A Reflection—Final Stages at Gallipoli—Admiral Wemyss’s Effort—Straits of the Turks—Final Decision to Evacuate—Admiral Wemyss’s Telegram of December 8—Final Admiralty Veto—The Evacuation—Consequences—The Revival of Turkey—Dissipation of Allied Forces—Russia—Roumania—Two Schools of Naval Thought—A Period of Naval Inertia—The Awakening—The Defensive Spirit—The War of Exhaustion—The Chain of Fate.
The closing scenes at the Dardanelles proceeded while I was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards near Laventie. I was not without information on the course of affairs from my friends both in the Cabinet and at General Headquarters. It was a comfort to be with these fine troops at such a time, to study their methods, unsurpassed in the Army, of discipline and trench warfare, and to share from day to day their life under the hard conditions of the winter and the fire of the enemy. The kindness with which I was received during my period of instruction with the Guards Division will ever be gratefully remembered by me. As in the shades of a November evening, I for the first time led a platoon of Grenadiers across the sopping fields which gave access to our trenches, while here and there the bright flashes of the guns or the occasional whistle of a random bullet accompanied our path, the conviction came into my mind with absolute assurance that the simple soldiers and their regimental officers, armed with their cause, would by their virtues in the end retrieve the mistakes and ignorances of Staffs and Cabinets, of Admirals, Generals and politicians—including, no doubt, many of my own. But, alas, at what a needless cost! To how many slaughters, through what endless months of fortitude and privation would these men, themselves already the survivors of many a bloody day, be made to plod before victory was won!
On November 22, Lord Kitchener, his Ayas bay project being vetoed, consented to the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac. He still hoped to save Helles, the retention of which was strongly advocated by Admiral de Robeck. The War Committee, however, decided that all three lodgments should be abandoned.
With this decision Admiral de Robeck expressed himself in disaccord. He deprecated the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac, and when asked specifically on November 25 if he concurred in the evacuation of Helles, he observed bluntly that ‘he could not understand it.’ The situation cannot, however, be disentangled from his attitude towards the use of the Fleet. His health was now temporarily impaired by his long spell of hard work. He started immediately for home on a period of leave.
The command now devolved upon Admiral Wemyss. The new Naval Commander-in-Chief, undeterred by past events, bent himself to a last effort to retrieve the situation. In a series of telegrams, he emphasized the dangers of a winter evacuation. He dwelt upon its difficulties; he endorsed the estimate of General Monro that 30 per cent. of the force would be lost in evacuation; he urged that one more effort should be made to convert defeat into victory. In a spirit which cannot be censured in the Royal Navy, he asserted that the Fleet would do its part, and that even if the Army could not co-operate, he would carry out the Keyes plan and force the Dardanelles by naval power alone.
These stalwart counsels threw everything again into the melting pot. The Cabinet revolted against the decision of their new War Committee. It was resolved that no decision could be taken without a further conference with the French, and a meeting of the new Allied Standing Council was fixed for December 5 at Calais. Lord Kitchener again took heart. In common with the British General Staff he was strongly opposed to the whole Salonika expedition. On December 2 he telegraphed to General Monro:—
Private and Secret.
The Cabinet has been considering the Gallipoli situation all day. Owing to the political consequences, there is a strong feeling against evacuation, even of a partial character. It is the general opinion we should retain Cape Helles.
If the Salonika troops are placed at your disposal up to four divisions for an offensive operation to improve the position at Suvla, could such operations be carried out in time with a view to making Suvla retainable, by obtaining higher position and greater depth? The Navy will also take the offensive in co-operation.
