Lifting the Veil at the Dardanelles—The Inner Defences—The Intermediate Defences—The Minefields—Their Combination—Its Vulnerability—The Turkish Ammunition Shortage—British Naval Ammunition Supplies and Reserves—Effects of Gun Fire on the Fleet—Defence by Torpedo-tubes—Defence by Mines Moored and Floating—The New Mine-Sweepers—Deficiencies Remedied—Chances of the Attack—Various Opinions—A German View—The Hard Alternative—General Liman von Sanders’s Account—Formation of the Fifth Turkish Army—Its Labours during April—Surprise and Intensity—The Need of Shells—The Terrible Shortage—Lord Kitchener’s Grim Dilemma—His Failure to Choose.
Up to this point the tale has been told almost entirely in the light of the knowledge of each moment of action. In this chapter we may lift the veil which hangs across the Dardanelles, which separates the contending forces, and divides the present from the future. We feel our own injuries, we count our losses. What are those of the enemy? We are oppressed by our difficulties. What are his? The shining waters of the Straits, the rugged ridges of Gallipoli smile or frown inscrutably upon us. What secrets do they hold? What terrors have they in store? What is the true value at this moment in March, 1915, of these defences before which our Fleet has recoiled, or against which our Army is about to be hurled? In what did their strength and weakness lie? What did the Turks think about them and the prospects of continuing the defence? What did their German masters think? What was the opinion of the enemy commanders and the feeling of their troops? What harm had we done them? How many effective guns had they and how many shells for each? How many torpedo-tubes and torpedoes? How many mines? What were, on the other hand, our own maximum resources had they all been made available? All these questions can now be answered with considerable exactness and certitude.
The Inner Defences of the Dardanelles consisted of ten forts and batteries of varying size and power equally disposed on the European and Asiatic shores, and mounting twenty long modern and fifty-two old short guns of position, together with various smaller pieces. All these guns were mounted in open batteries, were obvious, and were scarcely at all protected.
The old guns would have been effective in firing on a fleet endeavouring to run through the Straits, which at the Narrows are only one mile across. But only the long guns could be used in preventing the fleet from coming to close quarters; and once the fleet had come to close quarters it could certainly overwhelm the batteries and drive the gunners from their posts. It may therefore be said that the gun armament of the forts was limited for all practical purposes to their twenty long primary guns.
Had this been all, the problem would have been comparatively simple. But the forts were themselves protected from close attack by the Intermediate Defences. These defences we knew before the war consisted of fourteen medium modern guns of from 4-inch to 6-inch calibre, mounted in batteries on one side of the Straits or the other, and of three or more batteries of movable field guns. On their entry into the war the Turks realized the necessity of improving the defences of the Straits. They had previously prepared plans providing for the erection of additional coast batteries, for the substitution of modern for old-type guns, for the improvement of fire control and ammunition supply, for the increase in the number and calibre of their minefields and mobile batteries, and for additional minefields, torpedo-tubes, searchlights, range-finders and improved electrical communication for fire-direction and control. Progress was made in all these directions between November and February. These measures were not taken in consequence of our bombardment of November 3, but of the natural policy and prearranged programme appropriate to a state of war. But it is probable that this bombardment imparted a stimulus and acceleration to all these measures, and from that point of view it is now seen to be open to criticism.
By the time the Outer Forts had fallen, the Intermediate Defences had developed in various important ways. The two 6-inch guns at Dardanos (No. 8) were increased to five, a new battery of three 6-inch guns had been erected on the opposite shore, and eighteen 8.2 inch mortars (or short howitzers) and thirty-two 6-inch howitzers—very serious new factors—were placed in concealed positions, one-third on the European and two-thirds on the Asiatic side. The object of these howitzers was to compel ships attacking the forts at long range to keep on the move and consequently to destroy the accuracy of their fire. In addition to the gun defences, there were the minefields. At the beginning of the war, five lines of mines had been laid across the narrow part of the Straits, comprising a total of 191 mines. Between November and the beginning of the naval attack, four additional lines of mines had been laid in the Kephez area; and on February 26, immediately after the fall of the outer forts, a further line of mines was laid at the Narrows. Thus at this moment there were ten lines of mines in position containing under 400 mines in all. All these were ‘contact’ mines, that is to say, they exploded on being struck by a vessel, and none of them were ‘observation’ mines fired by electricity from the shore when a vessel is seen to be in their proximity.
Thus the defences with which our Fleet was confronted after the fall of the Outer Forts and on the morrow of March 18 consisted of four factors—forts, mobile howitzers, minefield batteries and minefields—all well combined but all mutually dependent. The minefields blocked the passage of the Straits and kept the Fleet beyond their limits. The minefield batteries prevented the sweeping of the minefields. The forts protected the minefield batteries by keeping battleships at a distance with their long guns. The mobile howitzers kept the battleships on the move and increased the difficulty of overcoming the forts. So long as all four factors stood together, the defences constituted a formidable obstruction. But not one could stand by itself, and if one were broken down, its fall entailed the collapse of the others.
