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Weapons Of The Greco-Turkish War Part 1

Weapons Of The Greco-Turkish War Part 1
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Dimitri spotted a Turkish officer, waving a revolver; a whistle is his mouth screaming a shrill, mournful note as he urged his men forward in the attack. “Squeeze,” he thought to himself, “follow through.” The recoil of the rifle slammed against his shoulder, the muzzle climbing upward, off the target. The Turk’s chest exploded in a spray of blood as the bullet caught him in mid stride, lifted him off his feet and was dead before he hit the ground. The empty cartridge case spun in slow motion as the bolt cycled, the forward stroke running a fresh cartridge into the chamber.

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Greek troops wearing French-produced Mle 1915 Adrian helmets rush across a
boulder-strewn hillside under Turkish fire. The historical animosity between the
two combatant nations guaranteed the fighting would be bitter in the extreme.

At 100 meters now, the Turkish advance was closing in on his Greek position. He fired again, missing his intended target, working the bolt feverishly to get off another round as the enemy advance neared. Now the shots were hurried, the adrenaline and the onrushing wave of enemy troops robbing the Greek infantry of any semblance of calm. Dimitri’s third shot missed the mark, as a large Turk disappeared into a shell hole within a stones throw of the Greek trench. He fired two more rounds — cycled the bolt, the empty cases flew clear of the action and the movement of the bolt slammed yet another round into the chamber. As he raised the rifle to his shoulder, he noticed the small, dark sphere rise from the shell hole in a high arc, hang momentarily at the apex of its path, then become visibly larger as it dropped into the trench behind him. He ducked and shouted, “Grenade!”

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(Top to bottom) M1874/14 Gras Infantry Rifle, cal. 8x51mmR with shortened Model
1874 bayonet, M1874 Gras Artillery Musketoon with M1866 Chassepot bayonet, M1874
Gras Cavalry Carbine, M1874 Gras Foot-Gendarmarie Carbine with Model 1866 Chassepot
bayonet and M1874 Gras Infantry Rifle with Model 1874 bayonet. (The bottom four are all
chambered for the original Gras 11x53mmR.)

Centuries Of Conflict Resumed

The Greco-Turkish War is little known in the West, as are most of the post-WWI regional conflicts that flared up across Eastern Europe and in the Balkans following WWI. In the case of this small scale, but hard fought, bitter struggle, the origins of the conflict go back centuries and start with the conquests of the Ottoman Turks and the subjugation of Greece in 1456. The Greeks suffered under Ottoman rule for centuries, only having won their independence in 1830. The long, bitter history is far more complex in nature than the scope of this brief article on small arms.

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The main arms of the Greek army before WWI, shown over the Royal Greek Battle Flag.
(Top to bottom) Model 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine, M1903/14 M-S Infantry
Rifle, M1903 M-S Infantry Rifle and M1878 Greek Gras Infantry Rifle.

First Balkan War

Prior to WWI, the most recent military manifestation of this hatred between these ancient enemies had boiled over in the form of the First and Second Balkan Wars, which had seen a coalition of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, known collectively as the Balkan League, invade Turkish-held, lands in what is now modern-day Macedonia. The First Balkan War, fought in 1912, led to a quick victory over the Turks and resulted in the acquisition of a large section of the Ottoman Empire’s European holdings.

The Second Balkan War, fought in 1913 on the heels of the victory over the Turks, was waged in the traditional divisiveness that still marks this volatile region. The victorious Balkan League members turned on each other and began to fight over the spoils so recently seized from the Ottoman Turks. The Second Balkan War was brought to a quick conclusion when Romania interceded on behalf of the Greek and Serbian armies and invaded Bulgaria from the north, forcing the Bulgars to sign an immediate armistice.

