Gallipoli: The Consequences of Mission Creep and Failed Trial-and-Error Campaign Planning
Early in World War I, Winston Churchill promoted the idea of using the Royal Navy to control access to the Dardanelles Straits in Turkey. The purpose of the naval action was to provide a direct link to Russia by way of the Black Sea, open a new front as an alternative to the stalemate of trench warfare in Europe, and encourage other Balkan states to join the effort against the Central Powers in Europe. What was initially conceived as a naval operation evolved into a land invasion to occupy Constantinople taking Turkey out of the war and relieving pressure on Russia in the Caucasus. The land invasion developed into trench warfare and another stalemated front. The allies were eventually forced to retreat from the peninsula.
Over 33,000 allied and 86,000 Turkish soldiers died during the campaign. Due to better planning of the evacuation, no further allied lives were lost in the withdrawal. This paper will revisit the events leading up to the disaster at Gallipoli and discuss the role of intelligence in military campaign planning and execution. Hopefully, this will help the reader understand why the allies decided to embark on such a disastrous expedition and how political and military leaders might avoid repeating some of the same mistakes in future military operations.
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE BATTLES AT GALLIPOLI
Road to The Great War
German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, thought it important to maintain friendly relations with Russia while staying in a majority of three in any conflict between the Five Great European Powers: Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. However, Kaiser Willhelm II upset this delicate balance of power by refusing to maintain friendly relations with Russia. Germany soon found itself allied with Austria-Hungary, the weakest of the Five Great Powers. On 28 July 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia declared war on Austria.
The whole continent was mobilizing for war, and soon Germany found itself at war with Russia, France, and Great Britain. The head of the Royal Navy, German-born Prince Louis of Battenburg, was forced to resign. This left Britain’s sea arm under divided leadership in the early months of a world war.
The German’s planned to fight the war by holding the Russians at bay in the east. The German Army would sweep through the neutral Belgium bypassing French fortifications. Then they would attack south towards Paris and destroy the French Army. Nevertheless, after some initial success, the Western Front became stalled in trench warfare.
Meanwhile in Turkey
When war was appearing imminent, The Ottoman Empire sought to make allies to protect its interests: secure its borders and abolish economic capitulation. Initially, Turkey attempted to join the Triple Entente: Great Britain, France, and Russia. But Great Britain did not recognize the strategic importance of Turkey and cancelled delivery of two British warships to Turkey. On 2 August 1914, Turkey felt compelled to sign a treaty with the Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Yet, Turkey was not ready for war and kept the treaty secret.
Admiral Souchon’s Secret Orders
German Admiral Willhelm Souchon commanded two battle cruisers, the Goeben and the Breslau. These were the only two warships that the German Navy had stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. The Goeben was one of the most formidable warships of its time. In July of 1914 the Goeben was in Austrian-controlled port of Pola undergoing repairs while the Breslau was in good repair anchored off the coast of Italy.
Admiral Souchon was carrying secret orders that he was to implement in time of war. The orders instructed him to attack the French military stationed in Algeria then join the rest of the German Navy in the Atlantic. On 1 August Admiral Souchon received notice that Germany had declared war on Russia and would soon declare war on France. Admiral Souchon ordered the Goeben to leave port immediately and join the Breslau. On 3 August he received a change to his orders. Instead of joining the rest of the fleet in the Atlantic, he was to sail east to Turkey and persuade Turkey to enter the war on the side of Germany. On the morning of 4 August while deceptively flying the Russian flag in violation of international law, the Goeben and the Breslau shelled the French colonial ports of Philippeville and Bona in Algeria. The two German warships headed for Italy to take on more coal before continuing to Turkey.
The Royal Navy in Pursuit
Earlier, Vice Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne, the commander of the British fleet, was ordered to locate and track the two German warships. Britain had not yet declared war on Germany, so he could shadow Germany’s ships but not attack. Admiral Milne sent two battle cruisers, the Indomitable and the Indefatigable, to find the German warships. The afternoon of 4 August, as the two British warships passed Algeria, they were surprised to see the two German warships steaming right towards them. The Indomitable and the Indefatigable circled back and followed the two German warships toward Italy. By nightfall Admiral Souchon had outran his British pursuers and, again ignoring international law, entered neutral Italian waters, where German coal ships waited for him. Admiral Milne did not pursue but deployed his two battle cruisers to the west thinking that the Germans would head for the Atlantic or back to the port of Pola.
