing that they suck ?

  6. #6

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Because they had become less of a regular military force and more of a parasitic warrior caste whose main role was to terrorise the local population and the Ottoman government into giving them money.

    Having a sabre and the occasional polearm to wave about ferociously in a riot or Coup d'Etat was a lot more useful in that role than being able to form square or deliver disciplined volleys of musketry.

    And increasingly any actual fighting against the Russians, Austrians, French, rebels etc was done not by the useless Janissaries (who were more likely to riot than to leave their palatial barracks when ordered) but by irregular provincial levies, mercenaries from 'martial races' like the Albanians, Kurds, Tartars and Circassians and once they were formed the Nizam-i-Cedid.

    The Mamelukes suffered a similar degeneration in Egypt and were finally liquidated/massacred at roughly the same time to make way for a proper regular army on European lines.
    Last edited by Clodius; May 08, 2010 at 11:29 AM.

  7. #7

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    how did ottomans defeat the jannisaries ?

  8. #8

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Mainly politically.
    The Sultan gathered the support of several groups, including the sipahis, to launch his coup.

    The janissaries were taken by surprise, one morning, their baracks being surrounded by the artillery and the sipahis, they surrendered and were disbanded.

    Quote Originally Posted by garudamon11 View Post
    nice , very informative , but why did the jannisaries stick to their old fighting ways knowing that they suck ?
    It's complex.
    Because their old ways were superiors, in their time, because they had a kind of chivalrous warrior code (they refused to fight like robots like the drilled soldiers) and because, as already said, they became more of a parasitic caste than a real army.
    Of the hundred of thousands of janissaries the Sultan had theorically at his disposals, only several thousands were combat ready (trained for it, or simply willing to leave their baracks)

    And even like that, Napoléon respected the way they fought at Aboukir even while beating them decisively (mainly thanks to outmanoeuvering them and engaging them very aggressively before their positions were ready)
    Last edited by Keyser; May 08, 2010 at 01:23 PM.

  9. #9

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    The Archduke Charles who fought against them described the Turks as brave, expert with their weapons but completely incapable of acting together in an organised fashion.

    They'd rush forward with neither fear or co-ordination, but courage and speed was no substitute for discipline so if their first charge failed they'd retreat with the same lack of order.

    All of this sounds like standard behaviour for warriors as opposed to soldiers and you find very similar terms being used by the Romans about the Gauls or by the British about their various Indian foes - and of course by the French about the Mamelukes.

    The other key issue was the complete lack of tactical or strategic sense displayed by their commanders - these were either brave but brainless warriors themselves or decadent courtiers who'd risen by bribery and intrigue.

    In fact the only success enjoyed by any 'Turkish' force against the French in 3 years of war in Egypt and Syria was at Acre which being a siege was more suited to their style of fighting and when their bloodthirsty leader Djezzar Pasha had the advice of the western experts Phelippeaux and Smith.
    Last edited by Clodius; May 09, 2010 at 03:42 PM.

  10. #10

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    I'm currently doing a bit of research on this topic. From what I have gleaned, the Ottoman army in the late 18th century had the same basic military institutions officially, but the real army itself was pretty different from the army during the empire's heyday.

    The central Kapikulu Corps, the main part of which was the Janissaries, was greatly in decline as the other posters pointed out. In the 16th century, there were around 30,000 Janissaries at most and they were all Christian conscripts converted to Islam ("devshirme"). Now, anyone could join the corps and there were supposedly hundreds of thousands of Janissaries. They showed up to collect their salaries, but they mostly did not show up when summoned to duty. In 1790, a foreign observer estimated that there were 150,000 Janissaries in the empire, of whom about 20,000 might appear when summoned to the colors. 13,000 reported for duty to march against Russia in 1810, but only 1600 of them were still with the colors when the army reached Edirne.

    In the previous centuries, the most numerous component of the army was the Sipahis, who were given fiefs called "timars" and were in charge of the farming in peace. During wartime, they served in the army as heavily-armed cavalry. In the 18th century, however, most of the timars were sold off by the government in a bid to get some quick money. The new landowners, known as "ayans", purchased massive acres of lands in this way and got powerful enough to challenge local authorities. As a result, there were almost no more Sipahis left to serve.

