Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Gallipoli



The British War Council met in London on 2 January 1915 to consider an urgent war request for assistance from the commander in chief of the Russian army.

As recently as 27 December, the Russians were on the verge of being encircled by the Ottoman Army in the Caucasus.  After deliberations, Britain initiated planning for the Dardanelles campaign.  Unknown to the British, by the time of this War Council meeting, Russia was on the verge of total victory.  Yet, learning of this shortly thereafter, the British decided to forge ahead anyway – as fateful and disastrous a decision as any taken on the western front.

Field Marshall Kitchener was the loudest voice in the Council.  He felt a naval operation along the Mediterranean coast would be sufficient to draw Ottoman troops away from the Russians and the Caucasus due to fear of risk to the capital, Istanbul.  Kitchener turned to Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, tasking him to measure the feasibility of the endeavor.  Churchill raised the stakes: more than just bombing coastal positions why not force the Straits and go on to the capital?

The Dardanelles run over forty miles from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Marmara; at the Narrows, the distance between the shores of Europe and Asia is as little as 1.600 yards.  The path was strewn with undersea mines.

Admiral Carden replied to Churchill: the Straits could be forced with naval power alone.  But by this time, news came of the Russian successes.  So the objective changed: instead of going now to aid their Russian allies, the British would go to conquer a weakened Turkey, believed to be on the brink of collapse.

The French promised full support in the Mediterranean, and the Russians promised to simultaneously attack the northern Straits from the Black Sea.  And, as was expected for the time, the Allies immediately went into negotiations to divide up the soon-to-be dissolved remains of the Ottoman Empire.

By early February, the British and French had massed their fleets in the Mediterranean. They would soon come to conclude that some ground troops might actually be necessary in the assault; between the British and the French, soon over 60,000 troops would be assembled.

Naval operations began on 19 February – eighteen battleships, including the massive Queen Elizabeth.  With a range farther than the capability of the Turkish guns onshore, the navy was free to fire without risk.  Only when British ships approached the shore to assess the damage, the Turkish gunners returned fire.

News of the attack panicked Istanbul.  The Ottoman government and the palace left the city and set up shop in Anatolia; the treasury was doing the same with its gold.  The British were anticipating a government crisis that would topple the Young Turk government.

And then catastrophe for the British and French.  On 18 March, several ships were able to enter the Straits – to include the Queen Elizabeth.  After being hit by Turkish shelling, the French ship Bouvet turned to leave the Straits.  Then it all really went bad: being carried downstream by the strong currents, it struck a mine. 

The explosion blew a hole in the hull; the ship capsized within two minutes with nearly all of its crew of 724 trapped inside – and then it immediately plunged to the ocean floor.  Sixty-two men survived.

The Allies were caught by surprise with the mine explosion; it hadn’t dawned on them that the Ottomans might lay new mines after the British finished sweeping operations days earlier.  These new mines caught the Bouvet, and would quickly strike the Inflexible, Irresistible, and Ocean.  Four ships in a matter of a few hours.

And this was before artillery fire from the shore struck the Suffren and Gaulois.  Even the Queen Elizabeth suffered five hits.  All Allied ships were recalled from the Straits, escaping to safety.

Three battleships sunk, three others badly damaged; over 1,000 lives lost and hundreds wounded.  One-third of the Allied battle fleet was lost in a single day – with nothing to show for the effort.  The events of 18 March brought to an end the naval campaign.  Not leaving bad enough alone, the Allies began to work out a land campaign; after all, to withdraw after such a disastrous defeat would not be honorable.

The Allies took one month to develop their battle plan.  The Turks, aided by German military officers, took the month to fortify their positions.  On 25 April the assault began.  From the beginning, nothing went to plan – with results as disastrous and futile as those realized in the naval campaign.


The Allies successfully landed 50,000 men (after accounting for the dead and wounded) yet were unable to secure a single one of their objectives.  Casualty rates as high as 30 percent within the first days, with nothing but a few hundred yards to show for it.  Ottoman casualty rates were as high – and higher when the Ottomans attempted a counter-attack.

After a month of horrific fighting, a stalemate ensued: just as in the western front, this south-eastern front would turn into a body churning trench war.  This, combined with the arrival of German U-boats, certainly offset any possible Allied advantage, and made stalemate almost certain.

The situation in Gallipoli caused a political crisis at home.  The Liberal government was forced to accept cabinet members from the Conservative Party – one casualty was Churchill, replaced as Lord of the Admiralty by Arthur James Balfour.  It wasn’t the Ottoman government that fell, but the British.

Lord Kitchener – who, despite having been perhaps most responsible for the planning that led to the disaster, remained in office – presented three options to the newly formed Dardanelles Committee.