Italian officials urged the German ships to leave immediately. Admiral Souchon received word that Turkey had not yet given permission for his ships to enter the harbor at Constantinople. Undaunted, he left for Turkey at midnight. Great Britain declared war on Germany the same day; it was 5 August.
German Warships Escape to Turkey
The British spotted the German warships heading east. Admiral Milne was sure he had the Germans trapped in the eastern Mediterranean. He ordered his ships to give up the chase and diverted some other ships to guard the Suez Canal from possible attack. He never suspected the Germans were planning to head for Turkey.
The Goeben and the Breslau reached the entrance to the harbor at Constantinople on 10 August. When Admiral Souchon arrived in Turkey he expected some resistance. Instead, a small boat met him and guided his ships into the harbor. German diplomats in Turkey reminded the Turks that Great Britain had not only rebuffed their offer to become allies but had also refused to deliver two British warships. The Germans offered the Goeben and the Breslau for sale to Turkey. Turkey accepts, keeps the original crews, and makes Admiral Souchon commander-in-chief of the Turkish navy. Turkey renames the two warships the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Mildin.
Turkey Enters the War
After completing some overdue repairs, Admiral Souchon ordered the Yavuz and the Mildin into the Black Sea. On 29 October, the two warships shell three Russian cities without the knowledge of the Turkish government. The next day Turkey officially entered the war on the side of the Germans.
CAMPAIGN STRATEGY AND PLANNING
The Western Front in Europe was stalled in trench warfare. Great Britain’s ally, Russia, was suffering severe casualties on its front with Germany. To make matters worse, the Turks were putting additional pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus. By late 1914 the British and French governments agreed it was necessary to gain control of the Dardanelles. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, felt a moral obligation to help Russia and saw the strategic importance of taking action against Turkey. He asked Vice Admiral Carden, the commander of the naval squadron blockading Turkey, to devise a plan for a naval demonstration. “Carden’s hypothetical plan for a slow and methodical reduction of the outer and inner forts, and the vital clearing of the minefields, was carried by Churchill to the War Council meeting of 13 January and presented as a low-cost, low-risk method of breaking the deadlock in Europe.”
Romanticism and Expanding Objectives
Churchill advanced the notion of the utility of an allied naval demonstration against Turkey. “He thought the Turkish Empire a ripe fruit ready to fall if the branches were shaken a little. In the Dardanelles British sea power could have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of the whole war, much more cost-effectively than feeding yet more men into the slaughter of the Western Front.” Admiral Sir John Fisher agreed to “support an operation in the Dardanelles just so long as it did not threaten the naval balance in the North Sea. He could spare a squadron of old surplus warships to blast their way through the straits; if more effort was required, he would support a joint operation in which the Army predominated.”
Soon the romantic notion of taking Constantinople and re-fighting the Trojan War took hold. “The possibilities soon began to impress themselves on all the participants. It was hoped that the appearance of a powerful fleet off the Golden Horn would precipitate a political crisis that would take Turkey out of the war. It would secure the intervention of Italy on the side of the Allies and galvanise [sic] the whole of the Balkans into a coalition against the Central Powers. It would open a supply line to Russia, releasing her grain to the West in return for badly needed munitions.” “[W]hat began as a naval demonstration to relieve Russia… became an order for a naval expedition to bombard and take the Gallipoli peninsula, with Constantinople for an objective.”
Incrementalism and Trial-and-Error
Because the leadership within the Army and the Navy were unable to adequately express their unique viewpoints on the desired approach to the Gallipoli campaign, no one really understood what the objective really was. This would later make successful coordination between the services nearly impossible. The Minister of War, Lord Kitchener, was reluctant to divert troops and equipment from the Western Front; however, he was willing to let the Navy try it. He later agreed that if it proved successful, he would send troops to occupy Constantinople.
