Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive

Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive

by Rhys Crawley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806152066
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 07/15/2015
Series: Campaigns and Commanders Series , #42
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Rhys Crawley is a historian with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He received his doctorate from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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Climax At Gallipoli

The Failure of the August Offensive

By Rhys Crawley


Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4527-3



Planning for the August Offensive was a long and complex process. At its conception, the plan was limited to strengthening the perimeter of the Anzac sector. This localized attack, however, ultimately developed into a breakout offensive, the aim of which was to "secure a position astride the Gallipoli Peninsula" and to defeat the Ottoman enemy on land. This chapter focuses on the motives, conception, and evolution of the plans. How and why did a multiphase, large-scale offensive come into existence? What influenced the high command to change its mind and expand its ambitions? Was the plan, in its final form, asking too much? And in what ways did the planning process itself sow the seeds of failure?

The Situation in London

It is first necessary to understand the politico-military system (as it pertained to the Dardanelles) that operated in London. The two principal bodies concerned with operations were the War Office and the Admiralty, whose duty it was to ensure that the respective services were prepared for war. Each department contained advisory boards, the members of which were selected to give expert advice regarding the most appropriate methods to approach a particular situation. Importantly, the advice of these boards was often not sought—or was disregarded—by their departmental heads throughout the Dardanelles Campaign.

As secretary of state for war, and therefore responsible to Parliament for all business of the Army Council, Lord Kitchener regularly took matters into his own hands. Although he met with the various departmental heads of the War Office every day (all of whom were members of the Army Council), formal meetings of the Army Council were infrequent and held in the main to record decisions already made. Kitchener, who should have concerned himself solely with the political machinations of the War Office, often made operational decisions without consulting his subordinates. According to the CIGS, Lieutenant-General Sir James Wolfe Murray (who was also on the Army Council), Kitchener too often usurped the proper roles and duties of his subordinates by acting more as commander in chief—a position that had actually been replaced by the formation of the Army Council—than as the political head of the War Office. Wolfe Murray noted that because of Kitchener's influence, the position of CIGS was much different in practice from what it should have been in theory, and what it had been in the past. Rather than consulting his military experts, Kitchener "acted very much as his own Chief of Staff," thus informally relegating his advisors to mere staffing roles.

Similarly, Major-General Charles Callwell, the director of military operations (and intelligence), stated that the British General Staff was unable to undertake its proper duties due to Kitchener's personal influence and penchant for secrecy. Indeed, Lord Haldane (secretary of state for war, 1905–1912) believed that Kitchener's domination of his departmental heads was a consequence of his "old school" view that a General Staff was not actually required—despite the powerful example set by the German equivalent in the second half of the nineteenth century. By shutting out his advisors, Kitchener ensured that his decisions were not thrashed about or debated. The result was that the War Office and the Army Council "revolved around [Kitchener's] sense of priorities and whims," and operations, such as the August Offensive, were not subjected to the opinions and influence of the military's experts in London.

It was a similar story at the Admiralty. The Board of the Admiralty (the naval equivalent of the Army Council) was responsible for naval administration. The reluctance of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to call meetings, however, resulted in the board falling largely into abeyance. As was the case at the War Office, a layer of secrecy consequently grew within the Admiralty. Without such meetings, the sea lords, who were responsible for strategic planning and various operational aspects, "were never informed of what was going on" and "basically knew nothing of the operations" beyond what they heard as rumor and gossip. Again, this situation was largely the result of the personality of the departmental head.

In theory, Churchill required the agreement of the first sea lord (Admiral Sir John Fisher) and the chief of the naval staff (Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Oliver) to make any decisions, but an order in council theoretically gave all control to the first lord of the admiralty. Churchill used this control. Oliver, who should have been involved in all aspects of the decision making process, recalled: "I more or less carried out the instructions of the First Lord and the First Sea Lord." Like Kitchener, Churchill dominated his department. Because of this, plans were not subject to widespread expert scrutiny, and, as a result, were too often uninformed and inadequate. The situation improved under Arthur Balfour, who replaced Churchill as first lord in May 1915, but it remained far from perfect.

As noted, the War Office and the Admiralty were responsible solely for those matters affecting their particular service. If there was an overlap between departments, and a need for interservice cooperation—as was constantly the case in the Dardanelles theater—the departmental head was to consult the War Council. This council of cabinet ministers, consisting of Herbert Asquith (prime minister), Lord Haldane (lord chancellor), Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George (chancellor of the exchequer), Sir Edward Grey (secretary of state for foreign affairs), Churchill, and Lord Crewe (secretary of state for India), with Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey as secretary, met on an ad hoc and informal basis to discuss the conduct of the war. The War Council relied entirely on information from the various departments, and after examining this information, conveyed its decisions directly to the head of the relevant department, leaving that particular department to work out the details.

