A fascinating examination of the First World War beyond the Western Front told through the significant global events of 1916, which dramatically altered the fate of many nations.
The mud-filled, blood-soaked trenches of the Low Countries and North-Eastern Europe were essential battlegrounds during the First World War, but the war reached many other corners of the globe, and events elsewhere significantly affected its course.
Covering the twelve months of 1916, eminent historian Keith Jeffery uses twelve moments from a range of locations and shows how they reverberated around the world. As well as discussing better-known battles such as Gallipoli, Verdun and the Somme, Jeffery examines Dublin, for the Easter Rising, East Africa, the Italian front, Central Asia and Russia, where the killing of Rasputin exposed the internal political weakness of the country's empire. And, in charting a wide range of wartime experience, he studies the 'intelligence war', naval engagements at Jutland and elsewhere, as well as the political consequences that ensued from the momentous United States presidential election.
Using an extraordinary range of military, social and cultural sources, and relating the individual experiences on the ground to wider developments, these are the stories lost to history, the conflicts that spread beyond the sphere of Europe and the moments that transformed the war.
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About the Author
Keith Jeffery was a professor of British History at Queen's University, Belfast, and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. In 1998, he was the Lees Knowles Lecturer in Military Science at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 2003 a Parnell Fellow in Irish Studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is the author of fourteen previous books, including MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949.
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A Global History
By Keith Jeffery
Bloomsbury Publishing PlcCopyright © 2015 Keith Jeffery
All rights reserved.
The Gallipoli campaign, which ended in January 1916, has a special resonance in the history of the First World War. It was the first Allied attempt to break away from the stalemate which had developed on the Western Front, and it was the first really integrated Anglo-French operation. Here, too, was the fullest mobilisation so far of British imperial resources, with manpower deployed from the United Kingdom, India, Newfoundland, and, above all, from Australia and New Zealand, whose Australia and New Zealand Army Corps – the 'Anzacs' – forged a particular reputation for dash and valour, as well as powerfully reinforcing the development of distinct national identities in Australia and New Zealand. On the opposing side, Ottoman and German forces proved to be more resolute and accomplished opponents than had been expected.
For the Allies, the only unambiguously successful part of the whole ill-fated Gallipoli campaign was the evacuation, which occurred in two phases. The first, withdrawing the troops at Anzac and Suvla Bay, was completed over the two nights of 18/19 and 19/20 December 1915. The second phase involved the troops at Cape Helles and ended at about 4.30 on the morning of Sunday 9 January 1916. Despite dire predictions to the contrary, there were very few casualties, yet it still represented an ignominious defeat for the British and Allied war effort.
By the autumn of 1915 the forces on the Gallipoli peninsula had become bogged down in a sterile static campaign of trench warfare, rather like the situation which had existed on the Western Front since the autumn of 1914. Unlike the Western Front, however, where withdrawal was not an option (at least for the French and Belgians whose territory had been occupied by the German invader), there was no national or military veto on evacuation from Gallipoli. Indeed, when General Sir Ian Hamilton, who had been in command from the start, was dismissed and replaced by Sir Charles Monro in the middle of October 1915, Monro was sent out with the express instruction from the secretary for war, Lord Kitchener, to report quickly on the alternative options of evacuation or a renewed offensive. He arrived at general headquarters (GHQ) on the island of Imbros on 28 October and spent the next two days visiting the positions at Gallipoli and considering the problem. He doubted that any feasible new offensive could be successful. Apart from the Anzacs, he felt that the troops were 'not equal to a sustained effort', due to their inexperience, lack of training and 'the depleted condition of many of the units'.
