The Allied Failure

By T.H.E. Travers

April 25, 1915 - Cape Helles

On the 17th of April 1915, Hasan Ethem, a young Turkish soldier in the famous 57th Regiment of Mustafa Kemal's 19th Division, a teacher in civilian life, wrote a last letter to his mother from Gallipoli. In part of the letter Ethem invoked the god of the Turks: "My God, all that these heroic soldiers want is to introduce Thy name to the French and the English. Please accept this honorable desire of ours and make our bayonets sharper so that we may destroy our enemy! . . .You have already destroyed a great number of them so destroy some more." In contrast is another letter to a mother, this time from Lieutenant. Elliott, West Yorkshire Regiment, written in late August 1915. Elliott landed at Suvla Bay in early August and recalled that although the East Yorkshire Regiment in front of it were engaged with the enemy: "Well, that was their funeral. We had water and cover and were quite happy." But then the East Yorkshire Regiment and its B Company urgently requested reinforcements; "We cursed the East Yorks, B Company.., the Turks and the Kaiser for ten solid minutes while the men put out their fires and got into their equipment." At dawn the next day, 9 August, Elliott recalled hearing that "awful cry: Allah! Allah!" Elliott was wounded in the Turkish attack, and his first thought was "one of elation I'm wounded, I can clear out, and the second [thought] of thankfulness., I'm wounded & I can still walk." Elliott took the bolt out of his rifle, threw the rifle away and made his way to the casualty clearing station.

It would be wrong to extrapolate from just two letters, but they do illustrate an important factor that is often overlooked in explaining the Allied failure at Gallipoli, namely the very strong motivation of the Ottoman Turks (although not of the Ottoman minorities) to defend their soil and their faith. While the Allied forces (primarily Australians, New Zealanders, British and French) did their brave and courageous duty but they did not have the same vital reasons for occupying Gallipoli as the Turks did in defending the peninsula. Thus the Turks had already suffered 15,000 casualties by the beginning of May 1915, and this Turkish willingness to defend and sacrifice at all costs is one reason for Allied defeat at Gallipoli that is not always included in the traditional explanations of the Allied failure.

Turkish Troops Assemblying at Gallipoli

These traditional explanations for Allied failure are, by and large, the following

1. That Lord Kitchener (Secretary of State for War), the War Office, and the government in Britain, did not supply Gallipoli campaign with enough men munitions and often delayed too long before shipping.

2. That many of the senior Allied officers appointed were of poor quality.

3. That the Ottoman government poured in as many divisions as were necessary to defend the Gallipoli area.

4. That there was a lack of surprise in the Allied landings of 25 April and that the army and navy did not attack together on 18 March 1915.

While these (and various other) explanations are sound, they are not the full story. Apart from the previously discussed concept of Turkish willingness to die in defense of Gallipoli (and their morale was much increased by the Allied naval failure of 18 March), there are two other wider reasons for anticipating failure. These are, firstly, the sheer Allied inexperience of offensive operations in modem industrial warfare, and secondly, connected with the first, Allied technical inability to achieve results. In regard to the first point, it is clear that the Allied forces at Gallipoli initially thought offensive warfare was much simpler than it actually was. To take various examples: Off "W" Beach on 25 April Captain Milward, on board HMS Eurylus with Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston's 29th Division HQ staff noted that he heard "the dreaded rattle of machine gun fire. Such a thing as... a landing... against heavy machine gun fire never entered one's head." Then a little later the same day he and other staff members had to restrain Hunter-Weston from personally going to "V" Beach to lead the stalled landing. These are surely over-simplified notions of warfare. Then Hamilton himself wrote to Winston Churchill on 18 June: "for this trench warfare no great technical knowledge is required. A high moral standard and a healthy stomach these are the best. . . for he who aspires to fight his way to the front at the Dardanelles." However, by the beginning of July Hamilton seems to have realized the limitations of this approach, for he then told Kitchener that "The old battle tactics have clean vanished. I have only quite lately realized the new conditions." It had taken him three months to work this out. At other times Hamilton was prone to give the traditional order" to fix bayonets for a general advance," when all else had failed.

