Book Review: Gallipoli
A Review by LtCol Rich Beil USMC (Ret.)
A Historiographical Review by LtCol Rich Beil USMC(Ret.)
List Price (Used): $11.98
Publisher: Oxford University Press
This book falls under the category of popular, as opposed to academic history, and provides an example of why military history in general, and popular military history in particular, is viewed with distain in the discipline. While this may be objectionable to those whose interest lies in military history, the view in academic circles exists nonetheless.
This book is written for a wide audience that knows little about World War I,
Gallipoli, or history at all. Reading the reviews on Amazon.com, one is led to
believe that it represents new scholarship. While the first person accounts
provide an interesting perspective, for those who have studied World War I in
general, and Gallipoli in particular, it provides little that is new.
A review of literature on historical objectivity clearly shows that absolute objectivity is illusory. Indeed, quite a number of limitations stand in the way of objectivity in history. But, one of the fundamental tenets of historiography is that the historian at least strive for objectivity, to control for personal bias.
“A historian is essentially trained to be objective in his selection, analysis and interpretation of evidence. Unless he tries as much as possible to be objective, his person and work would hardly be respected.”
In 1970, David Hackett Fischer wrote “Historians’ Fallacies – Toward a Logic of Historical Thought”. Although now over 50 years have passed since its publication, this book is still used in graduate school Historiography seminars, as it provides the most concise and comprehensive illustration of the errors made in writing history.
Hart opens his Preface with the declarative statement: “Gallipoli. It was a lunacy that never could have succeeded, an idiocy generated by muddled thinking.
” If such is the case, the only reason to continue reading would be to determine whether the author had empirically proven the original assertion. Otherwise, just close the book and go on to something else.
Here, the author commits what Fischer terms the fallacy of declarative questions
. which consists of confusing an interrogative with a declarative statement. If a historian begins his research with the proposition that “X was the case”, then he is predisposed to prove it. “A historian, like any other researcher, has a vested interest in answering his own question. His job is at stake, and his reputation. If he substitutes a declarative for an interrogative statement, the result is literally a foregone conclusion.
A second error is what is termed the fallacy of the prevalent proof
.  This makes mass opinion into a method of verification. In the case of Gallipoli, that the campaign itself was a failure is not disputed. However, the fact that it failed cannot be used as a proof that it was destined to fail from the start and, therefore, should not have been attempted.
The author then states “The Western Front was where the war would be decided and the German Army defeated.
” Here he simply relies on 100 years of hindsight and makes a declarative statement, apparently expecting the reader to accept his opinion without question. He makes no reference to the actual conditions on the Western Front in late 1914/early 1915, when alternatives to trench warfare on that front were being considered. In effect, Hart seems to be saying that what we know now is what the major players must have known then.
But, in his first chapter, Hart describes World War I as “a battle between heavyweight continental armies relying on conscription to mobilis(sic) millions of trained men. In this battle of giants, Britain was a mere pygmy with her small regular volunteer army of just 250,000.
” If this was the case, Britain in 1914/5 was certainly in no way able to even influence the outcome on the Western Front. Therefore, how could they decide at that time that France was where the war would be won or lost? Perhaps with such a small force at that time, they could make a contribution to their allies, France and Russia, elsewhere.
The author accurately describes the thinking at this time, “Churchill was not alone in harboring doubts as to the efficacy of committing the nation’s strength to the Western Front. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, pointed to imagined opportunities from attacking Austria, or by threatening the Turks with a landing at Alexandretta in Syria, while a speculative memorandum from Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the War Council, recommended Balkan alliances to threaten Turkey
In the next paragraph, he then reports the Russians’ request on 1 January 1915 for “a naval or military demonstration against the Turks to ease the pressure caused by the Turkish offensive driving through the Caucasus mountains.
” And, as if cavalierly thumbing one’s nose at an ally, he flatly states “the logical British response should have been regretful refusal
.” One is tempted to ask “With friends like that, who needs enemies”?
