The Naval Operations Flag and Falter—Direct and Indirect Bombardment—Fire of the Queen Elizabeth—Difficulties of Sweeping the Minefields—Sir Ian Hamilton Appointed Commander-in-Chief—His Instructions from Lord Kitchener—Increasing Desire for Military Action—Its Risks and Hopes—Lord Kitchener’s Decision—The Opportunity for Reviewing the Whole Position—A Chance to break off before further Commitment—General Wish for Resolute Action—Admiralty Telegrams to Vice-Admiral Carden—All Preparations for a Serious Attack—Admiral Carden’s Illness—Admiral de Robeck appointed in his stead—The Eve of March 18.
While the attention of so many States, great and small, was riveted upon the Dardanelles, and while so many profound and far-reaching reactions were occurring over the whole field of the war, the naval operations which had produced these great effects began to falter and to flag. From March 3 onwards the progress of Admiral Carden’s attack became continually slower. The weather was frequently unsuitable to long-range firing, our seaplanes in those early days were neither numerous nor very efficient, the co-ordination of the gunnery and the observation, though based on sound principles, was in practice primitive through lack of experience. The mobile howitzers which began to fire in larger numbers each day from both sides of the Straits harassed the bombarding ships and forced them to keep on the move. Landing parties sent ashore on March 4 met with much stiffer resistance, and failed to reach the forts. The attempts to sweep up the minefields encountered considerable and increasing Turkish fire from field guns well directed by searchlights. The mine-sweeping trawlers which had been provided for this service proved inadequate for so severe a task. The ordeal was very trying to their erstwhile civilian personnel who, though familiar with mines, had never previously encountered artillery fire.
Three separate and successive bombardments were made between March 2 and March 8 upon the Turkish forts constituting the inner defences of the Dardanelles.
First, on the 2nd and 3rd the Canopus, Swiftsure, Cornwallis, Albion, Triumph and Prince George at different times bombarded various forts, Fort Dardanos (8) receiving the main fire. The forts were silenced, but as the ships were kept moving sometimes in circles by the howitzer fire, no guns were hit. Altogether 121 12-inch shells were fired. No definite conclusions could be formed as to the effect of the fire, but the expenditure of ammunition was considered serious.
The method was now changed. On March 5 the Queen Elizabeth began the indirect bombardment of the forts at the Narrows. She was stationed outside the Straits two miles from Gaba Tepe and fired across the peninsula. During the day thirty-three 15-inch shells were fired, twenty-eight at Fort 13 and five at Fort 17. Everything depended upon the arrangements for spotting the fall of the shots. This was provided so far as possible by three seaplanes and by three battleships (Irresistible, Canopus and Cornwallis) manœuvring inside the Straits at right angles to the line of fire. Spotting for elevation by the ships was comparatively easy, but they were from their position unable to spot for direction. This depended upon the seaplanes, and for this all-important purpose our seaplane force was found inadequate. The first machine sent up crashed owing to the propeller bursting at 3,000 feet. The second machine was forced to descend after being hit six times by rifle bullets and the pilot wounded. The third machine gave one correction only.
The indirect bombardment was continued on March 6. By this time the Turks had brought up small guns and howitzers on the Gallipoli Peninsula which fired upon the Queen Elizabeth, causing her to increase her range to 20,000 yards. The old Turkish battleship Barbarossa also opened fire upon her with her 11-inch guns from inside the Straits off Maidos. None of our ships were damaged, although all were hit on several occasions by the howitzers and field guns.