    In this situation, the government looked to irregulars and militia for troops. When mobilization orders were given, orders were sent out to officials in different regions to recruit soldiers. These local levies, known with different names as "levends", "sekbans" or "saricas", were supposed to come with their own weapons (and mounts, if they were to serve as cavalry) and were paid salaries during the campaign. A contemporary Ottoman observer reports that many men just showed up with clubs or even unarmed, and many recruits deserted on the march. Most of these recruits in European campaigns consisted of Bosnians, Albanians and Turkish settlers in Rumelia. Sometimes even Christian peasants joined up for the pay.

    Often the "ayan" landowners contributed a quota of their own men to the army in return for official tolerance for their activities. And sometimes the whole Muslim male population of a community was pressed into service by government officials during emergencies. Mameluke leaders often did this during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. These local troops were supplemented by Janissaries and other Kapikulu troops that the government managed to send from the capital. The Janissaries used muskets that had good range but which were not as accurate as European firearms. There was no standardization of armaments among the irregulars, so they went into combat with (most of them outdated) muskets from various sources, swords and clubs. The Kapikulu Corps refused to adopt the pike and, later, the bayonet. There were no firing drills and the troops fired their guns as freeshooting skirmishers, organized into large masses much larger than European battle formations. The Sipahis that remained and the irregular cavalry did not use carbines or pistols and relied mostly on swords.

    Naturally, not much was to be expected from such an army against European foes. In open battle, Ottoman armies were often defeated by the superior firepower and discipline of their enemies. However, the irregular troops could fight well in rugged terrain, as evidenced by the Ottoman victory against Austria at the Battle of Grocka in 1739.

    The government tried to strengthen the army in the later part of the 18th century. Various European experts were called in to improve the technical branches of the military, such as the artillery and the mortar teams. Later, a new infantry corps trained along Western lines, called the Nizam-i Cedit (New Order) and this proved to be effective in combat as you can see in the game, but then it was abolished as a result of a revolt by the Janissaries in 1807. There would be no reforms in the military until the destruction of the Janissaries by Mahmud II in 1826.

  11. #11

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Excellent stuff - and indicates that vanilla NTW completely fails to represent the Ottomans properly.

    We had a bit of a debate on whether any Ottoman 'units' were still horse archers in the Napoleonic era - did you come across any?

  12. #12

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    No, no horse archers in the Napoleonic period. The horse archers of the Ottoman army in the earlier times consisted of lightly-armed mounted raiders known as "akincis", vassal horsemen from the Crimean Khanate and Turkoman auxiliaries from Anatolia. The akinci raiders were gradually phased out as the importance of the Crimean cavalry increased, and the army began to make and less use of the Turkomans as the nomads were prone to rebellion and were also beginning to switch to a settled lifestyle. In the early parts of the 18th century, the Crimeans began to show pretty poor performance on the battlefield, so they were mostly assigned to recon duties and such, and some of them began to use firearms.

    However, in 1791 the Ottomans finally lost the Crimean peninsula to Russia, and that was the end of their horse archers. Now, I believe elite Mameluke cavalry in Egypt had custom-made bows in the 18th century, but these were most probably ceremonial, since Mameluke tactics depended on making shock charges against the enemy. In any case, Mamelukes were not really part of the Ottoman army and had carved out their de-facto semi-independent state in Egypt.

    Apart from the Crimean cavalry, the Ottomans did not have any archers at all in the 18th century, so the "Armenian Archers" unit that was added in that pack is not historically accurate. Firearms had so thoroughly disseminated among much of the peasantry and the rural population that bows and arrows had no reason to be maintained. Of course, most of these guns were of bad quality and/or antiquated as they were passed on through generations in families but they were still superior to bows and easier to handle. In fact, one of the last combat uses I saw in Ottoman history dates back to the early 17th century, when palace guards used bows to try to push back rebels that eventually deposed and murdered Sultan Osman II.