The forts by themselves could not withstand the Fleet. They were vulnerable to indirect fire from over the Peninsula. They could be dominated and greatly injured by direct fire from inside the Straits below the minefields. Lastly, they could be forced to exhaust their ammunition in conflict with the Fleet. The amount of ammunition possessed by the Turks is therefore cardinal.
The important guns on which the defence depended were as follows:—
Five 14-inch (two of which were put out of action early on the 18th by a single shot), fourteen 9.4-inch, eight 6-inch quick-firing, eighteen 8.2-inch mortars and thirty-two 6-inch howitzers.
After March 18 the 14-inch guns had between them, according to the Turkish War Office, 271 rounds; and according to Djevad Pasha, the Turkish Commander, 244 rounds. The eleven 9.4 inch had 868 rounds. The eight 6-inch quick-firing had 371 rounds. The eighteen 8.2 inch mortars had approximately 720 rounds. The thirty-two 6-inch howitzers had 3,706 rounds. Both the 6-inch guns and the 6-inch howitzers had fired away half their ammunition. A third set of figures, resting on the authority of the Commander of a Turkish artillery battalion in actual charge of the main group of forts, gives the very much lower total of 36 rounds for each 14-inch gun and 29 rounds for each 9.4-inch gun.
In addition to this quasi-modern ammunition, there were further considerable supplies of old, black powder shells which no doubt could have been used, though with reduced effect.
It was claimed by the Turks after the Armistice in 1918 that enough ammunition remained for the important guns to fight two more actions similar to that of March 18. For the smaller guns, fixed and mobile, of which there were about seventy, the supplies enabled a longer resistance to be maintained. But as will be seen later a large and increasing proportion of these guns and their ammunition were, in the absence of any naval attack, transferred from the defences of the Straits to the Turkish Army from the end of April onwards, and the mobile defences of the Straits were in consequence seriously reduced.
We knew at the time from secret sources, the credit of which was unquestionable, that the Turkish Army was short of ammunition. We had only to resume a gradual naval advance and bombardment to discover the wonderful truth that they had, in fact, scarcely any more ammunition. We now know what we could have so easily found out then, that for the heavy guns which alone could injure the armoured ships, they had not twenty rounds apiece.
What on the other hand was the position in regard to the Fleet? On March 23 I called by minute for a report on the Naval Shell position and prospects. The report showed that our reserves were practically the same as those with which we had begun the war. No inroad whatever had been made upon them. These reserves were about to be augmented rapidly as the result of the large orders placed on the outbreak of hostilities. Henceforward our current monthly production in practically every nature of gun would exceed the entire expenditure since the beginning of the war. For instance, out of 56,000 rounds of 12-inch ammunition possessed by the Fleet in August, 1914, 3,480 had been fired in the eight months of war and an exactly similar quantity had already been received from the factories, while the monthly deliveries now arriving were over 3,700 rounds. Out of 31,000 9.2-inch shells available at the outbreak, 1,228 had been fired in eight months and the monthly delivery was 1,720. Most remarkable of all was the 6-inch. Out of 322,000 rounds at the outbreak, 13,000 had been expended since the beginning of the war, 41,000 had been received, and the future monthly deliveries were estimated at 44,000. Compared to totals of this character the expenditure on the Dardanelles was trivial. Up to and including the action of March 18 we had fired only 1,101 12-inch, 749 9.2-inch and 5,345 6-inch. We could without inconvenience or imprudence have fired three or four times these amounts during the month of April alone. The wear of the guns was the only limiting factor.
If the forts had sought to husband their fire, the battleships could have advanced to the edge of the minefield and engaged the minefield batteries at close quarters. Under this cover the sweepers could have attacked the minefields, and this prospect must have compelled the forts to fire or submit to their essential protection being destroyed. Once the minefield was swept, the gunnery of the forts was not strong enough or well enough organized to prevent the Fleet advancing to attack them at decisive ranges. Either the exhaustion or the husbanding of the ammunition would have eliminated one of the essential factors on which the whole system of defence depended. But the question arises, could the Fleet have stood against the fire of the forts long enough to wear them down without itself incurring grievous injury?
An officer of distinction who filled throughout the whole of the operations a position of high responsibility has written:—
‘Having spent many hours under fire in the Straits at long range and short range, and seen vessels hit by every kind of gun and howitzer, I felt—and still feel—very strongly that gunfire alone would never have stopped even the oldest pre-Dreadnought battleship from forcing the Straits. They were well protected against projectiles fired at the range at which the forts were engaged, and the plunging fire of the howitzers, apart from its inaccuracy, was not serious. The projectiles invariably broke up on contact without doing vital injury. It is true that they made yawning holes in the upper deck and inconvenienced us from a habitability point of view after an action; but the slight casualty lists prove what very slight damage was inflicted when the personnel were kept at action stations. Some of the older ships were weak over their casemates, as plunging fire was not foreseen when they were designed; but chain cables flaked above the casemates successfully broke up the projectiles.’
