Military Review

The Flying Dutchs of the Turkish Navy

The Flying Dutchs of the Turkish NavyFrom 15 to 16 in July 2016, Turkey experienced one of the most turbulent nights in its stories.

Events immediately overgrown with various rumors and gossip. One of these “sensations” was the announcement of the mysterious disappearance of 14 warships from the Turkish Navy, whose crews allegedly took part in the conspiracy. Initially, this news was published in the British newspaper Times, and then with great speed spread to many world media outlets that did not stint on the most incredible and ridiculous speculation about the location of ships.

Apparently, it was a common fiction: the traceless disappearance of 14 warships in modern conditions is simply unlikely. The final point was put by the Turkish government, which soon announced that there were no missing ships.


The Hurriyet newspaper, citing the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey, said on July 29 that three warships, or 1% of the navy, participated in the coup attempt. True, the nature of this participation was not detailed. According to the same source, the most "distinguished" aviation: the operations of the putschists involved 35 aircraft and 35 helicopters, which makes up 7% and 8% of the total number of units of military equipment of the Turkish air force

However, the subsequent personnel damage inflicted on the national Armed Forces, in the quantitative aspect, fell most of all on the Navy: out of 55, the current generals and admirals were dismissed from their positions of 32 man, or almost 60%. For comparison: in the Air Force a similar decision was made regarding 30 from 72 generals (41%), and in the ground forces - 87 from 198 (43%).

The damage that caused and massive layoffs of officers in connection with the July events is strong, but not fatal: the total number of the Turkish army today is 500 thousand, which makes it the second largest in NATO after the USA and 17 in the world. Without nuclear weapons, the Turkish army claims to be one of the strongest on the European continent. It is also currently leading real military operations in a number of areas. These include participation in the suppression of Kurdish separatism in the eastern regions of the country, actions on the Syrian track and actions in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Add to this the naval theater. Although there is no fighting here, Ankara’s interests in this area make it necessary to be ready for any development of events. What the Turkish leadership is obviously aware of.


The Turkish naval forces can rightfully be proud of their history. They are the heir fleet The Ottoman Empire, which at the peak of its power was considered one of the most powerful maritime powers in the Mediterranean. Her sphere of interests extended to the Indian Ocean.

After the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist, the tasks of the new fleet of the Turkish Republic became more modest - the command of the Navy concentrated on protecting its sovereignty and borders. The main directions were the Black Sea and Greek. In accordance with these challenges, an organizational structure for managing the naval forces was formed in 1961, which is still functioning. It consists of four operational commands:

- Command of the Naval Forces, consisting of commands of the northern, southern and western task forces, commands of surface ships, submarines, patrol boats, destroyers, support ships and naval aviation;

- The command of the Northern Naval Zone, responsible for the Black Sea direction and consisting of the commands for the protection of the Istanbul Strait and the Canakkale Strait (the Turkish names of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits), as well as the Directorate of Navigation and Hydrography;

- The command of the Southern Naval Zone, responsible for the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, consisting of the commands of the Iskanderun and Akzas ​​naval bases, the Mediterranean Regional Command, and the brigade of marines in Izmir province;

- training command.

To this should be added the forces and means of the coast guard, which are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior and, in wartime, are subordinated to the command of the Navy.

The development strategy of the Navy in the Black Sea area was mainly due to the need to contain Russia's influence in the direction of the southern seas, which has been its goal since the time of Peter I.

By the end of the 1950-s, the Soviet Navy was able to recover significantly after World War II, beginning to make efforts to reach the Mediterranean. The main force capable of opposing the Navy of the USSR was the United States, which in 1948 began the formation of the Sixth Fleet Navy. But after the creation of the 5 of the Mediterranean squadron of the Soviet Navy at the end of the 1960 and the possibility of stationing in Egypt, and then in Syria, the potential of the Soviet fleet was significantly strengthened.

In the post-war years, it was believed that the main task of the Turkish Navy in the northern direction was to close access to Soviet ships in the Black Sea straits in the event of war and hold out until the approach of NATO allies. The potential of the Turkish Navy remained modest, largely relying on US technical and financial assistance. However, the attitude towards Turkey was wary. On the one hand, Washington was interested in having a strong ally to oppose the USSR. On the other hand, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean was overshadowed by the complicated relations between Ankara and Athens, two NATO member countries, which contradicted the interests of the United States.


However, already at the end of the 1970-s, the Turkish leadership began to shift its attention from the Black Sea towards the Aegean, while Greece gradually took the place of the main threat instead of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact member countries.

