On 6 June 1944 there occurred widespread commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France. However, the point is frequently overlooked that the Allied invasions of enemy territory in World War II (initiated by ‘Operation Torch’, the landings in North Africa in 1943) were anticipated by a major Allied landing on enemy territory in World War I. The writer is referring, of course, to the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula by combined British, French, Australian and New Zealand forces, with the object of eliminating Turkey as an enemy power. The strategic reasons motivating this invasion have been discussed in a previous article.(1) The invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula may be said to represent the ‘second key’ by which the straits of the Dardanelles were to be ‘unlocked’ by the Allied powers, with the resultant access to the Black Sea, the ‘back door’ to Russia. The first key had been the endeavour to force these straits by purely naval assault, culminating in the ill-fated action of 18 March 1915, which forms the theme of an earlier article.(2) In the following article it is not the intention of the writer to provide a detailed analysis of the entire Gallipoli campaign from the time of the landings of 25 April to the final evacuation of January 1916. Rather, it is intended to analyze in depth the events of the first day of this invasion, the strategic failures of which may be considered to be the root of the ultimate frustration of the Allied endeavours in European Turkey. There are, indeed, few episodes in military history, if any, which can compare with the Gallipoli invasion of 25 April 1915 in illustrating the long term strategic and political disasters which may accrue from the personality weakness of a commander; in this instance Lt Gen Sir Ian Hamilton.
The Objective: The Topography of the Gallipoli Peninsula
The southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula is dominated by the relatively low bald hump of a ridge known to the Turks as Achi Tepe and to the British (as a result of a map error) as Achi Baba. Although only approximately 210 m high, it bestrides the peninsula and absolutely dominates the ground to the south. The Achi Baba ridge rises in an extremely gentle slope. To the east of the summit the Dardanelles is hidden from view until one traverses the two kilometres to the lesser summit of Tenkir Kepe. From here it is possible to see most of the Dardanelles up to the Narrows. But two deep-plunging gorges — the Soghanli and Saghir Deres — lie between the Achi Baba ridge and the Kilid Bahr plateau, some 6,4 km to the north-east. Thus, although the distances on the Gallipoli Peninsula are short, the ground is so broken and rough, and the paths so few, that progress north of Achi Baba and the Kilid Bahr plateau is very slow indeed.
Approximately 16,1 km to the north-west from Achi Baba a much higher ridge, almost 300 m in height, dominates the sky line. This is Sari Bair (Turkish for the ‘yellow ridge’) which forms the vertebrae, so to speak, of this part of the peninsula. It has three summits, all of approximately the same height, separated from each other by a kilometre of undulating crest line. The most northern summit, 381 m high, is called Koja Chemen Tepe; the next highest, Besim Tepe, became known to the British as ‘Hill Q’; the third, 285 m high, is called Chunuk Bair. Between the southern Sari Bair foothills and the western extremities of the Kilid Bahr plateau a low, bare and almost flat plain stretches across the peninsula from the blunt promontory of Gaba Tepe on the west coast to the small village of Maidos on the Dardanelles shore. The Sair Bair hills climb gently westwards away from the Dardanelles but, on the west coast, they collapse suddenly from the triple crests into an impossible range of steep ravines, washaways and cliffs cascading abruptly down to the Aegean. To the north of Sari Bair is Suvla Plain and a great salt lake. A triangle of bleak hills surrounds Suvla Plain on three sides, making it appear as an enormous natural amphitheatre (Map 1).
Prelude to Invasion: Allied Delays and Turkish Preparations
Kitchener ordered 70 000 troops to the Aegean with the simple instruction ‘to help the Navy to reap the fruits of success’. He had given command of this force on 12 March 1915 to Lt Gen Sir Ian Hamilton, whose force consisted of the experienced 29th Division, the untried ANZAC, the Royal Naval Division, and the French Corps. His senior commanders were Lt Gen Sir W. Birdwood (ANZAC), Maj Gen Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston (29th Division), and Maj Gen A. Paris (Royal Naval Division). The French Corp was commanded by Gen A.G.L. d’Amade, and comprised a motley collection of Zouaves and detachments from the Foreign Legion. The full order of battle of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in April 1915 was as follows:
29th Division (Maj Gen A.G. Hunter-Weston)
2 Royal Fusiliers
1 Lancashire Fusiliers
1 Royal Munster Fusiliers
1 Royal Dubtdn Fusiliers
2 South Wales Borderers
1 King’s Own Scottish Borderers
1 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
1 Border Regiment
4 Worcestershire Regiment
2 Hampshire Regiment
1 Essex Regiment
1/5 Royal Scots (Territorial Force)
XV Bde, Royal Horse Artillery (B, L and Y Batteries)
XVII Bde, Royal Field Artillery (13th, 26th and 92nd Btys)
CXLVII Bde, Royal Field Artillery (10th, 97th and 368th Btys)
460th (Howitzer) Bty, Royal Field Artillery
4th (Highland) Mountain Bde, Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Force)
90th Heavy Bty, Royal Garrison Artillery
14th Siege Bty, Royal Garrison Artillery
1/2 London, 1/2 Lowland and 1/1 West
Riding Field Coys, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force)
Divisional Cyclist Coy
Total personnel: 17 649
Royal Naval Division (Maj Gen A. Paris)
1st (Naval) Brigade (Brig Gen D. Mercer, RMLI)
Deal Bn, RMLI
2nd (Naval) Brigade (Cdre O. Blackhouse, RN)
3rd (Royal Marines) Brigade (Brig Gen C.N. Trotman, RMLI)
Chatham Bn, RMLI
Portsmouth Bn, RMLI
Plymouth Bn, RMLI
Motor and Maxim Sqn (Royal Naval Air Service)
1st & 2nd Field Coys, Engineers
Divisional Cyclist Coy
Total personnel: 10 007
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC)
(Lt Gen Sir W. Birdwood)
1st Australian Division (Maj Gen W.T. Bridges)
1st Australian Brigade
1st (NSW) Battalion
2nd (NSW) Bn
3rd (NSW) Bn
4th (NSW) Bn
2nd Australian Brigade
5th (Victoria) Bn
6th (Victoria) Bn
7th (Victoria) Bn
8th (Victoria) Bn
3rd Australian Brigade
9th (Queensland) Bn
10th (S. Australia) Bn
11th (W. Australia) Bn
12th (5. & W. Australia and Tasmania) Bn
I (NSW) Field Artillery Bde (1, 2 & 3 Btys)
II (Victoria) Field Artillery Bde (4, 5 & 6 Btys)
III (Queensland) Field Artillery Bde (7, 8 & 9 Btys)
1, 2 & 3 Field Coys, Engineers
New Zealand and Australian Division (Maj Gen Sir A. Godley)
New Zealand Brigade
4th Australian Brigade
13th (NSW) Bn
14th (Victoria) Bn
15th (Queensland & Tasmania) Bn
16th (S. & W. Australia) Bn
New Zealand Field Artillery Brigade (1, 2 & 3 Btys)
New Zealand Field Howitzer Battery
Field Coy, New Zealand Engineers
7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade
Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps
Total strength: 30 638
Corps Expeditionnaire D’Orient (Gen A.G.L. d’Amade)
1st Division (Gen Masnou)
Regt de Marche d’Afrique (2 bns Zouaves, 1 bn Foreign Legion)
4th Colonial Regt (2 bn Senegalese, 1 bn Colonial)
6th Colonial Regt (2 bns Senegalese, 1 bn Colonial)
6 Btys of artillery (75 mm)
2 Btys of artillery (65 mm)
Total strength: 16 762
Combined strength of total force: 75 056
The Royal Naval Division arrived at Alexandria in March 1915 with a bizarre array of equipment, including Rolls Royce armoured cars, motor cars, motor cycles, some machine guns of varying degrees of antiquity, two 12 pr guns, one 6.7 inch howitzer, three 4.7 inch guns mounted on pontoons for river operations and rifles of a different calibre from the remainder of the Expeditionary Force. A curious feature of the RND was the large number of literary men that it attracted. The most famous of them was, of course, Rupert Brooke, the darling of the ‘new Georgians’ who died on a French hospital ship on 23 April off Skyros from blood poisoning caused by an insect bite. Another literary personality who was a member of the RND at Gallipoli was Compton Mackenzie, who sailed for Cape Helles in May 1915.