The German official account written by the staff officer of Liman von Sanders, the German Commander-in-Chief of the Turks, says:—
‘Most of the Turkish ammunition had been expended. The medium howitzers and mine field batteries had fired half their supply. For the five 25.5 cm (14-inch) guns there were only 271 rounds, say fifty each; for the eleven 23 cm (9.2-inch) between thirty to fifty per gun…. Particularly serious was the fact that the long range H.E. shells, which alone were effective against armour, were nearly entirely used up. Fort Hamidieh had only seventeen of them; Kilid Bahr but ten. Also there was no reserve of mines. What, then, was to happen if the battle was resumed on the 19th and following days with undiminished violence?’
The British Official Military Historian says:—
‘On the evening of March 18 the Turkish Command at the Dardanelles was weighed down by a premonition of fate. More than half the ammunition had been expended and it could not be replaced…. It is important to realize that had Constantinople been abandoned the Turks would have been unable to continue the war. Their only arms and ammunition factories were at the capital and would have been destroyed by the fleet, and the supply of material from Germany would have been impossible…. Their inadequate means of fire control had been seriously interrupted. The Turkish gun crews were demoralized, and even the German officers present had apparently little hope of successful resistance if the fleet attacked next day.’
No factor exercised a more deterrent effect upon the attackers than the possibility and alleged existence of large numbers of torpedo-tubes on each side of the Straits. We now know exactly what this menace amounted to. From January, 1915, onwards there were three 18-inch torpedo-tubes with two torpedoes each mounted on the pier at Kilid Bahr. One of these tubes could fire right across the Narrows, and the other two less than half-way. Twenty minutes were required to reload the tubes, which could thus have only been fired once during the passage of the Fleet. The position of these tubes on the pier at Kilid Bahr could be seen by a ship advancing up the Straits before the position at which torpedoes would be discharged was reached. So exposed was this position that no great difficulty would have been experienced in attacking the tubes and destroying them by gunfire at short range before the torpedoes could be discharged. The torpedo-tubes were therefore too few, too visible, and too far up the Straits to constitute at any time a serious obstruction to the passage of the Fleet. Moreover, on March 18 a shell hit the pier at Kilid Bahr and prevented the use of the tubes for ten days. Had Admiral de Robeck determined to renew the attack, he might safely have exclaimed with Admiral Farragut on a famous occasion, ‘Damn the torpedoes!’
The ten lines of moored mines which formed the minefields comprised in all 324 mines. The mine-layer Nousret had on March 18 thirty-six mines ready for laying. Otherwise there was no reserve of mines to fill any breach made in the minefields by the sweepers.
Another serious anxiety was the possibility that large numbers of floating mines would be thrown into the Straits while the fleet was actually committed to the passage, and drifting down with the current would cause decisive injury. This anxiety was heightened by the fact that the ships lost on the 18th were for some time believed to have been blown up by floating mines. The actual facts are as follows:—
There were in February, 1915, only about thirty or forty floating mines at the Dardanelles. Nineteen of these mines were released in the month of operations preceding March 18. They did no damage of any kind, either floating harmlessly to sea or being intercepted by our picket-boats. On March 18 a small steamer, the Bulair, was waiting just below Nagara throughout the bombardment with about twenty floating mines on board. None were, however, released during the action. These twenty mines and about twenty others of a somewhat different type therefore constituted the extent of the danger from this cause to which the Fleet would have been exposed if it had attacked at any time from April to August.
The British Military Historian says:—
‘Of the nine rows of mines many had been in position for six months, and a large proportion of these were believed either to have been carried away by the current or to have sunk to such a depth that ships would not have touched them. For the rest, many were of the old patterns and not at all trustworthy, and owing to the shortage of numbers they were at an average ninety yards apart, more than three times the beam of a ship.’
Not until Bulgaria joined the Central Powers at the end of 1915 could a single heavy shell be brought from Germany to Turkey. We know now what most certainly could have been ascertained through any attempt at sweeping that there were no more mines. Not a dozen mines, floating or moored, remained in Constantinople and, as with the shells, no mine could reach the scene for six long months.
Such was the margin of resources upon which this complicated defence rested at this juncture. No effective facilities for making ammunition or mines existed or were found capable of being improvised in Turkey.