In December 1991, the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov, which was decided to be included in the combat fleet of the Northern Fleet of the USSR Navy, headed from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and then to the Kola Peninsula, bypassing Europe. As in previous cases, Ankara did not object to the passage of the Soviet ship, despite the fact that the Montreux Convention does not grant the right to move aircraft carriers through the Black Sea straits. According to one version, it was justified by the fact that all Soviet aircraft carrier ships manufactured at the plant in Nikolaev were not called aircraft carriers, but aircraft carrier cruisers that had various weapons on board, which formally allowed them to be given a different legal classification. According to another version, the real reason was that the withdrawal of such a large combat unit from the Black Sea basin was a huge relief for Turkey, which perceived the Soviet fleet as a serious threat.

Thus, the December 1991 of the year was one of the most joyous moments in the history of the Turkish Navy: the Soviet Union, and with it the powerful Black Sea Fleet disintegrated, and Russia's naval potential on the Black Sea caused serious doubts. Ankara received a long-awaited opportunity to switch the main forces to the south.

Of course, the Black Sea was and remains a sphere of Turkish interests. But, despite the fact that Ankara’s position here was significantly strengthened in the 1990-s, its priority was to maintain stability and reduce confrontation in the region, which met Turkey’s economic interests and the principle of “zero problems with neighbors” declared at the beginning of the 2000s. Ankara welcomed the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into NATO in 2004, hoping that this would contribute to stability in the region, and also initiated projects such as BLACKSEAFOR, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, Black Sea Harmony. All of them contributed to deepening regional cooperation and strengthening security. The activity of the Turkish Navy in the Black Sea, according to Western analysts, has noticeably decreased after the collapse of the USSR. Trends were also caused by the country's limited economic opportunities, which made it necessary to curb military spending.

This was confirmed by events in Crimea in March 2014. In those decisive days for the Peninsula, appeals to Ankara about the need to restrain “Russian aggression” sounded in the Western press, recalling the close historical ties between the Crimea and Turkey.

But her reaction was restrained. In particular, Ankara did not even begin to cancel the march of the Barbados ships around Africa, consisting of two frigates, a corvette and a support vessel, planned for March 2014 of the year. This indicated that the Turkish leadership even theoretically did not consider the possibility of a full-scale war with Russia because of the Crimean peninsula and chose not to take active steps. The reason for this is simple: even if Ankara managed to sabotage the integration of the Crimea into Russia, it would have brought her nothing but an economic loss. It is also important that Turkish business was actively represented in the Crimea, and sanctions imposed by the West on this subject of the Russian Federation could then expand the opportunities for Turkish companies.

Nevertheless, the intensification of the military confrontation between the Russian Federation and the NATO countries in the Black Sea, as well as the strengthening of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy, scheduled for 2020, which Turkish observers call four times (due to the new 6 submarines, 6 corvettes and 4 frigates commissioned) can not but cause concern in Ankara. Moreover, she has taken significant steps in order to maximally secure her northern direction and smooth out all regional contradictions. According to the Turkish admirals, Ankara’s efforts to strengthen security in the Black Sea were significantly undermined by the events of 2008 in Georgia and 2014 in the Crimea, although these actions of Moscow are not interpreted by them as hostile to Turkey.

On the other hand, a possible confrontation between Ankara and Moscow in the Black Sea would be in the interests of the US and the EU, also because it would cause the diversion of Turkey’s large resources to the northern direction from the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, where Ankara has long been their competitor.


First of all, this concerns the territorial dispute with Greece, which is largely due to the geographical features of the Aegean Sea, which has always played a special role for Turkey as a transport corridor from Europe to Asia. However, a large number of islands in the sea raises questions about the recognition of territorial waters.

The subject of the dispute is territorial jurisdiction, which is seen by the Greek authorities in recognizing territorial waters within 12 miles from the coastline. The Turkish side, which refused to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, insists on Greek sovereignty in the 6-mile zone. Ankara’s fears are clear: if the Greek version is adopted, 71,5% of the Aegean Sea’s territory will be under its sovereignty instead of 43,5% under the Turkish version, which, according to some Turkish officials, will make the Aegean Sea a “Greek lake”.

The problem of delimitation of maritime zones made itself known in 1973, when the Turkish authorities issued permission for exploration work on the Aegean Sea shelf for the Turkish Petroleum Company. In 1974, serious reserves were discovered by Greek companies on the shelf in the waters recognized by Athens as their territorial waters. Disputes periodically arose in the following years, but under pressure from the United States and other NATO allies, and also because of the lack of sufficient naval potential, Turkey did not take drastic steps. In addition to the delimitation of the shelf, the subject of controversy is airspace and some other aspects. The likelihood of conflict forced Ankara to begin construction of Akzas ​​naval base in 1983.