Lt Gen Sir Ian Hamilton
Apart from command, Hamilton was given precious little else. He had a hopelessly out-of-date map of the Dardanelles defences, an intelligence report of the Turkish army as it was in 1903, and a phrase book and a tourist’s guide for sightseers in Constantinople. As one writer comments: ‘He might have been forgiven for assuming that he was taking 70 000 troops for a spring cruise in the Aegean followed by a pleasant summer holiday overlooking the Golden Horn.’(3)
When Hamilton was given his command he was General Officer Commanding the Central Force in England. Such was the confusion prevailing in the higher command regarding the Dardanelles Campaign that, when Hamilton left Charing Cross station on 13 March, he had one set of orders from Churchill (‘Land with all available troops as soon as possible.’) and a completely conflicting set of orders from Kitchener (‘Undertake military operations only in the event of the fleet failing to get through after every effort has been exhausted.’).
This confusion extended from the political establishment to infuse the counsels of the military/naval commanders. At the root of this confusion was the lack of a basic comprehension of combined operations. Hamilton and de Robeck viewed combined operations from two totally different and diametrically opposed viewpoints. De Robeck was under the impression that the Army would first occupy the peninsula and thus allow his fleet to pass through the Dardanelles and attack the defensive forts unhindered. Hamilton conceived of a naval assault to first silence the shore batteries. Moreover, there was no on-the-spot commander to brief them. Only Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Council, appears to have entertained any sensible doubts concerning the operation. As he pointed out, no one had yet even considered whether there were sufficient troops available for a successful invasion. The Greeks, when they had spoken of capturing the peninsula, had submitted a plan involving an army of 150 000. Kitchener had derisively said that half that number of British troops would be ample and had added that, in any event, whether there were enough or not, there were no more available. He had in fact emphasized that the 29th Division was only ‘on loan’ and must be returned after use: ‘rather as if he saw it being shaken out of a parcel, deployed in bloodless battle, then dusted off, repacked and sent back again.’(4)
The War Council had ineptly decided that the Greek island of Lemnos should be the military base, apparently because it had a natural harbour large enough to accommodate a fleet of troopships. It had little else. There was a pier that would have served as a landing stage for a pleasure launch and no other facilities whatsoever for loading or unloading ships. The entire population of the island was half that of the Army of 70 000 it was proposed to base there; whilst the water supply was totally inadequate. Rear Admiral Wemyss was placed in command of the forces on the island of which he was made Governor. Impossible as it was to disembark and accommodate the forces required for the operation, nobody in Whitehall had considered the need of a depot ship or other means of supplying the needs of 70 000 men. As a result, many were returned to Egypt or dispersed among the other Aegean islands. Those that remained had to live aboard the troopships in the harbour. However, it was gradually discovered that these troopships themselves were in a state of chaos. They had been packed for hurried departures from Egypt and Britain, with no thought of rational packing and loading. As a result, it soon proved impossible to locate needed supplies, let alone organize the Army for action. Many of the heavier weapons were hopelessly antiquated; less than half the necessary artillery was present; ammunition was of the wrong size; shells contained shrapnel instead of high explosive; the redistribution of troopships around the Aegean and Mediterranean had separated men, vehicles and animals that belonged together. In view of this rampant chaos it is not surprising that Hamilton decided that he could only reorganize his forces in the safety of Alexandria some 950 km distant. Accordingly, Hamilton embarked his forces for Alexandria on 24 March 1915, intending to return to Lemnos with his army and ready to launch the attack on the peninsula on 14 April.
It was apparent that de Robeck and Hamilton were embarking upon an enterprise in which none of the essential elements of success were present. These elements were undivided command, thorough knowledge of the enemy defences and order of battle, precise details of the terrain where troops were to be landed, surprise, and a plan for the actual operation that was firm yet flexible and understood by everybody. The absence of a supreme commander is, in the circumstances, understandable, for the War Council had never envisaged a combined operation as such. However, what is neither understandable nor forgivable is lack of intelligence concerning the enemy. For four years prior to Turkey’s entry into the war an unending stream of continuously up-dated information had been communicated to the British War Office from Constantinople. For the nine months preceding the war Lt Col Cunliffe-Owen had held the post of military attaché in Constantinople and had proved himself to be a particularly astute and conscientious officer. He had not only sent back the routine reports that were required of him, but had made a complete survey of the peninsula, reporting in full detail on gun sites, mine-fields, torpedo tubes, and even the smoke canisters that were later to cause such confusion during the naval battle of 18 March. This information was ignored, as indeed was Cunliffe-Owen himself, and official quarters remained totally indifferent to both throughout the campaign. Neither he nor his files of detailed information were ever consulted. In a similar manifestation of poor intelligence organization, the only British admiral who had any local knowledge of Turkish waters, Admiral Limpus, Chief of the pre-war British Naval Mission to Constantinople, had been withdrawn from the Dardanelles in September 1914, and sent to manage the Malta dockyard.
If lack of intelligence was a most serious deficiency in the Allied plan for the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, the lack of surprise was no less so. The departure of the Allied fleet on 18 March convinced the Turkish defenders under Gen L. von Sanders that the — to them — inexplicable withdrawal of the British/French naval forces heralded a land invasion. Sanders’ initial supposition was strengthened by the mass of intelligence he received daily concerning British intentions, in the form of reports filtered back from German agents in Alexandria, Greece and Syria. In Alexandria itself the work of these German agents could not have been simpler. Not only did the Egyptian newspapers report fully on the movements of the British military commanders, but as the ships were repeatedly loaded and unloaded in the harbour and troops drilled on the decks, every movement was blatantly noted and photographed by reporters, fishermen and owners of dhows who nightly sold their information in the alleys and brothels. On the mainland of Greece and throughout the numerous islands German agents were scattered in great profusion. The King of Greece, Constantine, who was married to the Kaiser’s sister, Princess Sophia, had received his military training in Germany and held the rank of Field Marshal in the German Army. Constantine’s official policy of neutrality was opposed by Eleutherios Venizelos, the Prime Minister, whose government favoured the Allies. It was through Venizelos’ government that the island of Lemnos had been seized as a naval base and Rear Admiral Wemyss made Governor; and when Venizelos government fell on 6 March 1915 it was replaced by a strongly pro-German ministry. Thus, it should have been no surprise to anybody that every move taken by Wemyss, frantically preparing the harbour for the arrival of the re-constituted Allied fleet, was known to Sanders almost before it was made.