Up till and including the action of March 18 the force of mine-sweepers provided by the Admiralty was—it must be freely admitted—inadequate both in numbers and efficiency. There were only available twenty-one trawlers, whose speed was too slow for sweeping against the current. These were manned by fishermen, unsupported by trained and disciplined naval personnel. By the middle of March it was realized that large numbers of sweepers fast enough to sweep against the current, cutting up the mines as they advanced, and manned by highly trained and disciplined crews, were needed. After March 18 these crews were available in large numbers of volunteers from the crews of the sunken battleships; and by the end of April, thirty specially selected trawlers and eight fleet sweepers, capable of sweeping at 14-knots speed, had been sent out from England. In addition, twenty-four destroyers, far more efficient than the trawlers, had been fitted and trained as sweepers. Thus by the end of April the sweeping force available had been thoroughly and scientifically organized and consisted of eighty vessels, nearly half of which were capable of sweeping upstream at 14 knots. This reorganized and incomparably superior sweeping force was never employed against the Kephez minefield. On the only occasion on which they were used, namely, in the last week of April for sweeping out the bombarding areas in the Straits up to 8,000 yards from the forts, they achieved complete success in daylight and with practically no loss. Whether these eighty sweepers thus reorganized would have succeeded in clearing a passage through the Kephez minefield by repeated night attacks and still have retained a reserve sufficient to sweep the Fleet into the Marmora, can never be decided. But the Turkish difficulties in controlling and directing their fire at night on even the few slow trawlers used in the earlier stages make it not unreasonable to suppose that success might have been obtained by the new sweepers, especially if one or two battleships were risked to engage the minefield batteries on Suandere and Kephez at short range close behind the sweepers.
To sum up:—After March 18, apart from old ammunition, not twenty rounds apiece was left for the heavy guns. The permanent silencing of the forts inevitably entailed the subsequent successful sweeping of the minefields for the repair of which there were no reserves of mines. The menace of the three torpedo-tubes was practically non-existent. The menace of the twenty floating mines was not material. Half the ammunition of the medium howitzers and minefield batteries had already been expended. On the other hand, all the deficiencies in the Fleet which had been revealed since the outset of the operations were remediable in the light of experience. All were in process of being remedied during March. All were remedied during April. The Fleet sweeping force available for the attack had been increased fourfold in numbers, nearly doubled in speed, and immeasurably improved in efficiency and organization. Ample supplies of ammunition were available for the Queen Elizabeth for long-range indirect fire upon the forts. The general supplies of ammunition available for the Fleet were sufficient to prolong the attack on successive days until the ammunition of the defence was exhausted many times over. During April an effective aerial observation system had been organized. Large reinforcements of aeroplanes were on their way or had arrived. An aerodrome on Tenedos Island enabled aeroplanes to be used in addition to seaplanes.
It is not possible to prove finally whether or no success would have attended the renewal of the naval attack under these improved conditions. Allowance must be made for the intervention of the unexpected. War lies largely in the region of chance. Those who are committed to the ‘No’ principle, may summon chance to their aid to multiply their difficulties and fortify their fears. Those who hoped, and who wished to dare, can only dwell upon the solid facts which are now for the first time available. But these facts, in the absence of action, can never be conclusive.
Still chances on one side may be matched by chances on the other. What reason, for instance, was there to anticipate a repetition of the losses of March 18 in a subsequent attack? We now know that the sole cause of these losses was the laying of twenty mines in an area which the Fleet had considered already swept. But with the improved sweeping arrangements, this danger would not have recurred. The danger from floating mines we now know to have been practically non-existent, but in any case, even viewed as seriously as it was at the time, it could have been coped with by laying lines of nets and by the activities of the picket-boats. There was therefore no reason, even with the knowledge of the time, not to speak of after-knowledge, why the attack of March 18 should not have been renewed under vastly improved conditions before the end of April and pressed continuously, bombarding and sweeping by night and day, for two or three or four days in succession. And if during these efforts any one of the essential elements of the defence had failed, the whole obstacle which stood between us and the entry of the Marmora would have been removed. Before April 25, when the Army was ready to attack, certainly long before the German U-Boat arrived in the second week of May, the Fleet might have been in the Marmora, thus compromising fatally from both sides the Turkish communications, both by sea and land, across the isthmus of Bulair. It would then have been in a position to attack all the principal forts in reverse at close quarters, without being exposed either to the danger of mines or of the fire of heavy guns. Irrespective of political reactions at Constantinople, irrespective of anything that might have happened in Bulgaria or in Greece, the fate of the Turkish Army gathered on the Gallipoli Peninsula was then certain. The larger the Army gathered so hurriedly to oppose Sir Ian Hamilton’s threatened landing, the more certain and the more speedy its starvation. No escape would have been possible except to the Asiatic shore in such small boats as had escaped destruction during the passage of the Fleet.
These considerations of fact may be reinforced by others of authority.
Enver Pasha said during the war:—
‘If the English had only had the courage to rush more ships through the Dardanelles, they could have got to Constantinople; but their delay enabled us thoroughly to fortify the Peninsula and in six weeks’ time we had taken down there over two hundred Austrian Skoda guns.’
After the war many Turkish and German opinions were collected.
Admiral Souchon, of Goeben fame, thought that the Allied Fleet would get through. His Turkish Chief of Staff differed from him in this, but observed: ‘If the British Fleet had succeeded in forcing the Dardanelles and arrived off Constantinople at any time, the Turks would have endeavoured to make peace; their hands would have been forced; a revolution against Enver Pasha was imminent before the war, and this would have broken out if the Allied Fleet got through.’
