217. The Ottoman gambit
“Gambit - a device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.”
“War is a failure of diplomacy
“War is . . . an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”
“You English are like mad bulls… you see red everywhere! … You make it uncommonly difficult for a man to remain friendly to England.
Wilhelm II, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, 1908
[the French] every day betray an unceasing disposition to pick a quarrel, and to treat us in a manner to which we can never submit. Pray take care, in all your conversation with Sebastiani, to make him understand that our desire for peace will never lead us to submit to affront either in language or in act.”
“To succeed in the world, it is much more necessary to possess the penetration to discern who is a fool than to discover who is a clever man..”
“Politics is the systematic cultivation of hatred.”
“Russia is a mighty and happy power in itself; it should never be a threat to other neighboring states or Europe. But it must occupy an impressive defensive position that can make any attack on her impossible.”
Nicholas I 
“I am glad that I was at war and saw myself all the horrors inevitably associated with war, and after that I think that every person with a heart cannot want war, and every ruler entrusted by God to the people must take all measures to avoid the horrors of war, of course, unless he (the ruler) is forced to war by his opponents.”
In 1838 Muhammed Ali, frustrated by an absence of any progress in his negotiations with the Sultan, let it be known that he is looking for a complete independence. In response, in the early 1839 Mahmud II, who was more than a little bit delusion regarding condition of his new army, ordered invasion of the territories ruled by Muhammed Ali.
On June 24, 1839 an invading Ottoman army, led by Hafiz Pasha, met the Egyptian army, commanded by Ibrahim Pasha (with French chief of staff  ), at Nezib close to the border between the Sultan’s and MA’s territories (South-Eastern part of Asia Minor). Both armies had the high numbers of the soldiers recruited in the last moment and their initial sizes were shrinking due to the massive desertions. At the point of contact each of them had 30 - 40,000.
The Egyptian army was better trained in the latest military methods in terms of organizing ranks, speed of movement and maneuvering. It also had as the bonuses the presence of Suleiman Pasha the French as chief of staff of the Egyptian army, and the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha, who became an expert on how to defeat the Ottoman armies years ago. All its officers had been promoted based on the merit, army had a strict discipline and was combat-oriented. Both Ibrahim and Suleiman had unquestionable authority among their subordinates and both of them had been looking for an offensive battle.
On the other hand, the Ottoman army enjoyed the preference in terms of preparation, as the Ottoman army was better provided with supplies and had rested for several weeks in its camp, unlike the Egyptian soldiers who were exhausted by the march to meet the Ottoman army under the heat of the sun at the beginning of the summer. Hafez Pasha, the commander of the Ottoman army, spent an entire month digging trenches and establishing strongholds. But in the terms of advantages that was all. Neither Hafiz Pasha nor his chief of staff could make their mind on what type of a battle they are planning to fight. Most of their officers got their ranks due to the links in a government, their camp (as a reflection of a general organization and discipline) reminded “pilgrims’ caravan” being filled with all types of the non-combatants and almost 60% of the army was composed from the recently subdued Kurds who did not have any enthusiasm.
Several hours prior to when the major combat began, von Moltke, who was in charge of the Ottoman artillery, advised Hafiz Pasha to withdraw to a more secure and fortified position near Birecik
and to await expected reinforcements, as Hafiz Pasha's forces were outmatched in quality by the advancing Egyptians. Initially Hafiz acquiesced to Moltke, but not long after he decided to maintain his army's position. The Egyptians advanced and by the time their infantry had reached the Ottoman line, Hafiz's army was in complete rout, the Egyptian artillery having broken their morale.
The Ottoman army lost 4,000 dead (some drowned in the Euphrates during the flight) and 12,000 prisoners (of which 5,000 defected to the Egyptians). The Ottoman commander Hafyz Osman Pasha was also captured. Egyptian losses amounted to 3 thousand people. Among those escaping was von Moltke who was seriously wounded early in the battle and had to be transported all across the Asia Minor. 