Through his Intelligence Section Hamilton attempted to deceive the enemy by leading them to think that the invasion would be made at Smyrna. However, the enemy was not deceived in the slightest degree. Whilst there was no activity to be discerned in the direction of Smyrna, there was considerable activity in the vicinity of the Gallipoli Peninsula and in the Mudros harbour at Lemnos. British reconnaissance aircraft flew over the peninsula daily photographing the defences; a submarine attempting to scurry up the Dardanelles (the B. 15) was detected, a lucky shot killing the captain (T.S. Brodie) and six of her crew, the remainder being taken prisoner. There was spasmodic shelling from British warships; landing stages were being built at Mudros; on the island of Imbros, close by, there was a feverish assembling of troops; British agents were known to be buying lighters and tugs whose purpose could only be the transportation of the invading army. Sanders was left in no doubt that the invasion would be on an extensive scale. Indeed, he had even read a newspaper interview with the French general, d’Amade, in which the various methods of invading the peninsula were freely discussed. With regard to intelligence, all that the defenders lacked was a postcard from Hamilton detailing the time, date and place of arrival. ‘Even that’, one caustic historian subsequently commented, ‘would not have seemed outside the realm of possibility.’
Not only did Sanders have every incentive to strengthen the defences of the peninsula, but he was provided by the Allies with the time in which to do so. This factor emanated from the appalling Allied logistics. Hamilton’s arrival in Alexandria on 26 March had left him only three weeks in which to meet his deadline of 14 April. He had only a few inexperienced general staff officers to translate his plans into practical details. Moreover, he quickly learnt that he was lacking sufficient engineers, artillery and landing craft — three vital elements in his force. (It was the lack of landing craft which forced Hamilton to resort to the amateurish practice of sending agents shopping through the Middle East, buying up lighters and tugs.) Indeed, the improvisations forced upon Sanders in preparing the defences (cf. below) were as nothing compared with those to which Hamilton had to resort. As no maps had been provided, cartographers were set to work tracing the one with which Hamilton had been provided in London, and attempts were made to add to it the new details of the defences revealed by aerial reconnaissance. An English bookshop in Cairo was found to have a stock of Raedeker guides described by the Egyptian sales assistant as ‘exactly the thing for the soldiers visiting Turkey’. They were bought uninspected and found to be guides of the Rhine Valley. At the last moment it was recalled that the water supply on Lemnos was quite inadequate and the bazaars of Alexandria had to be ransacked for skins, tins, bottles and any other containers that could hold water — to the great profit and delight of the merchants. Further, whoever had arranged for such transports as had been sent out from England was clearly as ignorant as Hamilton of the terrain of the peninsula and had provided lorries that would have been eminently suitable for properly surfaced roads. With the knowledge that the majority of roads in the peninsula were, in fact, little more than cart tracks came the necessity to provide mules in abundance. These were eventually bought and formed into the Zion Mule Corps.
Embarkation of the repacked and reorganized army at Alexandria had commenced on 10 April, and it arrived uneventfully at Lemnos during the following eight days. At this point in time, when the last shipping had returned to an enormously overcrowded Mudros Harbour, the deadline of 14 April had, of course, been abandoned. In addition to the problems involved in the reorganization of the invasion force at Alexandria elucidated above, the weather now occasioned further delays. The climate of the Aegean in spring is unpredictable, and during most of March and April storms had been capriciously alternating with fine days. On 21 April, when de Robeck hesitantly gave the signal to prepare to leave harbour and set sail for the beaches to launch the attack of 23 April, a gale descended upon the invasion fleet. Doubtful of the weather-resistant qualities of the miscellany of vessels involved (the fleet involved a motley collection of 200 warships, tramp and pleasure steamers, caiques, trawlers, liners; in short, any vessel that could be pressed into service as a troopship) de Robeck countermanded the signal. The attack was to be launched on 24 April. Then he countermanded that order too, the gale showing no signs of abating. Finally, but still with hesitation and doubt, he ordered that the fleet should raise steam and move out from the harbour on 23 April, and launch the attack on 25 April.
Gen Liman van Sanders
Liman von Sanders’ 5th Army of 80 000 men, formed in six divisions, was concentrated in the places that Sanders thought most likely to bear the brunt of the Allied invasion.(5) These were Kum Kale and Besika Bay on the Asiatic shore and, on the peninsula itself, the southern tip extending up to Chunuk Bair, the towns of Gallipoli and Bulair, and the Gulf of Saros. In these areas he placed five of his six divisions; the sixth, under the command of Lt Col Mustapha Kemal (the future Kemal Attaturk, the ruler of Turkey) was placed inland around the village of Boghali (Map 1). Within these areas the defenders were widely dispersed, some troops being posted watchfully on the western and southern coastline of the peninsula and on the eastern side of the Narrows at Chanak Kale; others, like Kemal’s, being held inland in order to prevent any successful advance of the Allied forces across the peninsula — which would, of course, have cut the 5th Army in two — and to be available as reinforcements in any area as called upon. Having effected these dispositions, Sanders embarked upon a programme of the fortification and strengthening of these positions. When Enver Pasha could not respond to his persistant demand for supplies, due to the requirements of the Turkish armies on the Bulgarian, Syrian and Russian fronts, Sanders resorted to improvisation. Under his supervision supply roads were built across the hills of the peninsula, trenches dug with spades commandeered from the villagers, landmines manufactured from torpedo heads, farmland fences torn down and submerged in the shallows bordering the beaches. Searchlights were trained on the straits by night, whilst sentries scanned the Aegean by day. Continual movement of Allied ships could be seen. The overcrowded harbour at Mudros was ablaze with the lights of the Allied fleet by night, whilst by day there was a continual festivity of military activity, bugle calls, troop exercises and briefings. When, on 21 April, a squadron of British aircraft bombed Maidos in the Narrows setting it ablaze, Sanders was left in no doubt that the invasion was nigh.
The Allied plan in its original conception was almost absurd in its boldness and simplicity: ‘take a good run at the peninsula and jump on — both feet together’.
The ANZACs, an untried force suspected of being little more than enthusiastic amateurs, was to land at a kilometre-wide cove north of Gaba Tepe, a supposedly heavily defended promontory 19 km up the west coast of the peninsula. The ANZACs’ task was to fight their way eastwards across the ridge of hills to Mal Tepe on the far side of the peninsula, thus cutting the Turkish forces in two and preventing enemy reinforcements reaching the south. It was the southern tip of the peninsula which was to receive the brunt of Hamilton’s attack. Here 29th Division was to land at four ‘beaches’ spaced around Cape Helles. These beaches were designated V, W, Y and X; V being the most easterly beach at Sedd-el-Bahr, W in the centre and X approximately 1 371 m up the west coast from Tekke Burnu (Map 1). Whilst these landings were taking place, the RND was to create a diversionary operation by striking at Bulair in the extreme north of the peninsula. The diversion was intended to keep the Turks fully engaged in this vicinity and thus provide the ANZACs with time to establish themselves across the range of hills and thereby dominate both the Narrows and lines of communication to the south. This plan did not meet with the unanimous approval of Hamilton’s subordinate commanders. Birdwood favoured a landing on the eastern shore of the Dardanelles. (He had been C-in-C designate for the Dardanelles Expeditionary Force before Kitchener had finally chosen Hamilton. He accepted his new position, but not entirely without resentment). Hunter-Weston gloomily forecast disaster wherever the attack was made. (One historian(6) has written of Hunter-Weston that he ‘was blimpish and slow thinking, and given to assuming that every battle he directed would progress precisely according to his design, and that once he had set everything in motion he could retire to his headquarters’.) Maj Gen Paris was extremely cynical concerning the plan whilst Gen Sir John Maxwell, C-in-C of the forces in Egypt, disapproved of the entire Gallipoli enterprise. The French were to attack at Kum Kale, whilst a separate force (one battalion) was to attack S Beach.
