Thursday, 30 April 2015

Gallipoli 6. May to August

British in action during 3rd Battle of Krithia, 4th June 
The Allies' major effort to storm Gallipoli on 25th April had been decisively rebuffed  by the Turks. The Cape Helles landings had made minuscule progress and sustained very heavy losses. The ANZAC cove landings had more success, and did make significant progress towards the target of Chunuk Bair, via ridges and two smaller hills en route, Baby 700 and Battleship Hill (as shown in Gallipoli 5). 
It wasn't long before Hamilton hatched his plan for a new definitive attack on Suvla Bay further to the north, but the preparation time for this was considerable - it would not take place until August. In the meantime, Hamilton persisted with numerous fruitless attritional battles in the south of the peninsula, losing many casualties and exhausting and demoralising those that survived.

But for a couple of bad decisions by officers in the field, the ANZAC attacks on 25th and 26th April might have got further. But men were deployed too far south and the advanced troops were vulnerable to a fierce counter attack by Mustapha Kemal and had to pull right back. Thereafter they were destined to hold what they had through the gruelling months to come. By May 19th the Turks had assembled sufficient forces to make a major effort to destroy the ANZAC beach head. They were repulsed with very heavy losses, and thereafter the ANZAC Cove was not really contested.

Further south the attempts from the beach heads were focused on the village of Krithia, the heart of the Turkish defence line, but also the gateway to the heights of Achi Baba. The bludgeoning style of Hunter-Weston, leading the British Forces of VII Corps, was wasteful and futile in the first two battles on 28th April, and from 6-8th May. For the third Battle of Krithia on June 4th, the British and French tried again with rather more preparation. Over the preceding weeks they advanced their trenches by about half a mile and gained realistic positions within striking distance of the Turkish line. Again though, they were disadvantaged by inadequate artillery and bombardment resources, and again there were heavy losses (around 10,000 dead and wounded) on each side, and stalemate ensued. The French tried again, bravely,  on the right flank on 21st June, but were rebuffed within 24 hours. On 28th June yet another attack by the British on Krithia almost broke through, but by then von Sandars had reinforcements to call on, whereas the British had none, otherwise they might have made it to Achi Baba. One further attempt, by a weakened, disease ridden army, undersupplied with artillery and munitions, was made on 12-13th July, but any gains were small. In Hart's book "Gallipoli" the following diary entry by a senior British officer captures the futility of the last of these actions (13th July), and their impact on morale:

2nd Lt Granville Egerton in
his prime, 1879

"It seems to me that the fighting of this battle was premature and at the actual moment worse than unnecessary - I submit that it was cruel and wasteful. The troops on the peninsula were tired and worn out; there were only two infantry Brigades 155th and 157th, that had not been seriously engaged. It was well known to the higher command that large reinforcements were arriving from England and a grand attack was to be made at Suvla. Was it not therefore obvious that the exhausted garrison at Helles should be given a fortnight's respite and that the fresh attacks from that position should synchronise with those at Suvla and Anzac? I contend that the battle of 12-13th July was due to a complete want of a true appreciation of the situation. If the conception of the battle was wrong, the tactics of the action were far worse. The division of attack of two brigades on a narrow front in two phases, no less than nine hours apart, was positively wicked" 
Major General Granville Egerton, HQ 52nd Division


In the Straits however, some success was achieved by a small number of British U-Boats (thirteen in total) that dived under the defences and made it into the Sea of Marmara. Eight of them were sunk eventually, but not before doing significant damage to Turkish shipping, including the sinking of one transport vessel with the appalling loss of 6,000 men. This activity slowed down the reinforcement of the Turkish defences on the peninsula, but despite Kitchener’s undertaking to make 210,000 men available for Hamilton's plan, the Allies were woefully short. For his make or break assault on Suvla Bay, Hamilton’s forces, complete with disease, injury and munitions shortages, comprised around 120,000 men.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Gallipoli 5. The ANZACs mission for 25th April and beyond

