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Remembered Today:

Were they worth it?


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I have been thinking (always a bad sign) that the campaigns in the Middle East and Africa conducted by the Allies during the First World War used up thousands of tons of material and hundreds of thousands of men. However, as far as I can see, they made little impact upon the defeat of the main enemy Germany, and only succeded in addding to the prestige of the British and French empires.

What do you think? Were the Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Palestine and African campaigns worth the cost? Did they acheive any real gains?

JGM :)

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But they kept the Turkish "Empire" from becoming the dominant contender in the Middle East; kept open the Suez Canal and, as you say, made the British and French the main contenders in the area.

Unfortunately, post war, they ended up setting the boundaries of most of the countries that are there today.

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Were the Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Palestine and African campaigns worth the cost? Did they acheive any real gains?

If you accept the premise that, to a very large extent, this was a war of imperialism, then the answer is "yes" (with the exception of Gallipoli which was a failure).

As squirrel suggests, the very success has had far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Whether these are for good or for bad is an issue of "current politics" - and I'm not going down that road - not even on the pretext of saying it isnt current politics.

John

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I agree. And as Allied victories started to finally roll in, it can only have been a good all round morale booster.

Gallipoli, as discussed many time before, was a good idea badly excecuted, Egypt was neccessary to keeping the Suez open & took the sting out of climbing Ottoman morale when they realised the Allies werent there purely to be beaten & Palestine was the morale bit.

Also, I imagine that if the Ottoman Empire was given a free run at Russia, it would have taken them out of the war before 1917 & given the Western Front armies an even huger headache than it did in 1917. Speculation of course, but perhaps Italy & the other Balkan areas woudl have folded if their attention was also focused on their southern flank leaving just France & Britain. In that case, the Allies woudl have been pretty much done really ...

As rightly stated, the aftermarth is another matter but thats the case more often than not when it comes to Politics :rolleyes: , but all in all, I woudl say it did serve a positive purpose.

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Adding to the points the others have made we shouldn't forget the necessity of keeping open access to the oilfields. If Turkey/Germany had got to them the war would certainly have gone their way.

As for East Africa defeat there would have given the German navy access to ports that would enable them to attack the shipping crossing the Indian Ocean. We couldn't rely on the Japanese to patrol the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Garth

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Thank you for the replies, I can see what you are trying to say. But...

...Turkish attempts to storm the Suez canal in 1915 were disastrous and surely it could have been efficiently defended without having to expand into the area of Palestine. Furthermore the Suez canal would not have needed vast resources to defend it because it already had the Sinai desert between it and substantial Turkish forces. Perhaps the same could be said about the Mesopotamian oilfields, essentially a defensive war might have been fought at lower cost.

I can certainly see the points made about the role of the Palestinian campaign as a morale booster, and morale is often underated within the context of Total War. Same as the point about the Naval aspect of closing of German Pacific and African ports. I also find Steve's speculation about the Russian situation very interesting. However as far as I know were'nt the Russians rather succesful when facing the Turkish troops and inflicted high casualties upon them (higher casualties then those inflicted by British and French forces combined).

Indeed I accept that many of the acheivements acheived by these campaigns were worthy, however I cannot escape from a feeling that the vast numbers committed to them were disproportionate to the eventual ends acheived.

As for the political implications, I'm not going to even go there...

I appreciate the replies,

JGM :)

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Mate,

Don't get hung up in numbers here as they change as the stragity and tactics evolve.

The defence of Egypt was paramount we can agree on that as they kept to waterway open to the empire.

But to leave the Turks on there side in the desert to gather a larger force with bigger guns and aircraft, is to hand the advantages to them.

To control the Cannal you must do it from both sides not one, and to do that you need to control the desert of Sinai.

The British could have done this in 1915 but as we all know Gallipoli side lined this part of the war untill those troops returned to Egypt.

Mate are they worthy, Yes they were

Even Gallipoli, which like an old Girl friend who promest so much but gave me so little.

Cheers

S.B

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Ok I can see that the defence of Egypt was very important and that it ws necceassary to throw them as far away from the canal as possible while it was also neccessary to protect the Mesopotamian oilfields as well. The best way to defend is to attack and all that.

I think I was reflecting the Prior and Wilson argument that these campaigns (peripheries as they called them) were useless, but I am beginning to see that they did have an important purpose after all.

