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Remembered Today:

Close to victory?

Footsore Private

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The Meaning of the First World War

By Rene Albrecht-Carrie

Prentice Hall

Englewood Cliffs, NJ

C 1965

I do enjoy this book especially its theme of the destruction of the old political order by the Great War.

However, on Page 50 the author writes "Though the allies came closer to victory then they knew at the time, they decided to withdraw from the Gallipoli Peninsula and abandon the whole undertaking."

I don't understand this opinion. It seems to me, the allies were never close to victory at Gallipoli and the results were a clear, if costly, Ottoman victory.

Appreciate any comments.


footsore private

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I hope his judgement in the remainder of the book is better.


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The book in question was published in 1965. The prevailing scholarship at that time thought that the British & French fleets might have got through the straits with just one more push after 18th March 1915.

Alan Moorehead's book Gallipoli was published in 1956

see his pages 64> where he describes the Turkish shortage of HE ammunition

Rhodes James' book Gallipoli was published in 1965, and he also mentions the Ottoman shell shortage - see his page 64> where he quotes a Turkish account, thus

“The Turks viewed the period after the attack with apprehension because most of the ammunition available for the long range guns had been expended and there was a shortage of ammunition.”

A few lines later he goes on to say “The price to pay had been a heavy one, but Churchill, at least, had never expected an easy victory, and although the door to Constantinople was far from open, it now only needed one more decisive push.”

[my emphasis]

A footnote in the 1920s official British Naval History (Naval Operations, Vol.II by Sir Julian S Corbett - see page 224) also mentions that “An impression seems to have prevailed in Constantinople that the ammunition was practically exhausted on March 18 (see Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, pp147 et seq)”

See also the quote from General Liman von Sanders' book 'Five Year in Turkey' which is given in the next post - the batteries of the fortress on the straits would have been quickly silenced as they had little ammunition.

See also post No.5 below

These may have been the basis for the statement that the allies were 'close to victory'

In fairness to the British Naval History however, their footnote referred to above, also mentions post war Turkish reports that there was, after all, enough ammunition. Recently, Erickson in his 'Gallipoli – the Ottoman Campaign' also illustrates what he says are the actual ammunition figures in his Appendix A, page 203.

Whether or not today you believe it was a close-run-thing, must depend on how much importance you place on the state of mind of the opposition. Bearing in mind that an enemy is beaten when he believes it himself, then if Morgenthau's report was correct, perhaps the door really did only need one more push?



Edited by michaeldr
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For another reference which may also support the 'close to victory' idea, but later in the land campaign – see Five Years in Turkey by General Liman von Sanders

(p.87) “If on August 15th and 16th the British had taken the Kiretch Tepe they would have outflanked the entire Fifth Army and final success might have fallen to them”


(p.89) “The Anafarta landing was an enterprise planned on a grand scale, intended to open the Dardanelles to the Allies by land action while at the same time cutting the Fifth Army from its communications. If the Anafarta landing served to bring the Dardanelles Campaign to a tactical decision as desired by the British, the batteries of the fortress on the straits would have been quickly silenced as they had little ammunition. The mine fields in the straits could then be removed and no further difficulties would lay in the way of combined action of the victorious British Army and the Allied fleet. In this case the the lines of Tchataldja (Chalalja), not far from the gates of Constantinople, which had saved the city in the Turko-Bulgarian War, would be of little value, because both flanks would have been under the fire of the enemy's fleet. A Russian landing would no doubt have coincided with the Anglo-French operations. At that time many reports from Bucharest and Athens mentioned the concentration of troops and ships in Odessa.

Secure communications between the Western Powers and Russia would have been established and Turkey would have been split off from the Central Powers. In that case it is more than improbable that Bulgaria would have relinquished her neutrality and precipitated herself into such an unpromising military situation.

Thus the Anafarta landing, which in point of time lies approximately in the middle of the Dardanelles Campaign of eight and one-half months, was its political-military summit.”