This is tantamount to Franklin Roosevelt saying to Churchill, “
Sorry, Winston, but OUR war is in the Pacific. The American people expect me to fight the enemy who attacked us, rather than
sending vital ships, supplies, and equipment across the Atlantic following your ‘Germany First’ policy.
One question that needs to be answered is whether Hart is correct in his basic assessment? Was the Gallipoli operation destined to fail? Lacking military service, knowledge, and experience, we have a military historian whose actual expertise is that of a layman. While Hart is quite critical of British policies and even British officers, he does not go far enough in describing the jealousies, back-biting, and deliberate undermining, not to mention the command “style” of the British Army of that time.
Two in-depth studies of the Gallipoli campaign were done, at the U.S. Naval War College in 1994, and at the U.S. Marine Command and Staff College in 2005. Both these studies, done by professional military men who fully understand the “operational art”, concluded that Hamilton’s plan, while overly complex given the communications technology in 1915, was sound, or as sound as any plan could be that had to be put together in only 42 days. The failure lay in its execution.
Those failures can be attributed to a number of high ranking British officers, including Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War in 1915, Lieut. General Sir John Maxwell, who commanded British forces in Egypt, and Major General Hunter-Weston, who commanded the British 29th Division that landed at Cape Helles. Although Winston Churchill was disgraced, he alone was not the culprit.
Hart is severely critical of General Sir Ian Hamilton’s entire plan, saying “He had intended to confuse Liman (von Sanders, the German officer responsibly for defense) to prevent him from concentrating the Turkish forces against the landings, but in doing so he failed to concentrate his own forces, which left them vulnerable to defeat in detail…
Here, Hart must be referring to the distance from Cape Helles to Anzac Cove. While it’s true that the forces landing at Cape Helles were too far away to support the Anzac landing, that was not the purpose of that landing in any case. Like the demonstration by the Royal Naval Division at Bulair, the Anzac landing was intended to tie up Turkish forces and keep them from reinforcing at the point of the main attack, Cape Helles.
Had the forces at Cape Helles been spread out over 10-20 miles, Hart's statement might be true. But, as any map of the area
will show, the entire width of the peninsula, from X Beach at the West, to V Beach in the Southeast, was little more than 3,000 yards, a bit less than 2 miles. The distance from X Beach to Y Beach was possibly 3 mile. Even in 1915, without motorized or mechanized equipment, these distances were entirely close enough for adjacent units to support others, had the operational commander, MG Hunter-Weston, been in a position to know what was going on in his own 29th Division.
Hart also hangs his “destined to fail” hat on a lack of surprise. “Although surprise is usually critical to any successful campaign, in this case at a strategic level, it was meekly surrendered by allowing small-scale naval attacks months before the main assault.
But, what did Liman Von Sanders have to say? “From the many pale faces among the officers reporting in the early morning, it became apparent that although a hostile landing had been expected with certainty, a landing at so many places surprised many and filled them with apprehension…It seemed improbable to me that extensive landings would take place at all these places, but we could not discern at the moment where the enemy was actually seeking the decision.
He immediately ordered the Turkish troops encamped near Gallipoli town to march north. It wasn’t until late that afternoon that he finally realized the actions of the RND constituted a feint. Though he ultimately sent five battalions south to reinforce when he learned of the Cape Helles landings, it would take another day before he began sending the bulk of his forces. “Hamilton achieved his goal of obtaining 48 hours for his main attack.
This is not to argue that Hamilton’s plan was not flawed. He also failed to provide for any contingency short of complete failure and withdrawal. He did not establish a reserve force. However, at that time, a reserve was principally used to reinforce failure, rather than to exploit success.
While it may not have made any difference in the long run, Hamilton’s lack of sufficient forces to constitute a reserve was, in part, the work of Maxwell in Egypt. On several occasions, Hamilton had asked Kitchener for a brigade of Gurkhas.