As mentioned above, the collapse of the USSR opened up new possibilities for the actions of the Turkish Navy in the southern direction, where, in turn, there was a vacuum of power caused by a reduction in the US military presence after the end of the Cold War. Already in 1995, Greece and Turkey were on the verge of a military conflict because of the disputed Island Imia / Kardak, but Washington's intervention played a decisive role and the situation was avoided according to the worst scenario. However, in the same year, the Turkish parliament declared that unilateral actions of Greece in disputed territories, including geological exploration, would be considered as the reason for the start of hostilities. According to a number of experts, delays in the supply of American weapons in subsequent years, including frigates such as “O.Kh. Perry ”and Sikhok S-70 helicopters were in fact a hidden embargo on the part of Washington. True, some shipments of more outdated weapons were made on time.

As a member of NATO and remaining dependent on Western countries, the Turkish leadership has been forced to soften its rhetoric since the beginning of the 2000s. Moreover, since 1999, Ankara has become a candidate for EU membership, and the aggravation of the territorial dispute with Greece did not contribute to this process, therefore for some years the situation in the Aegean Sea calmed down a bit.

At the same time, the process of modernization of the Turkish Navy started. In particular, since the end of the 1980-s, construction of submarines in the Turkish city of Kotsaeli began in cooperation with German specialists, supplies of frigates from the United States have been carried out, and projects have been implemented for the serial construction of corvettes.

However, there were events that had a negative impact on the development of the Navy. First of all, this is the financial crisis of the beginning of the zero years in Turkey, the consequences of which did not allow for the implementation of a number of plans. A serious blow to the Turkish fleet was the Izmit earthquake in August 1999 of the year, which occurred near the main naval base Geldzhuk. As a result of the disaster, among the dead, including military personnel and civilian naval personnel, 420, and the coastal infrastructure suffered considerable damage, as a result of which ships from this base were seconded to other ports for a while. It is believed that a massive damage to the Navy was caused by mass arrests and dismissals related to the so-called “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer” cases - secret organizations allegedly preparing a military coup.

The events of July of this year also caused serious damage, which resulted in massive purges of officers. On the other hand, before the attempted coup by some Western experts, it was stated that the “realism” of the Turkish military was the main force capable of restraining the “romantic idealism” of the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, which, in their opinion, lies in Ankara’s intentions to resort to military solutions foreign policy issues. In this aspect, the mass dismissals of military personnel can be considered as a possible attempt to get rid of “dissidents” and make the army more “executive”. This also applies to the fleet.


New tasks for the Turkish Navy began to appear at the end of zero years. And this is primarily due to geological discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, due to which large hydrocarbon reserves were discovered, whose potential can significantly affect the energy markets not only in the region, but also beyond.

In 2009, large deposits were discovered in the exclusive economic zone of Israel, belonging to the Levant basin, located in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Egypt. Turkey began to show interest in them with a view to the possible import of Israeli gas. The waters of the exclusive economic zone of Syria and Lebanon are also promising for the discovery of new deposits. Obviously, Ankara’s intervention in the Syrian crisis in 2012 had, among other things, the goal of expanding the access of Turkish energy companies to Syrian waters in the event that the regime in Damascus was overthrown. However, the development of events followed a different scenario, which caused Ankara to respond in such a complex way.

We must not forget the problem of delimiting the territory in the Aegean Sea, which has tended to worsen in recent years. The mentioned discoveries in the waters of Israel caused a real stir in Greece, which began research on its shelf. Even a partial survey of marine depths showed the possible presence of large hydrocarbon reserves in the waters of the Aegean Sea: they are estimated at 4 bn barrels only in the northern part of it. of oil. The situation requires more in-depth research. However, they are hampered by a territorial dispute with Turkey, whose attempts to conduct geological exploration in the waters of the Aegean Sea and the exclusive economic zone of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus recognized by Ankara provoked violent protests in Athens and Brussels.

But if in previous years Ankara hoped to join the EU and made serious efforts to remove the territorial dispute with Athens from the agenda, then today it is clear that Turkey is not threatened in the foreseeable future. According to the statements of some politicians, to 3000 year. And the events of June 2016 in the UK showed that the EU itself has ambiguous prospects for preservation. In this situation, the constraining factor in the form of Ankara’s reluctance to conflict with the EU may no longer exist, therefore, the development of the situation according to the military scenario cannot be ruled out.