Meanwhile the activities of the British submarines in the Marmora had almost entirely severed the sea communications of the Turkish Army, and were also impeding their supply by the roads along the Marmora shore. To meet this peril, which had been approaching plainly, steadily and rapidly during the last two or three months, the German Staff had built a new branch railway from the main Turkish system to Kavak at the head of the Gulf of Xeros. This had been finished in the nick of time, and as the sea transport failed, it became the sole line of supply, relief or reinforcement for the twenty Turkish divisions on the Peninsula. From the new railhead at Kavak all transport was by bullock wagon or camel along roads across the Bulair Isthmus which were frequently disturbed by the fire of the Fleet. On December 2, Admiral Wemyss succeeded in destroying the three central spans of the Kavak Bridge by fire from the Agamemnon, Endymion, and a Monitor. The road was also so badly broken by the bombardment that wheeled traffic was completely interrupted. The Turkish 5th Army was now in serious straits. The British Intelligence reported growing demoralization of the enemy through losses, disease, stringency of supplies, the severe weather, and the increasingly searching character of the naval fire. We now know that these reports were correct. Food, clothes, boots, ammunition were frightfully scarce. The condition of the Turkish soldiers, often bare-footed, ragged, hungry, clinging to their trenches week after week, excited at this time the sympathy as well as the alarm of their German masters. Count Metternich, then German Ambassador at Constantinople, visited the Turkish lines on the Peninsula in December in company with Liman von Sanders. ‘If you had only known,’ he said, discussing these events after the war, ‘what the state of the Turkish Army was, it would have gone hard with us.’ It was not, however, knowledge that was lacking, but the collective will-power to turn it to account.
Admiral Wemyss and his staff were now confident that they had the power, even without forcing the Straits, not only to prevent the arrival of German artillery reinforcements on a large scale, but also gravely to compromise the existence of the whole Turkish Army on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Thus on the spot hope flared up again. It was at this moment, when for the first time a strong and competent naval command declared itself positive of success, that the improvident decision to evacuate was finally taken. On December 8 the Joint Staff Conference sitting at the French General Headquarters declared unanimously for the immediate organization of the defence of Salonika and for the immediate evacuation of Gallipoli. From this moment the perplexities of the British Government came to an end. Henceforward they remained steadfast in pusillanimous resolve. Admiral Wemyss, however, with Keyes at his side, did not readily yield; and the struggle of these two sailors against the now marshalled force of the Cabinet, the War Committee, the Joint Anglo-French Conference, the Admiralty and the War Office, constitutes an episode on which perhaps in future years British naval historians will be glad to dwell. His telegram of December 8 at least must in justice to the Royal Navy be reprinted here:—
‘The Navy is prepared to force the Straits and control them for an indefinite period, cutting off all Turkish supplies which now find their way to the Peninsula either by sea from the Marmora or across the Dardanelles from Asiatic to European shore. The only line of communications left would be the road along the Isthmus of Bulair, which can be controlled almost entirely from the Sea of Marmora and the Gulf of Xeros. What is offered the Army, therefore, is the practical, complete severance of all Turkish lines of communication, accompanied by the destruction of the large supply depots on the shore of the Dardanelles.
‘In the first instance I strongly advocated that the naval attack should synchronize with an army offensive, and if the Army will be prepared to attack in the event of a favourable opportunity presenting itself, nothing more need be required of them. The Navy here is prepared to undertake this operation with every assurance of success. If the units as described in your letter of November 24 can be provided, these hopes of success are greatly increased, and the possible losses greatly diminished.
‘The unanimous military opinion referred to in Admiralty telegram No. 422 has, I feel certain, been greatly influenced, and naturally so, by the military appreciations of Sir Charles Monro. These I have not seen, but their purport I have gathered in course of conversations. The Corps Commanders, I know, view the evacuation with the greatest misgiving. The forcing of the Dardanelles, as outlined in my telegrams, has never been put before them, and I am convinced that, after considering the certain results which would follow a naval success, they would favour an attack on the lines indicated, especially in view of the undoubted low morale of the Turkish Peninsular army, of which we have ample evidence.
‘The very extensive German propaganda being pursued all over the Near East, accompanied by the expenditure of vast sums of money, is not, I feel convinced, being undertaken merely as a side issue to the European war.
‘A position of stalemate on both fronts of the principal theatres of war appears the natural outcome of present situation. This opinion is freely expressed in the higher military circles in Greece, and would therefore appear to be fostered by the Germans—a significant point.
‘By surrendering our position here, when within sight of victory, we are aiding enemy to obtain markets the possession of which may enable her to outlast the Allies in the war of exhaustion now commencing.
‘A successful attack would once and for all disperse those clouds of doubt, a large amount of shipping would be released, and the question of Greece and Egypt settled.
‘I do not know what has been decided about Constantinople, but if the Turks could be told that we were in the Marmora to prevent its occupation by the Germans, such a course would inevitably lead to disruption, and therefore weakness amongst them.
‘I fear the effect on the Navy would be bad.
