Friday, 23 March 2018

War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78 - Quintin Barry

This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics Magazine.

Title: War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78
Author: Quintin Barry
ISBN: 978-1-911096-69-6
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2016
Pages: 534
Photos/ Maps: 100’s/17

Barry has once again focussed his attention on a war of less prominence internationally but one that had very significant implications for the region in which it took place. The Ottoman Empire at the time of the conflict encompassed the European regions of Bulgaria, portions of modern day Romania and areas of Bosnia. The Russians were very much interested in extending their access and influence to encompass not only the Black Sea but also were seeking passage to the Mediterranean via the Dardanelles. The Ottomans were, even at this time, seen as the weak man of Europe, heavily corrupt and vulnerable to collapse; the Russians, following the brutal suppression of a Bulgarian uprising by the Turks, saw an opportunity to break their neighbour to the south and extend their influence regionally.

What looked to be a simple operation that would result in Russian victory and accompanying international prestige turned into a difficult, costly and grinding campaign that was far more challenging than anyone had originally anticipated. While the Russians achieved complete victory in the end, it was as much a result of Turkish incompetence as Russian capability. It also came very close to resulting in war between Russia and Great Britain due to the concerns about Russian interest in the Dardanelles. Barry presents a very accurate and telling view of the international pressure brought to bear upon both protagonists as the European community sought to protect their own interests and limit the reach of Russia.

Barry has done a noteworthy analysis of this war. He succinctly encompasses the international as well as the operational components of the war; he also clearly highlights where opportunities were lost to both sides. For example his discussion of the Turkish Black Sea fleet and the Danube gunboat squadrons are indicative of the lack of operational appreciation shown by the Turkish commanders. The book represents a strategic/operational analysis of the conflict in that he only periodically dips into the tactical stories of the soldiers themselves. It is enough however, to gain a good appreciation of the conditions and environment under which the conflict was fought. Of particular note was Barry’s discussion of the extensive use of fortifications and the power of the defensive war compared to the offensive. The use of trenches and hard points by the Turks gave a hint of the nature of war to come, lessons that were not readily grasped by the observers.

I was very disappointed with the maps provided as I found the actions in the narrative difficult to follow on them. Beyond that the book is very well written and the photo’s/drawings provide very good context to the narrative. Barry closes his book with an excellent synopsis of the forces involved as well as a comprehensive bibliography. An engaging read and study of the last major conflict of the 1800’s.

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