To be fair, it should be noted that Turkey is not the only country that claims for the hydrocarbon riches of the Aegean Sea, and the attempts to curb the activity of Turkish companies on the part of the Europeans are not due to mythical European solidarity, but to elementary competition. This was also observed during the economic crisis of the 2010 year in Greece, which so successfully coincided with the geological discoveries in the Mediterranean. According to a number of Western experts, the strict requirements of Germany against the Greek government had the ultimate goal of forcing Athens to sell shares in the largest oil producing companies in the country. Apparently, hence the statements of some deputies of the German parliament about the sale of uninhabited Greek islands in order to service the public debt, which would give European companies the opportunity to carry out geological exploration and mining in the Aegean Sea.

According to some information, Washington also attempted to influence this dispute by offering Athens and Ankara 20% of the revenues received in case of successful implementation of mining projects in exchange for Noble Energy’s unlimited access to the Aegean Sea, which would receive 60% of revenues. It was with the help of this company that the first deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean were discovered that belong today to Israel. Entry into the European hydrocarbon markets is one of the priorities in American economic policy. The Mediterranean and Aegean seas are the most favorable opportunity for this.


In 2015, Europe faced a migration crisis in which more than 1 million people from Africa and the Middle East arrived in search of refuge in the Old World. Since about the summer of 2015, the route from Turkey and Syria to the Greek coast has become the most active direction of migration, which is largely due to the geographical features of this sea: it is easier to hide on numerous islands and distances are not so far compared to other ways.

Few people paid attention to the fact that this route runs through the disputed waters of the Aegean Sea. In the past years, the actions of European border guards here provoked tough protests from Ankara, leading to incidents and diplomatic scandals, which made it difficult to ensure border security in this direction. This can be explained by the low efficiency of the operation “Poseidon”, which is currently being carried out by the European border agency FRONTEX in the Greek direction.

On the other hand, the migration crisis can be used by each side as a pretext for securing in the Aegean Sea, to which there is an increased interest.

In particular, the famous agreement on migrants between Turkey and the EU, in addition to the economic component in the form of compensation, should allow Ankara to expand the influence of its naval forces in the Aegean Sea under the pretext of fighting illegal migration. Perhaps this goal was pursued by the Turkish government in negotiations with the EU.

Indicative and the recent reaction of Turkey to the increased presence of NATO in the waters of the Aegean Sea. This is the so-called Maritime Group 2, consisting of 7 ships of NATO member countries, whose official goal is to assist in the fight against illegal migration. The decision to send them to the Aegean Sea was made in February 2016, the most active participant in the initiative is Germany. Already in June of this year, the Turkish media, citing the government, said that Ankara is in favor of stopping this North Atlantic alliance mission, citing its position by the lack of need for it and the threat of aggravating the conflict with Greece.

The plans to send a warship from the US Navy to the Aegean Sea to combat migration were announced in May by 2016 and US Secretary of State John Kerry. It's amazing how much the problem of refugees in Europe worries Washington that he is taking such steps.

It is possible that in the above-mentioned actions of the United States and NATO, in addition to combating illegal migration, there are also hidden targets in this region.

One thing is clear: the Aegean Sea becomes the center of confrontation not only of the Turkish and Greek Navy, but also of other countries.


Ankara’s actions suggest that she is preparing to defend her interests in the southern direction. The 8 tank landing ships have already been put into service, two more larger tank landing ships and two universal landing ships are planned to be built. This will make it possible to form two full-fledged naval assault flotillas, which is the most preferred tactical unit for possible combat operations in the Aegean Sea, completely covered by islands. The Black Sea direction, for all its importance, is considered by Ankara as less probable on the subject of military conflict. However, a confrontation with Russia, including on the maritime theater, would be very beneficial for both the United States and Europeans in order to divert Turkish resources from the zone of their interests.

Today, the Turkish Navy has 13 submarines, 18 frigates, 8 corvettes, 15 aircraft and 33 helicopters. The total number of warships, auxiliary fleet ships and boats is about 300 units. According to the command, the operation of the Navy is provided by 22,5 thousand troops, the fleet accounts for 14% of the country's military budget.

In the 1997 year for the first time, it was stated that the tasks of the Turkish Navy are not only to protect the state’s territory, but also to increase the welfare of the country, which is due to its high dependence on world markets. At the same time, they talked about the fact that Turkey is able to build a “blue water” fleet - the so-called naval forces in the West, whose total potential allows them to operate in seas located far from the country’s territory.