    I think, to make the units historically accurate, CA should have at least named the "Isarelys" as "levends" or "tufekendaz" (irregular musketeers), "Azzars" as "saricas", "hand mortar" troops as "humbaracis" (these units did exist but did not really have more than a few hundred men in total). "Musellems" are pretty inaccurate as a name as this name was used in the 14th century to refer to infantry and later referred to laborers who fixed roads for the army. A better name would be "miri askeris" (which referred to a whole population called up for an emergency). Deli Cavalry, the Nizam-i Cedit and the Janissaries are okay, bashi-bazouks are kind of accurate even though that never referred to a specific unit type, and I don't know what to make of "semenys".

    It seems that most of the names the developers used for the Ottoman units came from an obscure military dictionary written in the 19th century. You can check it out here:

  13. #13

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Thanks again - hope that someone does a mod that updates the game with more realistic Ottoman units.

  14. #14

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    The mamluks relied on chock, but during the egyptian campaign they used lots of firearms. Pistols, blunderbuss, carbins that they fired during the charge.
    I've read french accounts saying that they threw them on the ground so that their servants will pick them up to reload them.

    By the way, aren't "levend" supposed to be marines, rather than militia ? Or did the use of the name generalise ?
    Last edited by Keyser; May 12, 2010 at 04:21 AM.

  15. #15

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Yes, the name "levend" originally referred to naval troops who served on ships. In the late 16th century, the name also began to be used for groups of bandits in Anatolia and Rumelia. Often, these bandits were recruited by local governors as experienced skirmishers and then were known as "household levends" (since they were now part of the governor's retinue).

    Later on, however, the term generally began to refer to the irregular infantry troops that made up the bulk of the army in the 18th as I described. In fact, after the Ottomans were disastrously defeated by Russia in 1775, levends were blamed for the debacle and the government banned the use of the word "levend" in official documents, replacing it with "asakir" (a word which literally means "soldiers"). However, there was no change in the way these troops were recruited and sent into battle.

    About the Mamelukes - you're right. I also read about them firing a volley and then dropping their guns for the melee charge. But I'm pretty sure they didn't use bows and arrows.

  16. #16

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Of course these volleys were rather ineffective given the very low casualty rates suffered by the French.

    And presumably if the Mamelukes stayed mounted they were intended more for show than effect - a blunderbuss, carbine or pistol being useless from a moving horse at anything much than point-blank range.

    Having said this the Ottomans seem to have done much better against the Russians.

    Anyone know anything about their victories at Tartaritsa and Silistria in 1809?

    I can't find a decent modern account in English.

  17. #17
    MarcusCorneliusMarcellus's Avatar Ex RTR God
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    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    @Athawolfus + Clodius

    Nice discussion guys- and informative.

    Athawolfus- do you feel the faction units for the Ottomans in NTW are accurately portrayed?

  18. #18

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Quote Originally Posted by Clodius View Post
    Having said this the Ottomans seem to have done much better against the Russians.

    Anyone know anything about their victories at Tartaritsa and Silistria in 1809?

    I can't find a decent modern account in English.

    I think you are referring to Silistira siege where Russians failed to capture the fortress and the siege dragged on and eventually had to be abandoned as a new 50,000 Ottomans army marched to help the fortress.

    Have not really heard about Tartaritsa. Do you mind expanding on this?

    Anyhow this appears to be the exception as pretty much every single time Ottomans failed miserably in a major field battle against Russian armies despite sometimes outnumbering them 2 or 3 to 1.

    Battle of Kagul (1770): 35,000-45,000 Russians vs 85,000 Turkish -
    Casualties 1500 Russians - 22,000 Turkish (all artillery lost) - Decisive Russian victory

    Battle of Rymnik (1789) 25,000 Russians / Austrians under Alexander Suvorov vs 60,000-80,000 Ottomans
    Casualties 700 Russians /Austrinas - 22,000 Turkish (only 15,000 remianed after the battle – the reast scattered) - Decisive Russo-Austrian victory.

    Battle of Batin [1810] 25,000 Russians vs 30,000 Ottomans
    Casualties: 1400 Russians - 10,000 Turkish - Decisive Russian victory
    [unfortunately could not find any English source]

    1812 Campaign of Ruscukh by Kutuzov where he surrounded the Ottoman army using aggressive manoeuvres and a few minor skirmishes forcing them to starve and threatening annihilate the Ottoman army if they don’t sign peace – which was badly needed as Napoleon was about to invade.