“25th March, 1915. H.M.S. "Franconia." At Sea. To K. himself I have written backing up my cable and begging for a Brigade of Gurkhas. Really, it is like going up to a tiger and asking for a small slice of venison: I remember only too well his warning not to make his position impossible by pressing for troops, etc., but Egypt is not England; the Westerners don't want the Gurkhas who are too short to fit into their trenches and, last but not least, our landing is not going to be the simple, row-as-you-please he once pictured. The situation in fact, is not in the least what he supposed it to be when I started; therefore, I am justified, I think, in making this appeal:--‘I am very anxious, if possible, to get a Brigade of Gurkhas, so as to complete the New Zealand Divisional organisation with a type of man who will, I am certain, be most valuable on the Gallipoli Peninsula… As you may imagine, I have no wish to ask for anything the giving of which would seriously weaken our hold on Egypt, but you will remember that four Mounted Brigades belonging to Birdwood's force are being left behind to look after the land of the Pharaohs, and a Mounted Brigade for a battalion seems a fair exchange’.”
“2nd April, 1915. Alexandria. Now (in the train on my way back to Alexandria) I must have one more try at K. about these Gurkhas! My official cable and letter asking for the Gurkha Brigade have fallen upon stony ground. No notice of any sort has been vouchsafed to my modest request. Has any action been taken upon them? Possibly the matter has been referred to Maxwell for opinion? If so, he has said nothing about it, which does not promise well.”
“6th April, 1915. Alexandria. Maxwell left at 4 p.m. for Cairo. I have pressed him hard about Cox's
Indian Brigade and told him of my conversation with Cox himself and of how keen all ranks of the Brigade are to come. No use. He expects, so he says, a big attack on the Canal any moment; he has heard nothing from K.; the fact that K. has ignored my direct appeal to him shows he would not approve, etc., etc., etc… Two things are quite certain; the Brigade are not wanted in Egypt. Old campaigners versed in Egyptian war lore tell me that the drying up of the wells must put the lid on to any move across the desert until the winter rains, and, apart from this, how in the name of the beard of their own false
prophet can the Turks attack Egypt whilst we are at the gates of Constantinople?...But if the Brigade are not wanted on the Canal, we are bound to be the better for them at the Dardanelles, whatever course matters there may take. Concentration is the cue!...Phoned Maxwell last thing telling him to be sure not to forget to jog K.'s elbow about Cox and his Gurkhas.”
In actuality, on March 12th, even before Hamilton’s first message of March 25th, Kitchener had messaged Maxwell: “
You should also supply any troops in Egypt that can be spared, or even selected officers or men that Sir Ian Hamilton may want, for Gallipoli…This telegram should be communicated by you to Sir Ian Hamilton. Something of a mystery has been created about the fate of this message, which
was never forwarded to Hamilton.
On March 4th, Maxwell had reported to London that the stories of Turkish preparations in the Sinai were “all bluff”. “They were short of coal, they are badly off for aircraft, and rain pools within 20 miles of the Canal (Suez) were drained. Three weeks, however, had wrought a remarkable revival in Maxwell’s estimation of the Turk menace to Egypt.
 In a telegram to Kitchener on April 6th, he painted a black portrait of an imminent attack on the Canal. On April 11th, he was writing Kitchener again, that “the Turks are up to some devilment on the Canal.
From then on, whenever Hamilton directly or indirectly sought troops from Maxwell, the Turks mysteriously became active in the Sinai Desert. Even when, as in the case of General Cox’s Indian Brigade and the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, Kitchener came down on Hamilton’s side, Maxwell released the troops with ill grace and predictions of “disaster on the Canal”.
As it finally transpired, when the Indian Brigade arrived on May 1st, it consisted of the 14th Sikhs, the 69th and 89th Punjabis, and the 1/6th Gurkhas. “But the 69th and 89th Punjabis contained two companies of Muslim troops, and General Cox declined to accept responsibility for their loyalty against the Turks. The men were accordingly detailed for supply work on the beaches, and the strength of the Indian Brigade was reduced by a quarter.