The results of the firing are now known to be as follows:—Fort 13 was hit eleven times and Fort 17 about seven times. The barracks in rear of both these forts were destroyed and one magazine was hit. No guns were damaged, but the firing, coming from an unprotected angle, had a disturbing effect on the Turkish guns’ crews. Had aeroplane observation been possible, there is little doubt that great damage would have been done to the forts, and with a sufficient expenditure of ammunition every gun might have been smashed. The forts were quite unprotected from this direction, and each gun and mounting presented a maximum target. The instruction contained in the original Admiralty orders about the sparing use of ammunition and the inadequate arrangements for observation from the air led to a premature discontinuance of this form of attack. This was a great pity. The long-range bombardment by the Queen Elizabeth was one of the prime features in the naval plan. Good supplies of ammunition were available for the 15-inch guns, but the Admiralty did not give permission to draw upon these till after March 18. The rule about economy therefore stood. It would have been possible in a few weeks to reinforce and improve the aerial spotting, and this was, in fact, done. The principle underlying the use of the Queen Elizabeth against the forts, as embodied in the original Admiralty plan, was sound. The failure was due to the restriction on the expenditure of ammunition and to the inadequate aerial observation. Both these were subsequently remedied, but meanwhile the method had itself been precipitately condemned and was never resumed.
The attack by indirect fire being assumed to have failed, direct attacks upon the forts at the Narrows were resumed on March 7 by the Agamemnon and Lord Nelson at ranges of from 12,000 to 13,000 yards. The French squadron also engaged Forts 7 and 8. The day was inconclusive. On the 8th the Queen Elizabeth, aided by the Canopus, Cornwallis and Irresistible renewed the attack. The light was bad owing to rain squalls, and low clouds prevented seaplane observation. All the ships came under the usual howitzer fire, which however did them no serious harm. The forts were apparently silenced, but the Turks claim that they were reserving their ammunition for shorter ranges, and that they ceased firing to clear the guns of grit and debris thrown up by the exploded shells in their vicinity.
The operations continued till the 12th with fitful bombardments and tentative attempts to sweep the minefields. During these days I began to doubt whether there was sufficient determination behind the attack. In one of his telegrams, for instance, the Admiral reported that the minesweepers had been driven back by heavy fire which, he added, had caused no casualties. Considering what was happening on the Western Front and the desperate tasks and fearful losses which were accepted almost daily by the allied troops, I could not but feel disquieted by an observation of this kind. In further telegrams the Admiral explained the difficulties, and that he was reorganizing his mine-sweeping service with regular naval personnel. This reorganization was not, however, complete until a much later period in the operations. Meanwhile, although several further determined attempts were made, happily not attended by heavy losses the minefields remained substantially intact.
It was clear that a much more vehement effort must be made.
The appointment of a military Commander-in-Chief for the forces assembling in the Eastern Mediterranean and his despatch to the scene of operations was long overdue. By the end of the first week in March Lord Kitchener had virtually decided to select Sir Ian Hamilton, who was at that time in command of the Central Force at home. He did not, however, reveal his purpose to this officer until the morning of the 12th, when he sent for him and observed laconically: ‘We are sending a military force to support the Fleet now at the Dardanelles, and you are to have command.’
Waiting for this decision, delayed without reason day after day, while troops and events were swiftly moving forward, had been very trying to me and to Lord Fisher. The concentration of transports had been timed for the 18th, and a host of intricate and imperious questions connected with the feeding, watering and organization of large numbers of men and animals were impending at Mudros. The French Division was also on the sea and looking to us for directions and arrangements. All questions of the use of the troops were additional to these administrative problems. On the other hand, Lord Kitchener showed himself restive under repeated enquiries, and was prompt to resent anything that looked like pressure or forcing his hand. We were anxious to have whatever troops he would send on the spot as soon as possible, and great tact was necessary. It was not until the 11th that I was sure he had decided upon Sir Ian Hamilton. I immediately ordered a special train for the afternoon of the 12th in case it should be wanted.
Mr. Churchill to the Prime Minister.
March 11, 1915, midnight.
The First Sea Lord and I attach the greatest importance to Ian Hamilton getting to Lemnos at the earliest possible moment. The naval operations may at any moment become dependent on military assistance. In view of the exertions we are making we think we are entitled to a good military opinion as to the use of whatever forces may be available.
…I trust you will be able to represent this to Kitchener.
Too much time has been lost already for nothing.
Lord Kitchener to Mr. Churchill.