Today is ANZAC day, the 100th anniversary of the landing at Ari Burnu, known to posterity as ANZAC Cove.
Landing craft at ANZAC Cove 25 April 1915

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (originally named the Australasian Army Corps) was formed from volunteers in November 1914, as the British Empire was scoured for troops for the Western Front. The shortened name ANZAC soon came into being. It was convenient for clerical staff and administrators and allegedly short enough to fit on to a rubber stamp. Its first commander, General William Birdwood, and other senior officers were moved from posts in the British India Army to take control. Birdwood was one more highborn English general. He had served on the staff of Kitchener during the Boer War. The ANZACs set sail for England and their training on Salisbury Plain, but were diverted to warmer climes in Egypt via the Suez Canal.
Following brief training in Egypt under Hamilton's overall direction, they set off for their immortal landing and campaign at Gallipoli
Landing craft being towed to Gaba Tepe

Further north from the carnage at V and W beaches of Cape Helles, and on the west side of the peninsula, the landing force of the Australia and New Zealand Corps was being transported eastwards from the Aegean Island of Lemnos. They were raw, and had received very little training for the difficult landing that was envisaged. Nevertheless, optimism ruled, and following a successful landing their orders were to cross right over to the eastern side of the peninsula, near the Kilid Bahr heights, to link up with British and French forces advancing from the South. Of course they never got there. Their task was not helped by the northerly drift of their landing craft, which brought them to shore well to the north of the intended spot. They grounded at Ari Burnu, what became known as ANZAC Cove. Although this was helpful for the landings, as the Turkish defence
Ari Burnu, immortalised as ANZAC Cove
was stronger to the south near Gaba Tepe, the terrain was much more difficult. 12,000 troops were landed there by the end of 25th.  Mustapha Kemal Bey was the commander of the Turkish defence at the southern end of Gallipoli, and he quickly realised the significance of these landings, and called desperately for reinforcements to hold them to the beaches.
For three hectic days the ANZAC attempts to advance continued and were fought off. By the evening of 28th an uneasy stalemate prevailed and the beleaguered allied strongholds remained separated from each other. 

General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston.
Described by Haig as a "rank amateur",
'Bunter-Hunter' exemplifies the 'Donkey-
General' label
In the south east, from S beach, an incursion inland by British and French troops commanded by Hunter-Weston (see left) became known as the First Battle of Krithia (Gallipoli's equivalent to Ypres, it would soon have 2nd and 3rd brutal battles). Deprived of the reinforcements they needed from Egypt or England, more time was lost while the front line commanders appealed to Kitchener. Late on 28th he agreed to dispatch an Indian Brigade and a Territorial Division from Egypt. Those 13,000 men might have made a big difference, but they did not arrive until early May, whereas Turkish reinforcements were appearing all the time. By 1st May the Turks were ready to counter attack. For three days they did so, without repulsing the invaders, and then by 6-8th May the badly needed reinforcements were arriving from Egypt, enabling the Allies to go again on to the offensive, with 50,000 men attacking 30,000 Turks. Once more, losses were severe for very little gain on either side. From 25/4 to the end of this stage of the campaign on 8th May, the British had lost 15,000 men and the French a further 4,000. Nothing could now be done without yet further replacements other than to dig in and hold on. A further month would pass before the next phase. The various allied beach heads were separated from each other, and none had been able to gain any of their positional objectives.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Gallipoli 4. The Cape Helles landings 25th April

