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Remembered Today:

An assessment of Gallipoli


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I recently came across a brief assessment of Gallipoli by a prominent historian and I would like members' input on it:

"The chief problem seems to have been the lack of a concerted overall plan. Churchill had originally envisaged a combined military and naval operation; by mid-January 1915, however, he was advocating an attack by the Navy only, despite the furious opposition of the First Sea Lord, his friend - but occasionally also his bete noire - Admiral Sir John Fisher. Only a month later, less than a week before the naval bombardment of the Dardanelles began, was it decided to send troops in support. This was largely due to the fact that Churchill, who was providing all the energy and drive behind the plan, was only a cabinet minister, responsible exclusively for the navy. He had no power over the army; the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener - who did - was half hearted, the Prime Minister even more so. Had Churchill possessed the authority that he was to enjoy twenty-five years later, the Gallipoli campaign might well have ended very differently".


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Sounds like a Churchill lover wrote it.

It has to be said that politicking played a large part in the disaster but bad leadership on the scene also played a large part.

I think it was more a lack of leadership by senior officers who seem to have had little idea of what modern warfare actually was, particularly at Suvla in August. In that area men landed and then were tasked to get on with it but senior staff seem to have ignored the orders. This saw men ending up sitting around for a couple of days whilst the Turks reinforced. Politicians and senior commanders have a lot of blood on their hands due to the inept handling of the campaign.

As for Churchill, he did not care how many men died in his pursuit of glory.

The vast majority of officers up to Battalion commander level performed their duties amazingly well.

Steve M

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Thanks for the input Steve but I think you are proving the author's point. If there was dilly dallying and inept leadership at the senior level when it came to handling the ground forces then Churchill, as cabinet minister with only naval authority, could hardly have had anything to do with it.

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True but it was Churchill and his ilk who sent the troops there without a proper plan of action or enough men to do the job. They also 'picked' the commanders who would do such an inept job of leading the men. Churchill knew the people to ask for help and also to lean on from his wide circle of friends. If he had decided that it was a bad idea, then it would not have happened. If I shook hands with Churchill, I would be sure to check how many fingers I had afterwards.

He was an adventurer who did not care how many died.


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If I shook hands with Churchill, I would be sure to check how many fingers I had afterwards.


Judging by what you write, Steve, I think it's extremely unlikely that you would be willing to shake his hand in the first place.

Phil (PJA)

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Quotes from Steve's posts 2 & 4 above:

As for Churchill, he did not care how many men died in his pursuit of glory

If I shook hands with Churchill, I would be sure to check how many fingers I had afterwards. He was an adventurer who did not care how many died.

I think that it would be as well at this point to remind ourselves of exactly who and what Churchill was during those days.

He was not the once (and future) Conservative who had entered parliament in 1900, but a Liberal: he had crossed the floor of the House in 1904. He espoused Liberalism and did much good work in the following years, which was far from comforting to his former colleagues in the Tory party.

The following is cut from Wiki to illustrate this

...as President of the Board of Trade, Churchill took an active role in bringing about the radical social reforms, which have become known as the Liberal reforms. The first of these, passed while Churchill was still Colonial Under Secretary, the Trades Disputes Act 1906 overturned the Taff Vale Case by providing that unions were not liable for damages caused by strike action.

His direct achievements at the Board of Trade were considerable particularly in employment law. He was responsible for the Mines Act 1908, which provided for an 8-hour day in all mines; the Trades Boards Act 1909 which established the first minimum wage system in Britain mandating rates for both time- and piece-work for 200,000 workers in several industries … and the Labour Exchanges Act 1909 setting up offices to help unemployed people find work. As Home Secretary he continued these reforms with the National Insurance Act 1911 providing sickness and unemployment benefits......

Churchill's most important indirect role in these reforms was his assistance in passing the People's Budget and the Parliament Act of 1911. The budget included the introduction of new taxes on the wealthy to allow for the creation of new social welfare programmes. Churchill's biographer William Manchester called the "People's Budget" "a revolutionary concept" because it was the first budget in British history with the expressed intent of redistributing wealth to the British public. At the time the Budget was discussed in 1909 he did feel some ambiguity over it. But despite his doubts about its effectiveness, he launched himself into the fight for the budget and accepted the presidency of the Budget League, an organisation set up in response to the oppositions 'Budget Protest League'.

After the budget was sent to the Commons in 1909 and passed, it went to the House of Lords, where it was subsequently vetoed. The Liberals then fought and won two general elections in January and December 1910 to gain a mandate for their reforms. In these campaigns which resulted in the curbing of the Lords' veto by the Parliament Act, Churchill was again to the fore, adding humour in his speeches:


"All civilisation" said Lord Curzon quoting Renan 'is the work of aristocracies." They liked that in Oldham. There was not a duke, not an earl, not a marquis, not a viscount in Oldham who did not think that a compliment had been paid to him. "All civilisation is the work of aristocracies." It would be more true to say "The upkeep of aristocracies has been the hard work of all civilisations."