”  That is exactly why Hamilton had specifically asked for Gurkhas. This is not to say that, had Hamilton had the Gurkhas on April 25th, he would have used them as a reserve. It’s simply to illustrate the manner in which British officers of the time sought to deliberately undermine their fellow officers.
But, leaving aside Maxwell’s apparent perfidy, it was both the manner in which British “command culture” prevailing at that point in history, and the almost negligent lack of proper command of Hunter-Weston, that caused the plan to fail in its execution. Orders were orders, with little or no allowances made for flexibility, innovation, or initiative on the part of subordinate commanders. And, it was simply not considered
for a superior to step in and direct a subordinate to change his plan, even when that plan was seen to be failing.
Hamilton’s command philosophy, based on his experience as a junior officer, was not to interfere once the battle was joined. He also saw himself as a consensus builder, rather than an authoritarian. “As an operational artist, Hamilton had four major shortcomings that became evident as his plan unfolded.
First, he assumed his General Staff and all his commanders were capable, knew his intent, and would therefore do everything possible to achieve it. As a result, he did a poor job supervising, in spite of
having many reasons to question his assumptions.
Second, because he felt he had to succeed, he inadequately considered what he would do if he did not.
Third, he over-estimated his capabilities in relation to the Turks and,
Fourth, he tended to be more concerned with not upsetting Kitchener than accomplishing his mission.
Parts of his plan worked as envisioned, but it was things that went wrong during the execution that would reveal how these shortcomings weakened his plan. These turned out to be major failings, but are understandable when viewed through the prism of the times.
Hunter-Weston, commanding the British 29th Division, had a one-dimensional, unimaginative approach to problem solving, and would prove entirely incapable of handling the complexities of five different beach heads (designated "S, V, W, X, and Y"). “
Instead of following Hamilton's intent of using all five beaches to overwhelm the Turks like flowing water,
Hunter-Weston desired a more "set piece" scheme of maneuver. He therefore divided and assigned his covering force to land on the center three beaches. After landing, they were to link together and then push forward. The forces landing on the outside beaches were to defend the flanks until joined by the advancing covering force. Hamilton had wanted these forces to attack, not to defend, thereby enveloping the Turks defending against the center beaches
The British attack at Cape Helles was falling upon under 1,000 Turks, the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Regiment. At “Y” Beach, 2,000 British troops of the King’s Own Scottish Borders, one company of the South Wales Borderers, and the Plymouth Battalion of Marines, landed with no resistance at all. It was intended to threaten communications with the Turkish advance parties at the tip of the peninsula. They were to move inland and then link up with the forces at “X” Beach. By 6:00 a.m. they were comfortably established. “The area was so devoid of defenders that one officer walked two miles inland without seeing a single Turk.
” Hart, however, derides this landing as Hamilton’s “pet project.
At “X” Beach, a picquet of 12 hapless Turks had been stupefied by the bombardment laid down by the
, and had offered no resistance; by 6:30 a.m. the covering force of two companies of the Royal Fusiliers had scaled the cliffs without suffering a single casualty, and the boats were hastening back to the transports to pick up the main force. Had the “X” Beach detachment looked to their east, they might have seen the three companies of the South Wales Borderers encamped on the further extremity of Morto Bay, having landed successfully at “S” Beach.”
