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The German Lawrence

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Hauptmann (later Major)  Fritz Klein was a member of the Orient Mission to the Turkish provinces.



Late 1914, Fritz Klein photographed the Turkish soldiers accompanying his expedition.


December 1914: Members of Klein's expedition troop assemble in Aleppo


The oil pipeline: At the beginning of the 20th Century the British pipline of the Anglo-Persion Oil Company measured 350 kilometer. It led along the the River Karun in the southwest of present-day Iran to the Persian Gulf with it's oil metrople Abadan. At the outbreak of the war British troops landed in Abadan to protect the oil refinery. Klein's expedition succeeded in destroying the pipeline in early 1915 to effectively disrupt the oil supply.


Saved: Robbed several times by Arab brigands. After a 100 kilometer odyssee through the desert, the four Germans, Müller, Lührs, Schadow and Back reached the Turkish unit in Summer 1915, with which they had previously served.
To the left is the Officer Graeff, who was able to escape through the desert under extraodinary circumstance, received a wound in the neck. The picture was taken after the remarkable rescue. Lührs and Beck had previously blown up the British oil pipeline in Karun Valley.


Leaders of the German commando formation to destroy the pipelines after their rescue by their Ottoman allies They all now look like Lawrences.


Desert camp: Fritz Klein and his officers in early 1915 at their camp during the Turkish offensive at Basra (now Irak). However the city was captured by British troops on 20. November 1914.


Prior to the defeat: The photo shows the car and the escort of the Turkish General Süleyman Askeris during the offensive against British positions near Basra. In mid 1915 Askeri attacked together with Arab tribes of the region the fortified British encampment near Zobeir, but were quickly driven back. At the end of the disastrous battle he shot himself in his car.


Difficult withdrawal: The German officer Heinrich Uth, a lawyer, who long before the Orient Mission lived in Argentina, took ill with cholera during the Basra offensive. Unfortunately there was an accident with the ambulance waggon.


Proud trio: Klein's expedition was attached to the Army of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the German Empire. The photo shows the man from Westphalia (centre) in mid 1915 in Bagdad as "Mensil Mufetisch", a Turkish Chief of General Staff. Next to Klein on the left is his Adjutant Edgar Stern, who in the Weimar Republic became one of the leading liberal journalists and chief editor of Ullstein Publishing.


 Chamisieh was the last supply depot before the offensive at Basra began, which was also supported by Hauptmann Klein.

Four German soldiers were lost, thousands of kilometres from home. The city of Amara in present-day Irak, surrounded by the mighty Tigris and flood plain became a "mousetrap", as Hans Lührs stated. The main bridges were destroyed and the enemy was approaching in the distance.

"The British artillery fire came closer", Lührs later wrote. "We saw in a bend of the river the smoke trails of enemy ships". One shell exploded nearby, his horse reared up and bolted.

Far from the battlefields of Europe, the participants fought a ruthless proxy war. Tactics on both sides were similar; to find new allies and associates, to provoke revolts in the enemy's hinterland, and to tie down enemy forces on other fronts.

Failure at school, Sitzenbleiber, Globetrotter

For such actions the British had Lawrence of Arabia. The legendary archeologist and secret agent stirred up the Arabs against the tottering Ottoman Empire, the ally of the German Empire. And the Germans? They had Hauptmann Fritz Klein from the Westphalian Siegerland.

"Klein of Arabia" was luckily not so-named; it would sound ridiculous. However, Klein's men later justified their comparison to Lawrence of Arabia, and their unheard of mission could have become more well known. The historian Veit Velizke wrote a study about the forgotten Orient Mission - "Unter Wüstensöhnen", published by the Nicolai Verlag. Veitzke was able to access a valuable source: The 95-year old son of Fritz Klein gave the historian documentation from his father's estate - apart from handwritten notes, around 500 photos.

Veitzke found further sources, the  war diary of the Expedition in the archive of the Foreign Office. Finally, Klein's missiion was not only the most versatile German Orient Expedition, but with the most tangible success. It was only so successful, because the obstinate Hauptmann only basicly followed the orders of his superiors.

"A thrust into the heart of the British Admiralty"

Klein dreamt of a German-Persian Axis, which preferably being independant of the influence of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinopel followed it's own imperialistic goals in the region, which Klein undiplomaticly described as "geradezu blödsinnige Eroberungsgelüste", which would endanger any German-Persian Alliance.  Klein saw in Persia a long-term enormous cultural and economic perspective for the Reich.  