In 1909 Churchill published a collection of speeches with a foreword under the title Liberalism and the Social Problem. In it he argued for maintaining much of the social order and for gradualism in reform. He wanted to make the existing society work better and more humanely so as to preserve it better.

Churchill's 1909 speeches, mentioned above, can be seen here


Note his statements such as the

It is quite true that the land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies; it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

These ideas, and others like them, terrified the Tory squirearchy, and at this period he was hated, not only as a vile turn-coat, but as person very dangerous to all which was held sacred by the Conservatives.

The ideas which led to the Dardanelles campaign were formed in various ways, by various parties and at various times.

For example, the discussion in the War Council on 25th November was prompted, not by Churchill, but by Kitchener who was worried about the defence of Egypt. It is true that Churchill's response to Kitchener, was to propose a threat to Turkey as the best form of a defence for Egypt, but this was rejected by the Council.

The next month, three different people, all independently, produced papers on the subject; Churchill was only one of them, the others were Lloyd George and Hankey.

The Grand Duke's New Year appeal produced the response (not from Churchill) but rather from Kitchener

We have no troops to land anywhere... The only place that a demonstration might have some effect in stopping reinforcements going East would be the Dardanelles...” (see R Rhodes James)

When Lord Fisher (he had become Baron Fisher in 1909) joined in to add his ideas to the Dardanelles' brew, Churchill's response was

I think that we had better hear what the others have to say about the Turkish plans before taking a deciding line.... I would not grudge 100,000 men, because of the great political effects in the Balkan peninsula; but Germany is the foe.....”

“I think that we had better hear what the others have to say” is hardly the line of a dictator, or of someone who was hell-bent on only one course of action.

The quote in post No1 reminds us that Churchill “was only a cabinet minister, responsible exclusively for the navy. He had no power over the army; the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener - who did - was half hearted, the Prime Minister even more so.”

Looking down the events time-line;

- Who was it held back and delayed the 29th Division for those valuable but lost weeks?

- And who was it forbade the RFC from taking part in the campaign?

- Who was it chose, not only the commanding general, but also decided who was to be the Chief of Staff for the campaign?

The answer to all of the above (and more) is Lord Kitchener.

As for the Prime Minister -

The Liberal government of Asquith was snared by the Conservatives in May 1915 and the Tories seized their chance, not only to begin to partake of the government of the war, but for revenge on the turn-coat with the radical ideas, whom they feared and loathed in about equal measure. The extent of their hypocrisy is demonstrated by the nomination of their man to fill the post previously held by Churchill.

It was Arthur Balfour who became the new First Lord of the Admiralty; a man who had consistently spoken in favour of the Dardanelles campaign.

Posted previously by me, but worth repeating here in the context of Churchill's replacement, Balfour:

“On 28th January 1915 when the Dardanelles was discussed “Mr. Balfour then dwelt on the advantages which would accrue from a successful attack on the Dardanelles, and concluded by saying that ‘it was difficult to imagine a more helpful operation’”
Even as late as 23rd March, after the check of the 18th, Balfour had discussed and agreed with Churchill on the need for the continuation of the naval attack on the Narrows. (As the first report of the Dardanelles Commission pointed out, Enver Pasha later confirmed “If the English had only the courage to rush more ships through the Dardanelles they could have got to Constantinople…” however Asquith, Balfour & Churchill were overruled by the men on the spot)

So, if Balfour did not become the First Lord because of his strong and lengthy opposition to the Dardanelles, how came he by that post?

LG’s comment ... is revealing of the party politics at play here, even in the midst of a war; “.. a cruel and unjust degradation ... it came to me as a cruel and unpleasant surprise”
The Parliamentary Archives should also be worth a look at; e.g. –
Margot Asquith, 10 Downing St., to Mr. Lloyd George. LG/C/6/12/15 24 March [1915] These documents are held at Parliamentary Archives. Holograph. Contents: Invites Lloyd George to Walmer.
Considers Churchill should be careful about what he says to A.J. Balfour who is a very hostile political opponent

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Gallipoli was undoubtedly the greatest blot on Churchill's reputation. It left his political reputation in tatters and he sought to redeem himself by serving for some months on the Western Front.

Nevertheless I think it is a little harsh to say that 'he did not care how many men died in his pursuit of glory.' He was an emotional politician and war leader who invariably let his heart rule his head and the advice of his military advisors. Lord Alanbrooke's diaries of his time as CIGS depict a war effort being a constant battle between professional advice and Churchill's amateur strategy and gut feelings. Nonetheless the intention of Gallipoli had been to save lives not throw them away and having been scarred by his experiences he was careful to not sanction D-Day until full preparations were in place.