Britain and its Allies could abandon the Gallipoli campaign altogether.  They could dispatch a major army to conquer the peninsula.  Or they could continue to reinforce the small expeditionary force under Sir Ian Hamilton in the hope of making slow but steady progress towards the eventual conquest of Gallipoli.

Option one was ruled out immediately: lose to Muslims here and there would be Muslim uprisings throughout the Allied and Allied-controlled portions of the Ottoman Empires.  After debating the other two options, it was decided to dispatch a major Army: five divisions would be sent, each comprised of 10,000 – 15,000 men.

Over the summer, trenches would form a complex grid throughout the landscape.  Those who saw battle on both the western front and Gallipoli felt that, of the two, the latter was far worse.  Unlike the western front, where a soldier might go months without firing his rifle, on Gallipoli the fighting was constant.  With the Turks holding the high ground and the German U-boats driving the British navy far from shore, Turkish artillery pounded the Allied trenches with impunity.  And this says nothing of the snipers.

Leave.  There was no place to take leave, unlike on the western front where towns and villages were just a few miles away, offering respite.

The soldiers were afraid of being attacked, but more afraid of going on the attack.  Wave after wave would be sent, only to be mowed down by Turkish fire.  Dead bodies by the thousands filled the land between the combatants.  In the intense summer heat, the flies filled the skies.  The flies accompanying the dead also accompanied the living – to include the food rations.  Sickness traveled from the dead to the living.

Week after week the casualties mounted, by the thousands and tens-of-thousands.  Yet, one more push.  A successful marine landing: twenty-thousand men landed on a beach defended by no more than 1,500 Ottoman soldiers.  Alas, an opportunity lost: unaware of the relatively small force opposite, the British commanders gave their men a day of rest.  And during this day, the Ottomans reinforced their positions.

Two months later, 11 October, the first discussion of evacuation was raised; even evacuation was not risk free, with casualty estimates as high as fifty-percent.  One month later, the “prime mover” of the campaign, Lord Kitchener, came to visit for the first time:

He saw Gallipoli and he understood: “The country is much more difficult than I imagined…and the Turkish positions…are natural fortresses which, if not taken by surprise at first, could be held against very serious attack by larger forces than have been engaged.”

The decision to evacuate was made on 7 December; over the course of two nights, ending 20 December, 77,000 soldiers were successfully evacuated with not a single casualty.  The British, it seems, were far more careful with the plans of evacuation than they had been with their plans of conquest.

Conclusion

Initially it was thought that 50,000 could secure the Straits.  Even after a force of over half-a-million was deployed, this was not accomplished.  They faced an Ottoman contingent of over 300,000.  Of the roughly 800,000 men who fought in the campaign, perhaps 500,000 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

Gallipoli, for the Allies, was a total defeat.

Epilogue

If you have not seen the movie Gallipoli, with a young Mel Gibson, it is well worth it if you want a visual of the utter catastrophe that was the Gallipoli campaign.  Just multiply what you see by about 10,000.

17 comments:

  1. "The Germans are crucifying kittens to church doors in Belgium!"

    I'll never forget the line in *Gallipoli* uttered by an older, patriotic Aussie woman, encouraging the two lads (including the Mel Gibson character) when they announced their intention to join Her Majesty's armed forces.

    You can't have a splendid little (or big) war without a good atrocity narrative. "And so it goes," as Vonnegut did say.

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    1. One of the best anti-war movies ever made.

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    2. Peter Weir is an excellent film maker, sad he hasn't made a movie since 2010 (The away Back).

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  2. It has been a long time since I saw the movie. I may have to re-watch it.

    Have you considered a section on movies, or plays, that are based on historical events and you think are worth watching?

    I will throw 3 movies that are tough to watch but are historically based (could be subdivided to fiction / non-fiction) and are worth watching. I think that it would fit the culture aspect of our discussions.

    Joyeux Noel
    The WW1 Christmas truce.

    To End All Wars
    Allied POWs railroad building in Burma.
    So to speak, the real bridge over the river Kwai.

    Sophie Scholls - The Last Days
    The last days of Sophie, a member of the White
    Rose, a anti-Nazi pamphleteering student group.
    Based on actual trial documentation.

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  3. Try Tae Guk Gi - The Brotherhood of War about the Korean war. It's like Private Ryan on steroids but demonstrating the futility of picking sides.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taegukgi_(film)

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  4. Hey bionic great article. One thing to add on the Conclusion. Gallipoli is a major event in Australian (and New Zealand) every year event called ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day is remember for all Australians (and New Zealanders) that die in overseas war past and present.

    What is interesting is that it is on the day of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915 because it mean a lot for the nation. It is weird to celebrate a loss. The reason is more on the three things,

    One it was the first conflict that Australia as an Nation went into.

