Inception of the Campaign to May 1915
Br.-General C. F. Aspinall-Oglander
The records of the Great War contain no story more full of moving interest for the general reader, or of vital lessons for the soldier, the sailor, and the statesman, than the story of Britain's efforts to force the Dardanelles. The campaign was enacted upon the most historic of all stages for a noble feat of arms; it offered to a successful solution far-reaching and perhaps decisive advantages; and its lack of success was due in great part to the neglect of age-old principles of war. It witnessed on the part of all the belligerents engagedó whether British, Australian, New Zealand, French, or Turkó a heroism and self-sacrifice that reached the topmost pinnacle of human endeavour; it furnished the only instance in the war of combined naval and military operations on a large scale, and the only example in history of the storming of open beaches defended by wire and machine guns.
In the original scheme for the official war histories it was decided that the operations in Gallipoli and the Dardanelles should be dealt with in two distinct compartments, the naval historian telling the story of the fleet's efforts, and the military historian that of the campaign on land. The naval story has already been told in Volumes II. and III. of the Naval History of the War. But just as the late Sir Julian Corbett found it impossible to describe the doings of the fleet without dealing at some length with the operations on land, so in describing the events on shore, the present writer has had to retrace to some extent the steps of his colleague, and to include an outline of the naval side of the story. Particularly has this been necessary in relating the events of the landings, where the two senior services were working in close and intimate co-operation.
The military history of the campaign will be completed in two volumes. The present volume deals with the course of events from Turkey's entry into the war up to the middle of May 1915. The second volume will describe the subsequent operations on the peninsula up to and including the final evacuation.
From the outset of the Great War it was fully realized by the War Office and the Admiralty, as by the responsible ministers of the Crown, that the capture of the Dardanelles would involve a military rather than a naval operation; and the idea of such an enterprise, discussed for the first time by the War Council in November 1914, was temporarily laid on one side for lack of sufficient troops. Later in the year, in the belief that a condition of stalemate had been reached in France, the British Government began to consider the advisability of finding some new theatre for the employment of their growing military strength, where Britain's sea-power might be turned to greater account, and where the enemy could be struck at his weakest rather than his strongest point of concentration. This policy was strongly deprecated in France. There the Western Front was still regarded as the only theatre where final victory could be won, and both the French High Command and the British General Headquarters in France were sternly opposed to any weakening of the main British effort by the pursuit of a subsidiary enterprise.
Whether or not this view was correct is a problem that will doubtless exercise the military student for many years to come. Certainly the state of Britain's military resources in January 1915 did not admit of any new and immediate commitments in addition to a spring offensive in France. But strong support is not lacking for the view that a wiser policy at this time would have been to regard the importance of the Western front as latent, to cancel the spring offensive in France, and to order a temporary defensive attitude in that theatre while striking a strong and sudden blow in the Near East with the object of destroying Turkey, succouring Russia, and rallying the Balkan states to the side of the Entente.
To the student of the Gallipoli campaign, the opinion of eminent German naval and military authorities on this point cannot fail to be of interest, and it is noteworthy that as early as 12th March 1915 Admiral von Tirpitz was writing: "The " question of the Dardanelles excites the Balkans. It is a " dangerous situation: the capsizing of one little State may " affect fatally the whole course of the war." Again on 21st March he wrote: "The forcing of the Dardanelles would be " a severe blow to us. . . . We have no trumps left." And in General Ludendorff's War Memories, that eminent soldier explained: "If the enemy fleets, by occupying the Straits, had '' commanded the Black Sea, Russia could have been supplied " with the war material of which she stood in need. The " fighting in the East would then have assumed a much more " serious character. The Entente would have had access to the '' rich corn supplies of Southern Russia and Rumania, and would - " have persuaded that kingdom to yield to their wishes even " sooner than it actually did. . . . These details clearly show " the importance of the Straits, and therefore of Turkey, for " the Eastern Front and for our whole position."
Unfortunately, when the critical decision had to be made at the beginning of 1915, the British Government was without the assistance of an authoritative General Staff at the War Office, to advise them with a broad and independent review of the whole military situation. As a result, with barely enough munitions for one theatre, offensive operations were sanctioned in two at the same time, and neither attained success. Early in January 1915, at the earnest request of the Russians, it was decided to carry out a naval demonstration at the Dardanelles, with a view to relieving Turkish pressure in the Caucasus, and the pages of this volume will show the fateful chain of cause and consequence which led to the enlargement of this simple operation first into an unaided attempt by the fleet to force the Dardanelles, next, but only when all chance of surprise had disappeared, into a combined naval and military operation for the reduction of the Narrows forts, and finally into a great military campaign for the capture of the peninsula.
