Did you read my piece yesterday about what the ANZAC legends were fighting for on those beaches in southern Turkey all those years ago? Robin Grapefield did, and he penned this guest post in response …
I'm going to pick away at a few things in your analysis [he begins].
(1) "...why were they doing it in Turkey, for Galt’s sakes!?"
I'm afraid that the answer for this is not to be found in a book of general WWI history [in fact, you can – Ed.] . It is found in a study of military logistics, military logic and a larger look at the strategies Britain has used to combat its continental enemies throughout the ages. [In fact however, what the guest post discusses is not really *strategy* but *tactics* – it is in those history books that one does finds the bungled geopolitical strategy that ended up in them being dumped them on those beaches largely to please Russia – Ed.]
There are two maxims of military that anyone seeking to serve needs to understand:
(1) The first is that Army (or Navy or Airforce) will never send you where you want to go nor necessarily where you are trained to go. They will send you where you are needed.
The ANZACs were closer to the scene of a military campaign than British troops in Britain. Timing was thought to be critical and so they were used along with available British and French troops. Shipping an additional British division out from England to replace the 1.5 ANZACs divisional units committed would have taken too long at the average 5-7 knot speed of WWI era cargo/troop ships to say nothing of the number of ships and escorts that would have been required and the havoc that would have played to ongoing operations in France. So, there is your reason for the ANZACs in Gallipoli. Cold, hard, boring, unexciting economics – or as the Army refers to it: logistics. [A cold, hard boring answer that, unfortunately, ignores the actual question, i.e., why were the Allies fighting Turkey at all? What did they hope to gain? – Ed.]
(2) The other maxim is simply this: if the government hands you a rifle, no matter the nature or location of your duty-assignment, if the war lasts long enough you will have to use it (see point 8).
In other words, if your politicians declare war, then things like Gallipoli, the Somme, Stalingrad, Chosin Penninsula, Khe Sanh, and the battles for Fallujah are ~GOING~ to happen. To paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
(2) I want to emphasise something here: Gallipoli occurred because Britain declared war on Turkey and Germany. That was a failure of diplomacy. If we are looking for root causes for military disaster X, Y and Z that is where your blame should go. [And, indeed, that is largely where I aim it too; but the bungling occurs on virtually every level but the soldiers’ – Ed.]
Thus we go back before your narrative begins to observe that the Turks entered the war on the German side because a British Naval commanders (Milne and Troubridge) in 1914 failed to stop the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau from entering the Dardenelles. When those ships arrived in Istanbul, they placed an implied threat over the Turk government that if Turkey didn’t join the Germans, their capital would be shelled. That (along with British diplomatic bungling over two Dreadnoughts being built for Turkey but appropriated by Britain when war was declared) changed the political calculus to the Pro-German side. [In fact, scared of both Germany and Russia, the ‘Young Turks’ who had taken power had no intention of joining the war on any side, to the despair of both Von Sanders – who wrote the Kaiser that he proposed to challenge the various leaders to a duel! – and of Churchill, who wanted to send a flotilla up to Constantinople to sink both boats in order to bring Turkey into the war without them. It was only when Enver Pasha saw German victories against Russia he manouevred them into a declaration. A good account, with recent research, can be found in David Fromkin’s ‘A Peace to End All Peace’ – Ed.]
Had the British done better both diplomatically and with the pursuit of these ships (demonstrating the RN’s legendary naval prowess) then Gallipoli wouldn’t have been necessary. Of course, then we’d be lamenting the first echelon of ANZACs being slaughtered pitilessly on the Somme or Messines or wherever in France – as they were in 1916-1918.
(3) Now in the case of the British Empire there was also a failure of preparation. Britain’s failings (described below) were mirrored in Australia and New Zealand. For neither country was prepared to equip and train their combined 6-division plus assets force anywhere let alone the Middle-East and Europe. Nor were they prepared philosophically to understand what they were committing to. Had someone had the foresight to understand that NZ’s 100,000 military men would suffer 60% casualties between 1914 and 1918 they might have paused before declaring war on Germany.