The German Naval Lieut.-Commander Balzer said:—
‘Berlin was quite certain that the British Fleet could push through the Dardanelles after March 18, as the Turks had practically exhausted their ammunition, some guns had none. The Germans tried to organize shell factories in Constantinople, but lack of machinery made it very difficult and the output was small. The mines were not considered to be an adequate defence since, if the fortifications were mastered, the mines could be swept.’ In answer to the question: ‘What would have happened if the Allied Fleet had succeeded in forcing the Narrows on March 18?’ he replied: ‘I have no doubt whatever that Turkey would have made peace. There would have been a revolution. The appearance of ships before Constantinople would have been sufficient. Constantinople is Turkey. There were no troops to speak of in Constantinople.’
Says the Turkish official account:—
‘In the attainment of such an important objective, disregarding comparatively small losses, the enemy should have repeated his attack with great force, and in all probability he would have succeeded in forcing the Straits by sea…. In Fort Hamidieh there were but five to ten rounds left and the batteries on the European side were equally low.’
Djevad Pasha, the Turkish Military Commander-in-Chief at the Dardanelles, did not think that decisive results would have followed from the entry of the Fleet into the Marmora. ‘Unless the attack of March 18 had been accompanied by a landing and advance on land, I do not consider any advantages would have been obtained.’ He added: ‘A combined naval attack and landing there (? then) might have been successful. I had only three regiments altogether on that date for the defences of the Peninsula and Dardanelles. After March 18, when there was no renewal of the attacks, steps were gradually taken to improve the defences as far as possible….’
His Chief of Staff, Colonel Salaheddin (considered to be a very capable Turkish soldier), said that the primary defence of the Dardanelles was the mines. As long as these were in place he did not consider it possible for the Straits to be forced. Leaving the mines out of the question, the forts had ammunition left for at least two more attacks on the same scale. If the ships had pressed on and tried to rush the Straits, he considered it possible that the volume of fire at close range from the ships might force the gun crews in the forts to take cover and so allow the ships to get through. The forts, however, would not be destroyed and would have been available to prevent supplies and store ships getting up to the Fleet in the Sea of Marmora. He added: ‘If the Fleet had passed up the Straits and the Army had been landed at Bulair, the Turkish Army on the Peninsula would have had to capitulate.’
Captain Serri, of the Turkish Artillery (described as ‘a very well-trained and capable artillery officer, quite frank in his opinions’), said: ‘I was in Fort Hamidieh on March 18, 1915. I expected that the attack would be renewed and, owing to the shortage of ammunition, I personally thought that the Fleet would succeed in getting through the Straits…. I do not consider that the morale of the troops in the forts was affected by the attack. The men were in good spirits.’ And again two days later he declared that it was his firm conviction on March 18, 1915, that the Fleet would succeed in forcing the passage of the Dardanelles, as there was very little ammunition left. But the guns of all batteries would have been left practically intact, and it would have been a difficult matter to pass provision ships, colliers, etc., through after the Fleet had passed.
The Signal Officer in Fort Dardanos (8) during the attack said he expected a fresh attack next day and that the ships would get through. The First Lieutenant of the Turkish ship Hamidieh said: ‘I had no doubt personally that the British Fleet could get through on March 18 or very soon after. When the attack was given up on the 18th, it was commonly said that the English had only gone home to tea and that they would start again as soon as they had had breakfast on the following morning.’
The Turkish War Office stated, inter alia:—
‘After the attack on March 18, in spite of the shortage of ammunition and casualties which had been suffered by some batteries in men and guns, it was confidently felt (a) that the contact mines were sound, (b) that the shore batteries would be able to defend the minefields, and (c) that the Turkish Fleet would be able to deal effectively with such ships as managed to pass the Narrows.’
They also stated: ‘It is impossible to estimate the situation which would have arisen if the Allied Fleet had forced their way past the forts, past the minefields, and entered the Sea of Marmora. However, if the British Fleet had attacked land transport from the direction of Bulair and at the same time from the Gulf of Xeros, a very difficult situation would undoubtedly have arisen. It would have increased enormously the difficulty of transport between the Asiatic and European coasts, and also in the Bosphorus and Marmora. Even in such circumstances as these, the Turkish situation would not have been essentially changed during a fortnight. The 5th Army could have held every attack which could have taken place during the fortnight by using its ammunition and supplies with great care.’
I have myself through the kindness of a friend obtained the opinion of Major Endres, a German officer who had served on the Turkish General Staff during the previous Balkan war, and who was during this critical period Chief of the General Staff to the First Turkish Army (General Von der Goltz). Major Endres has written a book on the Turkish share in the Great War. He had the courtesy to send me the following replies to a series of questions:—
REPLY TO QUESTIONNAIRE.
1st Question: During the purely naval attacks by the British from February 18 to the end of March, what did you consider at the time was the most critical moment?
Answer: The situation was most critical for the Turks immediately after March 18. The Naval attack had, it is true, been repulsed, but only, as far as I can see, because the Allies were unwilling to incur further casualties. If on the 19th or 20th a fresh attack with all available forces had been made, it would probably have succeeded.