Right from the start of the campaign the health of the troops had been a matter of concern. Miserable living accommodation, inadequate sanitary provision, poor diet and water shortages, not to mention unburied putrefying corpses on the battlefield, all contributed to a high sick rate. Dysentery was endemic. Writing in 1931 to Cecil Aspinall-Oglander, the British official historian of the campaign, Arthur Beecroft, who had been a signals officer, remarked on the chronic diarrhoea which everyone suffered. 'We had,' he wrote, 'a crude saying that the 11th Division went into battle grasping a rifle in one hand, and holding up its trousers with the other. There was hardly a man not so troubled, and I need not add what a depressing and devitalising effect such a malady has ... When one is rushing for the latrines dozens of times a day, as most of us were, esprit de corps soon oozes away.'
Despite the fact that the headquarters staff had predicted that perhaps half of the troops and two-thirds of the guns would be lost in a withdrawal, at the end of October Monro recommended complete evacuation. Five years on, Major Orlando ('Orlo') Williams, the officer who had enciphered Monro's situation report, recalled the moment on 31 October when he had read it. 'Very few people knew the contents of that telegram,' he wrote. 'To those who did it gave the first ray of hope for the future – a hope that wise and definite decisions would be made at once, [and] that a waste of energy and lives on useless ends would cease.' 4 Winston Churchill, whose brainchild the campaign had largely been, was more pithily grumpy in his war memoir. Monro, he wrote, 'was an officer of swift decision. He came, he saw, he capitulated.'
But it was to be a while before London finally agreed. At first Kitchener favoured a renewed offensive. On 3 November he cabled Monro: 'I absolutely refuse to sign orders for evacuation, which I think would be the gravest disaster and would condemn a large percentage of our men to death or imprisonment.' He asked Monro to consult his three corps commanders. Only one, Sir William Birdwood, who commanded the Anzacs, opposed evacuation, principally on political grounds. He had spent most of his professional life in the Indian Army. 'From Indian experience,' he wrote, 'I fear the result in the Mohammedan world in India, Egypt and Mesopotamia.' This was 'the great bogy', as Orlo Williams put it: 'A triumph for the Turks, loss of British prestige, the East in flames, the Caucasus, Mesopotamia [Iraq], and Egypt overrun.'
In the early twentieth century the British Empire was often celebrated as 'the greatest Muhammadan Power in the world'. Over 60 million of the 300 million inhabitants of British-ruled south Asia (comprising today's India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma) were Muslim – and apprehensions about the potential of pan-Islamic mobilisation were common among the more 'Indian-minded' of British decision-makers. Throughout its whole existence – not just during the First World War – concerns about the ramifications which any decision anywhere in the British Empire might have elsewhere within its worldwide reach was a constant preoccupation for ministers, governors and generals. Fighting the Turks at Gallipoli, when the head of the Ottoman Turkish empire, Sultan Mehmet V, as caliph also claimed leadership of Muslims throughout the world, the worry was particularly acute. There was a wider problem of prestige, moreover, as A. J. Balfour (at the time First Lord of the Admiralty) noted. By abandoning Gallipoli 'we should lose credit in our own eyes, in those of our enemies, and in those of our friends. Quite apart from our prestige in the East ... we have a character to lose in the West. To Russia the blow would be staggering.'
Harsh military realities, however, overrode wider political concerns and, after Kitchener had inspected the theatre for himself, he decided that the two northern sectors at Suvla Bay and Anzac should be evacuated forthwith. 'Careful and secret preparations for the evacuation of the Peninsula are being made,' he reported to the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, on 15 November. But 'if undertaken it would be an operation of extreme military difficulty and danger'. A few days later Lord Curzon, a former Viceroy of India and now a Cabinet minister who certainly opposed evacuation on political grounds, painted a nightmare scenario of evacuation in a '"welter of carnage and shame", with panicking, frenzied men scrambling in the water, "being drowned by the hundred"'. But opinion in London moved inexorably in favour of evacuation. Churchill, who had been under pressure for some time due to the failure of the campaign to deliver any breakthrough, resigned from the government on 15 November, removing the strongest opponent of the policy from the Cabinet. Exceptionally severe winter weather hit the peninsula during the last week in November, causing serious casualties (including 16,000 cases of frostbite and exposure) and reinforcing concerns about the costs of staying on over the winter months. Finally, on 7 December the Cabinet agreed to evacuate Suvla and Anzac, though they decided to hang on at Cape Helles for the meantime.