The British landing on "V' beach, at Sedd El Bahr, met with disaster. Naval guns fired an hour long
preliminary bombardment and then stopped. Landing craft along with the merchant ship River Clyde, converted to land troops, then began moving slowly together towards the beach. Turkish defenders, who had withdrawn from their positions because of the naval bombardment, returned to deliver lethal fire on the landing British. Only a few soldiers got safely ashore to find protection behind a small escarpment. The British suffered hundreds of casualties and hundreds more remained trapped aboard the merchant ship. Weston-Hunter, completely unaware of the situation, sent a second wave in, only to get even more badly mauled. Naval gunfire could not assist because of the proximity of the friendly soldiers. That night, using the cover of darkness, the British finally unloaded the River Clyde and overran the Turkish defenders. “A breakout could have happened earlier if British soldiers, idle at "S" beach a mile away, had been sent to envelop the defenders at "V' beach. Neither Hunter- Weston nor Hamilton thought to do this.
The forces landing at “W” Beach found themselves in a fire sack. “Naval bombardment, with its flat trajectory, proved ineffective against the Turkish positions located north on high ground.”
 In spite of this, the situation facing the Turks was far worse. The force from “X” Beach had beaten off the counterattack, reinforcements were coming ashore, and the Turkish commander had no reserves left. “At about 11:30 a.m., men from the Essex Regiment had joined up with a detachment of the Royal Fusiliers from “X”. The Turks in the area were now outflanked and outnumbered by over 10 to 1.
It is here that Hunter-Weston proved to be incapable of managing more than one thing at a time. Although heavy fire could be heard coming from “V” Beach, Hunter-Weston was completely unaware. It would have taken less than five minutes for the Euryalus
, where he was headquartered, to steam to “V” to enable him to see for himself what was happening. “It was not until about 12:30 that a brave officer, Captain Farmer, climbed to a position on the right from where he could see “V” Beach. His report did not reach the Colonel who had taken over “W” Beach operations until 1:10 p.m. and was not received aboard Euryalus until 1:30 p.m. And, thus it was that Hunter-Weston received news of the action at “V” Beach, only a few minutes sailing away, seven hours after the battle was joined at 6:30 a.m.
This is not, however, meant to excuse Hamilton’s failure as an operational commander. Like Hunter-Weston aboard Euryalus
, Hamilton firmly ensconced himself aboard the
, a ship not designed as a command and control vessel. “It has been suggested that he should have put himself aboard some fast detached command vessel, like the Phaeton, with adequate signaling equipment.
While it may be understandable that he wanted to be co-located with his Naval commander, Admiral de Rebock, during the ship-to-shore movement and initial operations ashore, an operational commander must position himself to intercede when things go clearly wrong. Even from the
, Hamilton could tell that the landings along Cape Helles were being bungled. He also knew the potential of the successful landing at "Y" beach.
Here, his command style failed him. Rather than ordering Hunter-Weston to shift forces to “Y” Beach, Hamilton simply asked, “Would you like to get some more men ashore at “Y” Beach? If so, trawlers available.
In Military Misfortunes The Anatomy of Failure in War
, the authors described a C-in-C’s critical failure to adapt to a changing military circumstance. Cohen and Gooch accurately described General Hamilton’s critical failure to set conditions for the reserve to exploit or adapt to an opportunity, such as at “Y” Beach. ‘The C-in-C’s shortcomings did not build any flexibility within employed amphibious forces or an operational reserve, resulting in a systemic organizational weakness to adapt to the changing military situation at Gallipoli.
On a positive note, this book does break new ground in the scholarship relating to this campaign. It should put to rest the 100 year old “inadequate maps” reason always cited for the failure at Gallipoli. The author provides extensive examples showing that the maps available were at least as good as those carried by platoon and company commanders at Normandy in WW II.
“Although the maps in Hamilton’s possession were not good, they were at least adequate for the purposes of operational planning. He had a 1:63,360 map which had been prepared in 1908 (based on an older 1:50,000 map from a French survey in 1854), while additional information had been incorporated to create a 1:40,000 enlargement in March 1915. There were inadequacies in the methodology of the original French survey…However, nothing much had changed on the peninsula in the last sixty years…After all, the main features were present on the maps.
