Sunday, July 19, 2009
REVIEW: The Desert Baron
Title: The Desert Baron: Friedrich, A Warrior For All Seasons
Author: Conrad Crease
Genre: biography, military history
Point of Sale: Amazon.com
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib.
As a student of military history, I was of course aware of the fact that during World War I there was combat in the Middle East. The war there was perceived as a side show to the main event, and most of what we remember of that era is the story of T. E. Lawrence, AKA “Lawrence of Arabia.” I have since come to discover that Lawrence was a most overrated man, who is remembered today because he had a good publicist. One of the many people who contributed to my discovery is Conrad Crease, who wrote a biography about his ancestor entitled The Desert Baron: Friedrich, A Warrior for All Seasons. It’s an interesting tale of a man largely forgotten by history. Crease, writing his first book, has delivered a well-researched tale.
At the start of the war, the badly outnumbered German Navy’ Mediterranean squadron, was forced to flee from the powerful but ineptly-led British Royal Navy (First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill, was micromanaging the pursuit, all but giving rudder orders via wireless, despite a lack of naval experience). In mid August the force arrived at the mouth of the Dardanelles (not Straits of Hormuz, as in the book) with the British hot on their heels. There, Baron Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, a Bavarian army officer, assigned as an artillery instructor to the Turkish army, browbeat the Turkish War Minister into allowing the ships into port and safety. Thus Turkey entered the war on the German’s side, and Russia was cut off from western aid.
Baron Friedrich was then assigned to lead a mixed group of 20,000 Turkish troops in an attempt to attack and block the British-held Suez Canal. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Baron Friedrich nearly pulled it off, and tied down tens of thousands of Allied troops in Egypt throughout the war. The Baron pulled off this feat by rapid and aggressive maneuvering, earning the praise of later military historians. He was only defeated when British general Allenby amassed a force that outnumbered the Turks 10 to 1.
Baron Friedrich did what he could (very little, alas) to stop the Turkish genocide of the Armenians at the end of the war, and was also instrumental in the Republic of Georgia gaining its independence. After the war, Baron Friedrich became commander of the Bavarian military, and blocked Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923.
In short, Baron Friedrich lived an interesting life, and was a very good military leader. Crease’s book focuses on the facts of the Baron’s life, which is helpful, but does not reveal much about the man himself. We learn what Friedrich did, but not why, or what he was thinking. Friedrich never married, but did write a memoir published in German. Perhaps the “why I did what I did” wasn’t in the memoir, but if so I would have at least liked to see that stated. I also found the book’s maps, apparently taken from the German memoir, hard to read. This is a problem hardly unique to the self-published world. At any rate, The Desert Baron is an interesting recounting of an unjustly-forgotten man.