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Remembered Today:

16th March 1915


michaeldr

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memorandum to the Prime Minister

by the Secretary of the War Council (Lieut.-Colonel M. P. A. Hankey)

dated 16th March 1915

1 From the point of view of the War Council the situation as regards the attack on the Dardanelles is far from clear. As recently as the last meeting the War Council were informed by the First Lord that the navy still hoped and expected to get through the Dardanelles without the assistance of military forces. Now, however, as was anticipated by most naval officers who were acquainted with the locality, the fleet is held up by a combination of mines and howitzers. In order to overcome these obstacles, the employment of a considerable land force is contemplated.

2 It must be borne in mind that up to the present time the employment of military force has been proposed only to clear up the situation after the Dardanelles had been forced. Now, therefore, so far as the War Council is concerned, we are faced with a new and possibly very formidable operation to be carried out by land forces.

3 Is it not desirable that the War Council should ascertain definitely the scope of the operations contemplated, and the extent of the preparations made to carry out these operations? In this connection it must be remembered that combined operations require more careful preparation than any other class of military enterprise. All through our history such attacks have failed when the preparations have been inadequate, and the successes are in nearly every case due to the most careful preparation beforehand. It would appear to be the business of the War Council to assure themselves, in the present instance, that these preparations have been thoroughly thought out.

4 It must be remembered also that one of the greatest advantages to be obtained from this class of operation, namely, that of surprise, has been lost. If a large force of troops had been sent at the very outset, secretly and unobtrusively, and fully equipped with boats and everything required, so as to be available the moment the outer forts had fallen, it is by no means unlikely that, assisted by judicious feints to confuse the enemy as to their intended objective, they might have captured the plateau overlooking the forts at the Narrows by a coup-de-main. Instead of being announced as a mere demonstration, as was contemplated by the War Council, even the first bombardment of the outer forts was announced as an attack, and at no time has any attempt been made to conceal our intention to force the Dardanelles at any cost. Now that the fleet has been held up by the minefields, the enemy knows exactly the point at which our attack must be directed. He has had as much time as he requires to entrench this point, to emplace his artillery, to pour reinforcements on to the land on both sides of the Straits, and to make every sort of preparation. The military enterprise, therefore, will be of a most formidable nature. It is suggested that the War Council ought to cross-examine the naval and military authorities on the extent of the preparations, and particularly with regard to such points as the following:

a - The number of troops it is proposed to employ?

b - The arrangements made for the supply of boats and tugs?

c - The preparations made for the provision of landing piers, pontoons, etc.?

d - The arrangements for the supply of water and provisions?

e - The hospital arrangements. Is it contemplated to use nothing but floating hospitals, or will there be field hospitals on shore?

f - Is it expected that the Dardanelles will be carried by a coup-de-main, or is the possibility of siege operations contemplated?

g - In the latter event, what siege guns will be available, and what arrangements have been made for landing them and their ammunition?

h - Possibly, it is proposed that the men-of-war should supply the necessary heavy artillery to overcome the enemy’s heavy movable artillery. If so, are the military authorities satisfied that the projectiles available in men-of-war are suitable for this purpose, and that they will be able to search the valleys in which the howitzers are likely to be found?

i - What arrangements have been made for the supply of the very large amount of ammunition that may be required for the operation?

j - What arrangements are contemplated for the transport from the landing place to the army, of supplies of ammunition, food, water, etc., over a rough country with very few roads in it, bearing in mind that these roads will probably be broken up by the enemy before evacuating them?

5 Unless details such as these, and there are probably others, are fully thought out before the landing takes place, it is conceivable that a serious disaster may occur.

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Hello Michael,

Thanks for your posts on the Dardanelles campaign. When I read this one it looks like a very well thought out reponse to the whole idea of the Gallipoli campaign. It is also extremely accurate in predicting the issues that would go on to dog the entire episode.

Why didn't anyone listen to them? Was it a case of "Well, we're bogged down in France and Flanders, let's try something else, somewhere else?"

Regards,

Liam.

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Thanks for your comments Liam,

Hankey comes across as a very professional soldier [he was in fact a Marine] and as you say his predictions seem to have been spot-on; his memo to the PM appears in the British O.H. and the very next line reads

‘The truth of this prophecy was soon to be demonstrated.’

Carlyon describes Hankey thus ‘He was 38 and looked older, short and balding and with a benevolent air. He had a fine mind but didn’t flaunt it…’

You ask ‘why didn’t anyone listen to him?’ A very good question!

I think that the cabinet were all too much in awe of the Secretary for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Once those two had been persuaded of the scheme I think that the others just fell in-line and then made the fatally flawed assumption that at the War Office and at the Admiralty, people knew what they were doing, and so would need little or no further oversight.

Would it have turned out differently if, to turn Carlyon’s phrase around, Hankey’s personality had allowed him to flaunt his fine mind? Personally, I’m not sure if in those days anyone could have stood up to Kitchener; it took until 1916 for people to realise that he had feet of clay.

Best regards

Michael D.R.

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