The Truth About The Dardanelles
Sydney A. Moseley
The Truth About The Dardanelles
It has taken me just five months longer than I expected to finish this book. This was due to two reasons. First, because I wished to verify through the most competent channels the statements I had made, and, second, because I determined to collect all the new evidence available. I therefore had to wait till some of the chief actors had returned from the scene of their gallant struggles.
My patience has been rewarded, I believe, for I have been able to obtain facts which, so far, have not been made public. These I have duly incorporated in the following pages. Let me say, however, that my whole aim has been to be the mouthpiece of what is quite broadly and generally known as "the Army," to which I have had special means of access owing to my position as an officially accredited war correspondent.
Perhaps there is an additional reason why the delay in the publication of this book should make it acceptable to those to whom I appeal. The public, ere this, has had time to get over the very trying period which followed the disappointment of Suvla, and will now be able to examine the evidence of the most glorious failure in history more dispassionately and from a better perspective. Any judgment that may have already been passed must of necessity have been hasty and immature. I hope, therefore, that the evidence I have to offer first hand, or from authentic sources, will enable the unprejudiced student of the most fascinating, the most thrilling phase of the war hitherto to reach a fair and conclusive judgment.
I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. W. L. Courtney, editor of the Fortnightly Review, and the editors of the Contemporary Review for permission to incorporate in this volume part of my contributions which appeared originally in their respective publications.
Sydney A. Moseley.
Shelling Achi Baba
At the Dardanelles. Last night the Turks made a feeble night attack upon the French, who just sat tight and repulsed the enemy with appreciable losses. The Turks made another effort to make good four hours later—at two in the morning—but were again driven back. These attacks by the enemy are simply useless, and the Turk appears to be realising this now, for although his defence is as stubborn and tenacious as ever, he attacks in a totally different spirit of late. He never gets near our men.
The rumour, therefore, that Enver Pasha was to utilise a hundred thousand "unused troops " to drive the British off the Peninsula occasioned much joy to everybody in the British lines. All were ready and eager, and I went to watch the fray at Anzac, where our waiting Colonials are straining at the leash. However, beyond the early morning's hate, nothing of vital importance happened. I had the opportunity of searching the coast from Cape Helles to Anzac, and was surprised to notice the proximity of the Australians and the Turks. A gully alone divides them. We crossed on H.M.T.------, and were soon in the danger zone, with clouds of shrapnel rising above our heads.
It was fascinating to watch these shrapnel clouds. You are looking into a clear sky, when suddenly and noiselessly a fleecy cloud slips stealthily from the heavens. It remains perfectly stationary, and even as you watch it more and more such clouds appear in the sky in the same mysterious manner.
Achi Baba seemed flatter than ever to-day and easier of conquest. I watched the formidable French battleship —— potting at her. With two destroyers dancing round her, she sought the range of the peak, and found it to a nicety with her first shot. It was thrilling to watch her. Her gunnery was really magnificent. Every shot, terrific and awe-inspiring, found the bull, causing a dense cloud of smoke to rise on the summit of the peak till it resembled a volcano in eruption. Sometimes two shots would follow one another in rapid succession, and you saw the flash and waited for the report, which, curiously enough, was simultaneous with the eruption of smoke from the target some thousands of yards away.
Soon, when you had begun to wonder whether anything could live in the vicinity of such a bombardment, our land batteries joined in, their shots dancing around the greater shells of their French ally. Finally, the famous "soixante-quinze" swelled the chorus, until Achi Baba was completely hidden by the smoke and fumes. Then, behold, she began to reply to our land batteries! We continued to search for excitement towards Anzac. What appeared very imposing from the sea was the big plateau of Kilid Bahr. That is to be our task when Achi Baba has fallen.
There is no doubt that even modern war furnishes a few thrills, and we had one—slight enough but pathetic—when, upon reaching our destination, one of the shots which were peppering around us found a home in a young Australian who was just about to go on leave after a lengthy sojourn in the trenches. He was not grievously hurt, poor chap, but it was sufficient to take him into hospital instead of to a rest camp.
"Asiatic Annie" did not greet us to-day. At Anzac also the guns that used to trouble us most have been silenced of late, but this may only be due to a desire to economise.