‘Although no word of attack has passed my lips except to my immediate staff and admirals, I feel sure that every officer and man would feel that the campaign had been abandoned without sufficient use having been made of our greatest force, viz., the Navy.
‘The position is so critical that there is no time for standing on ceremony, and I suggest that General Birdwood, the officer who would now have to carry out the attack or evacuation which is now ordered, be asked for his appreciation.
‘The logical conclusion, therefore, is the choice of evacuation or forcing the Straits. I consider the former disastrous tactically and strategically, and the latter feasible, and, so long as troops remain at Anzac, decisive.
‘I am convinced that the time is ripe for a vigorous offensive, and I am confident of success.’
On August 18 the Admiralty had telegraphed to Admiral de Robeck authorizing and implicitly urging him to use the old battleships of the Fleet to force the Dardanelles, and Admiral de Robeck had declined. When the Admiralty was willing the Admiral was unwilling. Now the conditions were reversed. On December 10 the same Board of Admiralty replied that they were not prepared to authorize the attempt by the Navy single-handed to force the Narrows. This sombre veto was final.
The risks that men are prepared to run in relation to circumstances present some of the strangest manifestations of psychology. One tithe of the hardihood they display to escape disaster, would often certainly achieve success. Contrast, for instance, the alternative hazards now presented to the British Government and Admiralty: on the one hand, the chance, even the probability according to all expert opinion, of losing 40,000 men in an evacuation, which if successful could only result in the total loss of the campaign; on the other, the chance of losing a squadron of old ships, and a small number of men in an operation which if successful would carry the campaign at a stroke from disaster to triumph. Yet we see Cabinet and Admiralty able to face the first alternative, and shrink from the second. While time is young, while prospects are favourable, while prizes inestimable may be gained, caution, hesitancy, half measures rule and fetter action. The grim afternoon of adverse struggle alone brings the hour of desperate resolve. The hopeful positive is rejected while all may be gained; the awful negative is embraced when nought but escape remains in view; and the energy and conviction which might have commanded victory are lavished upon the mere processes of flight.
The determination of the British Government to give in at all costs was now inflexible. The orders for the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac were reiterated by the Admiralty. On December 12, Admiral Wemyss bowed to these orders ‘with the greatest regret and misgiving.’ The plan for the evacuation, upon which a month’s careful labour had been expended, was now completed, and the Admiral fixed the night of December 19 or 20 as the date of the operation.
Hope died hard. In ordering the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac the Government had consented to the retention for the time being of Helles which, while it was held, kept open the possibility of a renewed naval attack. In order to make Helles secure, the Admiral, in full accord with General Davies, commanding at Helles, elaborated plans for a combined attack by the Fleet and Army upon Achi Baba. The control and direction of the naval fire from the Monitors and the bulged ‘Edgars’ had now been brought to a very high degree of efficiency. ‘Co-operation in an attack,’ wrote General Davies, ‘has now become a practical reality.’ Both the naval and military Commanders on the spot were therefore in complete agreement. It is not necessary to pronounce upon the prospects of such an operation, for at this moment General Monro returned from Salonika where after his one day’s visit to the Peninsula and his sojourn in Egypt he had been residing. Already on December 1 he had forbidden General Birdwood and the Corps Commanders to confer with the Admiral without his permission. On the 10th he peremptorily forbade General Birdwood to discuss any military matter with the Admiral. On the 14th he telegraphed home dissociating himself from the Admiral’s views and protesting against any expression of opinion by Admiral Wemyss upon military matters. He agreed, however, with the naval and local military view that Helles could not be held indefinitely without Achi Baba. Thus at last, since the capture of Achi Babi was deemed impossible, the decision was reached for the total evacuation of the Peninsula.
It was with melancholy but intense relief that I learned in France of the successful and bloodless execution of this critical operation which was accomplished on the night of December 19. The utmost credit belongs to the naval and military officers who perfected in exact detail the arrangements, and to the Admirals and Generals by whom they were so successfully carried out. The weather, on which all depended, was favourable for exactly the vital forty-eight hours, and the Turks were utterly unsuspecting. Indeed, when dawn broke on empty trenches and famous positions, bought at so terrible a cost, now silent as the graves with which they were surrounded, the haggard Turkish soldiers and their undaunted chiefs could hardly believe their eyes. Their position, and that of their country whose capital they had defended with soldierly tenacity, were now translated at a stroke from extreme jeopardy into renewed and resuscitated power. Conviction, determination and the will to win, steadfastly maintained by their High Command, had brought victory to the defence in spite of their inferiority in numbers and in resources of all kinds and of the inherent strategic perils of their position. The lack of these qualities on our side at the summit of power had defrauded the attackers of the reward, pregnant in its consequences to the whole world, to which their overwhelming potential strength and resources, their actual numbers and apparatus, their daring, their devotion and their fearful sacrifices had given them the right.