Turkish dispositions in south of peninsula before the 25/4
landings are shown in blue
The huge gamble taken by the Fleet (at Churchill's urging) to force the Straits meant that was no possibility of a land attack on the Peninsula surprising the Turkish defenders. Nevertheless, there was still uncertainty for the defenders about precisely where the attacking blow(s) would come, which meant they were obliged to distribute their resources to cover a number of possible landing places on both sides of the Straits. This turned out to be one more potential advantage squandered by the muddled plans of the attackers.
The Gallipoli peninsula is 52 miles long; 12 miles across at its broadest, but only 3 miles at its isthmus, close by the village of Bulair, and only 6 miles across at its southern end. There are four main heights, essential for strategic and tactical purposes: the hills around Suvla Bay; Sari Bair Mountain; the Kilid Bahr plateau, and Achi Baba near the southern tip of Cape Helles. From the defenders’ viewpoint, there were three likely places for the Allies to attack: on the Asiatic side of the Straits near Kum Kale; at the isthmus by Bulair and to the north of the high ground; and at Cape Helles, with its numerous beaches, at the southernmost extreme.
Although landing in the South meant further for the attackers to travel on land, and 
over very difficult terrain, Hamilton felt he had resources sufficient only for the southern approach. Liman von Sandars, the German in command of the Turkish movements, had to divide his resources to cover the three likely options as he saw it. This meant that only 20,000 Turks in the South would face 60,000 invaders and naval bombardment, although they were able to pick the best of the defensive positions.
The five landing beaches around Cape Helles.
Lines indicate Hamilton's optimistic progess
points to move north
Hamilton's plan involved the five beaches on the coast of Cape Helles S, V, W, X and Y for landing – clockwise, around its nose – to be made by various components of the 29th Division; and a further attack further north at Gaba Tepe by predominantly Australian and New Zealand troops (this would become ANZAC cove) Rapid progress towards the high ground objectives was essential before the reinforcements of the other two portions of the Turkish army could be brought to bear but, not for the last time, Hamilton underestimated the Turks and the difficulty of the country he had to cross. He did order diversionary moves by the French on Kum Kale and the Royal Naval Division on Bulair in order to tie up the defenders there. 

The invasion began at dawn on 25th April, but it was not until the evening that von Sandars was convinced that this was the main landing, or until the 26th before he dispatched his reinforcements toward Cape Helles.

Sedd-el-Bahr and V beach
seen from SS River Clyde 25/4
As for the landings, V beach was intended as the most important, with the heights of Sedd el Bahr and its fort the immediate target. Two thousand men of the Dublin Fusiliers and the Hampshires were packed into the hold of the River Clyde, and old steamer converted as a landing craft, with exit points cut out of her sides. The craft grounded well short of the shore and the men had to wade ashore in deep water. As they emerged they were hit by murderous fire from well concealed Turkish defenders. The landing failed; there were heavy losses, and attempts were halted that evening.  The Lancashire fusiliers had it just as bad on W beach, but one of their landing craft eluded the Turkish fire and was able to land troops, who skirted around the defensive position and overcame the defenders. This enabled a foothold to be secured. At X beach, the Royal Fusiliers were successful in landing and moving up the cliffs, therby making contact with the W beach foothold. The beaches at either end of the loop – S and Y – were hardly defended and the landing troops were able to establish beach-heads.
By the end of 25th, some 9,000 men had been landed on the 5 beaches of Cape Helles, of whom 3,000 were dead or wounded. They were fragmented, holding on precariously, and had been able to make little ground towards their ambitious objectives.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Gallipoli 3. Early outcomes after the naval bombardments