"W" Beach Shortly After the Landing

Hunter-Weston was another who did not realize that firepower had changed the simpler warfare of the 19th century, and so he consistently reinforced failure rather than exploiting success, expecting that simply pouring in more men would solve the problem of the attack. Examples are Hunter-Weston's failure to exploit at "S" and "Y" Beaches, or even "X" Beach, while remaining fixated on the failure at "V" Beach on 25 April and pouring in more men to become casualties. Latter on, Hunter-Weston automatically reinforced the failure of the 52d Division at Helles on 13 July by putting in the depleted and exhausted Royal Naval Division in a final and disastrous attack. A concluding example, among many, of the idea that offensive warfare was simple, was the attitude of the navy as it was called upon to support the 25 April landings. Since the Helles area was specifically chosen for the major landing because naval gunfire would be available, it is surprising to read that Admiral Wemyss' naval conference of 21 April left open the very important question of whether ships would shell the coast ridges or the beaches during the landings, although the earlier plan had been to shell the beaches. The naval attitude evidently was that it did not matter particularly which option was chosen, the men would get ashore and automatically fight forward as of old. But it did not matter. Only at "X" Beach did Captain Lockyer bring HMS Implacable close in to support the landing with his 12-inch guns and largely make it successful, while it seems that Captain Davidson of HMS Cornwallis could have saved many lives at "V" Beach if he had just brought his ship around after landing his charges at "S" Beach, as originally instructed.

It seems to me that these examples illustrate the reason the Allied campaign did not succeed at Gallipoli, namely that most senior officers lacked experience of modem industrial war and thought that the attack was simpler than it actually was in 1915. However, is should also be stressed that Gallipoli was not unique in this respect the Western Front showed similar problems in 1915 as commanders tried to get to grips with this new style of warfare. A second related reason for the Allied failure at Gallipoli was the sheer inability of technology in the shape of naval guns and artillery to do what was required of them. As an example of naval problems, one Australian officer of the 1st Australian Division remarked at the end of May 1915: "From the moment the Prince of Wales opened up on Gaba Tepe' s guns. . . . they seemed to us not able to hit what they aimed at. As the General says [General Walker], when they hit what they aim at in target practices in peace time, they put it in Despatches! 'A sea fight can't be the terrible thing we are led to believe,' he says. 'I can't imagine any boat being so starkly accurate in her gunnery as to hit another boat!"' While this may reflect a little inter-service rivalry, the ANZAC BGRA, Cunliffe-Owen, pointed out that the maps given to the navy were of 1840s vintage and were two degrees off and so did not agree with the ground. And since the naval guns fired a flat trajectory, and often with armor-piercing shells, and forward observation was difficult in the broken country of Gallipoli, it was not safe for them to fire close to the ANZAC infantry, which was actually what was required given the closeness of the enemy trenches. In fact, the code most often used at ANZAC HQ was "C.O.," meaning "Don't shoot so close to our troops." The Turks themselves said that the effect of naval fire at the time of the landings was ''moral without being material.'' To be fair to the navy, observation and communication problems were acute, and it was necessary to anchor in order to fire accurately, yet submarines and Turkish artillery made this hazardous, while naval gun-laying was an incredibly complicated business, which essentially required fixing the position of the ship and then aiming off a well known point via sextant and deflecting for height and range.

Turning to the artillery, a typical cry of frustration comes from Colonel Hobbs, CRA 1st Australian Division, in May 1915: "We are dominated by the enemy guns and observation stations.., and are subject to heavy shell fire at once. Our guns are badly knocked about and many casualties. It is impossible for us to discover enemy batteries which are hidden in Nullahs and behind ridges which our guns. . . cannot reach." Air observation was therefore required, but air observation was in its infancy there were very few planes and pilots, no trained observers were available, and communications systems were crude and still evolving. Thus leading Mechanic Beeton reported of one naval shoot:

ANZAC Artillery Firing

"Captain Collett he was going round and round in circles over the top there. He didn't dare go too high or he would have got in the way of the shells. He was firing Verey lights to indicate where the shells were going. Green was right on target, red was too far and so on. After about two hours he came down. He said: 'The navy don't like us, they're not taking a damn bit of notice of me at all."'
Air observation was also dangerous, since the infantry tended to blaze away at planes irrespective of their nationality. And Captain Collett himself suffered a horrifying end when he was later trapped inside his crashed machine and burnt to death.