The evacuation of Helles was performed with equal skill and with equal good fortune on January 8, and the story of the Dardanelles came finally to an end. This consummation was acclaimed by the shallow and the uninstructed as if it had been a victory.
It is necessary, however, not only to relate the immediate sequel, but to outline the vast consequences which flowed from these events.
The campaign of the Dardanelles had been starved and crippled at every stage by the continued opposition of the French and British High Commands in France to the withdrawal of troops and munitions from the main theatre of the war. The abandonment of the Dardanelles led to the diversion of the Allied military forces on a scale far larger than its most ardent advocates had ever contemplated. Serbia had been destroyed; Bulgaria had joined our enemies; Roumania and Greece lay frozen in a terrorized neutrality. But still, as long as the British flag flew on the Peninsula and the British Fleet lay off the Straits, the main power of Turkey was gripped and paralysed. The evacuation set free twenty Turkish divisions on the Peninsula, and Turkey henceforth was able to form a common front with the Bulgarians in Thrace, to attack Russia, to aid Austria, to overawe Roumania. Turkey was also placed in a position simultaneously to threaten Egypt and to reinforce Mesopotamia. The thirteen evacuated British divisions, having been rested and refitted, were required to guard against the last two of these new dangers. The whole of the new army sent by France and Britain from the French theatre, amounting to seven additional divisions, was assigned to the defence of Salonika. Apart from the Anzacs, scarcely any of these twenty divisions of Allied troops ever fought against the Germans during the rest of the war. Scarcely one came into any direct contact with any enemy for nearly six months, and during the same period thirteen out of the twenty liberated Turkish divisions were added to the hostile strength in other theatres. Eleven went to the Caucasus and two to Galicia, in both cases adding to the burden which Russia had to bear. Thus the first fruits of the evacuation of Gallipoli may be variously computed at a total loss of strength to the Allies of from thirty to forty divisions, half the Army of a first-class power. It was evident that a very grave prolongation of the war must arise from this cause alone.
From the moment when the grip on the heart of the Turkish Empire was relaxed, and breathing space was given, its widespread limbs under German stimulation regained and developed their power. The three campaigns which had either begun or were imminent from Salonika, from Egypt, or in Mesopotamia, all grew rapidly into very great undertakings, and all continued until the last day of the war to make enormous drains upon the British resources and, to a lesser degree, upon those of France. By 1918 seven British and Indian divisions, composing an army of two hundred and seventy thousand men (exclusive of followers), were operating in Mesopotamia. The defence of the Suez Canal and subsequently the attack upon Turkey by the invasion of Palestine grew into a separate war which in any other period would have absorbed the attention of the world. Instead of thrusting at Constantinople, the heart of Turkey, or striking at her arm-pit at Alexandretta, or her elbow at Haifa, we began our attack from her finger-tips upwards. Slowly, painfully, with infinite exertion and expense, and by astonishing feats of arms and organization, we made our way across the deserts drawing artificial rivers with us through hundreds of miles of scorching sand. We toiled and fought our way mile by mile, and even yard by yard, from Gaza to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Damascus, never at any moment exacting from the enemy more than one-third of our own war effort. At the Armistice twelve British divisions, composing an army of nearly two hundred and eighty thousand men (exclusive of followers), were engaged in Palestine and Syria. The campaign from Salonika expanded not less formidably. At the end of 1917 twelve British and French divisions and two Italian divisions were in line against Turkish forces which perseverance at the Dardanelles might long ago have forced out of the war, and against the Bulgarian Army which a timely and prudent policy might have ranged upon our side. The sole addition gained by this great deployment of Allied force was six Serbian divisions brought by sea from the wreck of their country and four Greek divisions raised by Monsieur Venizelos after his revolt against King Constantine. In the end six hundred and thirty thousand Allied soldiers stood on the Salonika front.