The man who desired to stir up the populations of Iran and Irak against the influential British and Russians, had as a child a mind of his own. His schooldays were for him nothing more than educational madness, superfluous knowledge he considered as ballast. Instead, he always had followed his common sense and his irrepressable urge for freedom - and fared well. Klein travelled the world, joined the army and worked in 1911 for a year as Militärattaché in Rio de Janeiro, Cairo and Teheran.

His experiences there, were usefull as the Foreign Office after the outbreak of war, were looking for personnel for secret missions in the Middle East. Klein introduced himself and was made head of a daring commando venture at the end of 1914: The Germans were planning to blow up the British pipelines in the Persian Gulf with the aid of Arab tribes - in order to break off the supply lines for the Navy. The General Staff had hoped this to be "a thrust into the heart of the British Admiralty".

As unusual as the mission and it's composition were, Klein was entrusted with a colourful group of linguists, adventurers, archeologist, tradesmen and engineers. His most vital assistant was Edgar Stern, the later chief-editor of Ullstein. The main group consisted of 69 men, and temporarily 306 Austro-Hungarian soldaten, who had escaped from Russian custody. They were placed under the command of the Turkish army, which controlled parts of Irak from Bagdad, which was already under pressure of the British and the Russians.

Klein wanted to do more than destroy oil pipelines. He improvised as soon as he met with a problem. As the Turkish fleet on the Euphrate and Tigris ran out of coal, his men searched for new coal deposits. The hastily dug mine was constructed by an Austrian metalworker, the logistics were improvised by a German waiter with 1000 camels. Klein's engineers costructed also guidable river mines, and sought to find a remedy for the plague of locusts, but with little success.

Above all, Klein hoped to "lead the Holy War into Persia".  The sunnite Ottman Empire had already called out a Dschihad against it's enemies in 1914 - but what about the Schiitic muslims?  In order to win these over for an alliance with the Reich, Klein had visited in 1915 without any knowledge of the embassy in Constantinopel the Schiite religious leaders in the holy places of Nadschaf and Kerbela.

320 Million litres of oil lost

"On the way Dr. med. Schacht took severly ill, became unconscious with intestinal bleeding", Klein noted on 24. January 1915 on the exhausting and difficult journey to Kerbala. "One hour ahead of Kerbala two intelligent and noble looking Persians met and escorted us. One of the is the son of Scheich Mudschtahid Ali."

Scheich Ali gave the Germans his princely hospitality with "hundreds of dishes with the best oriental specialities.", as the astonished Hauptmann recorded. After tough negociations Klein was able to achieve his goal: In February 1915 Schiitic religious rulers, encouraged by 50.000 Reichsmark,  called out for Holy War against Germany's enemies.

Although Hauptmann Klein with his solo effort made himself unpopular and was ignored for a while, he made his greatest coup: Escorted by Turkish troops, a special commando under the leadership of Hans Lühr blew up the British pipeline on 22. March at Ahvaz (now in Iran).  A cooperating Arab tribe succeeded in the following weeks in carrying out further attacks on the entire 350 km pipeline. On hand of the annual report of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company by the German General Staff, a loss of over 320 million litres of oil was estimated.

Festering  Burnwounds

Some of the saboteurs were put on the defensive. The British drove the Turks out of the region of Ahvaz, and their gunboats captured in mid 1915 further to the West, the city of Amara, where Lührs had withdrawn to.

Whilst retreating with Müller, Back and Schadow they crossed the flowing Tigris. One of the horses drowned. Disguised as Arabs the Germans attempted to break through northwards along the river. They were able to deceive British reconnaisance, but were robbed by Arab bandits, once, twice and over and over again. First the horses were lost, then watches, shoes and underwear.

Clad only in rags, the men tumbled barefoot over the hot clay ground and begged for bread, often in vain. Against the heat they covered their heads with tamarisk branches, which however attracted swarms of mosquitos and sandflies. "On our shoulders appeared large festering sunburn wounds", Lührs remembered. His comrade Schadow repeatedly fell unconscious.

An Unholy War

It was probably the greatest wonder of the mission, that Lührs and his men survived their odyssey. After a march of more than 100 kilometres they reached a Turkish unit near Al-Gharbi with the aid of an Arab sympathiser.