    Two it is sort of anti war and I always got the feeling anti British and anti generals. This is since the soldiers are just following orders and the Australians (and New Zealanders) did it well.

    Three it is more about how ANZAC soldiers were put in an impossible situation but did not run and always help his fellow Anzac risking life to save his team. Events of Australian soldiers gaping and throwing back Turkish bombs, another of soldiers risking going to no mans land to get dead, dying or injury mates back to camp.

    Don't get me wrong war is awful. It is interesting that Australian before the first world war and the second thought of themselves as British subjects not Australians. World War 2 with the threat of the Japanese Invasion and Churchill not wanting the Australian forces to leave North Africa which the Australian Prime Minster broke and sent ships to pick up forces to bring back to help the homeland. Also Churchill did care to send any help and with that Australia turn to the America and has been allied ever since. Kind of like the rest of the world turning from the British influence to US. The two World Wars destroy the British Empire not just by men and money alone but more the confident within the empire of the British and the British themselves

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  5. Unrelated. Filed under, more evidence Libertarians are clueless. Well, at least he is asking for donations.

    Libertarian US Senate Candidate Is Seeking To Arm The Homeless

    A Michigan candidate for US Senate, Brian Ellison, who is expected to be the Libertarian party’s candidate in the November midterm election, set his sights on raising at least $10,000 to buy 20 pump-action shotguns and provide training for homeless people. Ellison is calling his fundraising campaign “Arm the Homeless,” and the drive has already made international news.

    Saying that homeless people are “constantly victims of violent crime,” Ellison believes that providing the homeless with firearms to defend themselves would serve to act as a deterrent.

    (snip)

    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-03-21/libertarian-us-senate-candidate-seeking-arm-homeless

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    1. Question for those that cleave to the NAP: If this guy dropped 20 homeless people in your neighbourhood that he armed with shotguns, has he violated the NAP? The homeless have the normal distribution of homeless pathologies, like mental illness (schizophrenia etc).

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    2. It like Afghanistan and arming the jihadist. What could possibly go wrong?

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  6. "And this says nothing of the snipers" - ANZAC Billy Sing. His Turkish counter part, who I have not found a name for - other than his nickname - Abdul the Terrible.

    Gallipoli,oh the hubris of Kitchener and Churchill.

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  7. Its strange that during WW1 Churchill was fired for the failure of the Gallipoli campaign which he had advocated

    While during WW2 Churchill had advocated “Operation Wilfred” and “Plan R 4” which called for invading Norway and when these plans failed Churchill got promoted to Prime Minister.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Wilfred

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_R_4

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  8. Often wondered about what was really behind WWI.
    Around 1905 Germany began building a railroad in the area of Iraq to transport oil back to the homeland. They secured oil through consent, not conquest. A civilized approach. Germany was emerging as a great world economic and industrial power and was a great affront to the British Empire. So, might we think of the Archduke's assassination as a False Flag Event?

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  9. You should check out *The Band Played Waltzing Matilda* by the Pogues. Shane MacGowan's lugubrious brogue lends the lyrics impossible poignancy:

    When I was a young man I carried my pack
    And I lived the free life of a rover
    From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
    I waltzed my Matilda all over
    Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
    It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
    So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
    And they sent me away to the war

    And the band played Waltzing Matilda
    As we sailed away from the quay
    And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
    We sailed off to Gallipoli

    How well I remember that terrible day
    How the blood stained the sand and the water
    And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
    We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
    Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
    He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
    And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
    Nearly blew us right back to Australia
    But the band played Waltzing Matilda
    As we stopped to bury our slain
    We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
    Then we started all over again

    Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
    In a mad world of blood, death and fire
    And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
    But around me the corpses piled higher
    Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
    And when I woke up in my hospital bed
    And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
    Never knew there were worse things than dying
    For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
    All around the green bush far and near
    For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
    No more waltzing Matilda for me

    So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
    And they shipped us back home to Australia
    The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
    Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
    And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
    I looked at the place where my legs used to be
    And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
    To grieve and to mourn and to pity
    And the band played Waltzing Matilda
    As they carried us down the gangway
    But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
    Then turned all their faces away

    And now every April I sit on my porch
    And I watch the parade pass before me
    And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
    Reliving old dreams of past glory
    And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
    The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
    And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
    And I ask myself the same question
    And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
    And the old men answer to the call
    But year after year their numbers get fewer
    Some day no one will march there at all

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    1. I have a small volume purchased at the Verdun WWI Memorial graveyard titled, "Poems of the Great War 1914-1918." In it are several poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, among others, on the horrors of that war. Likely one can google many of these. Peggy in Oregon

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    2. That song was written by a Scottish writer, Eric Bogle. I think the best version was sung by Liam Clancy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFCekeoSTwg

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    3. Always makes me cry. Epic anti-war song.

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