Britain pre-WWI spent the Lion’s share of its defense budget on the Navy (and NZ/Australian defense plans relied on the RN too much). The Army was left at colonial levels in terms of manning. The regular army stood at 7 volunteer Infantry and 3 Cavalry Divisions with only about 70% strength (numbers prior to the BEF being landed were made up from Reservists). The Territorial force was also present but not trained nor equipped for rapid mobilisation.
The theory was that this Regular force would serve as the Cadre for an army around three to four times its size to be raised and trained in England while Continental armies battled it out. British military agreements with France and Belgium ignored this military compromise and committed the British Regular force to instant deployment. [In fact, intentionally, none of the agreements formed any kind of firm commitment that, if the Asquith Government had so chosen, necessitated any particular action on the part of Britain beyond patrolling the northern coast of France – Ed.] The BEF suffered 90% causalities between Mons and the First Ypres and Kitchener’s New Army and the Territorial force; bereft of the martial knowledge held by those dead men had to relearn the lessons on the Somme and Gallipoli and a dozen other places.
In other words, Britain’s military planners examined the options Britain had based upon its available manpower and economic power and prepared to wage a decisive Naval war with its army to play a peripheral role until it was large enough to take on the Germans in Europe. All while its diplomats committed them to both a decisive Naval campaign (the blockade) and a decisive land-campaign – and right from the opening minutes of the war! [But see my comment above – Ed.]
This is why the British General Officer Corps sucked so badly in WWI, and sucked again in WWII. Lop-sided expansion of the Army combined with a mistaken cultural heritage of selecting its officers from a narrow social class doomed thousands of Empire troops to be slaughtered until the fault could be rectified either by policy or attrition.
This was the sucking hole into which the New Zealand and Australian politicians blindly committed their men. [A good account of which is given in Douglas Newton’s ‘Hell-Bent: Australia’s Leap into the Great War’ – Ed.] Later in WWII they would install a “relief-valve” -- insisting that the ANZACs fight together as a homogenous Corps or at least under their own officers and that their governments be consulted before these troops be committed to a campaign.
(4) When fighting a continental enemy (or group of them) the British have ~always~ sought to attack them in the periphery. This is simple military logic dating back to Sun Tsu. Use your strengths (in Britain's case - maritime mobility) on their weak points. Britain has also always sought to us politics to build its own alliances against continental enemies and to break apart those that oppose them. See the Napoleonic wars. The attempt to knock Turkey out of the war early before it could get organised must be understood in this light before people jump on bandwagon of blaming Churchill. [And yet the thinking was more about what Britain could do for Russia, rather than what it could do against Turkey, about whom there was very little military respect, and far too much talk of “soft underbellies” – Ed.]
Had Churchill been strangled at birth, some other Briton would have come up with a plan like this. It’s how Britain fought back when it was a genuine super-power.
(5) I understand that you love to hate Churchill. [To be clear, I think he made the wrong call on virtually every decision in his political life but one, leading too aften for too many to spectacular and far-reaching disaster. But that does not mean what I feel towards him is hatred – Ed.] Remember this. The man is probably the most enigmatic politician of his era. He is interesting and divisive at the same time. [And too often too clearly wrong, one reason he was rejected pre-war by his colleagues, and post-war by British voters – Ed.] Retelling or reanalysing his story sells books now and newspapers then. His patronage doubtless speeded along policies both good (the tank) and bad (Gallipoli), but he wasn’t the PM and nor was he a General in charge of the campaign. For instance: (a) In General Hamilton you had a man who never visited the front. (b) Later in WWII you have two Generals (Mark Clark and Collins) who conspired to dull the usually aggressive nature of the US-Army and condemn the invaders at Anzio to being surrounded and ground down despite achieving (as was the case initially at Gallipoli) nearly complete tactical and strategic surprise.
The fact that the forces employed in both these “Churchillian follies” were not up to the task was a symptom of a disease that I allude to in (3).
Parenthetically the ANZACs were initially supposed to be committed to a supporting attack. The main attack on the toe of the peninsula was entrusted to Regular British and French forces, more numerous than, and (supposedly) more reliable and better trained than the ANZACs. There was a navigational screw up and the ANZAC landing ground was too far North to support the British thrust against the critical town of Krithia and the rest is history.