To summarize the technical abilities of field artillery. Basically, artillery could cut wire although there was little HE for this task, and guns could stop charging Turks with shrapnel but because of accuracy and observation problems found counter-battery, preparatory bombardments and the infantry barrage very difficult. Inevitably some enemy machine guns always evaded observation and destruction. And because of accuracy fears, barrage shoots often ended too early, for example during the celebrated attack if the Australian Light Horsemen at the Nek on 7 April 1915, vividly illustrated in the film Gallipoli, the artillery ceased firing seven minutes before the attack and condemned many hundreds to death. It seems likely that the problem was not so much poor synchronization of watches but naval and field artillery fear of hitting their own men plus poor staff work.

There are many reasons for the failure of the Allied Gallipoli campaign, but it has been argued in this article that two have often been overlooked, namely, the inexperience of the attack in modern warfare especially among senior officers, and secondly, the technical inability to achieve what was intended on the part of naval guns and field artillery. From the Allied point of view, therefore, there were built-in structural problems, a recent survey of Turkish sources show that matters were not always so positive on the Ottoman side. For example, the 77th Regiment in the ANZAC area on 25 April contained mostly Arab soldiers who had no love for the Ottoman empire, and they fled, dragging the neighboring 27th Regiment back with them. There was thus a large gap in the line in the Kanlisert region (roughly the 400 Plateau area captured by the ANZACs), and this caused a crises in Mustafa Kemal's 19th Division, which might have been exploited by the ANZACs. Then in the critical Seddul Bahir fortress area of Helles, the local Turkish defender and hero, Colonel Mahmut of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Regiment, recorded a potential Turkish disaster on 26 April when only a stretcher bearer and a trumpeter obeyed his orders to retreat, which gave an opportunity to 29th Division forces in that area. Ironically, it was the Allied naval shelling on back areas that prevented the retreat of this Turkish unit on 26 and 27 April.

Turkish Artillery Responding Effectively

Still another Turkish crisis occurred in early May 1915, when Kiazim Bey, chief of staff to Otto Liman von Sanders, who commanded the Fifth Army in the Gallipoli area, wrote to Enver Pasha, minister of war, to say that the last Turkish reserves had been used up in the Helles region, 60 per cent of their forces were lost in 11 days, they were disorganized, they did not know enough about the Allies, they could no longer attack and had to go on the defensive. Enver refused to listen to this and ordered changes in command and further attacks. So here again was a possible opening that was not exploited. Probably the best known chance for the Allies occurred on Chunuk Bair on 8-10 August when that summit was in Allied hands, the Turks were in disarray, and Colonel Fezi Bey was dismissed in favor of Mustafa Kemal for delaying the Turkish counter-attack for two days. Liman von Sanders had ordered Fezi Bey to collect the 7th and 12th Divisions together and attack on 8 August, but the divisions could not be collected together in time. This was a definite window of opportunity for the Allies. However, Kemal's outstanding leadership drove the Allies off Chunuk Bair on 10 August and probably saved the campaign for the Ottomans.

The mention of Mustafa Kemal leads to the final section of this article, in which some long-range results of Gallipoli are examined. It may well be that the strongest impact was on the Ottoman empire, where Kemal built on his Gallipoli fame to resist Allied efforts to partition the country after the war. Specifically, according to Professor Tuncok of METU University, Ankara, Gallipoli produced the "first sparks of the [post-war] Turkish national struggle...."

Defeating the Greeks in the war of independence, Kemal almost single-handedly built modern Turkey, established finally in 1923. He also recognized the end of the multi-national Ottoman empire following several problems with non-Turkish soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign and subsequently. Gallipoli and the rest of the war also produced an economic revival in the Ottoman empire, but on the negative side, the Ottomans admit to 208,022 casualties at Gallipoli, many of them teachers, medical students, intellectuals and civil servants. As Mustafa Kemal said: "We buried a whole university at the ...[Gallipoli battles]..."

Other impacts of Gallipoli certainly include the formative experience of this campaign for Australian nationhood, leading among other things to the ANZAC legend, the national holiday of 25 April in Australia, and the founding of the Australian War Memorial archive and building in Canberra. Unfortunately, the role of the Australians in Gallipoli has become embroiled in historical controversy over the question of Australian "strangling" at ANZAC cove on 25 April, and the recommendation by the two divisional commanders to admit failure and re-embark that night. This controversy also has links to the modem debate on a possible Australian republic.' In regard to Britain and France, after the initial landings of 25 April the debate over Gallipoli generally pitted the arguments of Westerners against Easterners in both countries, Joffre leading the French charge for a focus on the Western Front and Sir John French and his GHQ doing the same for the British, while Kitchener, Lloyd George and Churchill among others fought to continue the Gallipoli expedition. After the militarily sensible decision to evacuate Gallipoli, perhaps the most curious case is that of Winston Churchill.