A year later, WWI began with the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, and once again the entire region was engulfed in turmoil. With the Serbs initially fighting the Austro-Hungarian invasion to a standstill, Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in 1914, followed by Bulgaria in 1915. Romania jumped into the fray on behalf of the Allies in 1916, but quickly succumbed to an invasion by a combined army of German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian troops. Bucharest was captured after only three months of heavy fighting, and the remnants of the Romanian army retreated to the northeast of the country where they joined forces with the Russians. Greece was the very last country to enter the conflict on behalf of the Allies in 1917, hoping to expand their territory at the expense of the hated Turks and Bulgarians.

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(Top to bottom) M1895 Mannlicher Infantry Rifle, M1895 Mannlicher
Karabiner-stutzen, M1890 Mannlicher Cavalry Carbine, M1890 Gendarmerie
Carbine and M1888 Mannlicher Infantry Rifle.

Harsh Surrender Terms

The Treaty of Sevres, separate from the Treaty of Versailles, was signed at the end of WWI by Turkey and her neighbors. Like the Versailles agreement, the harsh terms forced upon the Turks guaranteed continued animosity among many of the Allied nations and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. The seeds of the Greco-Turkish conflict, long sown before the Treaty of Sevres, eventually lead to more war.
While the Allies squabbled over how to carve up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, the Greek government landed an army at the Turkish city of Smyrna, in Anatolia on May 15, 1919, as part of the Allied army of occupation. Simultaneously, the Italians landed a separate force in Anatolia. The ancient hatred brought on by centuries of Turkish occupation of Greece, manifested itself in the form of a number of violent clashes between Greek soldiers and the local Turkish civilian population.

The cycle of violence resulted in a series of atrocities committed by the Greek army, which fostered a nationalist movement lead by General Mustafa Kemal, better known today as Kemal “Attaturk,” the father of modern Turkey. The Greek government immediately offered to suppress the upstart Turkish rebellion, an offer mistakenly accepted by the other Allied governments at face value. The stage was now set.

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To fieldstrip the magazine of the Mannlicher-Schoenauer, press the détente (left)
on the front hole of the magazine floorplate with a bullet while twisting the floorplate.
The floorplate rotates (middle) until it is perpendicular to the axis of the magazine, at
which point the magazine may be lifted out of the magazine housing (right). A cartridge
is shown resting on the magazine follower in the final shot.

WWI Redux!

Following closely on the heels of WWI, the Greco-Turkish War saw the use of a tremendously broad cross section of former Allied and Central Powers small arms in the hands of both the Greek and Turkish Armies. I’ll focus on the most widely used weapons, while including a comprehensive list of the rifles and carbines used by both armies.

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Greek troops in full field gear in the streets of Smyrna in Asia Minor
during the early days of the Greek occupation.

Small Arms Of The Greek Army

The primary shoulder arm of the Greek army was still the Model 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, 130,000 of
which were delivered by Steyr of Austria through late 1904. The Model 1903 was the first smokeless-powder rifle ordered by the Greek Army in substantial numbers. Small quantities of M88 Mannlicher straight-pull rifles had been ordered for extended field trials from Steyr in the 1890s, but they were never purchased in large enough numbers to be considered general issue.

The M1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer is a very interesting rifle, combining the split-receiver bridge and bolt of the Mannlicher receiver designs, with the very innovative Schoenauer rotary magazine. Unlike the other Mannlicher rifles of this period, which relied on the patented en-bloc clip system holding packets of cartridges, the M1903 was loaded with the more flexible Mauser charger system. This simple, efficient charger, commonly referred to as a “stripper clip,” was so superior the Mannlicher system almost died out, completely after WWI.

The Mauser charger system proved extremely flexible. In addition to rapid loading of the entire magazine from an individual charger, the rifle’s magazine can also be topped off with individual cartridges — not possible with the Mannlicher en-bloc clip system. However, it was resurrected one last time post-WWI, with the design of the clips for the M1 Garand. The Schoenauer rotary magazine was tested by a number of different countries prior to WWI, however Greece was the only country to actually adopt it.