(6) Had Krithia fallen and the coastal forts been destroyed by the Royal Navy [but it is precisely because the Royal Navy failed in this task that the landings were being undertaken! – Ed.] then the story of Gallipoli might well be viewed like the story of Beda-Fomm. There the Western Desert Force defied over-whelming odds and destroyed an Italian army many times their own size. Sometimes they who dares actually does win. Battles and wars can be won and lost by luck alone. The Battle of Midway turned the US way because a broken catapult failed to launch the very Japanese search plane that was assigned to cover the sector in which the US carrier force was hiding. Seen in this light, if Gallipoli had been undertaken by a force fully assembled, and trained and equipped as a contingency before the naval end-run gambit was attempted, thereby giving away all surprise, then it may very well have succeeded -- had they also been blessed with a leader as decisive as Mustafa Kemal was on the Turkish side.
(7) In that vein, I do wish that pundits would examine the war from the German side in order to learn about how they screwed up. If they did, they might get a better appreciation for what I want to emphasise here in point 7: That is war is unpredictable. For instance, I’m positive that the Germans would (or should) view their 1914 campaign as a ghastly failure. They sacrificed god knows how many men only to be checked first at the Belgian forts, then at Ypres and then repulsed at the Marne. This forced them into a defensive war in the West while they wrestled with the Russians in the East until they resorted to undermining Russia culturally by sending Lenin through their lines to sow confusion and chaos and take Russia out of the war. And while that got them a respite in 1917, it bit them in the arse between 1943 and 1990(ish). Western histories often paint the Germans as more than implacable enemies. They have a tendency to portray them as unerring Gods of War. They had superior armies initially. But the enemy misses opportunities too by both chance and mismanagement – these being called Allied Victories -- further encouraging the impression that a war between major powers can be done “clinically” like a smoothly practiced back-line move in Rugby. It can’t. And to demonstrate why, try playing rugby (substitute whatever civilian – emphasis on civil – physical team pursuit you choose) with a hand-grenade as the ball, the full-back is manning a 105mm howitzer and the half-back equipped with a machine-gun…
(7) So war is unpredictable, chaotic, violent, mindless destruction and death. And when men have not experienced this for several generations, they begin to delude themselves that their generation is the one that has mastered the art of containing or sanitising war. Be it because they have an impenetrable rampart (France before the fall of the Maginot line) or an invincible military force (Germany’s army in WWI and WWII, or Britain’s Navy in WWI) or an impenetrable geographical barrier (America’s Pacific and Atlantic ramparts prior to Pearl Harbor and the U-Boat campaign along its coasts in 1942). This delusion leads people to predict that war will be “Over by Christmas.” How many cemeteries have been filled by that phrase?
(8) The only real way to wage a war IMHO is to do the following: If you want peace, prepare for war. And if, in the last resort, you are forced into war – wage it the way Sherman did when he marched from Atlanta to the Sea: quickly, pitilessly and decisively. Because the longer a war lasts, the more awful it becomes. Many hate Sherman. But by grinding the South into the dust in 1864-’65 he and Grant utterly destroyed the prevailing Zeitgeist of Southern martial superiority and with it any realistic hope that the South would rise again. Setting aside the initiation of the war, the next real pity of WWI was that the Allies stopped in 1918 and didn’t drive a stake through the heart of Prussian militarism in 1919. That doomed the following generation to an even more destructive blood-letting.
(9) You want the final overall answer to your question of why? It is simply this: those who seek out war generally get more than they bargain for. The culture of the time was geared up for war. Well, they got almost all of it that they could handle and more. As to the moral question as to whether they should have gone: that’s a question for them. Something impelled them to volunteer and then fight like demons once they were there. Maybe it was for their mates. Or maybe they made a value judgement between the imperfect British Empire and the proto-fascist(?) leanings of the Kaiser et al. and decided to back the former. I haven’t decided on that one yet. It is difficult to look into the hearts of the dead through their writings and diaries. With this much water under the bridge I wonder if there is anything to gain from the attempt.
Robert Grapefield is a scientist and military historian with an enthusiasm for cricket and a penchant for reverse sweep.