As Kitchener had noted, the staff at Gallipoli had already begun planning for an evacuation. Indeed, once the principle of withdrawal had apparently been conceded, Orlo Williams recalled that 'preparations were pushed on with the utmost haste, for the prospect of winter storms hung over us like an evil spectre'. The preliminary evacuation plans envisaged three stages. The first, which could be implemented before a final decision was made, involved reducing the number of troops to that required 'for a purely defensive winter campaign'. The second stage would be implemented once the decision to withdraw had been made. At this point 'force and material would be reduced until there remained only a bare sufficiency to enable the positions to be held for a week against attack'. In the final stage 'this diminished garrison was to be withdrawn with the greatest possible speed, no special effort being made to save any more material'.
But it was a tall order to see the safe withdrawal of just over 80,000 men, along with huge quantities of guns, stores and equipment. The 'main thing', as put in the instructions prepared by staff officers at Suvla, was 'to deceive enemy for ten days'. In order to cover the initial troop movements Brigadier General Brudenell White, chief of staff of the Anzac Corps, also devised a system of 'quiet periods' during which in the final days there were regular suspensions of firing (especially at night) from the Allied side, though if there were Turkish attacks these were to be strongly resisted. Thus the Turks, thinking that the Allies were merely settling into a defensive winter posture, would become accustomed to periods of inactivity along the front.
While most of the support formations and a fair number of the front-line troops were evacuated, various cunning schemes were devised to deceive the Turks into thinking that nothing unusual was under way. Supplies apparently continued to be moved in: 'Carts went up at night empty but returned full of trench stores, troops in the front line being fed from reserves already prepared.' Activity on the beaches was sustained as much as possible. The casualty clearing stations, which were in full view of the enemy, were 'evacuated and almost empty for several days'. Special parties of men were instructed to keep fires lit in the tents, while ambulances continued to operate 'as if to remove sick and wounded to casualty clearing stations at the usual hours. They were always nearly empty.' Nevertheless, concerned that there might be serious casualties in the final stages, it was anticipated that some medical personnel would have to 'remain on the Peninsula until after the evacuation has been completed, to tend such wounded as cannot be embarked'. 'It is,' wrote Walter Campbell, a headquarters staff officer, on 18 December, 'of course impossible to say how many men we may lose in the final withdrawal when the Turks tumble to what we are up to, and it will of course be inevitable if they attack heavily, that we must leave wounded behind.'
The final withdrawal from Suvla and Anzac was set for the night of 19/20 December and in the end no-one was left behind. At Anzac, Brudenell White's careful planning paid off. Detailed timetables were prepared for the movement of over 10,000 men on the last night. In order to muffle the sound of the operation, the men were ordered to wear socks or sandbags over their boots, while torn-up blankets were placed on the floor of trenches. The 'drip rifle', a device which became embedded in Anzac folklore, was developed to deceive the enemy after the last troops had left the front line. The invention, ascribed to a Lance Corporal William Scurry from the Melbourne suburb of Essendon, involved dripping water into an empty bully beef or kerosene can attached to the trigger of a rifle left loaded and aimed towards the Turkish trenches. Thus sporadic fire could be maintained after the trenches had been evacuated. Another ruse at Suvla produced a similar effect. When the final party left the trenches on the last night, 'candles were left burning at intervals. In each candle there were two or three fuses which, as the candle burned to the point of juncture – fuse and candle – the fuse was set off and the noise very similar to a rifle shot was exploded.'