Sir John Duckworth forced the Dardanelles in 1807 under orders
from Collingwood, only to have to fight his way out again for lack
of supplies, and no land presence on Gallipoli
The Allies, particularly the British High Command, had underestimated the resolve of the Turkish defenders, and continued to do so throughout the campaign. They were also flying in the face of hundreds of years of historical precedents underlining the hazards of forcing the Straits without controlling the Gallipoli peninsula (see Duckworth 1807). Despite damaging the fort defences seriously with their bombardments, they had not been able to make a significant breakthrough. However, the political impact of their early success was considerable. The Ottoman court prepared to retreat into Asia Minor; Russia pushed for control of Constantinople; neutral Balkan powers (although not Bulgaria or Roumania) were alarmed by Russia’s ambition, and moved closer to declaring on the side of the Allies against the Central powers.
Most important strategically was the position of Greece. Venizelos, the Prime Minister, had not declared for the Allies, despite Kitchener’s offer of military help at Salonika in the form of the 29th Division (on its eventual arrival). But following the Naval success on 25th, he was suddenly willing to provide naval and land support on the Aegean side of the Gallipoli peninsula. This would increase the likelihood of Turkey falling, and the entry of all Balkan powers on the Allies side. All looked promising for a couple of days, but then on 3rd March, for reasons relating to their wish to annexe Constantinople, Russia brought pressure to bear on Greece to remain neutral. The Greek King was swayed and countermanded Venizelos’ decision. Venizelos resigned within a week, and the chance was gone.
On that same fateful day, March 12th, Kitchener appointed Sir Ian Hamilton, scion of an aristocratic military family, as Commander in Chief of the Dardanelles forces. He left Charing Cross station on 13th March by rail to Marseilles and then onwards by sea.
General Sir Ian Hamilton
Repeatedly demanding more
forces, and recklessly optimistic
While Hamilton was in transit, Kitchener responded to further pressure from Churchill to order early land action. He did not feel it appropriate to attack unless there was good evidence of weak Turkish defences on the coveted heights of the Khilid Bahr Plateau. In the absence of such, he would wait until the 29th Division arrived in strength from France, not due for another three weeks. Here we see more consequences of vacillation – had the 29th been sent when first agreed, it would have been there already.
By mid-March however a point of no return had been reached for the whole operation, not just the naval attack. It was almost a month since the first naval bombardment, and the Turkish defence must have become much better prepared on land and sea for whatever followed. Alternative plans to the continuation of this route suggested themselves. Churchill is candid about this point. He was aware of plans to switch to Africa, Balkans or Palestine but he rejected them. He was convinced the Dardanelles would be taken, and in this he was backed by the Government and even by Lord Fisher, who had opposed strongly the navy only option.
The Cabinet and the War Office in London were steady on receiving this bad news on 19th, and resolved to press on and send reinforcements. At this point came the extraordinary military volte-face by Kitchener. Suddenly, where there had been no troops available to spare, a ‘Mediterranean Expeditionary Force’ (MEF) materialised. Firstly there was the Royal Naval Division, earmarked for action in Belgium (and possibly the Baltic) as they had at Antwerp, and numbering amongst its junior officers Rupert Brooke, destined to die of septicaemia before the first landings. Secondly, came large numbers of Empire troops en route from Australia New Zealand and India. Most had stopped in Egypt, but few were needed to withstand the weak Turkish attacks on the Suez Canal. In all, including also two French Divisions, an army of 150,000 men became available. Following a meeting with Birdwood, the Commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps,
Baron William Birdwood - another English
aristocrat placed in charge of Empire forces
Hamilton telegraphed on 23rd arguing for a delay until mid April to enable these land reinforcements to be brought up. Churchill was greatly disturbed by this, and drafted a countermanding order, but found himself strongly opposed by Fisher, Wilson and Jackson. Their view was (ironically) that the proposals of the commanders on the ground should prevail. Churchill went to Asquith, and considered resigning, but did not. This change of policy caused Hamilton to leave the Dardanelles for Alexandria on 24th to prepare for an assault in mid-April. On the same day, Colonel Liman von Sanders, previously only an adviser with the German Military Mission in Turkey, was summoned to Istanbul by Enver Pasha and placed in charge of the defence of the Gallipoli Peninsula – he would consistently out-think the Allies' tactics.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Gallipoli 2. Naval attempt to force the Straits