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Large numbers of 8x57mm German rifles were captured by the Greek army from
German and Turkish troops at the end of WWI on the Salonika Front. These
captured German rifles, such as the Gew 88 (top) and the Gew 98 (bottom), were
issued to one frontline division of the Greek Army.

Curious Magazine

The centerpiece of the M1903 magazine design is a rotating follower that pivots along a central axis within the magazine well. As the cartridges are forced downward out of the charger, the follower rotates, spooling tightly against a coiled spring. The cartridges force the rotating follower to pivot while the five rounds are stripped out of the sheet metal charger in a U-shaped path down and around the follower within the magazine. The cartridges are not staggered in the Schoenauer magazine, as is the case with the contemporary Mauser magazines. Unlike the other Mannlicher designs of the period, the magazine floorplate was flush with the bottom of the stock in spite of holding five 6.5x54mm cartridges.

Surprisingly, the arm’s unique magazine design was considered by many countries to be too complicated to be incorporated in a general-issue combat weapon. In both Greek, as well as Austro-Hungarian service, this opinion proved to be wrong on all counts. (The Austro-Hungarian army issued large numbers of Model 1903/14 Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles to their own troops during the early days of WWI. The rifles were in production at the Austrian firm Steyr, on contract for the Greek government, when the Austro-Hungarian army commandeered them in the fall of 1914.)

The Model 1903 action owed much to its Mannlicher designed turn-bolt predecessors — the Model 1892 and 1893 Romanian contract rifles — as well as the Model 1895 Dutch Mannlicher. The bolt of the Model 1903 cocks on closing. The design consisted of a bolt body containing the striker, coiled spring and firing pin, combined with a flag-style, bolt-mounted safety and a separate bolt head. The quality of workmanship, as with all Steyr-produced weapons of this period, was exceptional. The fit and finish of the Model 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer resulted in one of the smoothest military actions ever produced. Sporting rifles produced by Steyr on the commercial version of this action are considered some of the finest bolt-action rifles ever built to this day.

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Wearing armbands sporting the red cross, Greek stretcher bearers recover
wounded soldiers from the battlefield.

Bayonets

The later Model 1903/14 was simply an updated version of the Model 1903 with several small changes, the most obvious of which were the addition of a full-length handguard replacing the short handguard of the original Model 1903, and the addition of a stacking hook on the left side of the top barrelband. All of the Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines were issued with the Model 1903 T-backed épée bayonet. In addition to the 1903 pattern blade, the Greeks also converted large numbers of obsolete French and Greek Gras bayonets to fit the new rifles and carbines.

In addition to the standard issue Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines, the Greek army had large quantities of straight-pull Mannlichers captured from Bulgaria during the Second Balkans War in their inventory. To these were added M88, M88/90, M90 and M95 Mannlichers captured from Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces in the closing days of WWI.

There were stores of Turkish Mausers on hand as well, some of which had been captured during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Others were taken from the Turkish forces fighting alongside the

German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces on the Salonika Front in Macedonia, when the Central Powers surrendered to the Entente in late 1918.

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The French Mlle. 1907-15 (above top) and the Mlle. 1886-93 Lebel (above bottom)
existed in large enough quantities and with adequate enough stores of ammunition
to equip two full frontline divisions of the Greek army. In addition to the French
Infantry Rifles, there were 15,000 Mle. 1892 Berthier Artillery Musketoons (below)
with bayonets on hand to help equip units requiring supplies of French 8x51mmR ammunition.