At dawn, on 25 April 1915, the invading force landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The main forces to land at V Beach were conveyed in the River Clyde, a converted steam collier, and a fleet sweeper. The River Clyde transported 1 Munster Fusiliers; 2 Hampshire Regiment (less two companies); 1 Coy, 1 Royal Dublin Fusiliers; GHQ Signals Section; Field Coy Royal Engineers; and one platoon of the Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division. It was planned to bridge the intervening water space with a motor hopper, the Argyle, supported if necessary by dumb lighters. With regard to the disembarkation of the troops, four sallyports had been cut in the River Clyde, two on each side at lower deck level, where the men would be waiting. The sallyports opened onto a gangway, three planks wide, which led forward to the bows where there was a hinged extension onto the Argyle which, in turn, had a brow, or gangway, of her own to connect with the shore. The Argyle was to be towed from a gantry on the port side of the River Clyde with a lighter inboard of the latter. A second lighter was to be towed from the starboard side of the River Clyde and others, plus some boats, from aft. A covering force was to be landed ahead of the River Clyde contingent from two fast sweepers, the Clacton and Newmarket (railway packets, ex-Great Eastern Railway). This covering force consisted of approximately 500 men, comprising: 1 Royal Dublin Fusiliers, commanded by Lt Col R.A. Rooth; one platoon of the Anson Battalion, RND; and a second platoon of the RND serving as a naval beach party. The covering force was to be disembarked in six tows of boats and were scheduled to land at 05h30, after half-an-hour’s bombardment from Albion. The men from the River Clyde were to follow at 06h30. Along the 274 m of beach were well-sited entrenchments and dense entanglements of barbed wire. The appreciation of the General Staffs stated that these defences could be demolished by the same bombardment from Albion that was to cope with the defences of W Beach (cf. below).
The covering force did not precede the main contingent, as was intended, but landed almost simultaneously, due to the problems attached to navigating the River Clyde whilst towing the motor hopper Argyle, in addition to the various lighters and boats. From the outset, before the first troops could disembark, the plan seriously miscarried. The Argyle sheered to port and grounded broadside onto the beach. Thus, the distance between ship and shore was left unbridged. At 06h00, after the cessation of the hour’s barrage that was assumed would silence the Turkish defences of V and W Beaches, the River Clyde, her 2 000 men ready to run down the gangways and across the bridge of boats, was ordered forward. An officer aboard wrote confidently: ‘0622 hours. Ran smoothly ashore, no opposition. We shall land unopposed.’ Indeed, the shelling had been followed by an uncanny silence. It was assumed that all the Turks were dead, according to plan. The assumption was mistaken. As was the case at W Beach, the Turks had retired during the barrage, and crept back to their trenches when it had ceased. These trenches contained three platoons (64 men) and one 37mm (pom pom) battery (the pom poms were to be mistaken for the four machine guns, which only arrived later). As the River Clyde’s causeway of boats was linked to the shore they held their fire and waited for the troops to descend the gangway. As the first men descended from the ramp, the frightful enfilading fire from 274 m distance commenced. Alan Wykes(7) provides the following graphic account:
‘It was not only on the gangway that the men were mown down in dozens as they emerged, until the narrow descent was piled with the wounded and dead; those arriving in the cutters and row boats [i.e. those disembarked from the fleet sweepers] were simply killed en masse, helplessly, as they stood there. Their bodies tipped grotesquely over the sides, like mechanical acrobats, their boats, unhelmed and powerless, drifted away from the shore and sank as they became pierced with bullet holes.
The few who got away found shelter beneath a ridge of ground below the castle walls; and in the madness of desperation the dead were flung from the gangway of the River Clyde so that more men could be poured out to wade ashore and be killed in their turn. It was if the men themselves had found the whole situation unbelievable, as if by storming ashore hour after hour they could change it, vanquish the defenders by sheer weight of numbers if nothing else ... But the defences were apparently impregnable. The machine guns mounted behind sandbangs in the bows of the River Clyde found no mark. The entrenched Turks spat out their bullets at the faintest sign of movement. By 0930 hours, of 1 500 men who had attempted to land only 200 had reached cover. No spirit of conquest could overcome the fact that no more could be done.’
The attack on W Beach, 25 April 1915
A large proportion of the casualties was sustained whilst endeavouring to position the River Clyde’s lighters together to form a causeway onto the beach. (This objective was attained at 07h07.) Brig Gen H.E. Napier, commanding the main force, had waited in the Clacton whilst the covering force tried to land. He approached the River Clyde in a watertight boat together with his staff and a number of soldiers. He leapt into the grounded Argyle to lead the men ashore whom he observed choking the lighters, boats and gangways, not realizing that they were all dead. He and his Brigade Major (J.H.D. Costeker) were soon killed (as was Lt Col Rooth of the covering force). On 26 April the survivors of the force from the River Clyde stormed the village. The Turkish contingent defending V Beach, under Sgt Yahja of Ezine, was annihilated.
Six Victoria Crosses were gained by members of the River Clyde’s forces, viz. Cdr E. Unwin (commanding the ship); Midshipman G.L. Drewry (commanding the motor hopper); Able Seaman C. Williams (who was killed and gained the award posthumously); Able Seaman G.M. Samson (the first RNR rating to gain the VC); Midshipman W. Malleson; and Sub Lt A.W. St Clair Tisdall (Officer Commanding 1 Platoon, Anson Battalion, RND). The actions which were rewarded with this decoration were involved either with the rescue of wounded troops amidst the carnage or endeavours to secure the lighters between the River Clyde and the shore. Tisdall was subsequently killed in the Second Battle of Krithia on 6 May (cf. below) and his VC was gazetted posthumously.
