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Analysis of the Failure of the Gallipoli Campaign

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Peter Trounson View Drop Down
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    Posted: 26 Apr 2012 at 09:24
This is part of longer extract from -:

Military History Journal - Vol 6 No 4
Gallipoli: The Landings of 25 April 1915
by S. Monick

Which can be viewed in its entirety at -: 

Analysis of the Failure of the Gallipoli Campaign

Instrumental in the delays which weighted the odds against Hamilton’s force (but not decisively so, cf. below) was the failure of the naval assaults which occurred in February-March 1915. As intimated above, the root of this failure was the clear lack of any real understanding of the concept of combined operations by the higher command. The naval assaults of February-March 1915 and the landings of April 1915 clearly reflected a division of functions between Army and Navy. Had the two operations been combined in a closely co-ordinated and precisely planned operation, the opportunity provided to the Turks to strengthen their defences, during the period 18 March — 25 April would not have existed. It should be noted that it was only on 25 March that Enver Pasha at last decided to form a separate army for the defence of the Dardanelles and place Sanders in command of it. However, such a concept of combined operations — only falteringly and indecisively approached during the naval assaults of February-March — was clearly beyond the scope of the military technology of the period. As discussed above, further disastrous delays were imposed by the Allied force having to be concentrated in Egypt, due to disastrous failures in logistical planning. 

In view of these factors, can one state that the invasion of April 1915 was doomed? The answer must be in the negative. It should be borne in mind that the Turkish forces defending the Dardanelles only numbered five divisions in the entire area. These forces, moreover, had no knowledge of the precise location of the landing zones. As Sanders himself later wrote: 

‘From the many pale faces of the officers reporting in the morning of 25 April it became apparent that, although a hostile landing had been expected with certainty, a landing at so many points surprised and filled them with apprehension because we could not discern at that moment where the enemy were actually seeking the decision.’ 

These comments clearly illuminate the superior quality of Hamilton’s strategic concept. By avoiding the anticipated approach and distracting the enemy’s attention from the actual approach, Hamilton assured his own troops of an immense superiority of force at the actual landing points, although his overall force was smaller than that of the Turks. 

Hamilton’s achievement in this respect is all the more noteworthy when one considers that the Turks possessed the most detailed and extensive intelligence of the Allied invasion, as has been discussed above. He so fixed the Turkish Commander-in-Chief’s attention and person on the feint assault at Bulair that the Turkish defenders at the main points of attack were denied reinforcements for two days. The ANZAC landings, despite the problems attached to them, placed 4 000 men by surprise, before 05h00, and a further 4 000 before 08h00, on a shore defended by only one Turkish company. The supporting Turkish company was more than a kilometre to the south, whilst the two battalions and one battery in local reserve were located six km inland, and the general reserve of eight battalions and three batteries still further distant. At Y Beach 2 000 men of 29th Division had been safely disembarked without any enemy opposition whatsoever. There they were left entirely undisturbed by the Turks, whom they outnumbered by at least six to one, for eleven hours. As one authority(10) states: 

‘It is as certain as anything can be in war that a bold advance from Y on the morning of the 25th must have freed the southern beaches that morning and secured a decisive victory for the 29th Division,’ 

In his planning of the April offensive Hamilton revealed a clearer concept of combined operations than any of his colleagues, in so far as the landings centred upon a bare equality of force transformed into a potentially decisive superiority with the assistance of sea power. 

However, advantages which could well have proved decisive to the outcome of the campaign were shattered by the tactical vices of Hamilton’s subordinates. On 25 April the poor generalship of Hunter-Weston was mainly responsible for precious strategic assets being totally wasted. Hunter-Weston completely ignored the appeals of Col Matthews, the commander of Y Beach force, for reinforcements and rejected Hamilton’s offers of trawlers in which to land them. Thus, through inept generalship, the Y Beach landing, which could have been the key to total success, was abandoned the following morning after it had been held for twenty-nine hours; the force re-embarked when the Turks had actually been evicted. The ANZAC opportunity was also lost, as the country was so rough and the troops so inexperienced that they were bewildered by the sporadic Turkish counter-attacks and were only prevented from an ignominous evacuation by Hamilton’s famous ‘dig,dig,dig’ message. (However, the ANZAC failure may be attributed more to lack of training than poor generalship; even the difficulties of ground might have favoured more than handicapped such skilled skirmishers as the Australians and New Zealanders were later to become.) This reluctance to impose his authority — in this case upon Hunter-Weston — was the source of the fatal and futile offensives in Helles during June and July. 

The fundamental responsibility for the overall strategic failure must rest with Hamilton’s lack of decisive leadership. One writer(11) projects the following interesting analysis of the fundamental contrast between the Turkish and Allied Commanders-in-Chief: 

‘Liman von Sanders ... gave clear explicit orders to subordinates at crisis moments in action. When his important lieutenants doubted or questioned the possibility of success he summarily dismissed them from their commands. A little iron in the soul of Sir Ian Hamilton might have been better for his men than was gentlemanly conduct to his officers. Courtesy and decisiveness need not be contradictory characteristics, but over-scrupulousness and decisiveness are in opposition ... he must follow his own accurate surmise that his forces would be lightly opposed in the area he had selected for his main attack, and must bear it constantly in mind that this advantage would diminish with the passage of every second of time. This must have been obvious to a man of his intelligence. It was he who must ensure that this transitory advantage must not be wasted. The first 24 hours would be crucial.’ 

Thus, the deficiencies in Hamilton’s leadership fundamentally accrued from personality; and it was this personality defect (a serious problem in a military commander) which ensured that his subordinate commanders, when placed in positions which enabled them to effect a decisive result, did not have their natural indecisive and faulty leadership corrected. It is certainly true that the April invasion of Gallipoli was conceived in advance of its time, and that Hamilton’s strategic brilliance was most inadequately supported by the military technology available to the commanders of World War I. The appalling logistical mismanagement and maladministration — applying to both supplies and the evacuation of the wounded — which has been discussed in some detail above is clear evidence of this; as also is the reliance upon the Western Front obsession with artillery barrages (in this instance from ships) to support the invading forces upon an exposed beach, which resulted in such heavy casualties on V and Y Beaches.(12) Nevertheless, it is the writer’s contention that, despite the gross disadvantages in terms of technological resources besetting the invaders (manifested in the improvised landing craft, for example), Hamilton’s strategic planning was such that victory could have still been assured on 25 April 1915. 


The consequences of the ultimate failure of the Gallipoli offensive may be justifiably described as monumental. Eventually, when Gallipoli was abandoned, a total of 400 000 men was still diverted from France as a defence against the new activities of lesser enemies, viz. in Palestine and Mesopotamia against Turkey set free from Gallipoli involvement; and in Salonika and Greece (‘the largest allied internment camp of the war’ was the popular description applied to this theatre, in which the Allied forces were dubbed ‘the gardeners of Salonika’) against Bulgaria. The Allies also sacrificed a small ally — Serbia — and, of far greater consequence ultimately, their largest ally, Russia. The failure to redress the strategic isolation of Tsarist Russia by securing communication with her via the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea imposed intolerable strains upon the Russian war machine (which depended upon a largely undeveloped agricultural economy), ultimately resulting in the revolutions of 1917. What the success of the campaign would have meant, at the most conservative appreciation, to the Franco-British cause is best revealed in the words of the German commander, Falkenhayn: 

‘If the straits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea were not permanently closed to Entente traffic, all hopes of a successful issue to the war would be very seriously diminished. Russia would have been freed from her isolation which ... offered a safer guarantee than military success ... that the forces of this Titan would eventually and automatically be crippled.’ 
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