Thursday 23 March 2023

WWII’s Absentee: German and Allied Equipment Used By The Turkish Republic

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Ancak, ulusun hayatı tehlikeye girmedikçe, savaş bir cinayettir - Unless a nation's life faces peril, war is murder (By Mustafa Kemal Atatürk)
Staying neutral during the Second World War was an art form that Türkiye managed to master through clever diplomacy. It would take until February 1945 when the country finally declared war on Nazi Germany and Japan, and even then no Turkish troops actually took part in the remainder of World War II. In fact, Türkiye's late entry into the war was little more than a formality after the Allies conditioned Türkiye's full belligerency in order to be invited to the United Nations. This no-show was undoubtedly much to the dismay of the British, who had actually expected Türkiye to declare war on Germany already on the 28th of October 1940, when Italy launched its invasion of Greece.

This expectation stemmed from a military alliance concluded between Türkiye, the United Kingdom and France on the 19th of October 1939. [1] Eager to secure Türkiye's future participation in the Second World War that had begun only a month prior, the UK and France promised to deliver large quantities of armament to significantly modernise Türkiye's dilapidated military. Ankara was especially adamant on building up a first-line strength of 500 modern aircraft that would be superior or at least equal to any of its neighbours. [1] Lacking the funds to even acquire half that number, the UK and France eventually agreed to provide Türkiye with more than 300 modern combat aircraft.

Even then, Türkiye was hardly expected to fight a major power like Italy or Germany entirely on its own. Having little in the way of a navy at its disposal and with the majority of its army still riding horseback, it would take a considerable amount of time for the Turkish Armed Forces to absorb all of its new equipment, develop combat tactics for them and deploy them in conjunction with other branches of the military. To make up for Türkiye's expected lack of combat efficacy, a future deployment of British and French forces to the country was envisaged should the need arise, and construction on some 95 mostly rudimentary airstrips all over Türkiye for use by the British, French and the Turks was commenced. [1]

But with the war raging on in Europe, Türkiye ended up receiving only part of the equipment it had asked for. In October 1939, the Turkish Air Force requested the delivery of 159 aircraft from the UK, including Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters and Bristol Blenheim and Fairey Battle light bombers. [1] Only half of the requested (and ordered) aircraft were eventually delivered, including just two Spitfire Mk Is. By the time Italy launched its invasion of neighbouring Greece in 1940 the Turkish Armed Forces were likely barely capable of defending its own borders, let alone commence offensive operations against Italian (and later German) forces located in the area. 

A line-up of Turkish Spitfires and Hurricanes in 1940. Türkiye received just two out of the fifteen Spitfires it ordered in 1939. Another Spitfire destined for Poland was received after the fall of that country in October 1939. The three aircraft had to be retired in December 1940 due to a lack of spare parts.

The volume of weapons supplied from France equally failed to live up to Turkish expectations. While receiving 36 Morane-Saulnier MS.406C1 fighters (seen in the header image) and 100 Renault R-35 light tanks in early 1940, further deliveries were halted after the invasion of France in May 1940. The United Kingdom too found itself unable to meet Türkiye's repeated requests in 1940 and 1941 – which had meanwhile increased to 546 aircraft – after sustaining significant losses at Dunkirk and during the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain did present a unique opportunity for Türkiye to acquire spare parts for its He 111 bombers after Germany had notified Ankara it could no longer deliver these in 1941. [2] Türkiye then turned to the United Kingdom with the peculiar request if it could supply He 111 spare parts scavenged from aircraft that crash-landed during the 1940 Blitz, which got a positive response from London. [3]
Another scarcely known war-related development was the construction of an extensive bunker and underground tunnel system from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea to protect Istanbul from a possible German ground invasion. Known as the Çakmak Line, named after its inventor Marshal Fevzi Çakmak, the Çakmak Line was inspired by the Magniot Line, which in 1940 was handily outmanoeuvred during the Battle of France. Vast sums of money and concrete were poured into the project, and an estimated 350 thousand tons of cement was used during the construction of the fortifications, which equalled one whole year of Türkiye's cement production at that time. [4] After the Germans retreated from Greece in 1944, the Çakmak Line lost its sole purpose and quickly fell into disuse.

