BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
'Gallipoli', by Les Carlyon
, December 15, 2001
by Les Carlyon
Available from News Weekly Books for $49.95 plus p&h"Perhaps as the years roll by we will be remembered as the expedition that was betrayed by jealousy, spite, indecision and treachery. The Turks did not beat us - we were beaten by our own High Command!"
Thus wrote Joe Murray, an English soldier who was one of the last to be evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula. For the last 86 years, the Gallipoli campaign has fascinated Australians. Social commentators argue that it, more than any other event, has helped shape our national identity and growing numbers of those who travel to Gallipoli and attend Anzac Day celebrations indicate that interest in the campaign is growing as the last survivors of the campaign pass away.
Hence the publication of this excellent, highly readable and well-researched account is timely. The author, Les Carlyon, is a former editor of The Age
and editor-in-chief of The Herald and Weekly Times
Carlyon begins his account with a description of part of the battlefield and interweaves his narrative with descriptions of sites that were significant during the campaign, such as Chunuk Bair, Baby 700, the Nek and Cape Helles. These sites are riddled with bodies of thousands of dead troops from the British and French empires, who died in a failed attempt to seize control of the Dardanelles, knock Turkey out of the war and open up a sea route to Russia.
Although the strategy had merit, any account of the campaign seems to be a litany of blunders, as almost anything that could go wrong did go wrong. It is easy, though, with hindsight, as Carlyon argues, to make negative, dismissive assessments of the military and political commanders.
One reason Carlyon advances for the failure of the Gallipoli campaign is that the military leaders had yet to learn to fight a modern war; their ideas of tactics and troop deployments belonged to an earlier era, an era that predated the technology of weapons such as machine-guns that could annihilate a battalion advancing upon an enemy position in just a few minutes.
Although the British Army had been aware of this through tests conducted since 1907, senseless attacks on Turkish positions such as those in the Second Battle of Krithia and the Nek (popularised in the film Gallipoli
) were still carried out.
In the course of his chronological account, Carlyon examines the major reasons for the campaign’s failure, including politicking in Whitehall and naval engagements, particularly that of March 18, 1915 (which alerted the Turks to the Allies’ intentions).
One major problem Carlyon cites is the lack of supreme command over the naval and army involvement in the campaign; another was that the commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, had barely six weeks to plan for the landing, was inadequately supplied in terms of equipment and had little knowledge of the terrain.
By contrast, in World War II, the Allied high command planned the D-Day landings for 18 months, had extensive knowledge of terrain and all parties involved co-ordinated under a supreme command.
It is thus little wonder that the Australians were landed too far north, for reasons that, as Carlyon points out, have never been fully explained. Although the author’s treatment of Hamilton is more sympathetic than some other commentators, problems with command were also major factors.
Yet, the allies had opportunities to win the campaign. From August 7 to August 10, troops were landed on Suvla Bay and the British attempted to advance at the Nek and on Chunuk Bair.
However, poor leadership by Lieutenant-General Stopford at the Suvla landing proved costly. He is perhaps the epitome of poor Allied command in the campaign.
Stopford, who had been retired since 1908, was an old man who had never commanded an army in battle. Unavailability of other senior commanders and rules of precedence largely explained his appointment. His poor command was typified by Turks gaining the advantage after the Suvla landings, because the English troops rested rather than pressing on and capturing key strategic positions.
If the campaign produced an outstanding leader, it was Mustafa Kemal. He had a rapport with the Turkish troops, and was able to inspire them to fight to the death. He also had the ability of being able to interpret critical situations well, and to deploy troops at the right place and at the right time.
Without a significant increase of allied commitment in terms of troops and equipment, the failure of the allied August offensive transformed the campaign into a stalemate. Pessimistic perceptions of the campaign in the wake of Ashmead-Bartlett’s and Keith Murdoch’s reports to influential persons in London were followed by Kitchener’s visit to the Peninsula in November.
The onset of winter and the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the German side, opening up the possibility of deployment of heavy guns on the Peninsula against the allies, were two factors that made Whitehall decide to withdraw.
Ironically the evacuation was to prove the major success of the campaign.