The War Council wanted to attempt to obtain their objectives with the least amount of resources possible. They promised that more resources would be considered and to escalate the attack, if the effort began to look promising. If not, they agreed to cut their losses early. “The consequence of all this indecision was an incremental campaign in which the objectives changed as it went along, in which fundamental questions and issues were not addressed and in which both naval and land forces were fed into the theatre too late and in dribs and drabs. Naval and Army commanders regularly complained that the campaign would have been won had the forces in theatre at the end of the campaign been present at the beginning.” Eventually, they agreed to give it a try with a naval bombardment in February.
“[T]he naval attack was begun on 19 February and the outer forts were thoroughly knocked about. Parties of marines…were able to land at Sedd el Bahr and destroy some damaged guns there. The attack would have passed into the Narrows but bad weather delayed further progress. The net result of the attack in that inclement season was to announce our serious interest in the area to the enemy with the greatest clarity.” The British navy made repeated attempts to attack the forts and clear mines in between the days of bad weather. The Turk forces worked to increase their defenses.
General Birdwood, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Commander, observed the naval operation and issued a report on 4 March that troops were needed to secure passage through the Dardanelles. The French quickly organized a colonial division and offered its services in the Eastern Mediterranean. Lord Kitchener had envisioned a much smaller force commanded by General Birdwood, but the introduction of French troops made that impossible; General Birdwood was too junior in rank to lead such a large combined and joint force. On 12 March Sir Ian Hamilton was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
THE GALLIPOLI CAMPAIGN
The Naval Battles
On 9 March due to the bad weather and concern over the high rate of expenditure of ammunition Admiral Carden informed Churchill that the naval force would concentrate on clearing mines in the straits. However, failure to clear the mines at night forced Admiral Carden to prepare an order for daylight action. On 17 March Admiral Sir John de Robeck, who had replaced Admiral Carden due to ill health, issued the order.
Admiral de Robeck had information that the Turk forces were low on supplies and ammunition. He thought that the minesweepers could be effective during the daylight if accompanied by a larger protective force, because the Turks would choose to fire their artillery sparingly at the larger ships ignoring the smaller minesweepers. He divided his fleet into three sections. The first two sections comprised of English ships and the third made up of French ships. He planned for the first two sections to enter the straits to clear the mines and destroy the forts. The French would follow and continue on to Constantinople.
On 18 March Admiral de Robeck commenced his attack. The first section penetrated as far as the first row of mines. The battleships shelled the forts for about three hours. Turkey’s artillery fell silent. The minesweepers moved forward to clear the first of the two rows of mines in the straits. But they were forced to withdraw under fire from Turkey’s mobile artillery that had not been suppressed. The German officers in charge of the Turkish defense had identified the mines as key to a successful defense. They ordered that the mines must be defended at all costs and replaced as quickly as possible. Admiral de Robeck expected the defenders to fire on his battleships and ignore his minesweepers, but the defenders concentrated their artillery on the minesweepers and left the mines to take care of the other warships. The defender’s strategy worked. After a seven-hour battle, Admiral de Robeck ordered a withdrawal after losing three of his ships were sunk and three other were badly damaged. The defenders were almost completely out of ammunition and surprised by the sudden retreat of the allied navy. They knew that they could not have held out much longer.
Admiral de Robeck had intended to re-attack within a few days, but after having time to reflect on his losses, he reconsidered. He thought that the Turkish defenders must be better supplied than he thought and decided the straits could not be taken without an amphibious assault. On 23 March Admiral de Robeck reversed his plan of action. After a conference with General Hamilton, Admiral de Robeck proposed a joint operation in which troops would attack the forts on the peninsula and clear the way for his fleet. Lord Kitchener and Churchill strongly opposed the introduction of troops into the campaign at that time, but they could not get the War Council to order Admiral de Robeck to renew the naval attack. That decision led to the military debacle called Gallipoli.
Operational Intelligence, Planning and Preparation
General Hamilton had little intelligence or time to prepare for this amphibious assault. There was no systematic comprehensive British intelligence collection effort in Turkey. The limited intelligence he was given included a 1912 handbook on the Turkish Army and an inaccurate map. Air reconnaissance was used during the campaign; however, the advantage proved not to be great. The airplanes “had no photographic equipment and the effectiveness of air reconnaissance depended on the pilot’s ability to sketch what he had seen.”