March 12, 1915.
Hamilton cannot leave until we have thoroughly studied the situation with which he may be confronted. I hope we will get him off Saturday night. ‘More haste less speed.’
Sir Ian Hamilton to Mr. Churchill.
March 12, 1915.
Just back from a three hours’ talk at the War Office. Lord K. has decided I start to-morrow at 5 p.m. I fought hard for to-day, but as the first idea was that I must wait a full fortnight, to-morrow is something in gain of time….
I must not in loyalty tell you too much of my War Office conversation, but I see I shall need some courage in stating my opinions, as well as in attacking the enemy; also that the Cabinet will not be quite eye to eye whatever I may have to say.
The following were the salient points from Lord Kitchener’s written instructions to Sir Ian Hamilton:—
‘(1) The Fleet have undertaken to force the passage of the Dardanelles. The employment of military forces on any large scale for land operations at this juncture is only contemplated in the event of the Fleet failing to get through after every effort has been exhausted.
‘(2) Before any serious undertaking is carried out in the Gallipoli Peninsula, all the British military forces detailed for the expedition should be assembled so that their full weight can be thrown in.
‘(3) Having entered on the project of forcing the Straits, there can be no idea of abandoning the scheme. It will require time, patience and methodical plans of co-operation between the naval and military commanders. The essential point is to avoid a check which will jeopardize our chances of strategical and political success.
‘(4) This does not preclude the probability of minor operations being engaged upon to clear areas occupied by the Turks with guns annoying the Fleet or for demolition of forts already silenced by the Fleet. But such minor operations should be as much as possible restricted to the forces necessary to achieve the object in view, and should as far as practicable not entail permanent occupation of positions on the Gallipoli Peninsula.’
Whatever military criticisms may be levelled at these instructions, they represented fairly all that had been settled by the War Council up to that moment. With these instructions in his pocket, and accompanied by a small group of Staff officers appointed during the preceding day, and now meeting for the first time, Sir Ian Hamilton left Charing Cross for the Dardanelles on the evening of March 13. The thirty-knot light cruiser, Phaeton, awaited him under steam at Marseilles and carried him at full speed to the Dardanelles by the morning of the 17th.
The increasing perplexities of the naval attack and the surprising ease with which the small parties of Marines had been landed at the end of February upon the Peninsula made the immediate employment of troops very tempting both at the Admiralty and on the spot. On March 11 Sir Henry Jackson sent the following Minute to the Chief of the Staff:—
Chief of Staff.
Admiral Carden’s Report. No. 194 of the 10th instant, on the progress of operations in the Dardanelles, shows he has made good progress, but that his operations are now greatly retarded by concealed batteries of howitzers, and that their effects are now as formidable as the heavy guns in the permanent batteries. He also states that demolition parties are essential to render the guns useless. The enemy’s military forces have prevented this work from being effectually completed at the entrance, and they will be in even a better position to prevent it further up the Straits.
These points have all been foreseen, and a small military force supplied to deal with them, but the Vice-Admiral was instructed not to risk this force on shore in positions where they cannot be covered by ships’ guns without further reference to the Admiralty.
The position has considerably changed recently; there are now ample military forces ready at short notice for co-operation with him, if necessary, and I suggest the time has arrived to make use of them.
To advance further with a rush over unswept minefields and in waters commanded at short range by heavy guns, howitzers and torpedo tubes, must involve serious losses in ships and men, and will not achieve the object of making the Straits a safe waterway for the transports. The Gallipoli Peninsula must be cleared of the enemy’s artillery before this is achieved, and its occupation is a practical necessity before the Straits are safe for the passage of troops as far as the Sea of Marmora.
I suggest the Vice-Admiral be asked if he considers the time has now arrived to make use of military forces to occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula, and clear away the enemy artillery on that side—an operation he would support with his squadrons.
With the Peninsula in our possession, the concealed batteries on the Asiatic side, which are less formidable, could be dealt with more easily from the heights on shore than by ships’ guns afloat, and the troops should be of great assistance in the demolition of the fortresses’ guns.