On W Beach the brunt of the fighting was borne by the Lancashire Fusiliers (who sustained 533 casualties, of whom six officers and 183 men were killed). As was the case with V Beach, the heavy casualties inflicted emanated from the Turkish forces whom, it was mistakenly assumed, had been annihilated by the naval bombardment. The barbed wire, which had remained intact despite the bombardment, compounded the problems besetting the attackers. The Turkish defenders had been decimated but the survivors of the bombardment remained in their trenches. Their orders were to allow the invaders to land and advance within 41 m before opening fire. The Turks realized with satisfaction that the thick wire entanglements at the edge of the beach remained untouched by the barrage. As the first boatload of Fusiliers scraped onto the beach the defenders opened fire. The men fell as they sprang from the boats, rifles in hand. Their comrades who had miraculously escaped the devastating fire attacked the wire with machetes and cutters; but the wire would not yield. To quote the words of one writer:(8)
‘Caught by hands and arms in the barbs they died spread-eagled on the three-feet coils of rusty farm fencing, their screams heard above the ceaseless fire, their blood pouring down the beach. At one point the wire was breached and a dozen men broke through and tore for the cover of the dunes; and while the Turkish defenders concentrated their incessant firing on the fresh boatloads of men arriving — many of whom died in the packed boats without ever setting foot to shore — there were a few other breakthroughs by the Fusiliers. But they were mown down as they ran for cover and failed to reach the summit of the beach.’
Reinforcements were off-loaded from the Euryalus and sent in cutters to the beach. Brig Gen Hare, in command of the Helles covering force, managed to lead the survivors of the carnage to a relatively sheltered position under Tekke Burnu. From here they could return the Turks’ fire, which was gradually subdued whilst the boatloads of reinforcements from Euryalus accumulated and consolidated the landing. The Lancashire Fusiliers gained eleven awards for gallantry; six Victoria Crosses, two Distinguished Service Orders, two Military Crosses and one Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Y Beach, which, as was the case with S Beach, protected the flank of the invading force, was captured on 25 April by a force consisting of 1 Kings Own Scottish Borderers, one company of the South Wales Borderers and the Plymouth (Marine) Battalion, RND. They were conveyed in the battleship Goliath and the cruisers Sapphire and Amethyst. The landing was largely unopposed. A golden opportunity was missed with regard to Y Beach. Cdre Keyes realized that this unopposed landing promised success to Hamilton’s plan to land 2 000 troops (the spearhead of 29th Division) in this position for a thrust inland that would cut off the Cape Helles defenders in the rear. Keyes begged de Robeck to persuade Hamilton to send at once for the RND, which was committed to nothing more than a feint at Suvla Bay, and land them at Y Beach, thus completely swamping the Turkish defenders. Hamilton, however, resolutely refused to do so. Not only was he loath to commit his only reserve, but would not countenance the ungentlemanly act of interfering with his subordinate commander, Hunter-Weston. The invading force on this beach did not remain unopposed, however. During the afternoon of 25 April the Turkish sniping escalated into fierce attacks. The British casualties (which included Lt Col A.S. Coe, OC of the force, who was mortally wounded) became serious. The position became untenable and the force was evacuated after nightfall. Despite the heroism displayed and the service rendered in stalling a larger Turkish force for 24 hours, the effort at Y Beach proved a failure.
The landings at X and S Beaches presented a marked contrast to those at V and W Beaches. Two companies of the Royal Fusiliers had landed at X Beach without a single casualty at 06h30 after an intense naval bombardment and scaled the shallow cliff. From the summit they could see right across the peninsula to S Beach at Morto Bay, where a covering force of South Wales Borderers had easily overcome the slight opposition and was now digging in.
Thus, at this point in time (i.e. early in the morning of 25 April) the main attacks at V and W Beaches on the tip of the peninsula had been halted and could not recover their momentum, while on the flanks at X, S and Y three smaller forces had been successfully landed. At Bulair, on 24—25 April the RND executed its diversionary movement. Accompanied by the battleship Canopus, the light cruisers Dartmouth and Doris, plus destroyers and trawlers, the Division (minus Anson Battalion, detailed for V Beach and W Beach, and the Plymouth (Marine) Battalion landed at Y Beach) had left Trebuki Bay, Skyros, early on 24 April. They reached their rendevouz 8,5 km WSW from Xeros Island under cover of darkness. During this manoeuvre a singularly gallant action was executed by Lt Cdr Bernard Freyberg of Hood Battalion. Painted brown and thickly oiled, he was lowered into the water from a destroyer and swam ashore with a raft carrying flares. Landing on the beach at midnight on 24 April, he crawled 365 m up to a trench and then heard voices, thus proving that the trenches were occupied. Returning to the beach unnoticed he lit three sets of flares 320 m apart along the shore in the direction of Bulair. Two destroyers at once opened fire, which the Turks returned. Freyberg then swam out and was picked up one hour later, unscathed.(9)
The ANZAC landings were made shortly before dawn, and with surprisingly little opposition. However, this initial light opposition mainly derived from the fact that the landings had been made in the wrong place. It was concentrated 3 km north of Gaba Tepe at An Burnu instead of being extended along the cove dividing Gaba Tepe from Hell Spit. Many reasons for this error have been suggested, e.g. northerly eddies that swept the boats off course; misinterpreted signals; last minute alterations to the plan; deliberate misplacement of a marker buoy by the Turks. Whilst it is profitless to examine these factors in depth, it is apposite to comment that upon this error pivoted one of the major disasters of the first landings. It was Mustapha Kemal who was principally responsible for this Allied disaster. To reiterate, he had his 19th Division in reserve at Boghali. Sanders ordered him to repel the ANZAC attack with a single battalion; that was at 06h30 in the morning. Kemal realized at once the strategic error of trying to beat off the enemy with one battalion; for once the ANZACs were established in the hills they would be masters of the situation, since domination of the heights was of the utmost importance. Kemal therefore decided without hesitation — and without permission — to employ his entire division for the task. A profound risk was involved, as Sanders had no other reserves to call upon, but it ultimately proved to be justified. The day’s fighting ended in confusion and withdrawal for the ANZACs. The narrow front on which they had been mistakenly landed in the morning proved to be a disastrous bottleneck, through which no troops or supplies could be landed nor the wounded evacuated. Utter chaos prevailed at the beach at An Burnu; and in the surrounding hills, where the fighting was fiercest, the isolated detachments into which the ANZACs had dispersed could not be properly rallied and controlled. Lt Gen Birdwood sent an immediate request to Hamilton to be allowed to re-embark his demoralized forces. In reply to this request Hamilton sent his famous message of encouragement, telling Birdwood to appeal to his Australians and New Zealanders to ‘dig,dig,dig’. By the time this message arrived it was midnight and Birdwood had already changed his mind and ordered his men to dig themselves in and be prepared for a counter-attack in the morning.
Lt Gen Sir W.R. Birdwood
To reiterate, Y Beach was evacuated at nightfall on 25 April, the defenders having suffered some 700 casualties. At Kum Kale a withdrawal was effected during the day. Although hesitantly authorized by Hamilton, it was quite unnecessary. The French landing had been made against inadequate resistance and confused organization on the part of the Turks. The Turks had been crushed by the French onslaught and were in total confusion. So, apparently, was the mind of the French commander, Gen d’Amade. Surpremely ignorant of the fact that the Turks in the vicinity of Kum Kale had suffered over 2 000 casualties and were surrendering in their hundreds, he persuaded Hamilton to re-embark the French forces. By the time that Hamilton realized the true state of affairs (on the evening of 26 April) the withdrawal was almost complete and arrangements were being made to switch a French brigade to enter on the right of 29th Division.