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  • 4 weeks later...

The following conversation took place some time between 13th & 24th November 1918

(and supports post No. 3 above)

see the article THE UNVEILING OF THE NEAR EAST in The Naval Review, here http://www.naval-review.com/issues/1920s/1920-4.pdf#Page=124&View=Fit


“I asked Tewfik Bev about the condition of Turkey at the climax of the naval bombardments in 1915. He replied that after the final attack on the Dardanelles on March 18th, when the battleships withdrew, they had given themselves up as lost. The forts were reduced to an average of three rounds per gun remaining, and at daylight on the 19th every man, woman and child in Constantinople had packed up their possessions and mere waiting on the roofs of their houses to see the victorious British Fleet arrive before the city. That day passed, and the next, but it never came, and the great opportunity was lost, irrevocably. Every man in Constantinople to whom I spoke about it told me the same story.”

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From Dardanelles-A Midshipman's Diary - H M Denham - p184

"...had we known at the time of the Navy's final attack on March 18th 1915 that most of the forts were almost out of ammunition, there was perhaps a good chance of the Navy having succeeded in forcing the Narrows, but only provided efficient minesweepers had been made available at the time."

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Happy New Year Squirrel,

I agree that the mine-sweeping by wooden built trawlers was a mistake;

they were too slow against the Dardanelles current, they were unarmed and unarmoured, and they were manned by civilians who were unused to working under fire.

Alas, there was little alternative at the time, as neither serrated wire nor the paravane had yet been brought into service.

However the main point about the ammunition shortage is the effect which it had on the thinking of the Ottoman public and their leaders.

Erickson goes to great pains to explain that the 'shortage' was imagined. That may be true, but the belief at the time, is what guided the actions at the time

Judging by the comments quoted above, it seems that amongst the German and Turkish military and civilian leadership the perception of a shortage was real enough. So it is fair to ask

'Since they believed themselves to be running out of ammunition, then how would they have reacted if they had been pressed further?'

Tewfik suggests they would have reacted by packing their kit

(I wonder what happened to Mr Footsore Private?)

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Happy New Year michaeldr,

Denham, who was serving on HMS Agamemnon, writes as follows:

"We started with the easy task of subduing the Outer Forts and then landing demolition parties to destroy the guns, with relatively little opposition and small loss of life.

The second phase of sweeping the mines within the Straits and destroying the defences as far as the Narrows was never achieved. The 6 -knot trawlers were unsuitable in the face of effective gunfire and searchlights, especially when they should have been sweeping against a 2-knot current instead of with it as they appear to have done."

He then suggests that paddle steamers, capable of 10-knots and, in some cases12-knots, should have been considered and later writes that " "Beagle" class Destroyers may well have served the purpose."

His general thrust is that the Turkish mobile artillery, together with the ineffectivesness of the minesweeping operations, were the reasons for the Naval Operations not succeeding.

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What beggars belief is that the question of mine sweeping was put by the First Lord to the First Sea Lord just about a week after the German ships entered the Dardanelles. The First Sea Lord (Prince Louis) gave a very short and clear answer:

“A pair of destroyers or a pair of picket boats can easily rig up a sweep at any time, It has often been practised in fleets.”

Six months later, and instead of steel destroyers which were powerful enough to make progress against the current and were armed, they are using slow, wooden, unarmed trawlers.

The mine sweeping was done at night and if the bigger Ottoman fortress guns had been short of shells, then the heavier elements of the fleet could have dealt with the search lights, without which the shore based artillery would have been blind.

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According to Denham, Beagle class destroyers equipped for minesweeping remained at Tenedos and were never called upon.

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  • 1 month later...

The idea of 'close to victory' at Gallipoli has certainly seeped into the wider literature. For example, in Farewell the Trumpets (1978) (my version Penguin 1979), James Morris writes, "..for by the end of 1915 the Turks were almost at breaking point."

It seems to me that the British were never close to breaking the Turks either by land or sea.

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