Sackville Hamilton Carden
The Admiralty's top heavy control of the world's greatest fleet did not always allow autonomy for its fleet commanders at sea. On this occasion the man on the spot benefited from a split between the First Lord (Churchill) and the First Sea Lord (Fisher). Forcing the Dardanelles Straits by naval bombardment of the defending forts had been strongly advocated by Churchill, and was preferred by Admiral Carden, leading the local forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Fisher was strongly in favour of action, but only as a (later) combined naval and land operation. Neither he nor Churchill held a particularly high opinion of Vice-Admiral Sackville Hamilton Carden. Carden had been part of the Mediterranean fiasco in the early days of the war that failed to intercept the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau. (Subsequently they had escaped via the Dardanelles into the Black Sea to support the Turks). Characteristically, Carden's early pessimistic assessment of  naval forced passage through the straits was followed some days later by a positive bombardment strategy. Churchill seized on the latter, and was to have his way. It began on 19th February, three days after the War Office had agreed in principle to send land forces. 

The plan was for the capital ships to bombard the outer forts protecting the entrance to the Straits to silence resistance and allow short range destruction by smaller craft. Following this, minesweepers would move into the main straits to clear the passage for the main fleet.

Coastal fort defences and mines combined to make
passage of the Straits a daunting mission

The first attack was unsuccessful, and stormy weather precluded further attempts for another 5 days. However, on February 25th the Navy attacked again, this time with more success. By the afternoon the forts were out of action. This allowed the minesweepers to move in and complete the first phase, and they advanced for 6 miles into the 38miles length of narrows. Optimism was high at this point, but the second phase faced stronger defences at the mid point of the narrows, and there were no clear plans to begin ground support against the Turkish defences.
HMS Cornwallis bombards the
fort at Kum Kale, Asian shore
From 3rd March, matters deteriorated for the Navy. Hampered by the weather, their attacks were less successful, and the land defences became stronger. Long range, indirect, bombing of the of the forts from the Aegean side of the peninsula was started by the giant guns of the Queen Elizabeth but then called off to preserve ammunition. Direct attacks by HMS  Agamemnon and HMS Lord Nelson were tried for two fruitless days. These unsuccessful attacks continued until 12th March, by which time Britain and France were ready to agree to Russia’s proposal to annex Constantinople, and the Italians seemed emboldened to declare war against Turkey in order to gain Adriatic coast territory. Nevertheless, the plan to force the Dardanelles Straits by Naval force alone had clearly failed. Despite this (see next post) the Admiralty soon sent new orders to Carden to attempt to force the straits again. Within two days Carden was overcome by illness (presumably stress) and had to be replaced by his deputy Vice-Admiral de Robeck, not without misgivings from Churchill. De Robeck signaled his willingness to comply with the order, and on March 18th reported fine weather and the start of operations – another fateful day in the saga.
De Robeck’s mission depended on the battleships being able to operate in mine free waters. The 1915 minesweeping technology and aerial reconnaissance were limited in their scope. Twenty mines had been laid in Eren Kereni bay, but only 6 of them had been swept. This was the very bay where the battleships Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson and  Inflexible would make their long range bombardment of the forts. A massive land sea battle developed, as a French squadron moved in under cover of the battleships to engage with the many vigorously defended forts covering the straits. After about 3 hours, a number of the forts were out of action, allowing the minesweepers to start their part of the action. At this stage, it was looking good for the forcing of the straits, and the casualties had been low, with no ships badly damaged. But then disaster struck. 
The sinking Bouvet, March 18th 1915
Six hundred men perished

 Firstly, at 2pm the French cruiser Bouvet was mined and sunk with the loss of 600 men, as she was leaving the straits. Between 4 and 5pm both Inflexible and Irresistible were mined and badly damaged in Eren Kereni bay. This shocked the British command, and de Robeck broke off the action. 
Churchill writes, with feeling, “Never again did the British fleet renew the attack on the narrows which in pursuance of their orders they had begun on March 18th, and which they confidently expected to continue after a brief interval. Instead, they waited for nine months, the spectators of the sufferings, the immense losses and imperishable glories of the army, always hoping that their moment of intervention would come, always hoping for their turn to run every risk and make every sacrifice, until in the end they had the sorrow and mortification of taking the remains of the army off and steaming away under the cloak of darkness from the scene of irretrievable failure”