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Mausers Too

From both the German and Turkish forces came large numbers of captured German rifles. Germany had been supplying large numbers of Gew 88, Gew 98 and Kar 98a rifles to Turkey to keep them in the war on behalf of the Central Powers. In addition to these captured weapons, the French had supplied the Greek army in 1917 and 1918 with large quantities of Mle 1886-93 Lebels, Mle 92, Mle 1907/15 and Mle 1916 Berthiers, along with outdated Mle 1874 Gras single-shot black-powder rifles interchangeable with the Mle 1874 Gras rifles the Greek government had purchased on contract from Steyr in 1877. Many of the Greek rear-echelon troops were still carrying mixed models of the obsolete Mle 1874 Gras rifles and carbines chambered for the 11x53mmR black-powder cartridge. A small percentage of these single-shot rifles had been converted by the French to 8x50mmR Lebel cartridge in 1914 and 1915. All of these rifles survived in large enough numbers to play a roll in the Greco-Turkish War. In addition to the rifles supplied by the Allies during WWI, the Greeks purchased an additional quantity of surplus Mle 1886-93 and Mle 1907-15 rifles from the French government during the conflict with Turkey. In the accompanying box is a list of the primary small arms the Greek army had on hand at the outset of hostilities in 1919.

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The patented Mauser charger loading system that set the Mannlicher-Schoenauer
rifle apart from the majority of the clip loading Mannlicher designs is illustrated
here with a charger in place, ready to load the magazine of this Model 1903.

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The differences in top barrelband configuration along with the full-length
top handguard are the easily distinguished differences between the Model
1903 (top) and the Model 1903/14 (bottom).

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The typical Mannlicher split-receiver bridge is clearly seen here with the bolt
handle closing ahead of the split receiver. Note the stamp of St. George slaying
the dragon applied to the bolt root just above the serial number on the bolt.

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The vast majority of surviving Model 1903/14s in the collector’s market today lack
the Greek crest on the receiver above the model designation. These rifles were
commandeered from Steyr by the Austro-Hungarian army when WWI began in 1914.

FOREIGN PURCHASE & CAPTURED ARMS

A brief review of the chart showing the Greek small-arms inventory during the Greco-Turkish War is enough to send chills down the spine of any accomplished supply officer! Ammunition in six different calibers was required to feed this cornucopia of different models. The decision was made, whenever possible, to restrict the issue of rifles and carbines to frontline units to a limited number of models.
As a result, nine divisions of the Greek forces in the field were issued with Model 1903 and Model 1903/14 Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines. Two divisions received French Lebels and Berthier rifles and carbines, while a third was issued with a mixture of captured German Mausers and Commission rifles.

This reduced the bulk of the ammunition supply to three different cartridges: the Greek 6.5x54mm, the French 8x51mmR and the German 8x57mm. To further reduce the likelihood of confusion, the crates in which each different caliber of ammunition was packaged were painted different colors in order to reduce the risk of the wrong ammunition being supplied to the wrong units in the line.
By John Sheehan

SMALL ARMS IN GREEK SERVICE

Greek Contract Weapons
Model Type Caliber Quantity
Mannlicher-Schoenauer M1903 & 1903/14 Rifles 6.5x54mm 96,000
Mannlicher-Schoenauer M1903 & 1903/14 Carbines 6.5x54mm 8,650
French & Greek Mle 1874 Gras Rifles 11x53mmR 77,000

Captured During WWI or the First and Second Balkan Wars
Model Type Caliber Quantity
Austrian & Bulgarian Mannlicher-Schoenauer M 1888/90 & 95 Rifles 8x50mmR 16,000
Austrian & Bulgarian Mannlicher-Schoenauer M 1890 & 95 Carbines 8x50mmR 700
Turkish Mauser M1890, 1893 & 1903 Rifles 7.65x53mm 7.65x53mm
Turkish M1908 Carbines 7.65x53mm 10,500
Mauser M1898 & M1888 Rifles 8x57mmS 9,150

Purchased or Supplied by France during WWI
Model Type Caliber Quantity
Mle 1886 Lebel Rifles 8x51mmR 16,000
Mle 1907-15 Berthier Rifles 8x51mmR 27,000
Mle 1892 Berthier Carbines 8x51mmR 15,000
Mle 1874-14 French Gras Rifles 8x51mmR Lebel (converted) Unknown

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  1. Luis Medina says:

    God Bless you.

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