Lord Kitchener assigned Hamilton a Chief of Staff, not allowing Hamilton to pick his own. The advantage of surprise that an amphibious assault offers was denied him. The preceding naval attacks had given Turkey fair warning, and the Turks were preparing their defense. Lord Kitchener had placed other restrictions on Hamilton as well. He was concerned that this “naval demonstration” was escalating out of control and ordered Hamilton to not spread the effort to any other part of Asia Minor. This forced Hamilton to plan an assault on the cliff-ridden shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. Lord Kitchener made it clear that the 29th Infantry Division was on loan only and could be recalled at any time, if they were needed at the Western Front. This contributed to poor communication, as Hamilton was reluctant to ask for additional troops for fear Kitchener may take troops from him. In fact, Kitchener had made additional troops available to Hamilton, but Hamilton was left unaware of this.
Try Again at Cape Helles and ANZAC Cove
On 25 April a combined joint force attacked the Gallipoli peninsula at points along Cape Helles and ANZAC Cove. The attack at Cape Helles began when allied ships surrounded the coast and fired on its defenses. The objective of the amphibious forces was to capture the hill of Achi Baba, some twelve kilometers inland. Three battles ensued until the end of May and another battle in June lasted eight days. A major factor contributing to the inability of the invading allied forces to advance was the lack of coordinated naval artillery to support the effort.
V Beach. A steamer was converted into a rudimentary landing craft in hopes of getting the troops safely ashore at V Beach. However, this new “Trojan Horse” attracted a fatal concentration of Turkish artillery. The hills from which the Turks were deployed provided a commanding view of the shore, and they were prepared. The defenders had placed several machine guns along the hills to catch any invading force in a deadly crossfire. The British infantry was cut down as it attempted to make it ashore. A few survived by hiding behind a low sandbar. The British were able to complete their landing at V Beach under cover of night.
W Beach. The second main attack at Cape Helles on that first day was at W Beach. The beach here was defended by less than 100 Turks, but it was mined and rows of barbed wired and other entanglements delayed the allied landing. The delay allowed the Turks to reinforce their defense and cut down many of the invading troops with machinegun crossfire. The invading battalion lost half its strength on the first day of the attack.
X Beach. Only a few fortifications and about 1200 Turkish defenders protected this beach. The minimal defense was attacked by robust allied naval artillery in support of the invading amphibious forces, and ensured the allies got ashore with very few casualties. Yet, the landing forces had not prepared well for the logistics of such an operation. Rather than taking a few days the landings continued for months. Once again the allies were delayed and lost the initiative.
S and Y Beaches. Little resistance was expected at these beaches; however, it appears that the concentration of the allied naval artillery effort was directed here. “The ships at Y were supposed to keep the heavy Turkish batteries further inland on Achi Baba quiet, while the ships at S did the same to the Turkish guns on the Asiatic shore. The result was thin coverage at V and W beaches where it was, as things turned out, most needed.”
The troops landed at Y Beach entirely unopposed. “But there was an embarrasing [sic] confusion over which of the two colonels was in command locally…[and the orders] implied that the force was only there to prevent Turks moving south until the remainder of the division got ashore and joined them later that day. The force dug in and repelled Turkish counter-attacks but accomplished nothing further. Early next day, the local commander evacuated the position!”
ANZAC Cove. The navy deposited the ANZAC troops about a mile north of where they had planned to land. Even though a sheer cliff greeted the disembarking troops, it was almost a fortunate mistake. The Turks defenses here were unprepared and the handful of Turkish troops deployed there began to retreat. Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemel happened to be training some of his troops in the vicinity. When he saw the Turk troops running from their positions, he asked why they were retreating. He saw the ANZAC soldiers were advancing rapidly. He knew that unless he could delay their advance until reinforcements could arrive the peninsula would be overrun. He ordered the few Turks there to defend their homeland. His inspirational words, “I’m not ordering you to attack. I’m ordering you to die!” had the desired effect. Reinforcements arrived and the Turks stopped the ANZAC advance.