Around the Dardanelles is an imposing array of our fighting ships that swells the heart of a Britisher. Let the German boast as he may of his submarines in these waters, the fact remains that our ships are here and are doing their daily work despite lurking dangers. They do not, of course, out of a spirit of bravado present unnecessary targets to the enemy, but they do all that is expected of them, and even if they had suffered heavier losses than they actually have, we ought not to grumble.
On our way back we picked up a regiment of Sikhs and a battalion of Ghurkas. The picture of these—the one temperamental and thoughtful, the other lithe and alert, with smiling British officers—was a fitting climax to the inspiriting panorama of the Empire's united strength which we had witnessed to-day.
. . . Mr. Churchill, on November 30th, offered to congregate transports for 40,000 men, these to stand by in Egypt in view of an attack on the Eastern Mediterranean by the Turkish Empire. At that time no troops were available for that purpose, but "the need for action in the East of the Mediterranean was constantly pressed upon us from many quarters."
Two points, then, are very clear upon this juncture :
1. The need for an amphibious coup de main was perfectly understood, but no troops were available.
2. It became a matter of urgency to take some action.
Admiral Carden, approached on the subject of a naval attack, replied that the Dardanelles could not be rushed, but could be reduced by a regular and sustained naval bombardment. Sir Henry Jackson replied in the same strain, a coincidence of opinion which made a " profound impression" on Mr. Churchill's mind.
The unfortunate verbal difference between Lord Fisher and Mr. Churchill is no concern of ours. It is purely a personal matter, as, indeed, are most of those bickerings which those with an inflated idea of their own importance intrude upon the nation and its affairs. As reflecting the extreme moderate opinions in regard to the beginning of the operations, I quote the Times leading article of February 22nd :
"The bombardment of forts at the entrance of the Dardanelles on Friday by a powerful combined British and French fleet appears to mark the beginning of serious opportunities. In reality, a successful attack upon the Dardanelles might well become of the first importance and produce results which would quickly be felt in the main Eastern and Western theatres of war. Consider for a moment the position of Russia. She is a vast Empire with millions of men mobilised and is crammed with surplus stocks of wheat, yet for all purposes she is more cut off from the rest of the world than is Germany. The way to the Black Sea is closed by the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. Russia is in bonds, and it is the duty of her Allies to burst them if they can. Immeasurable advantages would flow from the opening of a clear way to Odessa. Ships laden with wheat would stream outwards, and ships laden with the equipment and stores which Russia so greatly needs would stream inwards. The political result would be equally great. The effect on the hesitancy of the Balkan kingdoms and other neutrals would be instant and would counteract the impressions recently created by the German operations against Russia. The fall of Constantinople, should it be brought about, would probably further mean the collapse of the Turkish offensive. The Turks would never survive a blow at their heart. The bombardment of the Dardanelles, therefore, if the Allies are able to carry it to its logical conclusion, contains that touch of imagination which has of late been conspicuously lacking in the war. Yet the whole operation is an extremely formidable one, not to be accomplished by sea power alone. The military strength employed should be of an equivalent to the naval strength. In other words, it is not enough to have plenty of battleships, for plenty of troops are required also. The squadrons can do their part, but they must have an ample military backing. Moreover, the whole enterprise would have to be planned to its concluding stage. Success in such an undertaking might change in many respects the whole complexion of the war ; the results that would accrue are many and vital. The one thing that the Allies dare not risk in a persistent attack on the Dardanelles is failure. At the Dardanelles we are at the gates of the East; there must be no failure and no going back. These things are truisms. We are convinced that they have been fully weighed, and that should anything further be done it will not be done inadequately. There is one further point which must be noted. We have said that to clear the way to Russia the Bosphorus should be held also. That is quite true, but it should also be remembered that if the Peninsula of Gallipoli could be seized and safely held the worst stage would be over ; the rest might follow at some due and convenient season."
It is evident, then, that there was unanimity upon the question of action in Turkish waters, so that those who afterwards condemned the whole operations had little or no authoritative backing. Where an obvious difference of opinion existed was in regard to joint operations.
Mr. Churchill said that Lord Fisher's scheme involved the co-operation of neutrals. He did not say that estimate was not confined to Lord Fisher alone.
There did appear, indeed, to be considerable grounds for including, in the reckoning, the Greek army. Only the archives can say why Greece failed us, and this is not the moment to call for secret documents. Even Mr. Bartlett admits the existence of a secret archive, although, to be sure, he in his wisdom laughs at such trivial obstacles to the manufacturing of sensations. He says :
"I do not wish for a moment to belittle these experts, but all expert opinion is only of value in the ratio of the data available for it to work on. Now, what were the data available? They are locked in the archives of the Admiralty, but in reality everyone who was out at the Dardanelles at the time knows they were almost nil."
