Chasing the Soft Underbelly - Turkey and the Second World War
Chasing the Soft Underbelly - Turkey and the Second World War is an amazing, detailed and concise (for the breadth of history covered) book on Turkey’s involvement in World War II, its involvement in the Balkans, its neighboring countries, and the aftermath of World War I that saw the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. While this is not an easy book to digest if you don’t have any background with Turkey, the Balkans, or the principal players (especially the non- historically relatable Turkish leaders), it is well worth the time and money invested. It will fill in a lot of previously known factors of Turkey and its neighbors in the critical 20th Century.
Turkey (officially the Republic of Türkiye) is a transcontinental country of strategic importance located mainly on the Anatolian Peninsula (Western Asia), another portion firmly emplaced on the Balkan Peninsula (Southeast Europe) divided by the Bosporus Straight that connects the Black Sea in the north to the Sea Marmara in the south. The country of Georgia is the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east; and Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest. With its geographical location, it has influence and impact on Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Republics. Looking at a map reflects its importance for the belligerents in World War II; although differing in views and objectives, the Turks found themselves at the crossroads of history yet another time.
While the war was waging between Germany and her allies against primarily England and the Soviet Union, Turkey maintained neutrality, or another colloquial term, at least non-belligerence. They were feted to pick a side between the British, German, or their former alliance partner, the Soviet Union. “The British Ambassador summed this up well in 1942 as, ‘…sitting on the fence but at least they are sitting with their faces in our direction and their backs to Germany, though continually squinting over their shoulders to see what danger is brewing behind them – and always squinting sideways at Russia.’”
The book is presented in the @War series format, complete with black and white photographs, color photographs, maps, and a color profile section composing the following nine chapters and two appendices:
- Turkey Before the Second World War
- The Turkish Armed Forces
- Threats and Opportunities
- Salonika Front
- The Balkans and the Soviet Union 1940-1941
- Encirclement 1941-1942
- Diplomacy and Deception 1943-1944
Appendix I. Main Characters
Appendix II. Chronology
Inside these chapters is a complex, very well researched and written series of interlocking histories that define modern Turkey, its emergence from the Ottoman Empire, and its continued complicated history and identity. While both the Allies and Axis forces wanted Turkey in their camp during World War II (geography and natural resources vital to the war effort, with the Balkans, Caucuses, Bosporus, and Middle East, all roads led to Turkey). Modern Turkey emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and World War I under the leadership of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. While he modernized Turkish society, he, and Prime Minister Mustafa İsmet İnönü, who succeeded Mustafa Kemal Atatürk upon his death in November 1938, knew they were not prepared militarily and wished to keep Turkey out of the coming world war.
Using amazing diplomacy, intelligence and intellect, Turkey played to their strengths while shoring up their weaknesses, as they knew they could not survive the other alliance once allied with either faction. To make it even more intriguing, the lead up to war saw a German-Soviet alliance, making relations with Britain even more circumspect. Turkey used their unique position to their advantage, receiving concessions, military equipment, and financial support from all three major belligerents. All while the Balkans powder keg was simmering, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill kept alive his “soft underbelly of Europe” theory in play to attack Germany from the south. This book is amazing in its details and filling in missing puzzle pieces. While the British didn’t get Turkey to commit to the Allied side (until Turkey declared war against Germany in February 1945 after the Russians had reached the Bulgarian border in September 1944), they did keep Turkey out of the German camp.
Modelers will have some familiar subjects in Turkish markings to view for motivation. Among the color profile pages are Soviet T-26s (A and B models), British Vickers Mk VIB, Valentine Mk III and Mk IX, French Renault R.35, German PzKpfw III (T.3) and PzKpfw IV (T.4), American M3A1 and M4A2 tanks. Aircraft include Polish PZL P-24, German Heinkel He.111, FW-190A-3, French MS.406, British Westland Lysander, Bristol Blenheim, Hurricane II and Spitfire II and IVs, and American P-40 and Martin Baltimore. Scattered throughout the pages of this book are black and white photographs of various weapon systems, Turkish naval vessels, small arms, and the military in the field. If you are a fan of obscure subjects, then there is some inspiration in this book.
John David Watson, LLB (Bachelor of Law), FRSA (Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts) has covered Balkan history for over 23 years and has a website (balkandave.blogspot.com) on Balkan Wargaming. Who better to describe Dave than himself from his website,
“This blog covers Dave's wide ranging military history and wargaming interests. Posts include, book reviews, new wargame rules, wargame projects, travel and visits to historical sites. He wargames in most periods and scales, with a collection of over 20,000 models. Dave is the Secretary of Glasgow and District Wargames Society - one of the UK's longest running wargaming clubs.
Dave is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is also the Secretary of the Keir Hardie Society and Interim Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. He retired from his post as Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland in 2018 and now works part-time on policy and human resource projects. He lives with his wife Liz and Rasputin (the wargaming cat) in South Ayrshire, on the west coast of Scotland.”
This is Dave’s first book for Helion & Company and Casemate. He has another Europe@War book, Ripped Apart-Cyprus Crisis, 1963-1974, Volume 1, due out in August 2023.
Early in my Army career, I spent a year in Bosnia in IFOR (Implementation Force). I was fascinated in the history of the Balkans as I was now a part of its history. Since that time, I have read a lot about the region. Chasing the Soft Underbelly - Turkey and the Second World War is a book that I wish I had earlier as it really fills in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge of this region. I can now look back on time with better acuity, especially looking at our IFOR partners and their roles leading up to our time in 1995-1996, with Turkey, Britain, France, and Russia all continuing to play key parts.
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.
I lived in Turkey for almost three years, and saw remnants of WWII era military installations and museum exhibits. Which included the deteriorating runways of an abandoned airfield about 8 miles from our base -- used by USAF C-130's as the only landing area closer than Istanbul. I gained little insight into Turkey's role in the War, so I was immediately interested in this book. And I've ordered it.
Thanks mucho for the review.