The Turkish army was wiped out, the spoil of its weapons was almost complete, and thousands of prisoners agreed to transfer their allegiance to the Egyptian army, so they were dispatched to Egypt, and thus the road became open for Ibrahim Pasha to enter the Ottoman capital, and the Ottoman fleet learned of this matter, so he headed to Alexandria, Egypt, so that the fleet commander would hand over his entire fleet to Muhammad Ali to be under his command.
But Ibrahim did not march on Istanbul. As during the previous war, his army was exhausted, his logistics overstretched and there were rebellions in Syria and Lebanon so he had to attend to all these issues before moving anywhere. Well, of course, a truly great general could take a risk and to press his advantage (especially taking into an account that now the Ottoman fleet was on Egypt’s side and getting across Dardanelles should not be a problem) but Ibrahim was just better than his Ottoman counterparts and this did not require to be some kind of a military genius or even simply a capable European general. So he stood pretty much where he was wasting time, making a minimal progress and caring mostly about putting things in order. There was also a possibility that, as already happened in the last war, he was waiting for instructions from his father who always had been playing the complicated diplomatic games.
While he was waiting, the things had been happening in the fast rate. On July 1st Sultan Mahmud II died to be succeeded by his son Abdulmejid who was 16 years old. Abdulmejid received a European education, spoke fluent French
and, like his father, was reform-minded. He ascended the throne just after the Ottoman army was whipped out and the fleet sailed to Alexandria where it was handed over to Muhammad Ali by its commander Ahmed Fevzi Pasha, on the pretext that the young sultan's advisers had sided with Russia
. At any moment Ibrahim Pasha could start marching on Istanbul so something has to be done fast.
The foreign ambassadors in Istanbul had been assuring him in support of their countries but so far this was just a moral support and promises subject to the decisions made in an international conference which will happen as soon as Lord Palmerston convinces France and Russia to participate. It all looked as a long story that may last longer than Ibrahim’s inaction.
At that point one of the Sultan’s advisors recommended him to summon the Russian ambassador Appolinary Butenyov and remind him about the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi on which there was his signature. Butenyov pretended
to be surprised by the Sultan’s erudition and asked for a written request for the Russian help which, immediately after being received, was expediently sent by a fast steam frigate which was, what a lucky coincidence (
), staying in the Golden Horn fully ready for travel.
Russian Empire. Sevastopol.
The Generalissimo was too old to lead the military adventures personally but this does not mean that he could not plan the complicated strategic operations including those involving more than one international player. The Ottoman defeat on land was easily predictable and so was a following action of Ahmed Fevzi Pasha: he was right, there were pro-Russian advisors as well as the well-paid people sending information about his plans in the case of the army defeat or the Sultan’s death (his very bad health was not a secret). The risky part was the Sultan himself: Mahmud was self-assured and stubborn as a mule but his successor by all accounts was at least a little bit more intelligent so he may listen to advice from a right person and invoke Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi to request Russian help. In the worst case scenario, this will not happen giving the Brits opportunity to do Sultan a favor alone
but even then the Black Sea Fleet would be able to sail/steam to the Med for the second part of the game involving the French as well. The Russian and French interests were not exactly the same except for the most important item
and Bonaparte and Bernadotte had plenty of time to discuss scenarios during and after their meeting. Of course, consent of the Emperor was a precondition but Nicholas had a strong belief in the sanctity of the treaties and did not like the caricatures of himself published by the British press.
So far, the best case scenario had been working. The formal request for help from the Sultan reached Sevastopol and from there within few hours had been delivered to Simferopol where the Generalissimo and the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Antoine-Henry Jomini, established their headquarters.
An officer with the Sultan’s message continued his travel to Moscow but the pre-arranged cogs and wheels of a complicated machine started moving. 20,000 troops camped near Sevastopol and Feodosia started boarding the prepared transport steamers and the squadron of the new and converted steam warships was ready to accompany them. It included 8 screw-propelled 84 guns ships of the line, 10 screw-propelled 40 guns frigates and a number of smaller steamships, screw and paddlers. The task of this force was to get to Istanbul and then through the straits before the “dear friends” from Britain and Austria have time to react.