The ANZAC troops attempted to retreat back to their ships but they lacked the proper vehicles to make their way back. Upon getting word of the disaster, Hamilton considers calling off the whole operation. About the same time he gets a report from a British submarine secretly operating in the straits that it had successfully penetrated the two minefields and successfully sunk an enemy ship. Hamilton considers this a good omen and instead of retreating orders his ground commanders: “Dig, dig, dig until you are safe!” Over the next few months, the allies find themselves in the very predicament they had hoped to avoid, the stalemate of trench warfare.
Try, Try Again at Sulva Bay
On 9 August Hamilton launches another attack at Sulva Bay in an attempt to encircle the Turks and cut off the route for reinforcements. Determined not to let the lack of secrecy again divulge his plans, Hamilton keeps the details of the operation from his ground commanders until the last possible moment. This tight security leads to poor communication and another failure. The allies surprise the defenders and make a successful landing; however, because of poor communication the ground commanders are unsure of what to do next and fail to advance. The defenders take the opportunity to reinforce their positions and once again prevent any hope of a successful invasion.
As a diversion to this main effort by the allies, the troops at ANZAC cove are ordered to launch an attack to keep the defenders occupied. Their attack is preceded by naval artillery that forces the defenders from their trenches. Nevertheless, due to lack of proper synchronization the artillery bombardment stops seven minutes before scheduled giving the defenders time to return to their trenches. In a series of futile attacks the ANZAC troops take heavy losses and are again stopped from advancing.
Hopelessness and Evacuation
The allied disaster at Gallipoli does not encourage the Balkans to join with the allies. On 6 September Bulgaria joins the Central Powers. The British War Council asks Hamilton to consider withdrawing his forces. Hamilton is fearful that a withdrawal from the peninsula will result in even worse casualties. General Monro replaces Hamilton in October. General Monro supports a withdrawal and begins planning.
On 20 December allied forces are withdrawn from Sulva Bay and ANZAC Cove. The remaining forces at Cape Helles soon follow. They withdraw on 9 January. The allies finally achieve a measure of success; they take the Turks completely by surprise and take no casualties during the evacuation. “Retreats are never victories, but this one came close to being one. It was meticulously organized in two separate stages first from Anzac and Sulva then from Helles. The Turks were fooled into missing their opportunity to inflict huge casualties by careful deception and inspired organisation [sic] at every level of the operation. Amazingly there were virtually no casualties; everyone got away and much of the supplies that would have been of use to the Turks was skillfully destroyed.”
Great Britain’s failure to see the strategic importance of controlling the Dardanelles led to their failure to arrive at a diplomatic solution by bringing Turkey into their alliance with France and Russia. This failure gave the Germans de facto control over this vital supply route, and cut off Russia from its allies. This in turn led to Russia’s supply problems and their failure to make significant gains along the Eastern Front. The stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front combined with Russia’s failure to advance on the Eastern Front created the desire to open a new front against Germany.
The escape of German warships through the Dardanelles, the subsequent bombing of Russian ports, and Turkey entering the war and fighting the Russians in the Caucasus provided the emotional impetus to do something. Great Britain finally realized the strategic importance of controlling the Dardanelles but had romanticized notions or re-fighting the Trojan War. All these events in combination with knowledge of Turkey’s supply and ammunition shortages and a desire to get the Balkan states to join in the effort against Germany led to the inevitable decision to attempt a naval expedition to force the straits.
The determined resistance of the Turks and their ability to identify the mines as key to protecting the straits led to them sinking three allied warships. Admiral de Robeck did not expect this and questioned the reports of Turkey’s supply and ammunition shortages. He reversed his original decision to re-attack. The lack of unity of command in the allied force prevented Churchill from forcing Admiral de Robeck to press the attack without support from ground troops. In hindsight it appears that all these events contributed to the decision to launch an amphibious assault on the peninsula of Gallipoli.