However I am just wondering whether there were any other important acheivements for these campaigns, as far as I see it the fundamental reasons for Britain's involvement in the war was the curbing of German expansionism through the defence of countries like Belgium. Did these campaigns have other important effects towards that end other then the defence of key positions (Suez Canal, Mesopotamian Oilfields, or African Ports)?

What of the war in West Africa (against Lettow Vorbeck, the only German General who could claim to be undefeated) did that acheive anything much? Finally I have to question the Gallipoli campaign, to me it seems that it was a hopelessly unrealistic design (right chaps, we sail a few battleships towards Istanbul and they will just surrender!) which was strung out for far too long and never should have been attempted in the first place.

Jon B)

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Quote: to me it seems that it was a hopelessly unrealistic design (right chaps, we sail a few battleships towards Istanbul and they will just surrender!) which was strung out for far too long and never should have been attempted in the first place.

At New Year 1915 Russia was under tremendous pressure and called by telegraph for relief from her allies in the west. It was thought this could best be achieved by an attack on Germany's ally Turkey. This would have had several advantages over and beyond the assistance afforded to the Russian armies by the distraction of her adversaries. Notably, it would provide an ice free sea route by which Russia could be re-armed and in the other direction it would allow her to export her ample grain harvests to Western Europe. A re-equipped Russia would assist by tying up German/Austrian armies in the east and perhaps provide a breathing space for France/Britain in the west. Further, it was by this time realised that the front in France and Flanders had reached a stalemate and it was seen as a way around that block, perhaps even bringing in further allies along the way, from the Mediterranean and the Balkan countries. The Navy agreed and after having seen the effects of modern artillery on the fortresses of Belgium, they felt assured that their modern guns and shells would as easily reduce the forts guarding the Dardanelles. In this they were eventually proved to be mistaken, but their outset was confident.

As has also been mentioned previously, a successful attack on Turkey would have secured the Suez gateway to India and the east, as well as opening up the prospect of securing the supply of oil which was becoming an increasingly important element in warfare on land, sea and air

At the time of the Russian telegram what else could her allies France and Britain have done for her?

Ideas which succeed are unquestioned but ideas which don't work out are subjected to scrutiny by easy hindsight. Gallipoli was a good idea at the time and was only betrayed in its execution; betrayed in London by the way, and not by the men who fought there

regards

Michael

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I think I can see where you are coming from but try this. When you go to war with a country you cannot pick and choose the places where you will fight them. They have to be fought where you meet them. In WW2 we went to war with Germany because of the invasion of Poland (at least that was the excuse that was used) but we never fought the Germans in Poland. We fought them in almost every other country in the west but not Poland.

As far as the Great War 'sideshows' were concerned we were fighting to defend what we believed was our territory/empire; or an area over which we were trying to have an influence that we didn't want to concede to another European power. Empire is Empire. If you don't fight for it others will take it away from you and our forefathers were not prepared to give up the Great British Empire without a fight.

Who was right or who was wrong? I don't think it's for us to say. The people then thought they were in the right and they fought hard for their rights, British, French, Russian, or German, they all thought they were right and the opposition was wrong.

Garth

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The East African campaign in hindsight would seem to be of little benefit to the allies and the manpower could arguably have been better employed elsewhere.

However, it is unlikely that South African Boers or large contingents of African Troops would have been a significant asset as infantry on the Western Front for a variety of reasons. Other SA units did of course contribute considerably in France etc as did the Indian Divisions.

Despite Von Lettow being "undefeated" considerable gains were made in East Africa at a time when no other theatre could show results. It did allow control of the Indian Ocean by the RN and protection to the southern Suez and freed the trade eminating from the lakes region.

Von Lettows final disposition is not that far removed from that of the whole German Army in late 1918 in that his force was severely depleted (around 1200 askaris) and constantly fell back unable to mount a war changing offensive action in the face of Allied actions.

Roop

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Ok, I think that I have been proved quite spectacularly wrong on this one. All very interesting, it certainly helps me to look at the campaigns that took place in other theatres in another light. Thanks to Michaal, Garth, Roop and Chris who have all contributed to this thread since my last post.

Jon B)

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Not a case of being "wrong" mate :) . Speculation is healthy as it keeps things in perspective!

On the surface I can see what youre saying, its just that the overall effect of the other campaigns had a useful cumulative effect on the outcome. In themselves, each campaign could be criticised but all had their own merits, which collectively made a difference.

