Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Military Museum, Istanbul

Following on from my non-military post about my trip to Istanbul last week I now have a military one!  The last time I went to Istanbul I was participating in a conference at a concert hall right next to the Military Museum (Askerî Müze) but it was closed on the only day I had some free time.  I knew it was close to the Hilton as I had gone to the Veranda bar with my friend B during that trip, so was looking forward to getting in to see it this time.

16th Century Turkish and 19th Century German

It was a nice warm day when B and I wandered along the cat infested street to the very secure entrance (it is located in an operational military base).  The first thing that you see are a number of cannons (there are a lot of old cannons dotted around Istanbul) including a typically ornate Ottoman one from the 16th century.

Dominating the garden in front of the entrance, however, is an 1889 Krupp L35 355m fortress gun from the Mecidiye Fort which defended the Mediterranean end of the Dardanelles.  Weighing around 170 tons, this is the last big fortress gun from the Dardanelles left as the rest were melted down in the sixties.

Standing next to the gun is a bronze statue of a soldier carrying an impossibly large looking shell.  In this 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign it is worth noting the deeds of a hero from the Turkish side, for once.  On 18th March 1915 the allies bombarded the Turkish forts guarding the narrows.  Although the gun (this actual gun) wasn't damaged the crane which loaded its shells was put out of action.

As the allied fleet tried to force the narrows, an artilleryman called Seyit picked up and carried three 275kg shells to the gun, one after another, enabling it to fire at the fleet and hitting the pre-dreadnought HMS Ocean.  The effort caused blood to stream from his nose but he was  promoted to corporal for his efforts.  He was asked to pose for a photograph carrying a shell, shortly afterwards, but try as he might he couldn't lift one and in the picture (above) he is carrying a wooden replica.  He said at the time:"If war breaks out again, I'll carry again!"  A testament to the power of adrenaline!

The museum is in the building previously occupied by the Ottoman military Academy, their equivalent of Sandhurst.  The museum was moved there in 1950 and renovated in 1993.  It feels rather old fashioned today and reminded me of the military museum in Brussels although it is far larger and much larger than the Imperial War Museum.  The ticket to get in cost around £1.75 but I paid an additional £3.75 for a photographic pass which lets you take pictures.

The Last Patrol

The place is vast, as you can see from the aerial view on the ticket, but there is only so much time you can impose a military museum on a young lady so we whizzed around in about two hours.  There are many paintings in the museum and I found myself drawn to all the paintings of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.  I must resist the Outpost Wargames figures!  B saying it would be good to have an army of men in fezzes didn't help my resolve.

Sultan Mehmed enters Istanbul in 1453

Although I am hopelessly influenced by places I have visited or films I have seen as regards wargames purchases, fortunately I have never had that much of an interest in the Ottomans.  A few years ago, when I was travelling to Malta a lot, I bought quite a few Old Glory Ottomans (one of their better ranges) for the siege of Valetta but painting them looked to be such a  chore that I sold them on eBay.

If you are interested in this period, though, this has to be the best place to visit for inspiration.  They have a number of life-sized reconstructions of troops on display.

Battle of Mohacs (1526) against the Hungarians

The other thing the museum goes in for is really impressive dioramas of battles with full sized figures and equipment in the foreground and excellent painted backgrounds which curve around to give  a real feeling of depth.

The diorama featuring the siege of Constantinople in 1453 was particularly impressive with full-sized cannons and siegeworks in the foreground and  a huge painted background of the walls of the city taking a battering.

I remember reading (probably in Look & Learn when I was younger) about the defensive chain which the Byzantines placed across the mouth of the Golden Horn, in order to prevent a repeat of the situation in the fourth Crusade in 1204 when the Crusaders breached the Golden Horn wall of the City.  In the museum, they actually have part of it on display; probably the most impressive exhibit from my point of view.

Sultan Mehmed dealt with this by laying a roadway of wooden planks and dragging his ships behind the city and into the Golden Horn the other side of the barrier.  A model of the city at the time, in the museum, illustrates this.

There are many rooms of arms and armour, although the museum only displays about 1,000 of its 40,000 item collection.  These are not just Ottoman equipment but also includes a lot of captured equipment too, such as the European helmets shown above.

We spent rather longer in the firearms hall as B has a rather unhealthy interest in rifles.  She told me to take a picture of this Sharps for S, in Vancouver, who owns a modern reproduction of one.