The Failures of Gallipoli
The problems created by a lack of unity of command in the allied naval expedition were compounded when the allies decided to make it a joint operation as well by attempting an amphibious landing. The British neglected preparing for amphibious operations at the beginning of the century, and “the division of responsibility at Gallipoli was decided, impromptu, on the basis of ‘some army book’ and the King’s Regulations.” Communication among the leadership was poor. “[T]he machinery for joint action was plainly far from perfect. Corbett was rather proud of the fact that there was no joint force commander since he preferred a ‘combination of equals’. The Army and the Navy went about their complementary business largely in isolation.” The supporting naval artillery was uncoordinated and not synchronized well with the movements of the ground troops. Hamilton was not given much time to prepare and plan for such a massive operation. He was not able to determine the resources needed to ensure the success of such an endeavor, rather, he was given resources that were available and that would not divert too much from the Western Front. Complicating the planning process was the total lack of the most basic strategic, operational, or tactical intelligence.
The Turk Perspective
The Turkish soldiers put up a formidable resistance. They were defending their homeland, and they had competent, inspirational leadership. German General Otto Liman von Sanders made expert use of his limited resources. He identified the two rows of mines in the straits as the center of gravity in his successful defense. Because his forces were low on ammunition, he used his artillery for the sole purpose of protecting the mines. He prevented the allies from clearing the mines and forced Admiral de Robeck to reconsider another naval attack.
Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemel was key in stopping the allied amphibious invasion of Gallipoli. He recognized that a war of attrition served his interests as the defender. Hamilton was limited by the availability of resources. He needed to fight a quick war of annihilation and take the peninsula before Turkish reinforcements could arrive, but he did not. The Turks suffered more deaths and casualties than did the allies, but they could more easily reinforce their positions by moving troops down the peninsula.
Aiding the Turks in this war of attrition was disease. “June arrived and the weather was becoming hotter. With the heat came the increase in the flies and the spread of sickness and disease. By July a health crisis was developing. Sanitation became an increasingly vital concern and the medical officers had to work hard to see that every effort was taken to improve conditions. Dysentery and diarrhoea [sic] spread through the regiments, which were quickly weakened by the high sickness rate and consequent evacuations of the sick to the hospitals.”
The terrain also provided the Turks with a commanding view of the shores. Thus, the Turks had the advantage of tactical intelligence. The Turkish defenders could not man the entire coastline. They did not leave the coasts undefended. Where there were few or no troops they built up fortifications and placed mines and obstacles on the shores. Again, the terrain offered the defenders a view of the entire coast and when allied troops showed up unexpectedly, the mines and obstacles delayed the advance until the defenders could reinforce their positions.
The allies were denied the advantage of surprise during their first amphibious invasion on 25 April because of the previous naval battles; the Turks were prepared for subsequent attacks. Although Hamilton ensured security before the attack at Sulva Bay on 9 August, poor communication among the allied ground commanders prevented their advance. The allied landings were disorganized throughout the campaign.
The expanding objectives and incremental approach pursued in an attempt to achieve those objectives provided clear warning to the defenders of the allied intent. “In the Dardanelles campaign [Pye said] there was a thorough absence of cooperation between the Admiralty and the War Office, including the failure to determine a definitive objective, and a woeful misconception of the force required for the success of the expedition…. The failure should be attributed to the Admiralty and the War Office, because of their failure to determine the forces required for the task and for their lack of support of the forces in the theater of operations.”
The trial-and-error approach to campaign planning drew the allies into this disastrous campaign. The allied leadership lacked experience and time to competently plan and prepare. They traded the lives of their subordinates for adequate planning and preparation. “The lack of understanding of modern warfare, to which most of these officers had not yet been fully exposed, a failure to appreciate the input of technology — especially the Turk’s clever employment of machine-guns — and poor staff-work, all showed how little experience there was within the command structure. It was still believed that discipline and aggressive spirit were the essence of military success.”
A structured, formal planning process is crucial to any military campaign but especially important to joint/combined campaigns. Leadership must agree on and set clear objectives, determine what resources are needed to accomplish the objectives, and determine if the resources are available.
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Robert Folker is an Air Force officer, a graduate of and former instructor at the United States Air Force Weapons School, and holds a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University. He is currently an Air Power Strategist with Checkmate on the Air Staff at the Pentagon. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force.