An additional squadron of the old sail ships was going to follow accompanied, if necessity arises, by more troops. This squadron consisted of 14 ships of the line, 7 frigates and 11 smaller ships, sail, paddle and screw. It’s main intended function was to replace the 1st squadron in guarding Istanbul and the straits allowing the steamers to proceed to the Med.
To gain time, the British ambassadors in Moscow and Paris had been informed that the French and Russian governments may be inclined to join the planned conference in London if its agenda is being defined to their satisfaction. Taking into an account that the stated French and Russian positions regarding Egypt had substantial differences, a few rounds of consultation were necessary. As a gesture of a good will, France eventually agreed upon sending a joined French-British observation
fleet to the Dardanelles ahead of the planned conference.
France was supportive of Egypt but the consensus achieved during the Moscow meetings was that too strong Muhammed Ali will inevitably become too independent and too difficult to deal with (he already was not too accommodating to the French taste). So there should be a balance between Egypt and Ottoman Empire making both
of them dependent upon the European powers and to achieve this some
cooperation with Britain is going to be needed on the initial stage as a convenient tool for the procrastination but without any binding obligations. The direct military confrontation with the Brits is better to be avoided but not at the cost of giving them a free hand.
Before Ibrahim Pasha finally was ready to march forward (and before the observation fleet got anywhere close it destination), he got the news that the Russian navy passed the Bosphorus and the Russian troops are taking positions on the European side of the Straits. The news were conveyed by the Emperor’s adjutant-general, the same Muravyev who was sent to his father during the last war. The message was pretty much the same: make peace with the Sultan. However, there was an important addition: and your interests will not be forgotten. The same message had bee sent by a fast steamer to Alexandria but for a while Muhammed Ali was reluctant to give away anything that he “won by a sword”.
French Navy. After the peace of Amiens was signed the Consulate did not consider a navy as its top priority: a need to restore economy and put financial system in order were on the top of the list. By late 1819 the French fleet had shrunk to 58 of the line and 34 frigates afloat or on the ways, most of the others having been found to be too rotten to be worth repairing. In 1817 the navy estimated that, at this rate of decay, the fleet would disappear completely in ten years. In response Pierre Barthelémy, Baron Portal, Minister of Marine from 1818 to 1821, developed the Programme of 1820, the first of the comprehensive plans that shaped the evolution of the navy during the next forty years. This programme defined the composition of a realistically attainable fleet, set a target date for its completion, and determined the amount of money required per year to meet the target. In its final form, promulgated in 1824, the programme provided for a fleet of 40 ships of the line and 50 frigates afloat. Portal calculated that this force could be created in ten years with an annual budget of 65 million francs (of which 6 million were for the colonies). Portal’s programme took advantage of the few weaknesses that could be seen in Britain’s naval position. It reversed the traditional relationship between battleships and cruising ships in the fleet. The new programme emphasised frigates to exploit the enormous problems that Britain would face in trying to defend worldwide trade and colonies. It retained a battle fleet, not to stand up to Britain alone, but to serve as a nucleus for an anti-British coalition fleet. This battle fleet was also designed to ensure that France would face no other maritime challenges: if she could not be number one, she could at least be an undisputed number two. The navy realised that ships left on the building ways, if properly ventilated and covered by a protective shed, would last almost indefinitely without decaying and would also have a longer service life after launching because their timbers would be better seasoned. Equally important, maintaining ships in this way was highly economical.  The navy eventually decided that a third of the planned 40 ships of the line and 50 frigates would not be launched but would be kept complete on the ways. An additional 13 battleships and 16 frigates would be on the ways at less advanced stages of construction. These decisions led to a large increase during the 1820s in the number of building ways in the dockyards and in the number of ships laid down on them. At the same time the navy’s ordinary budget slowly increased, finally reaching the 65 million franc goal in 1830. One reason the French navy survived the lean years after the Revolutionary Wars was the constant demand for its services. Within a few years naval stations were established in the Antilles, the Levant, and off the east coast of South America, and others were later created in the Pacific and in the Far East. A few small ships were assigned to each of the reoccupied colonies for local duties. Among these were the navy’s first two steamers, Voyageur and Africain, built for Senegal in 1819. The invasion force of Algiers included 11 ships of the line and 25 frigates. Exceeding the number planned in 1820, by 1828 the navy had 206 ships including many small steamers. The new Program of 1837 confirmed the navy’s need for two ship classes, the 74-gun ship of the line and the 3rd Class frigate. However, the total number of ships slightly declined and there were 46 battleships and 56 frigates.