Aftermath of the Landings
The ensuing two days witnessed a grim striving for possession of the inland hills, both at An Burnu and further down the cape. The ANZACs, halted in their plea for re-embarkation by Birdwood’s change of heart and fortified by Hamilton’s message of encouragement, had advanced slightly and recaptured some of the ground that they had lost on 25 April. However, neither they nor the Turks could wrest a decisive result from the desperate forays and repulses that resulted only in heavier losses. In Cape Helles the village of Sedd-el-Bahr was captured, but the advantage of the victory was lost because no one on the British side realized the extreme weakness of the enemy forces in this sector. Within this context it should be noted that a crucial factor throughout the early stages of the Gallipoli Campaign was the total lack of intelligence regarding the Turkish strength. Numerically large British forces were being poured into breaches that were often held by isolated and ill-disciplined Turkish platoons and companies. In point of fact an army of 75 000 was virtually held at bay by a tenth of that number of defenders. Moreover, those defenders were poorly equipped and fighting in a terrain that posed as many difficulties for them as for the invaders.
The ensuing two days also saw physical and moral exhaustion taking their toll. Bureaucratic mismanagement and incredible stupidity had resulted in utter chaos in the evacuation of the wounded — to the extent that fully equipped hospital ships and hospitals in the peninsula remained unused whilst the casualties were being shipped back to Alexandria in filthy transports in which, lacking attention, many died. Those being fed into the firing line were confronted with the sight of wounded lying in scores on the beaches awaiting evacuation.
On the morning of 28 April the Allied forces in Cape Helles extended in a straggling line across the peninsula from X to S Beach, a line which had been achieved at the cost of 10 000 casualties. Hunter Weston gave the order to advance forward to capture Krithia. A force of 14 000 men, inadequately supported by artillery of which only 25 guns were ashore, pushed forward into the hills. They were opposed by an increasingly tenacious resistance that by the end of that day had inflicted upon the Allies 3 000 casualties. Complete confusion now reigned due to hopeless planning and complete loss of control by Hunter-Weston. Supplies were placed in jeopardy by a storm at sea and because insufficient horses and mules were ashore to transport them to the front. Liaison between the generals and admirals was ruined by misinterpreted messages and poor communications. Moreover, a large-scale Turkish counter-attack was hourly awaited on the Helles front where a shortage of ammunition was already being felt. Kitchener had been misled by Hamilton’s over-optimistic despatches. (These, indeed, were to remain a consistent feature of Hamilton’s command throughout the Gallipoli Campaign. His reports were of a consistently more confident tone than the facts warranted; Hamilton reasoning that, if they were too depressing, they would be seized upon by those in London who wished to see the entire Campaign abandoned). Hamilton had sent a despatch to Kitchener in London on 26 April which stated:
‘Thanks to God who calmed the seas and to the Royal Navy who rowed our fellows ashore as cooly as if at a regatta; thanks also to the dauntless spirit shown by all ranks of both services, we have landed 29 000 upon six beaches in the face of desperate resistance.’
On 27 April his despatches were of a more cheerful hue, as is evidenced by this following extract:
‘Thanks to the weather and the wonderfully fine spirit of our troops all continues to go well.’
However, in the light of these over-optimistic despatches Kitchener was undoubtedly bewildered to receive a hesitant request from Hamilton for reinforcements ‘in case I should need them’. Surprisingly, in view of his previous reluctance to weaken Gen Maxwell’s forces in Egypt, Kitchener ordered Maxwell to despatch the 42nd (East Lancashire) Territorial Division to Gallipoli.
The direct consequence of the strategic disasters of 25 April was the painful and totally futile series of battles of attrition, which characterized both the Helles and ANZAC fronts during the ensuing three months. Between the initial landings and the end of July the Allied forces in Gallipoli generated a sick, mirror image of the conflict on the Western Front in Europe, manifested by futile attacks upon entrenched Turkish positions followed by enemy counter-attacks. On the Helles front the Allies concentrated their main efforts against the heights of Achi Baba on the southern tip of the peninsula. The efforts to break through the Turkish defences situated on the inland hills barring the objective expressed themselves in the four battles of Krithia, viz.
1st Battle of Krithia — 28 April
2nd Battle of Krithia — 6/8 May
3rd Battle of Krithia — 4/6 June
4th Battle of Krithia — 12/13 July (officially known as the Battle of Achi Baba Nullah)
The responsibility for the futile frontal assaults which characterized these actions must lie with Hunter-Weston. Hamilton saw no future in such costly attacks (in which the Allies were hampered by a most serious deficiency in artillery), but failed to impress his views upon Hunter-Weston and his staff.
Towards the end of July Hunter-Weston was sent home, suffering from overstrain and sunstroke, leaving the army at Helles in a state of almost complete exhaustion. Since the beginning of July the Allies had gained (very approximately) 457 m of ground in return for 17 000 casualties. (The ultimate casualties sustained by the Allies in the course of the entire campaign may be approximately assessed at 265 000, of whom some 46 000 were killed in action, in return for some 300 000 Turkish dead.) Turkish casualties for the same period amounted to some 40 000, but reinforcements were continually arriving, and within a week of Achi Baba Nullah they had made good their losses and consolidated their positions. Sanders was adamant that, despite the heavy Turkish losses, there should be no withdrawal, and any officer suggesting such was liable to dismissal.
The ANZAC Front: May 1915
Throughout this period the Dominion forces clung tenaciously to the 400 acres of the parched, scrubby coast that was ANZAC. Their bridgehead was in the shape of a narrow triangle, with its base, extending for approximately three km resting on the sea, and its apex reaching to the slopes of Sari Bair, some 914 m inland; a position later described in the Australian official history as ‘theoretically untenable’. Kemal’s initial tactics — bloody and unimaginative — were to hurl his infantry suicidally against the ANZAC positions, where they were mown down by the Dominion troops, and by the British Marine battalions who arrived at ANZAC on 28—29 April. Turkish losses were, predictably, terrible. After six days and nights of continual fighting the majority of Turkish battalions were below half-strength, losses among officers and NCOs being particularly severe. Essad, therefore, forbade any further frontal attacks for the immediate future. The battle developed into a struggle for the head of the Monash Valley, where the ANZAC positions at Pope’s Hill, and at Quinn’s, Courtney’s and Steele’s Posts faced the Turks at distances, in some places, of no more than a few metres. In the rear of Quinn’s, Courtenay’s and Steele’s Posts the ground dropped away sharply, so that troops moving up to these posts could be exposed to the Turkish fire from the enemy positions at the Nek, Baby 700 and Pope’s Post, known as the ‘Chessboard’ (Map 2). On the other hand the Australians positioned at Pope’s Post could prevent an attack from the Nek or the Chessboard, and were protected in turn by the troops on Russell’s Top and Quinn’s Post.
New arrivals at ANZAC landed beneath a hail of shrapnel, amidst scenes of indescribable confusion. Stores were heaped on the beaches; mules waited to ferry them to the front line; casualties awaited embarkation; reinforcements awaited direction to their sector of the line. Ashmead Bartlett, The Times war correspondent, wrote: ‘The whole scene on ANZAC beach reminded one irresistably of a gigantic shipwreck. It looked as if the whole force and all the guns and material had not landed, but had been washed ashore. Gradually, however, order emerged from this chaos as the organization at the beacheads began to function more smoothly. Nevertheless, water was severely rationed, every drop having to be carried to the front lines. (One officer recorded having to use a pint a day for all washing purposes.) Food, although plentiful, was as monotonous as on the Helles front, being equally unsuitable for the climate. Sanitary conditions were literally appalling; latrines consisting merely of holes in the ground, where the flies bred ceaselessly. By the second week in May the ANZACs had lost 8 500 men, of whom 2 300 had been killed. Many units urgently required rest and re-organization, and the Dominion troops were compelled to revert to defence, digging in and making their positions secure against attack. There could be no question of an advance and, indeed, Hamilton asked Birdwood on 9 May to consider abandoning the bridgehead. Birdwood refused, and the ANZACs clung to their precarious positions.
