He was born in Serbian Kraina Janja Gora, municipality of Plaški in present-day Croatia, at the time part of the Austrian Empire. Educated at a military school, he joined a frontier regiment. Latas fled to Bosnia in 1823 to escape charges of embezzlement. There he converted to Islam.
His father Petar served in the Austrian Army and in time was appointed military mayor of their home village. Michael was an intelligent and lively if rather sickly child. He developed a passion for military, and on leaving school he was accepted as a cadet in his father's Ogulin Regiment. He had beautiful handwriting, and was assigned to clerical duties. There he might have languished, if his father had not upset someone along the corruption line and suffered a conviction for misappropriation. Michael understandably felt that he couldn't stay with the Regiment, and he took off for Bosnia.
He became writing-master to the Ottoman heir, Abd-ul-Medjid, and on the succession of the latter in 1839 was made a colonel. He was military governor of Lebanon in 1842, won distinction in suppressing rebellions in Albania, Bosnia, and Kurdistan, but his chief services were rendered in the Russian War; he successfully defended Kalafat in 1853, entered Bucharest in 1854, and defeated 40,000 Russians next year at Eupatoria in the Crimea. His capture of Cetinje, Montenegro, in 1862 was a difficult feat.
After living rough for a time, he was offered a position as tutor to the children of a Turkish merchant, on condition that he changed his religion from Serbian Orthodoxy to Islam. Although an easy enough condition to fulfil in order to get off the streets, it was a huge cultural step that led naturally to his decision that his future lay with the Turks.
The big break came for the newly named Omar when the family moved to Istanbul. By astute networking and doubtless exploiting his curiosity value as an ex-European military man, he was appointed lecturer at the Turkish Military Academy. With this exposure he shone enough to be snapped up as ADC to the Polish Ottoman General Chrzanowski, who was engaged in the reorganisation of the Ottoman Army after the defeat of the Janissaries.
Now a Major, Omar completed a mapping assignment in Bulgaria and the Danube territories, gaining detailed knowledge of the ground which was to serve him well in the future. Chrzanowski also milked his ideas for reorganising the Army; in return he smoothed the way for Omar's introduction into Turkish society. He thereby met and married a rich heiress, the start of his meteoric rise in Turkish military circles. He was shortly afterwards appointed Military Governor of Istanbul. In 1841-42 he led a successful expedition to quell a revolt in Syria, and for a time was Governor of the Lebanon.
After the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, he was put in command of the Turkish forces in Moldavia and Wallachia. His firm and effective handling of a powder keg situation involving potential confrontation with the Russian and Austrian Armies, demonstrated that he possessed considerable diplomatic skills. Subsequent successful combat command in Bosnia in 1851 and in Montenegro in 1852 made the 1853 tangle with the Russians seem like just another war to be won.
There is no doubt that Omar's marriage had opened all the right doors for him, but equally no doubt that he proved equal to the challenges of high command which resulted. A clear and precise military thinker, he took bold decisions and relentlessly followed them through. Although he had a reputation as a strict and ruthless disciplinarian, he was revered and respected by his men. A true professional, while the other allies struggled to come to grips with local campaigning conditions, he had seen it all too often before. Perhaps for that reason the allied troops found his expression cold and disinterested when seated on his horse plodding round their lines.