Omer Pasha's Command

By: Paul Gruszning


During the summer months of 1853, Czar Nicholas 1, enraged by the rejection of the Ottoman Porte to uphold and ratify the demands placed upon them by the Czar's emissary Prince Menschikov ordered his armies to advance beyond the Pruth and occupy the two Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in an act that he called his "Material Guarantee." The Ottoman forces thence moved their own army, under the command of Omer Pasha, to occupy the southern banks of the Danube River.

The term "Material Guarantee" refers to the rights granted to Russia for the protection of the Greek and Bulgarian subjects who were members of the Orthodox church and whose interests and protection was granted to Russia by the Ottoman Porte following the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the Principalities at the conclusion of the Russo - Turkish War of 1874. This guarantee was ratified under the terms and conditions of the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarva.

The Ottoman army placed under the command of Omer Pasha was a mixed army gathered from all corners of the dominions under the Ottoman control. Whilst the troops gathered spoke a dozen different languages and in most cases lacked coherent discipline and modern military hardware, they more than made up for these short-comings by the fervour for the cause, and their loyalty to the Sultan. For sometime, certain elements, particularly the theology students in Constantinople, had been calling upon the Ottoman Porte, The Sultan and his Ministers to take action against Russian on purely religious grounds. In reality, as a combined force of opinion they represented only a minor threat to the peace within the Empire though their call for a Jihad, a religious war against the infidel, spread widely resulting in a vast assembly of mixed irregular troops. These troops, bolstered by the regular army of the Ottoman and supplied with military hardware, though generally obsolete, represented a formidable force.

Omer Pasha himself was a gifted officer. He had steadily risen through the ranks of the Ottoman army displaying an energy and understanding of warfare that was the equal of any of the western generals. Omar Pasha was born Mihajlo Latas, ( Michael ) to Austrian parents. His father was an officer in the Austrian army and became governor of the Ogulin district. Omer Pasha first enlisted in the Austrian army but, upon being accused of corruption, fled to the Ottoman, married highly into society and accepted a commission in the Ottoman army. Throughout the 1840s Omer Pasha displayed an uncommon military gift and his seemingly natural ability and good fortune led to a series of victories in minor altercations. He was possessed, not only of a military mind, but also was politically astute. It was with this political astuteness that he organised the mixed troops of the Ottoman into a well organised and efficient force.

Omer Pasha understood and recognised the military errors committed by Czar Nicholas and implemented by his generals. When Czar Nicholas ordered his army to cross the Pruth and occupy the Principalities of Wallachia nd Moldavia, under what he called his "Material Guarantee," he did so whilst a conference was in progress in Vienna, between the four great powers of Europe, England, France, Austria and Prussia, to formulate an agreement that might be acceptable to both the Ottoman and to Russia.

Upon crossing the Pruth, Czar Nicholas gave to the European powers the assurance that he would not progress further into Ottoman territory whilst attempts to reach a diplomatic settlement continued. In a military sense, this was a grave tactical error. A tactical error which Omer Pasha clearly recognised and understood.

What Omer Pasha understood, and that which Czar Nicholas naively failed to see, was that whilst his army had occupied Ottoman territory, and whilst he had given an undertaking to all of Europe not to engage in hostile activities, and in particular, not to cross the Danube and further his advance into the Ottoman, his words and assurances were not binding for the Ottoman forces. They were free to act as they chose and under no obligation to abide by any assurance that Czar Nicholas had given. Omer Pasha, understanding these constraints which Czar Nicholas had placed upon himself and his army, and had done so, without so encumbering the Ottoman forces, organised and dispersed his troops at will.

The restrictions which Czar Nicholas placed upon his own army, the limited size of the army he deployed and their subsequent deployment across a vast area along the north bank of the Danube meant that he possessed an insufficient force to meet those forces which Omer Pasha might choose to deploy.

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Paul Gruszning was born in New Zealand in 1954 and moved to Australia in 1978 where he lived in Queensland for thirty years before moving to China in 2005. Since that time Paul has lived both in China and Australia. For more information visit, www.pegruszning.com/#!war-in-the-crimea/c329

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