I thought it was a good line of questioning myself ;)

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Mates,

Yes I totaly agree, when I first looked at the Macedonia battles in Greece I couldn't believe we sent troops there and for what reason as for most of the war they had little suport and spent most of the time in stalemate.

Now as I understand to reason was to suport the Serbs but it was only after the serbs were defeated and retreated then shiped to Greeece did they join hands.

But of cause the troops did tie down Bulgar Div's and later Turkish, German and Austrians but was this all they did?

Not to mention the arrival of Roumania which was about the most silly addition to the allied cause, yes it gave Russia an avenue of attack but at the time of the war Russia had little to take advantange of it, and as we quickly saw the Germans, Turks, Bulgars and Austrians jumped on them and they collapsed.

Now these small wars did draw valuble German men and resourses away from France and stretched German assests more then she could take, and as mentioned most of these so called side show campagins (like Mesopantia and East Africa) other then Macidonia did have mostly units from the Commonweath like South Africa or India and had little effect on Britian other then money.

Were they worthy as asked?

Well I am sure the Serb's liked the help but they would have prefered more direct help and the Macidonian front was like a self contained prison camp for years untill the end of the war when this front came alive and achived some great victories against the Bulgars.

But was it worth it Well thats one to be discussed.

Cheers

S,B

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. . . . However, it is unlikely that South African Boers or large contingents of African Troops would have been a significant asset as infantry on the Western Front for a variety of reasons. Other SA units did of course contribute considerably in France etc as did the Indian Divisions. . . .

Roop

Roop

Now, now bad boy

The British Army's experiences in South Africa were a series of unpleasant shocks that had probably resulted in the so-called cavalry outlook that had shaped Haig's (amongst others) outlook on the Western Front - it is constructive to look at why the British Army needed barbed wire and concentration camps.

Enough of the history - just imagine Delville Wood with 5 or 10 times the available force or the Easter Offensive in 1917 with another 1 or 2 SOUTH AFRICAN divisions.

Carl Hoehler

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Enough of the history - just imagine Delville Wood with 5 or 10 times the available force or the Easter Offensive in 1917 with another 1 or 2 SOUTH AFRICAN divisions.

Surely the South Africans of Delville Wood were the best of the best compared to their (hypothetically) conscripted or later recruited brethren? Surely one or two more South African units would not have been of such high fighting prowess. In the same way the New Army units of 1916-18 did not have quite the fighting power of the old Regular British units of 1914.

Whaddya think?

Jon

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Surely the South Africans of Delville Wood were the best of the best compared to their (hypothetically) conscripted or later recruited brethren? Surely one or two more South African units would not have been of such high fighting prowess. In the same way the New Army units of 1916-18 did not have quite the fighting power of the old Regular British units of 1914.

Whaddya think?

Jon

Jon

All South Africans were volunteers (and were not specially selected) although they had to 'further volunteer' to serve outside of Africa (this also applied in WW2). I really think that they were only being good South Africans responding to the call from Britain via the S A Prime Minister (Louis Botha). Some really distinguished Boers in fact fought on the side of Britain (despite the rebellion and some strong feelings from the South African war - remember the scorched earth, the extensive barbed wire fences and the concentration camps.)

The original New Army divisions did not want enthusiasm, bravery etc but were probably not YET really ready in 1916 and 1917 to be compared with the 1914 BEF (who were really without equal) but the 1918 BEF (Regular, New Army and Territorial which were only distinguished by their Division numbers) showed skill beyond any doubt.

Carl Hoehler

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Carl,

The contribution of South Africa on the Western Front is notable as you point out but were mainly but not exclusively "SA British" in composition.

The Boer contingents were better suited both mentally and tactically with less regulated forms of warfare as demonstrated in East & SW Africa, discipline was not high on their agenda. Many returned to their farms after a relatively short war . There was also the danger of Boers having sympathies with the opposition which precluded their widespread application in Europe.

Roop

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Not a case of being "wrong" mate :) . Speculation is healthy as it keeps things in perspective!

I thought it was a good line of questioning myself ;)

Absolutely.

Now WRT Egypt, Gaza and Palestine there is an interesting new book on this very topic by David R Woodward, 'Forgotten Soldiers of the First World War'. Early on the point is made that large numbers of troops were engaged in defending the Suez Canal zone but that a sizeable number treated it as a holiday and thus to avoid a downward spiral in moral a more offensive posture was required. The fact that offensive action was a better form of defence was also true.