This minute reveals a certain confusion of thought.
No one had ever suggested advancing ‘with a rush over unswept minefields,’ etc., and the whole of the plans to the detailed shaping of which Sir Henry Jackson had devoted so much study, proceeded upon exactly the opposite principle. In fact, the distinction between the ‘rushing’ and the ‘piecemeal reduction’ was the whole foundation of the naval policy. One would have expected not to encounter such expressions at this stage from this quarter. The alternative was not between a naval ‘rush’ and a considerable military landing, but between such a landing and further perseverance in the naval plan of gradual advance, or in a combination of these two.
It was difficult to judge the prospects of a military landing at this juncture. No one knew what troops the Turks had on the spot. Vice-Admiral Carden had stated in his telegram of February 23 that ‘the garrison of the Gallipoli Peninsula is about 40,000 men.’ This was also the working basis assumed by the War Office. We now know that the force actually in the Peninsula at this date was under 20,000, scattered along the coast in small parties without supports or reserves. It seems probable that if the 29th Division had been on the spot in fighting order, it could have been landed with whatever troops were sent from Egypt, at this period without severe loss, and could have occupied very important and probably decisive positions. Thereafter the force landed would have had to sustain heavy and increasing Turkish attack. But there is no reason why they should not have held their ground, and they could have been continually reinforced from Egypt, and later from England, at a far greater rate than the enemy. The possession of the vital observation-point of Achi Baba would have enabled the indirect naval fire to be directed with the utmost accuracy upon the forts at the Narrows. Heavy guns and howitzers, including our new 15-inch howitzers, could also have been landed and brought into action against them at effective ranges. In these circumstances the destruction of the forts within a reasonable time was certain, and the passage of the fleet into the Marmora must have followed. The use of troops on this scale would however have involved a new and serious decision. It meant nothing less than beginning a new campaign, and this would have had to be balanced against further perseverance in the purely naval attack which had not yet been pressed to any conclusion.
I thought it right, without pronouncing an opinion myself, to ask Lord Kitchener for a formal statement of the War Office view upon Sir Henry Jackson’s minute. His reply was only what I expected.
March 13, 1915.
In answer to your question, unless it is found that our estimate of the Ottoman strength on the Gallipoli Peninsula is exaggerated and the position on the Kilid Bahr Plateau less strong that anticipated, no operations on a large scale should be attempted until the 29th Division has arrived and is ready to take part in what is likely to prove a difficult undertaking, in which severe fighting must be anticipated.
I do not criticize this decision. It seemed the wisest open in the circumstances. The error lay earlier. Had the 29th Division been sent as originally decided from February 22 onwards, it would have reached the scene by the middle of March instead of three weeks later. Had it been packed on the transports in order of battle, it would have gone into action within a few days of its arrival. All the other troops allocated to this theatre were either conveyed to Lemnos from England or France or were waiting with transports alongside at Alexandria by March 17 or 18. From the 20th onwards they were all available (so far as sea transport was concerned) for an operation upon the Gallipoli Peninsula. The concentration of all troops allotted, including the French Division, was effected as promised by the Admiralty punctually to the date named, namely, March 17. The naval attack reached its culminating point on the 18th. No large Turkish reinforcements had yet reached the Peninsula. But without the 29th Division, the army could do nothing. This was the vital key division, the sole regular division, whose movements and arrival governed everything. Therefore four-fifths of the force assigned to this theatre were concentrated punctually as arranged, and the indispensable remaining fifth, without which they could not act, was three weeks behind them. Thus they were all rendered useless.