It may be doubted whether any army has operated under more demoralizing conditions than those which faced Sir Ian Hamilton's forces at the Dardanelles. Though for a brief period in early spring the Gallipoli peninsula and the waters that wash its shores offer a picture of unsurpassed beauty, the restricted areas occupied by the Allied troops throughout the campaign were in general a barren wilderness. Local supplies of food and fuel were wholly lacking, and the problem of drinking-water, though eventually solved at Helles and Suvla, was at Anzac throughout the campaign a source of daily anxiety. The climate in May was ideal for campaigning, but later it varied from tropical heat in July and August to such intense cold in the autumn that in one instance 16,000 cases of frost-bite and exposure had to be evacuated in two days. For three summer months there was an indescribable and revolting plague of flies, as a result of which endemic and epidemic disease was rampant. The dangers and discomforts inseparable from trench life had often to be borne by units and individuals for weeks on end without a break. Unlike the Turks, who had unlimited space for resting troops in the well-watered valleys behind their lines, the invading forces had no adequate rest camps on the peninsula. There was scarcely a corner of the ground in Allied occupation that was immune from hostile shelling, and every officer and man, from highest to lowest, went day and night in constant and almost equal danger of their lives.
The unsuccessful termination of the Gallipoli operations induced a widespread feeling not only that the campaign had been an unrelieved failure, but that the problem of the Dardanelles was so essentially difficult that no attempt to solve it could ever have succeeded. But a close study of the events of the campaign, and of the subsequent episodes of the war, goes far to prove that both these views were wrong. Whether or not the capture of the peninsula, and the arrival of the fleet off Constantinople, would have secured the prizes hoped for, is a question that none can answer. But there is at least abundant proof to-day that in 1915 the problem of the Dardanelles was by no means incapable of solution. Three times at least during the course of the operations, first at the naval attack on 18th March, secondly when the Expeditionary Force landed on 25th April, and again at the time of the August offensive at Anzac and the landing at Suvla Bay, the issue hung in the balance, and there can be little doubt that a combined naval and military attack, carefully planned in every detail before the troops embarked, and carried out in April with all the essential advantages of surprise, could scarcely have failed to succeed. "Mr. Churchill's bold idea", says the German official account of the campaign, "was decidedly not a fine-spun " fantasy of the brain, and this is borne out by the state of " things at the beginning of March 1915."
In war it is only the sum of failures and successes that is of importance, and in weighing the results of the Gallipoli operations, with all their high hopes, their bitter disappointments, and their records of matchless heroism, it is right to remember that at the expense of a casualty list which was less than double that incurred on the first day of the Battles of the Somme, 1916, the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Gallipoli destroyed the flower of the Turkish Army, safeguarded the Suez Canal, and laid the foundation of Turkey's final defeat.
I have been greatly assisted in the compilation of this volume by the staff of the Historical Section, and especially by Captain W. Miles, who has collected, arranged, and scrutinized the vast number of official records of the campaign. I have also received valuable assistance from the loan of private diaries and letters dealing with the operations, and from the criticisms of a large number of officers who took part in the fighting. The late Admiral Sir John de Robeck read the book in manuscript and sent me a number of valuable notes on questions of fact regarding the co-operation of the fleet. I tender sincere thanks to Mr. W. B. Wood, M.A., for his helpful comments when reading the chapters in draft form ; to Brigadier-General A. T. Beckwith for the loan of the photographs reproduced to face pages 79, 189, and 276; and to the officers of the 2/Hampshire Regiment for permission to reproduce their picture of the landing from the River Clyde. The maps and sketches have been drawn for reproduction by Mr. H. Burge.
Every attempt has been made to ensure the accuracy of the history, but it is hoped that if any errors are noticed they may be communicated to the Secretary, Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence, 2 Whitehall Gardens, S.W.1.
Seddulbahr and Morto Bay
Embarking at Alexandria
V Beach from thr River Clyde
V beach in May 1915
Naval observation party