The battle casualties of the Turks in personnel were not very great, and amounted only to a few hundred men, and the forts and batteries too, though damaged, were not out of action, but the ammunition supply was much reduced and would not have sufficed to repel a second naval attack on a large scale.
2nd Question: Do you know of any telegrams or messages from the Germans in Constantinople to the Government in Berlin, pointing out that the situation was very critical, referring to the difficulties of ammunition, and asking for support in one form or another?
Answer: Such requests were to my knowledge sent in October and November, 1914. The condition of the Dardanelles in November, 1914, was hopeless. No ammunition, not a modern gun, only a few mines and bad ones at that. I had at that time inspected the entire fortifications with Excellence Liman and expressed the opinion that it would be possible for the British to reach Constantinople in merchantmen. Against an energetic naval attack in November the Turks would have been defenceless.
Whether, after February, 1915, urgent requests for support were sent I do not know. However, I believe this to be most probable as the Turks had no factory capable of turning out munitions in sufficient quantities.
3rd Question: How much ammunition for the heavy guns was there in the forts, or in any one of the forts, after the attack of March 18?
Answer: I am not in a position to give detailed figures. I know, however, that the ammunition supply was so short that it would not have sufficed for a second engagement on a large scale.
4th Question: What do you think would have been the prospects if the naval attack had been resumed in April and pressed with vigour day after day?
Answer: In April an energetic naval attack could have been made with the prospect of succeeding, although the work of improving the batteries was already completed and fresh munitions had been partially brought up. The sooner the second naval attack had taken place, the more certain would success have been assured. I would estimate the chances of success as follows:—
November and December
Quite easy and sure.
Somewhat more difficult.
February and first half of March
Difficult but possible if prepared to incur heavy losses.
Immediately after March 18
Certain success provided determination was shown.
Same as January. With several attacks pressed with vigour day after day certain success.
Difficulties would have been on the increase.
5th Question: Supposing a number of British battleships had got into the Marmora so as to command the Isthmus of Bulair from both sides, how long would it have been possible for the Turkish Army on the Gallipoli Peninsula to hold out?
Answer: For myself, I have the conviction that the presence of several British battleships in the Sea of Marmora would have rendered the defence of the Gallipoli Peninsula impossible. From certain points in the Sea of Marmora it is possible, even with guns of flat trajectory, to command the Turkish hill positions, which were well protected from the Ægean Sea, so that after a week, resistance would have been at an end. Also because the concealed Turkish artillery could have been silenced, munition and food supply stopped, and the transport of Turkish forces from the Asiatic shore rendered impossible. For instance, the 11th Turkish Division was transported just in time across the Dardanelles from Chanakale to Gallipoli in barges during the nights following their victory over the French at Jenischehir, on April 29.
Again no positive conclusions can be drawn from such expressions of opinion however instructed, however sincere. But after all in war one does not expect to have to deal with guaranteed certainties. Even ordinary life and business involve the encountering of unknown factors and require some effort of the imagination, some stress of soul, to overcome them.
With the knowledge we possessed at the time I had no doubt, as the Admiralty telegrams show, that the military risks far outweighed the naval risks, and that the military cost in soldiers’ lives would far exceed the cost in sailors’ lives. We suspected at the time the weakness and critical condition of the Turkish defence against the Fleet as now revealed. But no one estimated truly the tremendous strength of the Turkish resistance against the Army. Instead of 5,000 casualties, which was the War Office estimate of the cost of the landing and of a successful and decisive operation, more than 13,000 casualties were incurred to gain only a footing on one tiny indecisive tip of the Peninsula, and many more in efforts to enlarge the ground gained. And this takes no account of the heavy losses and wastage in the months before the Battle of Sulva Bay, of the 40,000 casualties sustained in that battle, and of the 20,000 others incurred before the final evacuation.
Could the pictures, on which we must presently look, of April 25 with its immortal heroism, of May with its staggering disappointment, of August with its tragedy, and of December with its world-ruining failure and defeat, have risen before the eyes of those in whose hands the power lay and upon whose heads the responsibility before history must descend, can we doubt that they would have thought it better to persevere resolutely and faithfully with the naval attack in accordance with the orders and undertakings which had been given and received?
For consider what was the alternative, and what were the conditions in which it was now alone open to us.
We have seen that on March 26 General Liman von Sanders was appointed to the chief command at the Dardanelles, and the story cannot be better carried forward at this point than in his own words.
‘In March already,’ he writes, ‘intelligence about the preparation of a great expeditionary Corps… for a landing of troops near the Dardanelles began to thicken. That these reports, which came mostly from Athens, Sophia and Bucharest, contained most contradictory details was only natural. One time it was 50,000 men that were to take part in the Expedition; then again 80,000 English troops which were to concentrate for it on Imbros and Lemnos; another time 50,000 Frenchmen in addition were mentioned. The arrival was reported at the Dardanelles of General Hamilton, who was to be in command, as well as that of the French General D’Amade on the cruiser Provence.