In fact, Hart goes on to suggest that the problem might not have been with the maps, but with the map readers. From the memoirs of one Captain Bertram Smith, “The military history refers to the surprise of many soldiers at the unexpected sharpness of the many ravines; but on looking at my copy of the map, which I have kept, the contour lines seem to have indicated this fairly clearly. As a matter of fact, good map-reading is not common, and many Army officers are, or were, bad at it.
The author goes on to point out that “while there were no maps accurate enough to be relied on to allow indirect artillery or naval fire ‘shooting off the map’ at Gallipoli, they were not available for the Western Front either in 1915.
In checking with retired Marine Captain Dale Dye, technical advisor on the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers”, regarding the maps available at Normandy, he stated that, during production he was given access to some of the original maps used in the invasion and that, once the Allied forces left the beaches and entered the bocage country, all they had to rely on were aerial photos. There were no 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 maps of that part of France, maps of the scale needed by small unit commanders.
In his work, Hart displays an air of omniscience that does not comport with the accepted norms of historiography. His pronouncements are made as if he simply expects his reader to agree with his opinions without question and move on. As stated previously, the only reason to continue reading after the Preface is to judge whether the author has empirically proven his case - that Gallipoli was doomed to failure before it began, that Britain should have known in early 1915 that the only place worth fighting was the Western Front, and that she should have turned her back on Russia.
This reviewer does not believe those assertions have been proven. Stating that
an ally should simply refuse to help another is absurd on its face. In fact, in
so doing Hart completely neglects the fact that, had Lenin and the Bolsheviks
not taken Russia out of the war, the conflict might have ultimately been decided
on the Eastern Front, by sheer weight of numbers. Therefore, stating that the
outcome of the war would only be determined in France assumes clairvoyance. But,
it is in his failure to account for the successes that were not exploited that
he misstates the case.
Hamilton’s deception plan worked as intended. Three of the five landings at Cape Helles met little resistance. In fact, only two Turkish battalions and one company of engineers stood between Cape Helles and Achi Baba. The division probably would have achieved its assigned objective if only Hunter-Weston had understood Hamilton's operational idea and communicated it to his Brigade commanders.
Opportunities were squandered due to lack of direction.
For example, when the British covering force eventually broke through the initial defenses that night, they paused. The Turks were, at the time, in complete disarray. Hunter-Weston’s commanders wanted to prepare for a counterattack instead of seizing valuable terrain while the Allies still outnumbered the Turks. Hamilton failed to intervene because he assumed Hunter-Weston had a better appreciation of the situation, and assumed he understood what to do. Hamilton assumed too much.
As a result, the single critical breakdown in Hamilton's operational art occurred. Hamilton's unwillingness to supervise, both during the planning and execution phases, denied him the one mechanism for determining how well his plan was being implemented. Without supervision, he could not reassess - something an operational commander must continually do if he is to optimize his plan. Also, a commander must consider not only the capabilities of each of his units but the leadership abilities of each unit's commander as well. Both affect combat power.
For example, if Hamilton had considered the leadership of his commanders, he might have given the main attack to the more offensive minded Birdwood. Instead, Hunter-Weston was given a task beyond his ability. Hamilton needed only to listen to his own misgivings or have read Hunter-Weston’s published orders (that concentrated almost exclusively on the landing operations) to realize that
Hunter-Weston did not adequately understand how important moving immediately inland was to the overall scheme.
For those who study History, George Santayana’s famous saying from The Life of Reason
is oft quoted “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
” But, Santayana wasn't finished. He went on to say: “History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. Memory itself is an internal rumour, and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe.
It must be remembered that History is not “what happened”. It is what a particular author “says” happened. Readers of History must always guard against being “steered” toward a particular conclusion.
Written by LtCol Richard Beil USMC (Ret.). If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Richard Beil at:
LtCol Rich Beil served 30 years in the Marine Corps, as an enlisted Infantryman and as an Artillery officer.
Following his retirement, he obtained a Masters degree and taught American History for Ranger and Central Texas Colleges.
He is a member of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.