The Turks finally recognized not only that the ANZACs were not going to be dislodged from their tenaciously held positions but also that their own lines were impregnable. Accordingly, they reduced their forces in the area, which thenceforth became characterized by shelling, sniping and fierce skirmishes.
The ANZAC’s commander, Lt Gen Birdwood was, justly, described by Hamilton as ‘the soul of ANZAC’. His attention to detail and the example set by his own personal courage deserves the highest praise, as does his acknowledgement that ‘these colonials’ could not be treated in the same fashion as British troops. The New Zealander, Col Malone, described them as‘masterless men going their own ways’. They frequently disconcerted visiting Staff Officers by their indifference to conventional military ritual, such as the salute. Birdwood’s realization that the natural aggressiveness and fighting spirit of the Dominion troops needed to be tempered by the caution and discipline of British Army tradition if the narrow bridgehead were to be held also merits the highest commendation. However, although he knew his men well, with their abilities and limitations, his manner towards them remained constrained and formal, with an obvious forced affability; he remained very much the Englishman leading ‘colonials’.
During June and July the heat became unbearable. The flies swarmed from the corpses and latrines over the men's food. Not surprisingly, dysentry became endemic throughout the Expeditionary Force in July, being particularly serious at ANZAC, where at one point Birdwood was losing as many men in a fortnight through disease as would be lost in a major attack. Sgn Gen Birrell, in charge of medical services for the campaign, did nothing to raise the low level of confidence in the staff when he suggested that the remedy resided in the hanging of fly paper from bushes and incineration of the breeding grounds of the flies. This impression that he did not fully appreciate the situation was reinforced when he visited ANZAC for the first time on 1 August and reported ‘a good deal of diarrhoea among the Australians, possibly due to sea bathing’. Helles was, however, rather more free of disease than ANZAC, since in the former sector the troops were not living in such crowded conditions, and 29th Division was accompanied by its own sanitary detachments and provided with fly proof latrine boxes. The ubiquitous lice were yet another pest, tireless and ever-multiplying. In his vivid diary of the campaign Cpl Riley wrote: ‘We itched and scratched until we were tired with scratching, we turned our clothes inside out and ran the burning ends of cigarettes up the seams. The crackle of frizzled louse was one of the sweetest sounds we knew.’ Men lay their clothing out on anthills so that the ants might eat the lice, shaking the clothes free afterwards; but still the lice multiplied relentlessly.
In these circumstances it was not surprising that profound disillusion spread throughout the Army. This despair was compounded by the enormous casualties sustained on both Allied fronts. (Egerton, who commanded the 52nd (Lowland) Division, which arrived in late June-early July, was appalled at the losses among his men incurred during the Gully Ravine offensive, and made known his views to both Hamilton and Hunter-Weston. He accompanied the former on an inspection of his division, introducing each battalion as ‘the remains of -th Battalion’, and earning a formal rebuke from Hamilton.) Both officers and men looked upon themselves in the same light as did the 14th Army in Burma prior to the arrival of Mountbatten, i.e. as the ‘forgotten army’ betrayed by the politicians at home. Moreover, front-line criticism of GHQ became widespread, with a great deal of justification; the standard of senior officers was poor, many having to be sent home with shattered nerves after only a few weeks. However, the most intense resentment of the troops at Gallipoli was reserved for the lines-of-communication staff at Mudros whose task, undertaken with lamentable inefficiency, was to supply the Army with its daily needs. The lines-of-communication staff was inadequate in terms of both numbers and quality; and a greater burden thus fell upon the few efficient men. One officer, for example, was responsible for administering the temporary hospital ships, the shore hospitals at Lemnos, the ferry service from Mudros to the peninsula, the return of casualties to their units, and the despatch of medical supplies. To execute these duties he possessed a total complement of one staff sergeant. It is little wonder, therefore, that the troops spoke scornfully of ‘Imbros, Mudros and Chaos.’
By the end of July the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force had been fought to a standstill. The ANZACs had been unable to break out of their tiny bridgehead; the French forces were effectively broken; the sole British division remaining with anything resembling fighting strength was the 29th Division. Cpl Riley wrote of Helles in terms that were equally applicable to ANZAC: it ‘looked like a midden and smelled like an open cemetery’.
Only the failure of the Suvla Bay offensive of August 1915, and the destruction of the artificial expectations which motivated it, separated the Allied forces from the admission of defeat and final evacuation. (The evacuation followed the dismissal of Hamilton in October 1915.)
Analysis of the Failure of the Gallipoli Campaign
Instrumental in the delays which weighted the odds against Hamilton’s force (but not decisively so, cf. below) was the failure of the naval assaults which occurred in February-March 1915. As intimated above, the root of this failure was the clear lack of any real understanding of the concept of combined operations by the higher command. The naval assaults of February-March 1915 and the landings of April 1915 clearly reflected a division of functions between Army and Navy. Had the two operations been combined in a closely co-ordinated and precisely planned operation, the opportunity provided to the Turks to strengthen their defences, during the period 18 March — 25 April would not have existed. It should be noted that it was only on 25 March that Enver Pasha at last decided to form a separate army for the defence of the Dardanelles and place Sanders in command of it. However, such a concept of combined operations — only falteringly and indecisively approached during the naval assaults of February-March — was clearly beyond the scope of the military technology of the period. As discussed above, further disastrous delays were imposed by the Allied force having to be concentrated in Egypt, due to disastrous failures in logistical planning.
In view of these factors, can one state that the invasion of April 1915 was doomed? The answer must be in the negative. It should be borne in mind that the Turkish forces defending the Dardanelles only numbered five divisions in the entire area. These forces, moreover, had no knowledge of the precise location of the landing zones. As Sanders himself later wrote:
‘From the many pale faces of the officers reporting in the morning of 25 April it became apparent that, although a hostile landing had been expected with certainty, a landing at so many points surprised and filled them with apprehension because we could not discern at that moment where the enemy were actually seeking the decision.’
These comments clearly illuminate the superior quality of Hamilton’s strategic concept. By avoiding the anticipated approach and distracting the enemy’s attention from the actual approach, Hamilton assured his own troops of an immense superiority of force at the actual landing points, although his overall force was smaller than that of the Turks.