Among the soldiers at Suvla was Captain C. R. Attlee of the 6th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, who in 1945 was to head the first Labour majority government in Britain. Clement Attlee was deployed as part of the rearguard and given the task of holding 'the last line, known as the Lala Baba defences' on the southern side of the Suvla sector. Attlee's job was to hold the line until the remainder of the withdrawal had successfully been accomplished. According to an admiring biography by Francis Beckett, 'Clem was the last but one soldier to leave Gallipoli', followed only by the divisional commander, General F. S. Maude. Attlee's own account is typically more downbeat. Late in the afternoon of 19 December, and in command of 250 men and six machine guns, he had to hold trenches around the small hill of Lala Baba just behind the front line. Parties of men withdrew through Attlee's position all night until 'about 3.30 [a.m.] word came that the parties holding the wire halfway had closed the gaps and were coming through ... All this time everything was very peaceful though there were occasional shots to be heard from Anzac [just to the south]. Then we got the order to move.' Bringing up the rear, he sent his men up the communications trench, and on to the beach. Here they found 'a few military police, General Maude and a few of the Staff. We went on board lighters which seemed to go round and round. Flames shot up from the dumps of abandoned stores.' The unit war diary is even more laconic: 'Capt C. R. Attlee's party after remaining in the Lala Baba defences until the evacuation was completed then embarked his party on H.M.T. [His Majesty's Transport] Princess Irene & proceeded to Imbros.'
The evacuation caught the enemy completely by surprise, though there had been rumours that the Allies might withdraw. The German general Hans Kannengiesser, who commanded the 9th Ottoman Division in the Suvla sector, recalled in his memoirs that when they noticed increased Allied activity over the night of 19/20 December they thought it 'must either indicate the commencement of the English retirement, or we had to expect a large-scale attack to-morrow'. At about three o'clock in the morning (just as Clement Attlee and his men were preparing to move down to the beach) a 'steadily increasing mist commenced rising which hid the full moon which so far shone, and clouded the English activities in a curtain which we were neither able to pierce nor penetrate'. While some Turkish colleagues continued to believe that the Allies were 'bringing new troops ashore', by about five o'clock or so, it had become clear to Kannengiesser that 'the enemy was actually evacuating'. The retreat, he conceded, had been 'splendidly prepared and very cleverly carried out ... even if, as the opponent, I found their success rather painful'.
On 27 December the Cabinet in London decided to evacuate the remainder of the troops from Gallipoli. The very success of the Suvla and Anzac withdrawals made any similar operation from Cape Helles more hazardous than it would otherwise have been. 'It seemed too much to expect that the same trick would come off twice running,' thought Eric Wettern, a sapper at Cape Helles. Charles Callwell (Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office in London in 1916) later described it as 'a decidedly more difficult affair'. Partly this was because of the advance warning provided by the 19/20 December withdrawals, but the operation was also technically trickier. Writing on 4 January, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Burge of the Royal Naval Division reflected on the difference between Anzac and Cape Helles. Whereas at Anzac, for example, the front line was 'not, I believe, more than 1500 yards from the beach', at Helles, 'here we are about 4 miles, and you have to stick to single file in communications trenches practically all the way – that delays things and wearies heavily laden men frightfully'. Burge also believed that the secret was already out: 'I'm convinced they think we're going down here, because they've taken to shelling the beaches all night.'
From the last few days of December 1915 onwards there was a staged withdrawal from Cape Helles. General Sir Francis Davies, who as commander of VIII Army Corps was in overall charge of the evacuation, immediately arranged the removal each night of 'as large a proportion as possible of stores, animals and vehicles not required for the final defence of the position'. Ancillary personnel were removed, men of the Greek Labour Corps being sent away 'under the pretext that the severe shelling of the beaches no longer made their retention justifiable', and told that they would return after the Turkish guns had been silenced.
Excerpted from 1916 by Keith Jeffery. Copyright © 2015 Keith Jeffery. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
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Table of Contents
1 Gallipoli 10
2 Verdun 39
3 On the Isonzo 69
4 'Ypres on the Liffey' 97
5 Jutland and the War at Sea 123
6 The Eastern Front 151
7 Asia 179
8 The War in Africa 211
9 The Somme 243
10 The Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans 272
11 The USA 304
12 Russia 336
Conclusion: The Potential for Peace in 1916 365