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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

An Analysis, by General Ismay

Uncle George

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Ismay, Chief of Staff to and devotee of Churchill during the Second war, gives an interesting assessment of the planning of the Dardanelles campaign in his 'Memoirs.' He does this by describing how things would have been done in the later war. Ismay describes the "conception of forcing the Dardanelles and joining hands with Russia" as "admirable." He adds that "if the Government had been effectively organised for the conduct if war, the expedition would either have been completely successful or would not have been attempted."

He continues: "The reader may care to consider how the business would have been handled if an expedition such as the Dardanelles had been proposed in 1941, instead of 1915. The ball would have been opened by a minute from the Prime Minister to the Chiefs of Staff explaining his ideas and requesting their views. The first question to which they would have addressed themselves would have been, 'Is the plan practicable and desirable from the military point of view?' If their conclusions had been unfavourable, they would have reported...to that effect. If their objections were found unconvincing, they would have been subjected to a searching cross-examination and perhaps to heavy pressure...But if the Chiefs of Staff had stuck to their guns, there would have been no expedition.

"If, on the other hand, the Chiefs of Staff, instead of dissenting, had agreed that the expedition was advisable from the military point of view and had thought that the necessary resources could be found, the Joint Planners would have been instructed to prepare an outline plan giving their views as to the form the expedition should take, the resources that it would require, and the date at which it could be launched. The results of their studies would have been examined by the Chiefs in the first place, and then by the Prime Minister and Defence Committee. Once the plan had been finalised, the War Cabinet would have been informed in general terms, and their approval sought."

Ismay concedes that, "It might, perhaps with justice, be said that Churchill was blameworthy in continuing to press for the Gallipoli campaign long after it was clear that his ministerial colleagues and his principal technical adviser, Lord Fisher, had not got their hearts in it."

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Strikes me as a good assessment by Gen Ismay. However, I think we were a while into WWII before a Combined Ops Staff was established; single Service tribes with their political masters reigned until they were brought into a unified department of state as the MoD; and it wasn't until after Gulf War One that the Principal Joint HQ became the Permanent Joint HQ. It seems to me that these changes in the higher management of defence have been for the good, but why did it take so long?

Anyway, thanks for this post, Uncle George. Think I might get hold of Gen Ismay's memoirs sometime.


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