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Onlar Kaçiş Değil mi
A They Shall Not Pass Variant

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2019

Though Ottoman Turkey signed a secret alliance with Germany on 2 August 1914, the Empire did not immediately join the fighting. The Turkish Army began mobilization, calling just under a half-million men to the colors by the time Sultan Mehmed V Resad - a figurehead fully controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress - declared jihad against Britain, Russia and France in November 1914.

Initial mobilization provided 36 infantry divisions, eventually rising to 62 infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions. The Ottoman Army had no reserve formations; instead, each regiment stood at roughly 40 percent of its authorized strength during peacetime, and reservists recalled to the colors filled out the ranks. An Ottoman division had three regiments (as opposed to four in most European armies in 1914), based on the experience of the just-concluded Balkan Wars, plus a light infantry battalion and an artillery regiment. Ideally, two of the three regiments would be recruited in ethnically Turkish districts and the third in Arab districts, but this doesn’t seem to have been strictly followed. At 10,000 men the Turkish division was considerably smaller than the divisions of most other armies, and after the war’s initial campaigns Turkish divisions rarely reached full strength.

The Committee, better known as the Young Turks, quickly stumbled into military disaster in the Caucasus Mountains with an ill-considered winter campaign. When the British landed at Gallipoli in February 1915, the Empire appeared to be a tottering shell unable to defend itself. Yet the Turkish soldier, nicknamed Mehmetçik (“Little Mehmet”) by the Empire’s Turkish-speaking population and Abu Shuja’a (“Father of Courage”) by its Arab subjects, stood and fought with unexpected valor. Bold predictions of a quick march to Constantinople instead turned into a bloody, grinding campaign that lasted nearly a year and cost each side nearly a quarter-million casualties.

Timely German (and to a lesser extent Austro-Hungarian) aid helped turn the tide during the defense of Gallipoli, as ammunition shortages almost assured that no amount of Turkish courage could overcome their material shortcomings. The opening of direct railroad contact in October 1915 spelt the end of the Allied efforts; by December they had decided on evacuation and by early January 1916 the last Allied soldier had departed Turkish territory.

The victors of Gallipoli had suffered terrible casualties of their own, and now re-organized for further campaigns. The 19th Infantry Division, Mustafa Kemal’s unit lauded as the campaign’s great heroes, pulled back to the town of Kesan just north of the peninsula to rest, re-train and absorb replacement troops and equipment. Kemal had gathered the division’s 57th Infantry Regiment on the first day of the Gallipoli landings and personally led them in a counterattack:

“I do not expect you to attack,” he told the mehmetҫiks, “I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take your place."

Joined by the 20th Infantry Division, which had not seen action on the peninsula, the two divisions along with a limited number of support units formed the new XV Corps. The units prepared for new deployments, and in the summer of 1916 received orders to entrain for Galicia to join the Germans and Austro-Hungarians fighting on the Eastern Front.


An Ottoman machine-gun detachment poses (few Turkish units had this many guns).

Ottoman Turkey had offered troops to its alliance partners soon after joining the Central Powers, but the 1914 offer had been declined. By 1916 circumstances had changed, and the Germans asked for and received three Turkish corps totaling six divisions: one corps fought in the campaign in Romania, one in Macedonia, and the XV Corps in Galicia where it saw action for just over a year before returning to Turkey. The Turks fought exceptionally well, suffering 25,000 casualties in the course of their deployment and claiming to have inflicted three times as many on the Russians (as the Turks were usually on the defensive, this may be roughly accurate).

Onlar Kaçış Değil mi

XV Corps stood ready for deployment by February 1916, though it certainly could have used more rest and did not actually board trains for the Eastern Front until July. The Young Turks didn’t specify where the troops they offered to assist their allies would serve - they went to Galicia to help the Austrians out of immediate need in the wake of the Brusilov Offensive. Had the Germans wished to send them to Verdun instead, that would also have been acceptable. And so we have the Onlar Kaçış Değil mi (Turkish for, “They Shall Not Pass”) variant for They Shall Not Pass.

The deployment of Turkish troops to the Western Front would have had immense propaganda value: both Britain and France were sending large number of Muslim troops into battle and the Turks had already shown great skill at undermining the morale of similar units in the Middle East. The idea of striking back at the French, who had landed troops of their own at Cape Helles and Kum Kale during the Gallipoli campaign, would have appealed to the Turks and particularly to the ambitious War Minister Enver Pasha, architect of the Ottoman interventions in Galicia, Romania and Macedonia.

From the German point of view, Erich von Falkenhayn had denied German reinforcements to Crown Prince Wilhelm’s Fifth Army. Sending the Turks instead would not expend any of his own forces, and the Turks were ready, willing and available. Falkenhayn would be fired as chief of staff in August 1916 and sent to command the Ninth Army in Romania. In that capacity, he urgently requested Turkish reinforcements for the invasion of Romania. In ourvariant, Falkenhayn simply asks for them a few months earlier, on a different front.

If the variant is in play, the German player may not decline to bring on the Turkish reinforcements. At the start of each turn beginning with Turn Two, the German player rolls one die. On a result of 6, the units listed below enter from any hex(es) on the north edge of the board between hexes 2601 and 3301 (inclusive). If the Turkish XV Corps enters play (even if the German player makes no use of its units), the German player loses three victory points at the end of the game.

Turkish and German units may not stack together in the same hex. Turkish and German units (including artillery) may not participate together in an assault. The German player may not restore reduced or eliminated Turkish units through the use of replacements.

The morale of French units containing mostly Muslim recruits is lowered by one whenever they occupy a hex adjacent to a Turkish unit (whether they engage it in combat or not): the 15T, 29T and 45T independent regiments of XXX Corps, the 2TI and 3TI regiments of 37th Division, and the 1M regiment of 153rd Division.

The Turkish XV Corps consists of the following units:

XV headquarters
XV medium artillery
19/57 infantry
19/72 infantry
19/77 infantry
19/19 artillery
20/61 infantry
20/62 infantry
20/63 infantry
20/20 artillery

You can download a tiny .pdf of the game pieces here.

You can order They Shall Not Pass (second edition) right here.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold has a new dog house.