The World at War
World War I saw conflict across the breadth of the Middle East, from the Sinai to the Persian Gulf in the south, and in Anatolia and the Caucasus in the north. Conflict also erupted in East, South and West Africa as well as East Asia and the Pacific. The epitaph of world war was well deserved.
In the Middle East there were five principal theaters of conflict: Sinai and Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, Gallipoli and the Caucasus. Great Britain was the principal antagonist in the first two theaters, Great Britain and to a lesser extent Russia were the principal antagonists in Persia, Great Britain and France were the chief antagonists at Gallipoli, and Russia the principal Ottoman opponent in the Caucasus.
In East Asia, Japan was Germany's principal opponent, in the South Pacific it was Australia, while in east, south and west of Africa it was Great Britain with assistance from French, Belgian and Portuguese forces. In addition, the Royal Navy engaged elements of Germany's East Asia Squadron in a series of battles in the Indian, Pacific and South Atlantic oceans.
The conflicts in Africa, Asia and the south Pacific saw Germany stripped of all its overseas colonies. In the grand scheme of things this was a sideshow whose impact on the broader conduct of the war was insignificant. The Royal Navy's success in destroying the German East Asia squadron was equally of little significance in the war. Notwithstanding the damage the squadron could have done to merchant shipping, it had no prospect to rearm and lacked the ability to sustain itself over the long term.
The Middle East theaters were of slightly more importance, but they too had little impact on the eventual outcome of the war. Ottoman success in seizing the Suez Canal would have seriously complicated the British war effort in the Balkans and in the Middle East, but in the end it would not have tipped the balance of power on the Western Front. More important were Ottoman attempts to tie down British troops in the Middle East. These were more successful, and Turkey showed, in Mesopotamia, in the Sinai and at Gallipoli, that it could mount an effective defense, but here again the number of men involved would have had little impact on the conflict in the west.
Gallipoli was more significant, in part because the Allies chose to make it a major military operation, but here too, a victory would not have immediately knocked the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The drive up the Dardanelles and subsequent siege of Constantinople would have been a protracted military operation and the Ottoman Empire, if its record at Gallipoli was any indication, would have mounted an effective, protracted defense. Rather than an alternative to breaking the stalemate on the Western Front, the campaign might well have become yet another example of military deadlock.
Opening a "lifeline" to Russia would have been no easy task, even with a victory at Gallipoli, and it is doubtful that in the long run such a lifeline would have made much difference to the Russian war effort. In the end it was all a sideshow, but that didn't make the conflicts any less bloody, or the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded any less significant.
German Troops in Tsingtao, August 1914
Opening Moves: The War in China & the Pacific
Germany had a significant colonial interest in China as well an assortment of island colonies spread out across the western Pacific. Additionally, Germany had a naval squadron, the East Asian Squadron, headquartered in the Chinese port of Tsingtao.
Most of the Pacific colonies capitulated with a minimum of fighting. Early in the war, Australian land and naval forces engaged German colonial forces in New Guinea and took control of the archipelago as well as other German island colonies in the Pacific. Naval warfare in both the Pacific and Indian Ocean was widespread.
The Siege of Tsingtao in 1914, probably the most significant engagement of the Asian theater, was the first military encounter between Japanese and German forces. It also saw the first joint Anglo-Japanese operation of the war. The eastern Chinese city of Tsingtao, today known as Qingdao, was controlled by Germany and garrisoned by 4,000 troops. The German Navy's East Asia Squadron, based there, represented a significant naval force although, at the time, most of its ships were dispersed throughout the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.
On August 15, Japan issued an ultimatum demanding that Germany withdraw its warships from Chinese and Japanese waters and cede control of Tsingtao to Japan. Three days later, the ultimatum expired and Japan declared war.
Bombardment of the port began on September 2. The Japanese General Mitsuomi Kamio, who had 23,000 men supported by 142 guns at his disposal, promptly besieged the German held city. The British, although formally allied with Japan, were suspicious of Japanese motives. They sent 1,500 troops, ostensibly to assist the Japanese, but in reality also to keep an eye on the engagement. Kamio favored night raids and avoided the kind of bloody frontal assault that was to become common thousands of miles away on the Western Front.
The German garrison was outnumbered by six to one, yet managed to hold out for over two months before surrendering on November 7. They handed over the port three days later. Germany had lost two ships in the fighting, 727 men killed and 1,335 wounded. When defeat seemed certain, the balance of the East Asian squadron, four small gunboats, had been scuttled.
The remaining ships of the East Asia Squadron was destroyed by the Royal Navy in a series of Battles in the Indian Ocean, South Pacific and South Atlantic, most notably at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914.