French Colonial Soldiers at Gallipoli

Churchill does not seem to have learned from the Gallipoli campaign when applying its lessons to the Second World War. According to the historian Richard Overy, despite the Gallipoli failure, Churchill insisted on pursuing expeditions that resemble Gallipoli in being peripheral, and poorly supplied and planned, such as Norway in 1940, whose failure "carried strong overtones of Gallipoli.. ." not to mention Dakar, Greece and Crete. Moreover, Churchill's pursuit of the Mediterranean strategy in World War II was puzzling, writes Overy, "in the light of Churchill's failure at Gallipoli and the insignificant part the Balkans and the Middle East played in the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918." No doubt Churchill hoped in World War II for what Gallipoli should have been - a short winnable campaign against soft opposition, using Britain's naval power to advantage.

However, Churchill's Mediterranean strategy did much to bring about the Second World War operation that most resembled some aspects of Gallipoli, namely the Anzio amphibious landing of January 1944. As the commander in charge of Anzio, Major General John Lucas, wrote unhappily in his diary: "This whole affair has a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the amateur [i.e. Churchill] is still on the coach's bench." Churchill's hope was that just as the Allies wanted to drive toward Constantinople in 1915, so the Anzio landing would result in a drive on Rome. Just as occurred before Gallipoli, the Anzio staff had a very short time to plan their landing. However, the closest similarity is actually to Major General Stopford's IX Corps landing at Suvla in early August 1915 in that Lucas was given the same ambiguous instructions: seize and secure a beach-head but also advance on the hills to the east. Much was also expected of the naval guns in supporting the Anzio landing as in 1915. Then just as Stopford waited for his artillery at Suvla, so Lucas delayed for three days waiting for his armor to land, but by this time Kesselring had the beachhead covered. In the same way Stopford's delay in 1915 allowed the Turks enough time to contain the beachhead. In 1944 Churchill was angry at Anzio delays and via Field Marshal Alexander urged an advance, but Lucas dug in, again like Stopford. The German reaction, as with the Turkish reaction in April 1915 was to smash the beachhead and drive the enemy into the sea, but instead a trench war stalemate ensued at Anzio, again very similar to Gallipoli. Another parallel result was the dismissal of Lucas by another commander, just as Stopford, and then Hamilton himself, were relieved at Gallipoli, but there the similarities end, for a break-out at Anzio took place in May 1944, assisted by other operations inland, while Gallipoli withered and politicians shifted their attention to Salonika and the Bulgarians. Churchill lost his job as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915, but returned to the very same office in September 1939 when a signal went out to all ships: "Winston's back."

Perhaps the moral of the story of Gallipoli in 1915 and Anzio in 1944 is that amphibious expeditions (particularly in Gallipoli's case which was so far from logistical sources) are notoriously difficult to conduct. Unlike Anzio, however, inexperience in the offensive and technical problems did much to undermine Allied efforts in 1915, but exactly the same difficulties undermined Western Front operations in 1915 with much shorter supply lines and with many more guns and men. Perhaps Gallipoli was an almost impossible operation given the circumstances, but in the Turkish General Staff archives I found a battered envelope on which one Allied prisoner of war had managed to express his continuing optimism in a scribbled note that the Ottoman authorities had for some reason had kept. It read: "Turkey finish. Gott Strafe Germany. Allah Strafe Germany. Give in to us in 13 days time no harm to you," meaning perhaps that the sooner Turkey surrendered the better.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Finally, in a remarkable spirit of reconciliation that brings the Gallipoli story to a conclusion is the following post-war message from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, now inscribed on a large monument at ANZAC Cove, in answer to the pressing requests of the parents of ANZAC soldiers who wanted the remains of their sons to be shipped home for burial.

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where, they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons, from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our Sons as well."

Ataturk 1934.

Professor Traver's article was first presented as a paper at the Great War Society's 1996 National Seminar at San Francisco, California. Photos thanks to Tony Langley of Antwerp, Belgium.

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