Of course, the country's economic potential does not allow talking about such a fleet, but Ankara can be proud of some achievements. For example, during the 2011 events in Libya, the Turkish Navy took an active part in the evacuation of Turkish citizens from this country, whose number reached 20 thousand. In 2004, warships assisted in the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia. Turkish ships today are also involved in ensuring the safety of navigation against pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa. In recent years, the establishment of a Turkish naval base in Qatar has been considered. True, the latter may meet with tough opposition from Iran.

The revitalization of Turkey’s foreign policy in recent years has often been justified by the "sultan" ambitions of its leader Recep Erdogan, the ideas of neo-Ottomanism and the desire to restore its former influence. Of course, such ideas are not alien to Turkish society as the heir to an empire with a great history. However, the first reason for expansion abroad is the need to gain access to resources and especially energy. Today, more than 90% of hydrocarbons consumed in the country are satisfied by external supplies, in addition to the next year, the increase in domestic demand for energy in energy 15 is expected in the next 1,5. The situation is similar in food security, water supply and other areas. In other words, the question of economic expansion is not so much the political ambitions of Turkish leaders as the question of preserving Turkey as a country and the survival of a nation. And a strong army is an integral part of this strategy.

As for Russia, by the year 2050, according to the forecast, the population of Turkey will be in quantitative terms equal to the Russian one and even exceed it. Despite the difficult history of relations between the two countries, I want to believe in a peaceful and good-neighborly future.

However, the fact that Turkey is becoming an independent state with its own interests, possessing a strong army, unlike many European ones, is ready to fight, there is an obvious fact that needs to be taken into account. “Shapkozakidatelskie” slogans that sounded in some media in relation to the military potential of this country, are absolutely inappropriate here.

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  1. avvg
    avvg 20 August 2016 19: 17
    In my opinion, the Turks fully realized that they need to be friends with the Russians and cannot quarrel.
    1. APASUS
      APASUS 20 August 2016 19: 46
      I already wrote about the Turkish proverb:
      If you can’t cut off the enemy’s hand, kiss her!
      Erdogan is not quite as simple as it seems, after the betrayal of the Americans, he seeks a new alliance, but this is not from allied aspirations, it is rather from hopelessness .........
  2. egor-kz
    egor-kz 20 August 2016 20: 20
    Quote: avvg
    In my opinion, the Turks fully realized that they need to be friends with the Russians and cannot quarrel.

    I can not agree with you, colleague. Mother story tells us otherwise. NEVER the Turks were friends with anyone, let alone with us ... not just fighting, but they were under, not afraid of comparison, puppet management of the British hating Russia. In my opinion, we need to be careful as never before! And to be reasonably practical: there is friendship, if only it is beneficial to us. Today it is more than that. One resuscitation of the Turkish stream will allow the GDP to pump blood pend @ itself and their island sneaks so much bile that it’s just fun.
  3. Sergey333
    Sergey333 20 August 2016 20: 46
    Ankara’s actions indicate that she is preparing to defend her interests precisely in the south.

    It is wrong to call it "defends", rather it wanted to seize something, a piece of Syria, for example.
    1. ImPerts
      ImPerts 22 August 2016 09: 21
      They have a problem in Syria and Iraq that will prevent them from swallowing a piece of Syria. These are Kurds. Kurds of Syria, Kurds of Iraq, their own. Based on this, the Turks will be kicking and kicking for the integrity of Syria. In this regard, Erdogan and Assad along the way. Here they have one motive and one melody. As soon as they (the Turks) try to swallow the north of Syria, they will immediately receive an intensification of the Kurdish struggle for independence.
      And although the Americans sent a delegation to Turkey to resolve the issue of F. Gulen, they are playing the Kurdish card, actively training and supplying the Kurds.
  4. Igor V
    Igor V 21 August 2016 14: 56
    Relations between Russia and Turkey are complex and diverse. We must not forget that Istanbul was Constantinople, and the Janissaries, the guard of the Turkish sultans, were Russian. I think we have common ground and everyone remembers and does not want a repetition of military confrontations.
  5. RoTTor
    RoTTor 21 August 2016 21: 04
    I think the changes will lead to better performance.
    1. restore the ability to indicate your country = USSR. For Soviet officers, this is a matter of principle.
    2. It is no less important for normal people, citizens of today's Ukraine, where there is a "witch hunt" for whom the USSR and Russia are their homeland.