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When it comes to the throwing away of lives at Gallipoli, it needs to be stressed that the Turks were far more profligate in this respect than the Allies.

This is not to endorse the strategic viability of the project, but I think it merits consideration.

If, by engaging with the Germans on the Western Front, two allied soldiers are killed for every German , while on the Gallipoli peninsula two Turks are killed for every Briton, there is something to be said, in my view, for seeking to try conclusions at Gallipoli.

Phil (PJA)

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But what good does killing Turkish men do as opposed to taking Germany out of the war?

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Churchill agreed that Germany was the main foe – see his reply to Lord Fisher

Unfortunately however, in a war you cannot always be given the choice of who joins your main enemy.

Britain did its best diplomatically to try and persuade Turkey not to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers. For example, Rear Admiral Limpus met with Enver on 18 August 1914 and passed on a message from Churchill, assuring the Turks of British goodwill, expressing regret at the seizure of her two dreadnoughts, promising to return the money already paid for them asap, and to return the ships to them after the war.

Enver's mind however, was already made up. By October he had put the Turkish fleet into German hands and on the 27th, under the command of Souchon and including the German elements he had so recently brought into the Turkish navy, they sailed to attack the allies (Russia in this case).

Turkey entered the war against Britain, despite the latter's (and in particular, Churchill's) best efforts to keep her out.

Edited by michaeldr
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But what good does killing Turkish men do as opposed to taking Germany out of the war?

The enemy is the enemy, be he German, Austrian, Turk or Bulgar.

Germany is the main enemy.....yes, " I get that."

This is an assessment of Gallipoli. On this front, the enemy is being killed at twice the rate suffered by the Allies. Not a feature of the campaign that is sufficiently acknowledged, in my opinion.

Phil (PJA)

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On this front, the enemy is being killed at twice the rate suffered by the Allies. Not a feature of the campaign that is sufficiently acknowledged, in my opinion.

I am not sure that remarks about casualties are helpful to this particular debate, especially as a degree of exaggeration seems to be evident

Of the historians examining this campaign, Erickson probably has better Turkish sources than most. The table below is taken from his 'Gallipoli – The Ottoman Campaign', published by Pen & Sword in 2010, ISBN 978 1 84415 967 3. See page 199. Erickson gives his source for these figures beneath the table


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Yes, there was rhetorical exaggeration in my reckoning of a two to one disparity : judging by the figures above, it's more like three to two.

Note that I focus on fatalities, since we're mentioning " lives thrown away".

Whatever the strategic merits or otherwise, whether it was flawed in conception or, execution, or both, the result was a killing field as bad as any. For the Turks, this was especially so - I believe that the life expectancy of a Turkish soldier serving at Gallipoli was shorter than that of his French counterpart at Verdun. I stress this because I feel that any assessment of Gallipoli needs to give due acknowledgement to the effort and sacrifice made by the Turks. The impression conveyed by some accounts is that Allied soldiers were sent to their deaths in futile and hopeless frontal attacks against strong Turkish defences sited on high ground. I want to impart a sense of balance to that view.

Phil (PJA)

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since we're mentioning " lives thrown away".

No, we are not mentioning 'lives thrown away'; that does not appear in the o.p.

It is perhaps a later introduction and, to my mind, a distraction from the o.p. (probably introduced as exactly that)

Note that I focus on fatalities,

The Turkish fatalities are given above as 595 officers + 56,145 other ranks = 56,740

Your 'three to two' formula suggests that the French and British Empire killed amounted to 37,827

I have seen no figures which suggest that that number might be correct

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You ignore the missing.

More than eleven thousand.

Not many POWs.

Perhaps sixty five thousand Turks were killed or died from wounds.

You will find that British Empire battle fatalities, as recorded in official medical statistics, amounted to about thirty eight thousand.

Several thousand French need to be allowed for, raising the total to 45,000 approx, which makes my allusion to a rough three to two disparity plausible.

Turkish deaths from disease and hardship were vastly higher than those of the Allies, perhaps fivefold.

If we are to assess Gallipoli, I think it is important to bear this terrible Turkish suffering in mind.

Phil (PJA)

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Can we get back to the topic now?

So be it, then.

The vipers' nest of politics, not the actual military outcome.

How much was one determined by the other ?

Your depiction of Churchill reminds me of Mallerson's ( I'll have to check spelling and edit)assessment in his FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT book about 1914.

You don't agree with Peter Hart, do you ?

Edit : Alan Mallinson. He gave a lecture at the National Army Museum about the theme of his book. Clearly an admirer of Churchill. I was seduced, too.

Phil (PJA)

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