‘The construction of landing piers in Mudros was known, and the daily discharge of articles of equipment and supplies. On March 17 four English officers arrived at the Piræus and there bought for cash forty-two large lighters and five tugs.
‘At last, therefore, on March 24, Enver decided to form a special Army for the protection of the Dardanelles.
‘Late in the afternoon of March 24 Enver asked me on the telephone to remain in my office until he came. He soon appeared, and asked me if I were ready to take over the command of the Fifth Army which was just being formed for the Dardanelles. I agreed at once, but drew his attention to the fact that the troops then there must be quickly reinforced, for there was no time to lose.
‘On the evening of the next day, March 25, I left Constantinople by water to betake myself to my new duty. I was not to see the Capital again for ten months. On the morning of the 26th we landed in the harbour of Gallipoli town.
‘There were laborious days ahead of us, as everything concerning the grouping of the troops and the watching of the most important pieces of the coast had to be altered.
‘The Firth Army then consisted of only five divisions which were divided between the European and Asiatic sides of the Dardanelles for coast protection. The divisions contained nine to twelve battalions, each eight hundred to a thousand men strong. The English allowed me four whole weeks before their great landing. They had temporarily sent part of their troops to Egypt and, it is said, also to Cyprus. This time just sufficed to carry out the most necessary measures and to bring up the 3rd division under Colonel Nicolai from Constantinople.’
The German General proceeds to describe his dispositions and measures. They were certainly inspired by sound military knowledge. He divided his force into three fighting groups: the 5th and 17th Divisions near the Isthmus of Bulair; the 9th and 19th towards the Southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula; the 11th and 3rd on the Asiatic side.
‘I ordered,’ he says, ‘each division to keep its units together and only to maintain the weakest possible force near the coast line for protective purposes. Whatever might happen, success could only be gained by taking every advantage of the mobility of the three fighting groups and not by mere passive resistance. It was essential therefore, to exercise the Turkish troops by constant marches and drill, and thus keep them in a good mobile condition until the time for decisive action should arrive. To enable units to be moved without delay from one part of the Peninsula to the other, barges were collected at suitable harbours in the Straits and direct roads constructed by labour battalions between the various sectors of the front. Previous to this there were no roads worth mention on the Peninsula, only paths and bridle tracks suitable for mules in single file, but in no case passable for guns….
‘The re-grouping of the force was carried out at night to avoid observation by the enemy’s aeroplanes. The Fifth Army had at that time not a single aeroplane.
‘The work of strengthening the field fortifications was carried out with all available men and material, and mostly by night. Material for making obstacles was as scarce as tools for digging and construction work. Torpedo heads were used as tread mines, and the fencing around fields and gardens had often to supply the wood and wire for the entanglements. At suitable enemy landing places wire entanglements were laid near the shore below waterlevel.’
Such were the occupations of General von Sanders and his Army at the end of March and during nearly the whole of April.
The first essential to the success of a military attack was ‘surprise,’ both general and local. Tactical or local surprise no doubt remained, i.e. we still had a wide choice of landing places. But strategic or general surprise was gone. The 6,000 or 7,000 Turks who alone garrisoned the Peninsula after Turkey entered the war in November, 1914, would have been completely swamped and overwhelmed by 30,000 or 40,000 men landed suddenly at various points. The 20,000 Turks scattered throughout the Peninsula at the beginning of March, 1915, could not have maintained themselves till help arrived against an attack from the sea of 50,000 or 60,000. But at the period which this story has now reached at least 40,000 Turks were known to have been assembled, and to have made and be making whatever preparations were possible; and to overwhelm these with certainty before they could be reinforced might well have required an army of a hundred thousand men. Without such numbers the enterprise passed out of the sphere of sound preparation and reasonable certainty, and depended for its success upon good fortune and a great feat of arms.
The second essential for the attack was its Intensity. The more Surprise was absent, the more Intensity was vital. From beginning to end everything turned on Time. It was not a question of mere numbers: but of numbers applied in a very short space of time. A hundred thousand men landing upon the Peninsula in a fortnight might be less effective than 70,000 pressed into continuous battle for a week. To descend upon the Peninsula in the greatest possible numbers and the shortest possible time; to grapple with the local Turkish forces; to fight them day and night with superior numbers till they were utterly exhausted, to thrust in fresh troops and renew the battle unceasingly, to grip and racket the weaker enemy till the life was shaken out of his smaller organism—in that process lay victory. And how much safer, how much cheaper, how much more merciful, than what was done.
This sudden short and intense effort demanded ample supplies of shells as well as of men. The broken character of the ground and the certainty of strong entrenchments made it necessary to support the attack by an ample land artillery, both of field guns and howitzers, with a good proportion of high-explosive shell. In the absence of artillery the modern rifle and machine gun are supreme. Troops have hardly ever succeeded in storming fortified positions in modern times except under cover of a superior very heavy artillery fire. In the fighting which followed the landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula, both sides were ill supplied with guns and still worse with ammunition. In consequence, as will be seen, offensive action by either was almost always defeated. The Allies, in spite of their sacrifices and superior numbers, could not make headway against the hail of bullets: and when the Turks in their turn attempted counter-attacks against our trenches with great determination, they too were shot down by thousands on every occasion.