Like the indiscreet Lord Ribblesdale, he is far too modest in assuming common knowledge of such exclusive information. At any rate, without diving into information which is locked up in Government archives, and regardless of wise theories conceived after they become facts, we come to actual happenings.
In the middle of February the Fleet opened fire upon the outer forts of the Straits—at Cape Helles, Kum Kale, and Sedd-el-Bahr. Mr. Churchill says that the first phase of the operations was " successful beyond our hopes." Mr. Bartlett, without a knowledge of what those hopes were, since they were admittedly locked up, etc., refutes this. He says that this was the first time he had ever heard this view expressed, because almost all the men he had gossiped with said it was this initial attack that " first opened their eyes to the true nature of what their task would be when the time came to attack the Narrows."
Here, at any rate, is a confession that the difficulty of the situation was not apparent, even to the naval men, before the task was undertaken. Nevertheless, Mr. Bartlett, who, it would seem, has no reason to complain of the lack of facilities, records the log of a certain battleship as :
"The results obtained on the whole seemed satisfactory, especially against Forts 3 and 6, but, on the whole, little serious damage seems to have been done, except against Fort 6."
From this somewhat vague method of expression we gather that the result on the whole seemed satisfactory. When the attack was resumed on February 25th, after a spell of bad weather, all the Turkish forts at Kum Kale, Helles, and Sedd-el-Bahr were silenced. Mr. Bartlett admits this; but, nevertheless, he terms Mr. Churchill's statement that the attack was successful as being "remarkable."
The Zion Mule Corps
The story of the Dardanelles would be altogether incomplete without some reference to one of the most interesting but little known bodies which has rendered yeoman service in the campaign. I refer to the Zion Mule Corps. They entered upon the scene humbly and unostentatiously, but within a week they were the talk of every mess tent from the Commander-in-Chief's downward. Their gallantry and general usefulness have been invariably emphasised in messages of appreciation and in the dispatches of the Commander-in-Chief. In answering an American Jewish sympathiser who had addressed him on the subject, Sir Ian Hamilton (as reported by the New York Day) wrote as follows:
"It may interest you to know that I have here fighting under my orders a purely Jewish unit. As far as I know this is the first time in the Christian era such a thing has happened. The men who compose it were cruelly driven out of Jerusalem by the Turks, and arrived in Egypt, with their families, absolutely destitute and starving. A complete transport corps was there raised from them for voluntary service with me against the Turks, whom they naturally detest. These troops were officially described as the 'Zion Mule Corps,' and the officers and rank and file have shown great courage in taking water and supplies up to the firing line under heavy fire. One of the private soldiers has been specially recommended by me for gallantry, and has duly received from the King the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Since then several greater rewards have been bestowed on the members of this strange band of warriors. Composed of Zionists, the corps has done much to solve what at one time seemed to be an insoluble problem of transit. This success was hardly anticipated by the authorities when they granted permission for its enrolment. It seems that the War Office, when first approached on the matter, were offered 5,000 volunteers, but grudgingly agreed to allow a body of 500 to be raised as an experiment. Immediately volunteers flowed in. They came from all parts of Zion, glad to escape the oppression of the Turk and to help the British to pay back old scores. Their military usefulness was only made manifest after extreme difficulty. In the endeavour to replace the motor transport by the obstinate quadruped they were up against a very tough proposition. The mule rarely shows much inclination to obedience, even when not under shell-fire. Under these circumstances he became rather less amenable even than before, but gradually his reluctance to "face the music" was overcome, until now, in the words of a high authority, the "Zion Mule Corps is absolutely indispensable."
The loss of life among them has been fairly high, but all casualties have been replaced, and much more than replaced. Perpetually under shell-fire, this loss of life was only to be expected. In Egypt, therefore, recruiting is being carried on vigorously by the Jewish community, the Synagogue being often used as the medium of appeal. I saw at Imbros the Staff officer from the War Office who was jointly responsible for the raising of this corps, and he expressed his astonishment at the extremely successful manner in which the Mule Corps had been able to carry water and ammunition from the base to the front line of the trenches.