One of the many surviving bunkers of the Çakmak Line situated West of Istanbul.

As the war began to turn in favour for the Allies from 1942 onwards, the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent the United States) for the first time were able to meet Türkiye's requests for significant quantities of war materiel. By this time the Allies had not only Türkiye's defensive capabilities to worry about, but also Germany's growing influence in Türkiye. In January 1941, Germany and Türkiye signed a treaty of friendship despite the fact that Ankara was still officially in a military alliance with the UK. After German forces pressed on their advance deeper into the Soviet Union, Berlin sought Turkish permission for German U-Boats to pass through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and the delivery of chromite ore. While Ankara refused the first request, it proved more willing to supply Berlin with chromite shipments on the condition that it could acquire Germany's latests military equipment on favourable terms. 

In a stroke of genius, Ankara then leaked the details of these negotiations with Berlin to the British and Americans, who then rushed to Ankara to outbid the Germans. When Berlin got wind of this, it immediately accepted Ankara's conditions, resulting in an order for 72 Fw 190 A-3s fighter aircraft and 35 Panzer III and 35 Panzer IV tanks in 1943. [5] Substantial Allied arms deliveries continued as well as London and Washington were again attempting to bring Türkiye into the pact. In December 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt, and President İsmet İnönü met in Cairo, but were unable to reach a consensus. As a result, the Allies in early 1944 announced that they would drastically reduce arms deliveries and cut off virtually all oil exports to Türkiye until Ankara ended chromite shipments to Germany and opened its air bases. Although it complied in halting chromite shipments to Germany in April 1944, Türkiye's air bases remained closed to outside forces.

The end to the export of chromite ore, which is used for the production of steel, was later followed by a complete cessation of diplomatic and trade relations with Germany in August 1944 and a declaration of war on Berlin in February 1945. Interestingly, Berlin had already anticipated a Turkish declaration of war sooner or later, planning strategic bombings on Istanbul in case of a declaration of war. Ultimately,  Türkiye's decision to pick a side ultimately came too late for such retribution to be practicable. [5] Had Germany carried out its original plans, this could have seen Luftwaffe He 111s being intercepted by German-made Fw 190 A-3s in service of the Turkish Air Force. Evidently, Türkiye's non-participation during World War II does not necessarily mean that its wartime exploits aren't an interesting topic of study, as the general lack of documentation on the subject might suggest.

A Turkish Air Force Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vb (left) and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-3 (right).

The following list attempts to keep track of heavy military equipment delivered to Türkiye shortly prior, during and shortly after the Second World War. The entries below are sorted by armament category (with a flag denoting the country of delivery). Towed artillery and anti-aircraft guns are not included in this list. The goal of this list is not to provide an overview of Türkiye's wartime strength, but rather to showcase the Turkish Armed Forces' exotic inventory of World War II-era equipment received between 1933 and 1949.

(Click on the equipment to get a picture of them in Turkish service)

Turkish Army



Armoured Fighting Vehicles

Self-Propelled Artillery

  • 49 Bishops [1943-194?]
  •  AEC Mk I Deacon Gun Carriers [194?-194?]

Turkish Air Force

Fighter Aircraft

Attack Bombers



Trainer Aircraft


Utility And Trainer Aircraft

Transport Aircraft

  • Nazi Germany 5 Ju-52s [1944-194?] (Used by Turkish State Airlines)
  • ~110 C-47/DC-3s [1947-1998]

Flying Boats

Turkish Navy



  • 1 Gür-Class [1934-1947]
  • Nazi Germany 3 Saldıray-Class [1939-1958] (One more boat seized by Nazi Germany)
  • 3 Oruç Reis-Class [1942-1958] (One more boat seized by the British and sunk during WWII)


Minelayers And Minesweepers


Motor Torpedo Boats

[1] The Turkish Air Force, 1939-45: The Rise of a Minor Power
[3] The Turkish Air Force, 1939-45: The Rise of a Minor Power  
[4] Another Section of the Çakmak Line of Defense in Çatalca Surfaced