Lord Kitchener of course appreciated perfectly the need for abundant artillery and ammunition. But this was at the time his most biting want. The shell-shortage crisis was each day becoming more acute. Demands were pouring in. Contracts were all inadequate in scale, and overdue in fulfilment. The British Army in France were scraping together and accumulating every available shell for the offensive which it had been decided to launch against the Germans early in May. The amount in hand judged by later standards was of course pitifully small and quite insufficient for the task on the Western Front. Still those who were urging the offensive declared they had good prospects of success in spite of the scarcity of ammunition if every shell were given them. In fact they had no chance whatever, nor had they supplies of ammunition necessary to sustain their attacks. But though the available ammunition was hopelessly insufficient for a great offensive on the Western Front, it was enough to sustain adequately the much more limited operation which was impending in Gallipoli. Lord Kitchener’s task at this juncture was therefore terrible but simple. He could have said to General Joffre and Sir John French: ‘I have not got enough ammunition to sustain a battle on the Western Front. I will not allow the British Army to be launched without it. There is no imperative need for an offensive either by the British or French Armies. There will be better chances, much more ammunition, and larger forces available later in the year. On the other hand, we are about to attempt an attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Russia is in difficulties; but the way to help Russia is to force the Dardanelles. I must concentrate my available resources exclusively on this, so as to secure success in the shortest possible time. After success has been gained at Gallipoli and aid and encouragement thus brought to Russia, I shall be ready to discuss with you plans for an offensive in France in the summer or autumn.’
If he had made up his mind to this decision, had measured truly the proportion of things and had seen his course clearly, he had the power to take it. He would have been cordially supported by the Cabinet. In this case he might have won a decisive victory on the Peninsula with far less loss of life and expenditure of shells than was afterwards wrung from him: and he would in any case have saved the British Army in France from the futile slaughter of May, and possibly even discouraged the French from the long and frightful follies of their Spring offensive in Artois in which they squandered nearly a quarter of a million men.
Alternatively Lord Kitchener might have said to General Joffre: ‘Although I do not think your offensive will succeed, yet if you insist I will co-operate. In that case I cannot attempt the Gallipoli operation, and unless the Navy will resume the attack we shall have to admit a failure there.’ Either course was painful; but both were sound and practical. I should of course have taken the first if the Navy continued unsuccessful, but I could not have complained if Lord Kitchener had taken the second. It would have confronted Admiral de Robeck, the Admiralty and the Cabinet, with a naked choice of a humiliating failure or of resolutely persevering in the naval attack under all the improved conditions which had been established in April. The issue would have been grim, but again quite simple. I should have said to the War Council: ‘If you wish this thing attempted, say so, and I will find a First Sea Lord and a Commander-in-Chief to execute your will. If you are not prepared to go so far, then we must break off the enterprise against Constantinople, as we have always held ourselves free to do, and we will cover up our failure as best we can by a landing at Alexandretta or in some other minor way.’ If this situation had been definitely created, I am sure that Admiral de Robeck, urged as he then was by Commodore Keyes, and backed as he would have been by the Admiralty and the Cabinet, would have resumed the naval operation which he had broken off after March 18. What the results would have been no one can declare. If he had succeeded, they must have been of supreme importance. If he had failed, at any rate there would have been no entanglement. The Prime Minister could have chosen another First Lord, or the country could have chosen another Prime Minister. Every one would have been free. The processes of thought logically and courageously applied may not prevent unpleasant things from happening in war, but at least they offer clear and honourable decisions in pursuance of which soldiers, sailors, and ministers, doing their duty in sincerity according to their lights, may calmly await the stroke of destiny.
But the events that followed yielded not even these sombre consolations. Lord Kitchener did not make up his mind between the two courses, he drifted into both, and was unable to sustain either. The War Council, instead of coming to grips with him and making him come to grips with his problem, mutely and supinely awaited the mysterious workings of his mind. The First Sea Lord continued in a position where if the military attack failed he could say, ‘I was always against the Dardanelles—see my memorandum of February 27,’ and if it succeeded, ‘I was always in favour of a joint operation—see my letter to the First Lord of January 4.’ The British Army in France struggled forward at the side of the French into the disastrous offensives of May, and when these failed, as they were bound to, the Headquarters Staff turned upon Lord Kitchener and exposed the deficiency of shells, which they well knew from the beginning. Sir Ian Hamilton’s Army sprang ashore on the Peninsula, and then while victory was within their grasp fell down for want of shells and reinforcements, both of which, on the scale they required them, could at any time have been supplied. And lastly the Fleet, although now fully equipped for the naval attack, having thrown their responsibilities upon the Army, never even tested the enemy defences, and became the spectators and subsidiary assistants of a long and lamentable series of disasters incurred and of opportunities for ever thrown away.