    In fact this feat was very similar to Napoleon’s Ulm manoeuvre but since there was no much fighting this campaign is largely unknown especially on the West.

    The same applied to Navy battles as well. Admiral Ushakov trashed Ottomans a few times using innovative tactics later to be adopted by Nelson.
    Last edited by Kolyan; May 18, 2010 at 03:07 AM.
    “He [Kutuzov] does not desire anything but Napoleon’s retreat from Russia, while the salvation of the whole world is dependant on him “ Sir Robert Wilson to Alexander I, 25 October 1812.

  19. #19

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    I think that, while the naming is pretty wrong, the units themselves represent the 18th century Ottoman army well enough. The "isarelis" and the "azzars" represent the irregular militia musketeers, who made up the majority of the army in that period, pretty well and the "musellims" and the "semenys" are representative of the even lower-quality mass levy type troops called up during military emergencies.

    The Nizam-i Cedit have a pretty accurate portrayal. But the Cemaat Janissaries don't represent the real Janisarry combat units well. While the Janissaries did indeed shun modern weapons and techniques, they never walked into battle only armed with swords. They all had muskets and used their swords for close combat, even as early as the late 16th century. Their armaments and tactics were outdated, but the government saw to it that the elite Kapikulu Corps was armed to the teeth, even if these "elite" troops often chose not to show up for duty.

    Regarding the battles you were talking about, it seems that the Ottomans were able to win two kinds of engagements in this period: fortress defense and battles where the enemy was bogged down in difficult terrain. Silistria is a good example of the former, and Jezzar Ahmed Pasha's defense of Acre against Napoleon is also very famous. Part of the reason for these successes is the fact that Ottoman artillery was pretty difficult to maneuver and so next to useless for field engagements but they were pretty useful to defend fixed positions. A good example for an Ottoman victory in rugged terrain is the Battle of Grocka (1739) that I previously wrote about, and this was due to the large percentage of local Balkan irregulars in the army, men who were skilled in skirmishing.

    In contrast, open battles on the field very often resulted in utter defeat. The Ottoman armies often outnumbered the Russians and the Austrians, but the low quality of the soldiers and inadequate leadership gave away the victory. Several accounts report that Ottoman commanders had a strong tendency to dig in and entrench in their positions even when they temporarily had the advantage. And then a well-planned and strong assault drove them from the first line of trenches and the rest of the army broke and ran, this scenario being repeated in several battles.

  20. #20

    Default Re: ottoman army in the napoleonic wars

    Three Turkish victories from Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Databook:

    Tartaritsa 21 Oct 1809
    6 km west of Silistria
    Turkish victory over Russians
    Seraskier Pechlivan Khan and 30,000 men vs Prince Bagration and 15,000 men
    Russian losses c. 1,000 killed and wounded
    Resulted in relief of Silistria.

    Schumla 23/24 June 1810
    110 km W of Varna (modern name Shumen)
    Turkish victory over Russians
    Seraskier Kuschanz Ali w 30,000 men vs Count Kamenskoi w 20,000 men
    Turks lost 1,600, Russians lost 1,800

    Giurgevo 9 September 1811
    60km S of Bucharest
    Turkish victory over Russians
    Grand Vizier Achmet Pasha w 6,000 Janissaries and 6 guns vs Gen Bulatov w 6,000 men
    Turks lost 1,000, Russians lost 2,100 and 1 gun.

    (Digby Smith cites Bodart's Militar-Historisches Kriegslexicon 1618-1905 as his source for these battles - and judging by title that is unlikely to contain much more information than the above).

    True that pretty much every other battle in these campaigns was a Turkish defeat - however it would be interesting to know what went wrong/right on these three occasions.

    EDIT - found a description of Shumla in the Gentleman's Magazine of 1830 describing it as an impregnable and heavily fortified position - the 'Thermopylae of Bulgaria' - the Russian defeat seems therefore to have been a classic example of what the article describes as 'the peculiar skill and obstinacy with which the Turks defend fortified places' - so that's one of three explained.
    Last edited by Clodius; May 18, 2010 at 07:38 PM.

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