By 1839 French Levant squadron had 16 ships, including 9 ships of the line (which put it at a disadvantage comparing to the British squadron in the Levant which had 14). What’s more important, Program of 1837 included construction of 40 combat steamers: five `steam frigates’ of 540nhp, fifteen of 450nhp, and twenty `steam corvettes’ of 220nhp. From that point all future naval developments had to be steam-based even if the steam was still considered an auxiliary method of the propulsion. At least two of the existing ships of the line had to be upgraded into the steamers.
British Navy. Without any question the British Navy remained, by far, as single biggest navy in the world most probably it was also the best trained and most experienced sail navy in the world. Recently, even its gunnery noticeably improved even if shooting at the point blank range remained thee main modus operandi . However, the British Admiralty being excessively conservative and self-assured, all British ships of the line were strictly sail and the smaller steamships were paddlers: advantages and disadvantages of a screw were still in a process of a thorough deliberation in the Admiralty and both parliamentary and public debates with the references to the unsuccessful British experiments in this area being the main argument against and the references to the French, Russian and American programs being the only feeble arguments in favor (what all these foreigners understand in the things naval? our navy is the best in the world and its officers witnessed twice failures of the screw-propelled boats in the coastal waters with their own eyes so whom should we trust?) . In its present state the RN already was a huge and expensive investment and to start a massive construction of even more expensive ships was not necessarily such a good idea, especially taking into an account that a prevailing opinion in the RN was that the ships of the line do not need steam at all. It just makes a ship more vulnerable and alleged advantages were not too big for the ships fighting in a line formation. The British sailors were experienced enough to win the battles under the sails and there was no urgent need to rush into anything untested and expensive just because somebody (with a questionable experience) else is doing this. Of course, the plans to convert some of the existing ships of the line into the sail-and-steam were under consideration but the funds for the project still were not approved by the Parliament.
Back to the story, it was felt in London that, in order to prevent Abdul from becoming a mere dependent of Russia, some countenance must be shown him in his misfortunes. English and French fleets under the command of Admiral of the Red Sir Robert Stopford and the French Rear Admiral Lalande had to sail to the Besik Bay (Beşik Koyu - a small bay on the Aegean
shore of Troy
, at the mouth of the Dardanelles) in order to support Turkey.
Here they had to wait for the Austrian squadron which meager size was compensated by the fact that it was led by a whole Archduke. Yes, Archduke Frederick, the third son of the famous Archduke Charles, was young, cute, energetic, fond of the naval service (which he started in 1837) and already in charge of the whole Austrian fleet, which consisted of 2 corvettes, 2 brigs and 4 schooners (all sail). However, the important thing was not actual strength but the fact of its presence that was underscoring the “international” character of the action.
Admiral Robert Stopford was 72 years old and quite experienced. He started his service in 1780 participating in a lot of the British naval operations all over the world (missing the most glorious Battle of the Nile) but never led a fleet in a naval battle. His present mission as a commander of the British Levant Squadron was as much political and diplomatic as it was military but it was fully expected that the opponent will not even risk a suicidal naval confrontation and that the whole thing will be resolved by a naval blockade and, if necessary, by bombardment of few ill-protected coastal cities and, in the worst case scenario, few landings. Of course, even on land these “Orientals” could not be a challenge to the European troops. By the virtue of his rank, he was going to be a top commander of the allied squadron.
The first stage, as planned in London, was to assemble the allied fleet near the mouth of Dardanelles to show the new Sultan who are his true friends preventing the Russians from beating Britain to playing this role and, preferably, from getting into the Med unless they are fully and officially committed to Palmerston’s plan of actions against Egypt. Actually, this scenario could create serious command problem if the allied Russian squadron is being led by vice-admiral Lazarev  but this possibility was overlooked.