Hamilton’s achievement in this respect is all the more noteworthy when one considers that the Turks possessed the most detailed and extensive intelligence of the Allied invasion, as has been discussed above. He so fixed the Turkish Commander-in-Chief’s attention and person on the feint assault at Bulair that the Turkish defenders at the main points of attack were denied reinforcements for two days. The ANZAC landings, despite the problems attached to them, placed 4 000 men by surprise, before 05h00, and a further 4 000 before 08h00, on a shore defended by only one Turkish company. The supporting Turkish company was more than a kilometre to the south, whilst the two battalions and one battery in local reserve were located six km inland, and the general reserve of eight battalions and three batteries still further distant. At Y Beach 2 000 men of 29th Division had been safely disembarked without any enemy opposition whatsoever. There they were left entirely undisturbed by the Turks, whom they outnumbered by at least six to one, for eleven hours. As one authority(10) states:
‘It is as certain as anything can be in war that a bold advance from Y on the morning of the 25th must have freed the southern beaches that morning and secured a decisive victory for the 29th Division,’
In his planning of the April offensive Hamilton revealed a clearer concept of combined operations than any of his colleagues, in so far as the landings centred upon a bare equality of force transformed into a potentially decisive superiority with the assistance of sea power.
However, advantages which could well have proved decisive to the outcome of the campaign were shattered by the tactical vices of Hamilton’s subordinates. On 25 April the poor generalship of Hunter-Weston was mainly responsible for precious strategic assets being totally wasted. Hunter-Weston completely ignored the appeals of Col Matthews, the commander of Y Beach force, for reinforcements and rejected Hamilton’s offers of trawlers in which to land them. Thus, through inept generalship, the Y Beach landing, which could have been the key to total success, was abandoned the following morning after it had been held for twenty-nine hours; the force re-embarked when the Turks had actually been evicted. The ANZAC opportunity was also lost, as the country was so rough and the troops so inexperienced that they were bewildered by the sporadic Turkish counter-attacks and were only prevented from an ignominous evacuation by Hamilton’s famous ‘dig,dig,dig’ message. (However, the ANZAC failure may be attributed more to lack of training than poor generalship; even the difficulties of ground might have favoured more than handicapped such skilled skirmishers as the Australians and New Zealanders were later to become.) This reluctance to impose his authority — in this case upon Hunter-Weston — was the source of the fatal and futile offensives in Helles during June and July.
The fundamental responsibility for the overall strategic failure must rest with Hamilton’s lack of decisive leadership. One writer(11) projects the following interesting analysis of the fundamental contrast between the Turkish and Allied Commanders-in-Chief:
‘Liman von Sanders ... gave clear explicit orders to subordinates at crisis moments in action. When his important lieutenants doubted or questioned the possibility of success he summarily dismissed them from their commands. A little iron in the soul of Sir Ian Hamilton might have been better for his men than was gentlemanly conduct to his officers. Courtesy and decisiveness need not be contradictory characteristics, but over-scrupulousness and decisiveness are in opposition ... he must follow his own accurate surmise that his forces would be lightly opposed in the area he had selected for his main attack, and must bear it constantly in mind that this advantage would diminish with the passage of every second of time. This must have been obvious to a man of his intelligence. It was he who must ensure that this transitory advantage must not be wasted. The first 24 hours would be crucial.’
Thus, the deficiencies in Hamilton’s leadership fundamentally accrued from personality; and it was this personality defect (a serious problem in a military commander) which ensured that his subordinate commanders, when placed in positions which enabled them to effect a decisive result, did not have their natural indecisive and faulty leadership corrected. It is certainly true that the April invasion of Gallipoli was conceived in advance of its time, and that Hamilton’s strategic brilliance was most inadequately supported by the military technology available to the commanders of World War I. The appalling logistical mismanagement and maladministration — applying to both supplies and the evacuation of the wounded — which has been discussed in some detail above is clear evidence of this; as also is the reliance upon the Western Front obsession with artillery barrages (in this instance from ships) to support the invading forces upon an exposed beach, which resulted in such heavy casualties on V and Y Beaches.(12) Nevertheless, it is the writer’s contention that, despite the gross disadvantages in terms of technological resources besetting the invaders (manifested in the improvised landing craft, for example), Hamilton’s strategic planning was such that victory could have still been assured on 25 April 1915.
The consequences of the ultimate failure of the Gallipoli offensive may be justifiably described as monumental. Eventually, when Gallipoli was abandoned, a total of 400 000 men was still diverted from France as a defence against the new activities of lesser enemies, viz. in Palestine and Mesopotamia against Turkey set free from Gallipoli involvement; and in Salonika and Greece (‘the largest allied internment camp of the war’ was the popular description applied to this theatre, in which the Allied forces were dubbed ‘the gardeners of Salonika’) against Bulgaria. The Allies also sacrificed a small ally — Serbia — and, of far greater consequence ultimately, their largest ally, Russia. The failure to redress the strategic isolation of Tsarist Russia by securing communication with her via the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea imposed intolerable strains upon the Russian war machine (which depended upon a largely undeveloped agricultural economy), ultimately resulting in the revolutions of 1917. What the success of the campaign would have meant, at the most conservative appreciation, to the Franco-British cause is best revealed in the words of the German commander, Falkenhayn:
‘If the straits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea were not permanently closed to Entente traffic, all hopes of a successful issue to the war would be very seriously diminished. Russia would have been freed from her isolation which ... offered a safer guarantee than military success ... that the forces of this Titan would eventually and automatically be crippled.’
1. Monick, S. ‘The Naval Struggle for the Dardanelles Straits’, Military History Journal Vol 6 No 3 1984 pp. 73-77.
2. Ibid., pp. 73-85.
3. Wykes, A. First landings in Gallipoli in History of the First World War (London, Purnell) Vol 2 p. 762.
4. Ibid., p. 765.
5. Sanders was offered, and accepted, command of the 5th Army on 24 March 1915.
6. Wykes, A. First landings in Gallipoli in History of the First World War (London, Purnell) Vol 2 p. 767.
7. Ibid., p. 772.
8. Ibid., p. 771.
9. Bernard Cyril Freyberg, a New Zealander, was destined to have a most distinguished career in World War 1. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions at Bulair. Between 1915 and 1917 he commanded the Hood Battalion. As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Grenadier Guards he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the Western Front (gazetted 16 December 1917). He subsequently commanded 173 Infantry Brigade in 58 Division in 1917 and 88 Infantry Brigade in 29 Division in 1918-1919. He was awarded a Bar to his DSO for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in France. He was also made a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), awarded the Croix de Guerre, and ended the war as a Brigadier General. During World War II Freyberg commanded Allied forces in Crete and, later, the New Zealand Corps in Tunisia and at Cassino.
10. Liddell Hart, B. ‘Gallipoli: judgement’, History of the First World War (London, Purnell) Vol 3 p. 1139.
11. Schurman, D. Suvla Bay in History of the First World War (London, Purnell) Vol 3, pp. 1050-1051.
12. It is a tragic irony that many of the lives lost on V Beach could have been saved had the commanders employed the ‘Beetle’ for this purpose. This armoured landing craft was ready for use by 1915. There were no exposed gangways, as on the River Clyde. On the approach to the beach the mast could be removed and stowed inside the hull; the landing tackle would only be put up as the vessel approached the landing zone.
Bean, C.W. Official history of Australia in the war (London, Angus & Robertson, 1921) Vols 1-2.
Masefield, J. Gallipoli (London, William Heinemann 1935).
Moorhead, A. Gallipoli (London, Hamish Hamilton 1956).
Rhodes, James R. Gallipoli (London, B.T. Batsford 1965).
Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home pageSouth African Military History Society / email@example.com