I had written a more lengthy reply when this thread was 1 post long but lost it when I tried to italicise the book's (cited above) title and an unexpected pop-up appeared inviting one to enter the script being formatted. I am sure that previously all one had to do was highlight the text and then select the Italic button on the toolbar, I had done this several times.

Whatever I lost that reply and was to tired, not being well, to start all-over.

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Carl,

. . . . but were mainly but not exclusively "SA British" in composition. . . .

Roop

Roop

I do not understand "not exclusively 'SA British' " - the South African contingent was composed mostly of South African citizens (English, Afrikaans and Bantu (eg isiZulu, isiXhosa etc) speakers) and British citizens (the most were probably English speaking ie not primarily Gaelic (of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh/Welch varieties).

The language (ie English vs Afrikaans) question was for 50 or 60 years a source of much aggravation but in the last 10 years the new constitution has given the main 11 languages statutory protection and this has resulted largely in English becoming the 'lingua franca".

Carl Hoehler

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Guys

From Warner in Field Marshall Earl Haig

". . . faced with the dire situation of 1917 Britain could perhaps have made its own terms with Germany and extricated itself without loss of anything except respect from the French. "

IMAGINE

1 if Lloyd George had actually put Haig on half pay

2 and then removed 1 million from the Western Front and sent them to the Jerusalem - Damacus - Beirut - Aleppo - Adana front (remember that they would have fallen over each other on the Italian front, been bored to death in Salonika or would have had to return to Gallipoli)

3 then visualise 1 million well bred, well fed, well watered cavalry under the command of H Gough 'thrusting' through the 'open country' across the lands depicted on the Sykes-Picot agreement, Arabia and Persia east of the Gulf right up to Afghanistan (oh goodness - not again) and Pakistan.

4 and following the example set by the settlers in America, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, arab and turk alike could have been slaughtered and the oil fields captured.

5 that the 1915-1916 Hussein-Macmahon correspondence which had promised Arab independence and the 1917 Balfour Declaration about a 'national home" for the Jews would then have been mere speed humps on the road to progress and prosperity.

Carl Hoehler

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From Warner in Field Marshall Earl Haig

". . . faced with the dire situation of 1917 Britain could perhaps have made its own terms with Germany and extricated itself without loss of anything except respect from the French. "

I am not so sure if the Germans would have been to happy with massive British expansionism in the Middle East if they had been able to triumph over France. Furthermore I think that France and Belgium might have been a little unhappy about being sold out by an ''ally''. Maybe peace would have been made between Germany, France and Belgium all united in a common cause; the end of the British Empire.

Even if France had been left alone, at war with Germany, she might, unlikely though it seems, have been able to hold her own against Germany. If she won, its payback time with her former British allies in the crosshairs. The situation is the same with Germany. Britain would have had to fight her eventually, colonial rivalry was too strong and she could not have tolerated German domination of the continent of Europe. However this time Britain would have lacked allies and therefore the means to victory.

In addition to this Britain could not have continued the war against Germany's allies without fighting the prop upon which they all stood; Germany. The war would simply have begun again rather quickly if the British government had adopted your Five point programme for the Germans would not have liked the British attacking their allies.

And about point 4, the one in which the Middle East is colonised (with more then a little mass murder), have you ever heard the sorry story of Algerie Francaise?

Fascinating to speculate though.

Jon :)

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. . . the sorry story of Algerie Francaise?

Jon :)

Jon

In error I omitted those colonies where the settlers had been unsuccessful in retaining their possessions.

To Algeria could be added the German genocide of the Herero and Namaqua (1904 - 1907) in G S W A, the atrocities in the Belgian Congo, the later Belgian mandate of Ruanda-Urundi (the western portion of G E A) with its harsh treatment of the locals leading to the current problems in Rawanda and Burundi and probably others.

The actions in mid 1916 against the Senussi in Tropolitania (western Libya - a portion of the "western desert" of WW2 "fame") sort of restored this area to Italy which had taken it from the Ottoman Empire.

From Digby in "Pyramids and Poppies"

"It is ironic that in the Great War troops from South Africa, Britain, India, Australia and New Zealand fought on battlegrounds close to Mersa Matruh, Sollum, Halfaya and Sidi Barrrani, contributing to the Italian Empire's future existence in the area. Some twenty-four years later soldiers from these very countries would effect the destrucion of that same empire"

Carl Hoehler

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