But the whole brilliant plan started falling apart when the British-French fleet arrived to its destination and found that the Russian troops are already guarding Constantinople and the Russian fleet (led by Lazarev) is controlling Dardanelles at the Sultan’s explicit request.
At that point the the Perfidious French, of whom Palmerston always was suspicious, demonstrated their true colors (red, white and blue?). Rear Admiral Julien Pierre Anne Lalande refused to remain under Stopford’s command because the highest ranking person present was Lazarev, who also happened to have authorization from the Sultan: surely, if someone is acting on the Sultan’s behalf he has as a minimum to get a permission from the intended beneficiary . Besides, unlike Stopford, Lazarev had been a well-known figure on the Mediterranean Theater (for Navarrino he was awarded Order of the Bath and Legion of Honour).
It looked like Stopford was facing a very serious dilemma because this turn of the events was not anticipated by the government and he had no instructions on how to deal with it.
- If he joined joined what now looked as the Russian-French fleet he has to go under Lazarev’s command without any pre-conditions defined by London which would be a gross violation of his instructions.
- He could not prevent Russian fleet from getting out of the Dardanelles because it already was out and while by the number of the ships of the line both the 1st Russian squadron and the French squadron of Levant were inferior to the British squadron but together they’d have 17 ships of the line vs. 14 and an absolute advantage in the steamships. Besides, the British embassy in Istanbul informed him that a second Russian squadron of the sail ships passed through the Bosphorus making the numeric odds prohibitively high not in the British favor. Anyway, starting a war on his own initiative was not a good idea.
- There was an option to abandon the Besik Bay and to sail to Alexandria trying to intimidate Muhammed Ali with the sight of the British squadron but what if he is not going to be easily intimidated?
- There was an option to establish blockade of the Syrian ports and even to attack them but in the present scenario with the Russians and French posing as the Sultan’s official defenders, in which capacity he is going to do this? And what he is going to do if the “official defenders” are going to interfere with the blockade? Up to which degree can he rely upon the assumption that France and Russia are not going to go to war with Britain on Egypt’s behalf?
Being an intelligent person, Sir Robert decided to leave the Besik Bay in which he could be easily trapped and to sail to Malta informing London of the situation and waiting for the instructions… Few small paddlers had been left to watch for the Russian and French moves and to keep him updated.
 In a reality he managed to screw on all these points.
 Suleiman Pasha, born Joseph Anthelme Sève, travelled to Egypt, changed his name and converted to Islam. His task was to train a new model army of Sudanese slaves
. When this did not work to plan, Muhammed Ali sent him other ethnicities to train as officers: Egypt-born Circassians
, Albanians and Greeks
 I did not decide, yet, if I want him alive. ITTL Prussia has to be seriously different from its OTL version and, honestly, what is a statistical probability of a rather obscure country getting two geniuses and a very capable military administrator at the same time, plus a monarch smart enough to put them into the right places against strong opposition from various corners? Anyway, the ITTL Austro-Prussian war may happen but its OTL scenario already had been plagiarized for the GPW so it has to be a much less brilliant affair and I’m not sure at all if there is going to be Franco-Prussian war with all different European alignments. So what is there to do for Moltke? However, I’m intentionally left him in a limbo: if there is a compelling argument for his survival, then he will live.
 This idea was not too different from the old Swedish system of the early XVIII which put a great emphasis upon preserving the ships by a proper care. IIRC, it was discussed in the earlier chapters.
 Lazarev was vice admiral since 1833. Stopford, all these fancy white, blue, red thingies aside, was just a rear admiral since 1834 and in OTL became vice admiral of the UK only in 1847. So if the fleets join then by all existing rules command is going to him.
 In OTL Rear Admiral Lalande offered Prime minister Adolphe Thiers
and King Louis Philippe I
a plan to stop the Russian Black Sea fleet by occupying a few Dardanelles forts, to attack and capture or destroy the Royal Navy
Levant Squadron and to use the Egypt-Ottoman fleet to transport French troops for an invasion in Ireland. Lalande was called back to Toulon and removed from his command. Not sure if the plan was realistic, taking into an account the British numeric advantage, but at least it was quite daring.