Due to the unhealthy reliance on predigested but underscrutinized departmental evidence and, as has previously been discussed, a reluctance of the experts to contradict the heads of their department, the War Council too was, to all intents and purposes, run by Kitchener and Churchill. Wolfe Murray, who attended as a military expert, never expressed his opinion "as Kitchener was the War Office spokesman," while First Sea Lord Fisher recalled that it was primarily the politicians who spoke at meetings, while the soldiers and sailors remained "almost invariably mute." Despite the lack of expert advice proffered to it, the War Council was fundamental in determining what direction the war in the Dardanelles would take, particularly with regard to reinforcements.

After the failure of the April landings at Gallipoli to achieve their objectives, the War Council was left considering its options: should Britain continue with, or abandon, its commitment to the Dardanelles theater? At a council meeting on 14 May 1915, less than three weeks after the campaign started, Kitchener spoke of his doubts as to whether strategic success was possible, commenting that the Ottomans could not be driven from their positions on the peninsula. He remained, however, opposed to an evacuation, believing that the only way for the British to free themselves from the Dardanelles was to push on. The contradiction seemed lost on him. Lloyd George agreed with Kitchener but cautioned that the same mistake of underestimating the enemy must not be made again. He therefore requested that the council "examine the whole situation and see what we could reasonably expect to accomplish." Any decision, Lloyd George continued, as to whether the force be withdrawn, maintained at its present level, or reinforced in order to end the business, should be based on an appreciation of what force was required to ensure success. Kitchener agreed to ask Hamilton. Hamilton's answer was four more divisions.

Resignation, Reinforcements, and a New Committee

The following day (15 May) Admiral Fisher—who disagreed with Churchill's methods and was opposed to a continuation of the Gallipoli Campaign—resigned from his post as first sea lord. Fisher's resignation, combined with the "shell crisis" on the Western Front, forced Prime Minister Asquith to form a coalition government. During the reshuffle, Balfour replaced Churchill as first lord of the admiralty, and the War Council was dissolved and replaced with the aptly named Dardanelles Committee. Upon receiving news of this change, General Hamilton wrote to Churchill for the first time since 12 March. Knowing that Churchill maintained his position on the committee, and that he would continue to advocate for an increased effort in the Dardanelles, Hamilton, with a clear and understandable agenda, wrote: "Certainly there are enormous difficulties. Here we are, after all, only an expeditionary force, though a strong one, fairly lodged within easy striking distance of the enemy's Capital and head-power. This enemy, though much fallen away from his high state, is still a great empire on a continental scale possessing vast resources. Hence our troops have had to contest against three successive armies. As soon as one lot are defeated they are reinforced.... Still, by putting a bold face on it and pushing forward whenever we can, we are advancing slowly not withstanding all these fresh reinforcements received by the enemy."

The Dardanelles Committee convened for the first time on 7 June 1915. Despite its title, the Dardanelles theater was never the committee's sole focus, but given the necessity of interservice action in the theater, it remained a high priority. Having received Hamilton's projection that four additional divisions would be required to see the campaign through to success, the committee discussed whether such a reinforcement was possible. The nine members present (three were absent) decided to send three New Army divisions and additional naval units that would be less vulnerable to submarine attack. Kitchener, who just two weeks previously had opposed troop number increases in the Dardanelles, now gave his full support. Churchill's persistence was no doubt a key factor in Kitchener's reversal.

The committee's overall motivations for increased support to the Gallipoli Campaign were varied. High on the list was the fact that the BEF on the Western Front had to remain on the defensive until sufficient ammunition could be stockpiled to allow for a renewed offensive in Flanders. Resources could therefore be diverted, for the time being, to the Dardanelles. The feeling of frustration caused by the inability of the MEF to break through the Ottoman lines cannot be discounted, nor can the enthusiasm of the Dominions, especially Australia and New Zealand, who were raising new divisions for service. There was also the standing belief that evacuation or defeat in the Dardanelles would damage British prestige and interests in the East.

The British War Cabinet met on 18 June to discuss this offer of further reinforcements. It was initially concerned that such reinforcements would mean a large increase in the scale of operations at the Dardanelles but was soothed by talk that the additional forces would be used in a "starving" rather than "storming" operation. This was untrue. Any advance across the Gallipoli Peninsula necessitated storming before starving the enemy by cutting their supply routes. As shown throughout the remainder of this chapter, the politico-military system in London had a direct and significant impact on the progression of the August plans from a tactical attack designed to improve the security of the Anzac sector into a large-scale offensive operation.