By the middle of March we had therefore reached a turning point not only in the naval operations but in the whole enterprise. Hitherto no serious risks have been run, no losses have been sustained, and no important forces deeply engaged. The original Carden plan of gradual piecemeal reduction has been pursued. It has not failed, but it has lagged, and it is now so feebly pressed as almost to be at a standstill. Meanwhile, time is passing. Nearly a month has gone since we opened fire. What are the Turks doing? Clearly they must be reinforcing, fortifying, laying new mines, erecting new torpedo-tubes, mounting new guns under the organizing energy of their German instructors. What have the Germans themselves been doing? It would probably take about a month to send submarines from the Elbe to the Ægean. Have they been sent? Are they on their way? How far off are they? They may be very near. This was a rapidly growing anxiety. It was also a spur. Surely now the moment has been reached to review the whole position and policy. Surely this is the very moment foreseen from the beginning when, ‘if matters did not go as we hoped, if the resistance of the forts proved too strong,’ we could, if we chose, break off the operation. Observe we could, in fact, do it in a moment. One gesture with the wand, and the whole armada assembled at the Dardanelles, or moving thither—battleships, cruisers, destroyers, trawlers, supply ships, transports—would melt and vanish away. Evening would close on a mighty Navy engaged in a world-arresting attack; and the sun might rise on empty seas and silent shores.
Further, was not this the moment to consider alternatives. The prolonged bombardment of the Dardanelles had assuredly drawn continually increasing Turkish forces to the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Asiatic shore. Guns, ammunition supplies of every kind, with which the Turks were so ill-provided, had been scraped and dragged from every other point, or were on the move. Moreover, the Russians had, by a brilliant effort, largely restored the situation in the Caucasus. The British and French troops now on the sea might not be strong enough to land and storm the plateaus and ridges of Gallipoli. But no one could doubt their ability to take and hold Alexandretta—thus cutting from the Turkish Empire one vast portion, severing the communications of their army threatening Egypt, and intercepting the stream of sorely needed supplies and foodstuffs from the East. For such a descent, the Dardanelles operations were the best of all preliminaries—a sincere feint.
On me these considerations made no impression. I knew them all and I rejected them all. I was unswervingly set upon the main enterprise. I believed that if we tried hard enough we could force the Dardanelles, and that if we succeeded in this a truly decisive victory would have been gained. But where were the admirals, generals and statesmen, who did not share these clear-cut conclusions, who had doubts—had always had doubts about the feasibility of the operation, about the margin of the Grand Fleet, about the utility of operations in the Eastern theatre! Here surely was the time for them. Here surely was the time for Lord Fisher. He could say with perfect propriety and consistency, ‘We have given the Carden plan a good trial. I never liked it much. It has not come off: but it has been a very good demonstration; it has fooled the Turks; it has helped the Russians; it has cost us practically nothing—now let us break off altogether or turn to something else.’ Later on in April, when we were far more deeply committed, had suffered palpable loss and rebuff, and could not withdraw without great injury to our war prestige, suggestions of this kind were indeed made. But now it was certainly an arguable policy to close the account, and in a naval sense it was the easiest thing in the world to do.
But what happened? So far from wishing to break off the operation, the First Sea Lord was never at any time so resolute in its support. He assented willingly and cordially to the new decision which was now taken to change the gradual tentative limited-liability advance into a hard, determined and necessarily hazardous attack. He approved the momentous Admiralty telegrams which I now drafted after full discussions in our War Group, and, of course, with continuous reference to the Prime Minister. He even offered to go out and hoist his flag and take command at the Dardanelles himself, saying that the responsibility was so great that it could only be borne by the highest authority. Subsequently, although it greatly complicated his position, Lord Fisher himself informed the Dardanelles Commissioners of this fact in a very frank and chivalrous manner.
So far as the other responsible authorities cited in these pages were concerned, no sign of disagreement was manifested. Sir Arthur Wilson, Sir Henry Jackson, Admiral Oliver, Commodore de Bartolomé all were united and agreed to press on and to press hard. The Ministers seemed equally decided. War Office and Foreign Office were eager and hopeful. The Prime Minister did not even think it necessary to summon a council and put the point to them. I have never concealed my opinion. I rejoiced to find so much agreement and force gathering behind the enterprise. My only complaint has been that this high resolve was not carried through by all parties to a definite conclusion.