After the war, Klein dedicated himself to philosophy. The Holy War, which once aimed to unfold, he now considered "scheinheilig"; at the same time criticising any imperialism, which he had previously supported. He remained true to one principle: Persia remained the land of his dreams.

Source: Spiegel magazine, photos: Preußenmuseum Wesel.



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Wilhelm Wassmuss, 1880-1931,  German Consul in Persia and secret agent.


Tropical helmet worn by Wilhelm Wassmuss (Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum)

Nach dem Schulabschluss begann Wasmuss ein Studium der Rechtswissenschaften in Marburg.  So lernte er bereits in der Schulzeit Latein, Griechisch, Hebräisch und Italienisch. Darüber hinaus konnte er sich in Englisch und Französisch verständigen. Das Abitur bestand er 1900.

Als er erfuhr, dass das Auswärtige Amt im Bereich der Dolmetscherdienste Nachwuchsprobleme hatte schrieb er sich in Berlin am Seminar für Orientalische Sprachen ein und studierte parallel zu den Rechtswissenschaften Arabisch und Marokkanisch. Im Wintersemester 1902 wechselte er an die Universität in Göttingen, wo er auch sein Jurastudium abschloss. Seine erste juristische Staatsprüfung legte er am Oberlandesgericht in Celle ab und begann zum Jahresanfang 1904 als Rechtsreferendar am Königlichen Amtsgericht in Zellerfeld, Landkreis Goslar. Noch im gleichen Jahr ließ er sich nach Berlin versetzen, bestand dort im August seine Diplomprüfung für Arabisch und Marokkanisch. Im Oktober 1904 trat er seinen Einjährigen-Freiwilligendienst bei der III. Matrosen-Artillerie-Abteilung in Lehe an. Diese Truppe war hauptsächlich für den Überseeeinsatz aufgebaut worden.

Noch während des Personalgesprächs bot man Wilhelm Waßmuß eine Anstellung im Konsulat in Sansibar an, die er auch annahm. Seine erste Auslandsstation war Madagaskar.  Am 8. Januar 1906 trat er in Sansibar seinen Dienst an. Zu dieser Zeit waren die Transformationen des Deutschen Reiches als mögliche „Hoffnungsmacht“ für afrikanische Eingeborenen-Stämme bereits im Gange. Und die Landessprache Swahili eignete er sich recht schnell an. Seine Vorgesetzten waren mit seinem Engagement zufrieden und als 1909 eine Vertretung als Vize-Consul in Buschir am Persischen Golf für ein Jahr gesucht wurde, erklärte er sich bereit den dort amtierenden Konsul Helmuth Listemann (1872–1924) zu vertreten. Nach seiner Rückkehr 1910 auf Madagaskar übernahm er ab 31. Oktober 1910 das Vize-Konsulat in der Hafenstadt Tanga - Ostafrika. Doch bereits am 18. Mai 1913 wurde er abermals nach Buschehr entsandt, wo er die kommissarische Leitung des Vize-Konsulats übernahm. Hier herrschte inzwischen eine schwierige politische Lage, die noch dadurch verschärft wurde, da Russland und England diese Region für ihre kolonialen Bestrebungen entdeckt hatten. Immer wieder kam es zu Erhebungen und offenen Feindschaften der Landesbewohner gegen die britische Präsenz. Und die erwachenden, entmachteten Eliten dieser Region suchten in Deutschland einen Verbündeten gegen die Engländer. Waßmuß unternahm zahlreiche Reisen ins Landesinnere, lernte dabei die wichtigsten Khane kennen. Doch das brachte ihm mehrfach Verdächtigungen auf britischer Seite in Richtung Spionage oder Aufwiegelung der Einheimischen Stämme ein.

Anfang 1914 wurde er in die „etatmäßige Stelle des Dragomans“ an die deutsche Botschaft in Kairo versetzt. Auf dem Weg dorthin erfuhr Wilhelm Waßmuß vom Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkrieges und der damit verbundenen Kriegserklärung der Engländer. Daraufhin änderte er seine Reiseroute eilte über Kairo-Alexandria nach Berlin, wo er am 31. August 1914 eintraf.



Persia Mission

Other key names in the Persia Mission:
Max von Oppenheim, 1860–1946
Enver Pascha, 1881–1929
Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim, 1859–1915
Oskar von Niedermeyer, 1885–1947
Werner Otto von Hentig, 1886–1984

                                                          Translation to follow at a later stage.


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