Intelligence and Its Use in Operational Planning

Another issue that requires examination before discussing the evolution of the August plans in a direct way is the means by which intelligence was gathered in the Dardanelles. The value of intelligence in this war was clear to all, especially General Joseph Joffre, commander in chief of the French army on the Western Front, who noted that adequate intelligence enabled senior officers to determine the obstacles to an attack, how they should be dealt with, and by whom. The importance of intelligence was not lost on the decision makers in London, where both the War Office and the Admiralty had their own intelligence branches. The War Office's foreign intelligence department, MO2, fell under the realm of the directorate of military operations and its head, Major-General Callwell. The Admiralty's intelligence service reported to the director of the intelligence division, Captain William "Blinker" Hall. These branches focused on strategic intelligence, whereby, through the use of attachés, consuls, foreign diplomats, agents, code breakers, and the foreign press, they constructed a picture of the war within its wider political context. With regard to the Dardanelles, these intelligence branches' principal focus was on the attitude of the Balkan States, particularly Bulgaria, and the political situation in Constantinople. The War Office and Admiralty then passed this information on to the intelligence branches of the MEF and the EMS respectively. There was precious little collation and cooperation between the War Office and Admiralty, with the MEF and EMS receiving separate, and often conflicting, intelligence.

The intelligence branches at the Dardanelles added to the strategic-level information they were provided by analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating their own information gained through the use of reconnaissance (air, naval, and land), enemy documents (found or captured), and enemy interrogation (deserters, prisoners, and the local population), in order to create an operational and tactical picture of the enemy's defenses, order of battle, supply routes, and morale. This information was then used in the development of operational plans.

Reconnaissance in the Dardanelles theater, however, was hindered not only by the technical, physical, and atmospheric constraints that beset all fronts in 1915 but also by the nature of the terrain on the peninsula itself. The air service, which was portrayed in Field Service Regulations as a subsidiary of the cavalry for reconnaissance purposes, was still in its infancy in 1915. While aerial photography for mapping purposes was being developed at the Dardanelles, the poor quality of the photographs, and a lack of people with experience in interpreting the images taken, rendered the product unreliable at best. Cameras were, for example, fixed to the side of the aircraft, and because they were not truly vertical at the moment the image was taken, the exact scale of the photograph was always difficult to determine. Importantly, terrain appeared much flatter from the air, thus reducing the perceived size and significance of gullies and ridges. Scrapes in the ground, for instance, were often read as enemy trenches. There is no doubt that aerial photography had improved by August 1915, but it was still not without its problems. It is also noteworthy that aerial reconnaissance was only one of the duties of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), which was always stretched for resources in the Dardanelles theater.

The main impact of the RNAS on the development of the operational plans for August was its reconnaissance patrol missions. Through such flights the RNAS was able to provide information to the army and navy on enemy troop movements; transportation of Ottoman supplies (both land and sea); and the whereabouts of enemy camps, bivouacs, and artillery positions. Again, however, technological and atmospheric conditions hindered operations. The seaplanes of the RNAS did not have the engine capacity to fly high enough to avoid the enemy's antiaircraft and machine-gun fire, and were therefore of very limited utility as reconnaissance machines. The airplanes, which could reach a higher altitude than the seaplanes, were few in number and only reliable for short-range reconnaissance patrols in fair weather. They too, therefore, could only provide limited information. Brigadier-General Hamilton Reed, chief of staff to IX Corps, for example, was as a consequence always skeptical about the reliability of aerial intelligence. Based on his experience on the Western Front, Reed noted that it was difficult for pilots and observers to report findings accurately, especially if the enemy remained stationary, or if enemy guns were well concealed and did not fire. The usefulness of aerial reconnaissance was further limited by the constant need for secrecy. Flights had to be made at extremely high altitudes to avoid arousing Ottoman suspicion as to where an attack might be mounted. This obviously added to reconnaissance difficulties. Indeed, frequent aerial reconnaissance was forbidden over Suvla Bay prior to the August Offensive for this very reason. Such limitations, whether due to technology or the need for secrecy, directly impacted upon the quality of aerial reconnaissance, and as will become clearer later in the chapter, in turn significantly influenced the evolution of the August plans from the tactical to the operational level.


Excerpted from Climax At Gallipoli by Rhys Crawley. Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

List of Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 3

1 Planning 12

2 Mobility 47

3 Fire Support 69

4 Combined Operations 93

5 Lines of Communication 119

6 Supply and Transport 157

7 The August Offensive 188

8 Subsequent Phases 214

Conclusion 242

Appendix 1 MEF Order of Battle, 6 August 1915 247

Appendix 2 Artillery Available for the Offensive 255

Appendix 3 Range/Distance 259

Notes 261

Bibliography 323

Index 351

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