What was the explanation of this unity and resolution? The vision of victory had lighted the mental scene. The immense significance of the Dardanelles and of the city which lay beyond had possessed all minds. The whole combination which had been dispersed by Russia on March 6 was still latent. The attitude of Italy, of Bulgaria, of Roumania, of Greece absorbed attention. Every one’s blood was up. There was a virile readiness to do and dare. All the will-power and cohesion necessary to mount and launch a great operation by sea and land were now forthcoming. But alas, a month too late!
On the Admiralty War Group all were agreed upon the following telegram to Admiral Carden.
Admiralty to Vice-Admiral Carden.
March 11, 1915, 1.35 p.m.
101. Your 194. Your original instructions laid stress on caution and deliberate methods, and we approve highly the skill and patience with which you have advanced hitherto without loss.
The results to be gained are, however, great enough to justify loss of ships and men if success cannot be obtained without. The turning of the corner at Chanak may decide the whole operation and produce consequences of a decisive character upon the war, and we suggest for your consideration that a point has now been reached when it is necessary, choosing favourable weather conditions to overwhelm the forts at the Narrows at decisive range by the fire of the largest number of guns, great and small, that can be brought to bear upon them. Under cover of this fire the guns at the forts might be destroyed by landing parties, and as much as possible of the minefield swept up. This operation might have to be repeated until all the forts at the Narrows had been destroyed and the approaches cleared of mines.
We do not wish to hurry you or urge you beyond your judgment, but we recognize clearly that at a certain period in your operations you will have to press hard for a decision, and we desire to know whether you consider that point has now been reached. We shall support you in well-conceived action for forcing a decision, even if regrettable losses are entailed.
We wish to hear your views before you take any decisive departure from the present policy.
Vice-Admiral Carden to Admiralty.
March 14, 1915, noon.
Fully concur with the view of Admiralty telegram 101. It is considered stage is reached when vigorous sustained action is necessary for success.
In my opinion military operations on large scale should be commenced immediately in order to ensure my communication line immediately fleet enters Sea of Marmora.
The losses in passing through Narrows may be great; therefore submit that further ships be held in readiness at short notice and additional ammunition be despatched as soon as possible….
Admiralty to Vice-Admiral Carden.
March 15, 1915, 1.40 a.m.
109. You must concert any military operations on a large scale which you consider necessary with General Hamilton when he arrives on Tuesday night. Meanwhile we are asking War Office to send the rest of the two Australian divisions to Mudros Bay at once, thus giving, with the French, approximately 59,000 men available after 18th. This will be confirmed later. 29th Division, 18,000 additional, cannot arrive till April 2.
Secondly, we understand that it is your intention to sweep a good clear passage through the minefields to enable the forts at the Narrows eventually to be attacked at close range, and to cover this operation whether against the forts or [against] the light and movable armament, by whatever fire is necessary from the Battle Fleet, and that this task will probably take several days. After this is completed we understand you intend to engage the forts at the Narrows at decisive range and put them effectually out of action. You will then proceed again at your convenience with the attack on the forts beyond, and any further sweeping operations which may be necessary. If this is your intention, we cordially approve it. We wish it to be pressed forward without hurry, but without loss of time. We do not gather that at this stage you contemplate any attempt to rush the passage without having previously cleared a channel through the mines and destroyed the primary armament of the forts. We wish to be consulted before any operation of such a nature is decided on, and before undertaking it the parts to be played by the army and navy in close co-operation would require careful study, and it might then be found that decisive military action to take the Kilid Bahr plateau would be less costly than a naval rush. You will be informed later about the ammunition, aeroplanes and mine-sweepers.
Vice-Admiral Carden to Admiralty.
March 15, 1915,9.15 a.m.
211. I fully appreciate the situation, and intend, as stated in my telegram of March 14, to vigorously attack fortresses at the Narrows, clearing minefields under cover of attack. Good visibility is essential, and I will take first favourable opportunity. I am requesting Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Squadron, to hold in readiness Triumph, Swiftsure, to join me at short notice….
