Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Gallipoli Campaign, 1915-16

On 9th January 1916 the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I came to an end when the final batch of 200 British troops was withdrawn from a venture that had promised much but delivered nothing other than the loss of more than 100,000 lives.

The idea had sounded good enough at the outset in April 1915. The aim was to take Turkey, Germany’s ally, out of the war and force a passage through the Dardanelles Straits into the Black Sea. This would have supplied a means of getting supplies to Russia and also opened a front in eastern Europe from which to attack Austria-Hungary along the Danube valley.

Had the campaign succeeded it could have shortened the war by three years. Instead, there was no alternative to the stalemate of trench warfare on the western front with all the misery and carnage that that involved.

The Gallipoli peninsula is part of European Turkey, stretching as a narrow finger of land for more than 50 miles and forming the northern coast of the Dardanelles. The peninsula was heavily fortified and the campaign therefore involved action from land and sea to capture the forts and open the Dardanelles to allied shipping.

However, the task proved to be much harder than anticipated, despite the concerted efforts of troops from several parts of the Empire, most notably the “Anzacs” from Australia and New Zealand. After ten months of intense and bloody fighting very little progress had been made and the decision was made in London to admit defeat and withdraw.

The person who took most of the blame was Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who had been particularly keen on the enterprise and was involved in its planning. He later rejoined the army to lead a battalion on the western front, with a view to repairing his reputation by being seen to take personal risks – his personal courage was never in doubt at any stage of his life.

Churchill always maintained that the Gallipoli Campaign could have succeeded had it been given sufficient support. He was quoted as saying:

“The ill-supported armies struggling on the Gallipoli peninsula, whose efforts are now viewed with so much prejudice and repugnance, were in fact within an ace of succeeding in an enterprise which would have abridged the miseries of the World”.

© John Welford