Personally, I was more interested in the weird and wonderful like this Belgian pinfire revolving carbine.  What an ugly gun!

Or how about this petrol driven magnetic mechanism rifle?

And what on earth has happened to this Winchester?   B is a blur of excitement in the background as she seeks out all the German made weapons (of which there are a lot).

Here is a Nordenfelt gun.  The Turks used these at Gallipoli.

Although much of the museum is quite old-fashioned (you forget that Britain is a world leader in museum design and display) but there was a theatre area that looked more modern which had displays of Turkish soldiers through history.  I hadn't appreciated that Turkey fought in the Korean War.

Upstairs were the World War one galleries where they had this diorama of the Gallipoli landings done with 54mm figures (not as many as Sir Peter Jackson's one, however!)  In fact, the figures were quite hard to spot against the terrain.

There was also another large painting with a real foreground diorama too.  The Turkish uniforms in this are very pale, interestingly.

Obviously the Turks had winter and summer uniforms as both were on display in different parts of the museum. No doubt some motley combination of both was worn in the field.

There was a small but well done exhibit remembering the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, which was very even handed and included quotes from Kemal Atatürk about the gallantry of the ANZAC troops, which must have gone down well with the Australians looking at the displays when we were there.

There were cases of relics from the conflict and these helmets were genuine period ones, unlike the reproduction uniforms in the display.

On one side of the room was a section looking at naval operations, with models of some of the vessels involved, including HMS Majestic which was torpedoed by the U-boat U 21 in May 1915 off Cape Helles at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula.

HMS Majestic sinks in the early morning of May 27th 1915

She sank in nine minutes, turning turtle as she did so, but because of the other allied vessels in the vicinity 623 of her 672 crew were saved.

We eventually found a rather ropey cafe in the grounds (the one inside was closed) and also looked at some of the other outside exhibits like this Russian T26 tank and a Turkish Air Force Starfighter.  I recognised the Starfighter straight away as it was the very first Airfix kit I built.

All in all, although parts of it are dark inside and it is a little old fashioned, this is a very good military museum indeed.  All the labels on the exhibits are in both English and Turkish.  It has a (not brilliant) shop and the cafe inside was closed with the one outside just being a room with an urn of hot water and instant coffee and teabags which you had to make yourself.  When we went round it was virtually deserted, except for the Gallipoli exhibit which had about a dozen people in it.   Still, I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in military history.  We did miss the performance by the Mehter Takimi Janissary band as that was at 3.00pm and I was on the way to the airport by then but they play their music in parts of the museum and, like bagpipe music, a little goes a long way!


  1. Fantastic museum tour, Legatus!
    Enjoying following your travels with great interest.
    Keep them coming.

  2. What a fantastic museum! Suddenly I feel that a holiday in Turkey would not be so bad. Thanks for sharing kicks the ass of the rather sad military museum we have up here in Manchester....

  3. That has gone immediately on my bucket list.. would love to visit Istanbul anyway, but that is an additional reason...

    PS. Geek alert - label was wrong- Sharps is a lever action, not a bolt action ... he said hesitantly... :o)

    1. tragically you appear to be correct. It's still a Sharpes though. I'm sure Americans have pointed this out but that is the problem with having engraved brass captions. perhaps.

    2. Worry not... a mistake will be along soon enough... (I was going to get extremely geeky and say that with just two muzzle bands, it was probably a carbine rather than rifle, but came to my senses... :o) )

  4. Looks brilliant...I've never made it to Istanbul, but one day.......

  5. Great photographic tour, thanks very much. The chain was indeed a very impressive display to have.

  6. Thanks for the pics. The WW1 gallery was shut when we went, so we missed some good stuff, but we did get In free, it being a Turkish national holiday.

  7. Thanks for the great images of all the impressive artifacts and displays there. And only a fraction of their total collection. Love that gilt helmet - as well as the other ones too. An Ottoman army has also eluded my collection - although am very intrigued with them, both for their exotic troops types and usefulness in scenarios.

  8. Great report, sadly I did not have the time to go there on my last visit, but it is on my list. I agree with the gentleman above about the Manchester museum, a ridiculous building and a poor inventory.

  9. Nice photo report! It really is a great museum with a vast collection. I visited it couple of years ago when I was working in Turkey for a few months. Too bad you missed the Janissary band. They really put on a great show and it's certainly different compared to the western military bands.

  10. What a beautiful visit! Love the Battle of Mohacs...