These two Admiralty telegrams 101 and 109 were very serious messages to send to the fleet. They had the intention among other things of making the Admiral feel that if he made a determined effort to force the passage and suffered very heavy losses, or the whole operation miscarried, the responsibility would rest with his superiors at home. He had only to think of his task and of the enemy in his front.
Everything being settled for the attack, I took two days’ holiday and went to Sir John French’s Headquarters (where I was of course on the direct telephone) to await results. I had no sooner got there than I received a telegram from Vice-Admiral Carden to the Admiralty stating that he had been obliged to go on the sick list under decision of his Medical Officer. He recommended that the conduct of the operations should be entrusted to Vice-Admiral de Robeck who, he said, ‘was well in touch with all the arrangements present and future and has been of the greatest assistance in their preparation.’
This was a disconcerting event. We had arrived at complete understanding with Vice-Admiral Carden. He was the responsible author of the gradual naval attack. He had declared himself in the fullest agreement with the adoption of a more vigorous method. He was deeply engaged in the business, and was bound to fight it through to a conclusion. Now on the eve of battle he had suddenly collapsed. We had to begin again with somebody else. I had become acquainted with Admiral de Robeck during the previous three years. He bore an exceptionally high reputation in the service. He was a good sea officer and a fine disciplinarian. Before the war he had served during my tenure for two years on the East Coast as Admiral of Patrols. I had not always agreed with the schemes which he made in this capacity for dealing with war problems. One could not feel that his training and experience up to this period had led him to think deeply on the larger aspects of strategy and tactics. His character, personality, and zeal inspired confidence in all. The course of events pointed to him as the proper successor of Admiral Carden. He was, it is true, junior in substantive rank to Rear-Admiral Wemyss, now commanding the base at Mudros; but he had been Second-in-Command throughout the operations and had all their threads in his hands. Wemyss also was deeply engaged in the administrative crisis caused by the hourly arrival of the transports containing the Army. To exchange these officers merely on grounds of seniority seemed clearly wrong.
Wemyss himself, with high public spirit spontaneously telegraphed: ‘I am quite prepared to act under the orders of de Robeck if you should think it desirable to promote him. De Robeck and I are in perfect accord and can loyally co-operate whichever way you decide.’ The decision was virtually inevitable. Thus carefully did Destiny pick her footsteps at the Dardanelles.
I deemed it indispensable to come to a complete understanding with Admiral de Robeck and to make sure once and for all that he was in full agreement with the Admiralty and ready to take up the operations from the point at which Vice-Admiral Carden had been forced to relinquish them. I therefore sent, after consulting Lord Fisher, the following telegram from Sir John French’s Headquarters:—
Admiralty to Vice-Admiral de Robeck.
March 17, 1915.
Personal and Secret from First Lord.
In entrusting to you with great confidence the command of the Mediterranean Detached Fleet I presume you are in full accord with Admiralty telegram 101 and Admiralty telegram 109 and Vice-Admiral Carden’s answers thereto, and that you consider, after separate and independent judgment, that the immediate operations proposed are wise and practicable. If not, do not hesitate to say so. If so, execute them without delay and without further reference at the first favourable opportunity. Report fully from day to day. Work in closest harmony with General Hamilton. Make any proposals you think fit for the subordinate commands. Wemyss is your second in command. All good fortune attend you.
Vice-Admiral de Robeck to Admiralty.
March 17, 1915, 10.20 a.m.
First Lord of Admiralty. Secret and Personal.
228. From Vice-Admiral de Robeck. Thank you for your telegram. I am in full agreement with telegrams mentioned. Operations will proceed to-morrow, weather permitting. My view is that everything depends on our ability to clear the minefields for forcing the Narrows, and this necessitates silencing the forts during the process of sweeping. Generals Hamilton and D’Amade and Admiral Wemyss have been on board to-day, and interview entirely satisfactory.
And the next day.
March 18, 1915.
Weather fine. Operations about to begin.