On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire (Anglais) Broché – 27 mars 2006
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'Tells with great fluency, authority and narrative skill . . . a story which no single book has told before' (Sunday Telegraph)
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Under the banner of a Holy War, masterminded in Berlin and unleashed from Constantinople, the Germans and the Turks set out in 1914 to foment violent revolutionary uprisings against the British in India and the Russians in Central Asia. It was a new and more sinister version of the old Great Game, with world domination as its ultimate aim.
Here, told in epic detail and for the first time, is the true story behind John Buchan's classic wartime thriller Greenmantle, recounted through the adventures and misadventures of the secret agents and others who took part in it. It is an ominously topical tale today in view of the continuing turmoil in this volatile region where the Great Game has never really ceased.
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Had one been travelling through eastern Turkey in the spring of 1838, one might have been startled to come upon a young Prussian officer perched on a remote hillside carefully sketching an Ottoman fortress. Lire la première page
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German Emperor William II had long foreseen the possibility of a war with Great Britain and Tsarist Russia. One ace up his sleeve that he thought he had was that the Turkish Sultan was the Muslim equivalent of the Pope (Caliph to be exact,) which gave him the right to declare a jihad against British and Russian interlopers in Central Asia, India, (which then included Pakistan, Bangladesh) and Iran. There also were restive Hindus and Sikhs keen to see the backs of their British rulers. By getting the Muslim natives to do his dirty work for him in the name of Allah - Deutschland uber Allah as Hopkirk puts it - he hoped to bog down many allied soldiers who would otherwise have been free to repulse Germany's regular army.
Like the Schlieffen plan, this "plan" was much better in theory than in practice. The main flaw with the plan was that the Germans simply didn't have the expertise or personnel needed to competently implement these plans, and thus each of them ended in half-baked failure. Plans to win over Iran bore little fruit, a heroic expedition to Afghanistan ended in the Emir's embroiling the emissaries in endless dialogue, Indians keen on staging mutinies were almost always thwarted, and jailed or hanged. Even worse, one of the agents lost a copy of the German diplomatic codebook, which was of much use to the British. To wrap things up at the end of the war, there was an epidemic of slaughter in Central Asia among the Armenians, Turks, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, British, and assorted others.
This book is well-written, but unless you have an interest in Central and South Asian history, it doesn't come to life sufficiently to make it a pleasure read. I personally wished that Hopkirk had devoted a few more pages to an analysis of the events. 40 years after the war, almost all of the regions that William II had hoped to pry out of the British Empire had extricated themselves of their own doing. In the region, as well as in Europe, most trends were going his way. Why then, did he not wait and give Germany more time to gain a firmer foothold in the region? Why did he not, for example, wait until the Berlin to Baghdad railroad had ensconced itself, before trying to move the political balance of power? In Africa, where the Germans had had time to put down roots, the Germans cleaned the British and French clocks during the war, by starting similar insurgencies.
As a narrative with much archival research behind it, this book is excellent, as a history, the lack of analysis and reflection are deficits.
Expansion of German power toward lands in the east have been advocated by avid nationalists such as General Helmut Von Moltke, General Friedrich von Bernhardi, General Kolmar von der Goltz . The Pan German movement was also becoming popular with country's academics such as Friedrich List, a political economist ;Wilhelm Rocher of Leipzig University; Paul Lagarde, the professor of languages at Gottingen University. All of them decided that German power should expand toward east because destiny had ordained it. This was known as Drang nach Osten.
They were several strands to new great game which began with the outbreak of Great War in Europe. Germans planned to use Turks as pawns to further their interests in the east. As a prelude to it Germany started building Berlin to Baghdad railroad. Later they intend to extend it to the shores of Persian Gulf which alarmed the British.
Rude impertinent, behavior of London drove Turks to German camp. Besides Germans hoped to inflame communal passions of Moslems. Latter were told to think of their brethren who lived under oppressive British rule in India. Propaganda was widely used to exhort the Moslems to rebel. This was called Deutschland Uber Allah. German agents made their way to Afghanistan to enlist the support of Emir of Kabul for the coming crusade.
Other dimension was German attempt to foment uprisings in India. Resentment against British rule was building. For some time British were struggling to suppress the activities of Indian revolutionaries because the brain was safely ensconced abroad. Har Dayal established the Ghadr movement which functioned from California, US. Revolutionaries such as Dhingra, Veer Savarkar, Rash Behari Bose were incredibly brave and they strove for a violent overthrow of British rule in India.
Germany was quick to exploit the situation. Kaiser started extending covert support. An Indian Committee was established in Berlin to oversee and co ordinate the work of revolutionaries. If Germans could foment a mass uprising against the British rule in India it tantamount to opening an inner front: waging war from within, the term used by the reputed British military historian Fuller JFC.
Here I make a distinction between Kaiser Wilhelm and his successor Adolf Hitler.Fuehrer never worked for the disintegration of the British Empire; considered it as a great stabilizing force in the world. German dictator's ambitions though centered in the east were predominantly confined to USSR. To what extent Kaiser sympathized with freedom aspirations of the Indian people remains debatable.
Here we have two situations: Germans using Afghans, Turks, and Persians to fight the British. The other, using Indian revolutionaries to topple British rule in India from within. Golden principle is this: if your opponent is strong do not fight him face-to-face. Use others to do your work. Opponent is destroyed and allies are exhausted. When the time is ripe you enter the struggle and sweep everything that lay across the path. In this manner Kaiser hoped to extend German sway over the east. Unquestionably brilliant strategy; however, it failed.
Now a few things that I like in this book: how Germans who went to meet the Emir of Kabul managed to outwit the British patrols. Its worth recalling Brits along with her Russian ally established a cordon to intercept the movement of hostile elements toward Afghanistan. So was Kaiser's decision to arm the Indian revolutionaries with latest in military hardware. Weapons were acquired in the United States. Ships flying neutral flags were chartered which will make a long voyage across the Pacific carrying weapons. After reaching Java, Indonesia arms would be offloaded into small vessels which would make hazardous journey toward Bengal coast where revolutionaries were waiting to collect under the cover of night. Unfortunately for the Indian patriots British intelligence managed to uncover the plot. And attempts to start an uprising were nipped in the bud. Interestingly the arms purchase was arranged by Franz von Papen military attaché in German embassy in Washington DC.Papen became the German chancellor; he preceded Hitler.
I read for the first time in detail exploits of Germans such as Captain Werner Otto von Hentig, Oskar von Niedermayer, Wilhelm Wassmuss. Wassmuss in particular is known as German Lawrence.
Final section of the book is about Britain's involvement in Caucasus; Russian revolution and why London entangled with the Bolsheviks. Here author's narration lacks clarity. Often it gets bogged down amid myriad of details making it difficult to pick up the thread of complex train of events which unfolded in the region. British were interested to halt the march of Turkish power toward Caspian sea and beyond. Safety of the Indian empire was foremost concern of London strategists.
What has baffled me is on what basis author can claim a high moral ground. Judging the actions of English, I must say former did the same thing which they accused Germans of doing. London worked behind the scene to destabilize Ottoman power in the Middle East. After Germany capitulated, German empire was dismembered by the Allies. Germany's former colonies were seized and added to Britain's domain. Author no doubt an apologist of British Empire. I view the struggle that developed in the east in terms of an establishing power clashing with an established power.
Book contains no research notes. However it carries a formidable bibliography which runs into scores of pages. Most of the books featured in bibliography have long gone out of print and can be obtained only from specialized libraries.
... The rest of the story and significant history running up to the Great War. Hopkrik's book, much like his others, pulls together both the Geopolitical situation with the people involved and keeps you reading.