The maintenance of these three great expeditions over long distances of sea threw a strain upon the maritime resources of Great Britain which, combined with the unlimited ‘U-boat’ warfare, came near to compassing our complete ruin in the spring of 1917. Thus the Admirals who thought only of the Grand Fleet and the Generals who thought only of the Main Army may learn how cruel are the revenges which Fortune wreaks upon those who disdain her first and golden offerings.
Wasteful and roundabout as was the method, the strategic conceptions which inspired the Eastern policy were vindicated in the end; and the collapse of Bulgaria after three years’ war was the signal for the general catastrophe of the Central Powers.
There ended with the Dardanelles all hope of forming direct and continuous contact with Russia. A railway 1,200 miles long might be built to Murmansk; Vladivostok might continue to pass supplies across a distance of 4,000 miles; but the intimate co-operation in men and munitions, the vast exportation of South Russian wheat, the expansion of a vitalizing trade, which could alone spring from the opening of the Black Sea, was for ever denied us.
The abandonment of Gallipoli dispelled the Russian dream. In her darkest hours, under the flail of Ludendorff, driven out of Poland, driven out of Galicia, her armies enduring disaster and facing death often without arms, the cost of living rising continually throughout her vast, secluded Empire, Russia had cheered herself by dwelling on the great prize of Constantinople. A profound chill spread through all ranks of the Russian people, and with it came suspicion no less deep-seated. England had not really tried to force the Straits. From the moment when she had conceded the Russian claim to Constantinople, she had not been single-hearted, she had lost her interest in the enterprise. Her infirm action and divided counsels arose from secret motives hidden in the bosom of the State. And this while Russia was pouring out her blood as no race had ever done since men waged war. Such were the whispers which, winged by skilful German propaganda, spread far and wide through the Tsar’s dominions, and in their wake every subversive influence gained in power. Lastly, the now inevitable prolongation of the struggle was destined to prove fatal to Russia. In the war of exhaustion to which we were finally condemned, which was indeed extolled as the last revelation of military wisdom, Russia was to be the first to fall, and in her fall to open upon herself a tide of ruin in which perhaps a score of millions of human beings have been engulfed. The consequences of these events abide with us to-day. They will darken the world for our children’s children.
Another disaster supreme in its character was escaped by the breadth of a hair. It was only by the margin of a few weeks in 1917 that the German decision to begin the unlimited ‘U-boat’ warfare anticipated the Russian collapse. Had the Russian revolution broken out earlier, the desperate folly of quarrelling with America would never have been perpetrated by the German Government, and while Russia would inevitably have fallen, no ground would have been afforded to the United States to enter the war.
Compared to these gigantic issues the fate of Roumania was but an incident. Yet that fate at the end of 1916, cruel and heartrending in every circumstance, was the direct outcome of the failure to force the Dardanelles. This small country was at length in the autumn of 1916 persuaded to enter the war while still completely cut off from the Western Allies. Caught in the combined grip of German, Austrian, Bulgarian and Turkish troops, she was crushed with astonishing celerity; and, her armies broken, her capital pillaged, her entire territory subjugated, her Government driven on to foreign soil, she was forced into a separate Peace of the most merciless character.
In its naval aspects the story of the Dardanelles illuminates the two different schools of thought which existed throughout the whole war at the Admiralty and in the Fleet. The first considered in the main that the war was the business of the Army; the task of the Royal Navy was to carry the Army wherever they wanted to go, to keep open the sea communications, and to be ready in overwhelming strength to fight the enemy’s main Fleet should it ever accord them an opportunity. The type of officer who adhered to these respectable views was naturally led to urge the unceasing and increasing construction of ships of all kinds for the Grand Fleet and for attendance upon it. They also steadfastly advocated the accumulation of material of every kind, raising continually their standards of reserves and piling up enormous quantities of ammunition which they husbanded so jealously that it was nearly all left unexpended at the Armistice. Not less naturally they viewed with extreme apprehension the loss even of the oldest ships, for these, if all the new ones were destroyed, might come in useful. Above all, they objected to any ship being risked except in contact with an enemy ship. As the enemy ships scarcely ever put to sea, adherence to these doctrines tended to confine the Navy to the sphere occupied by the great services of supply and transport which sustained the fronts of armies and in that vital function exhibited so many worthy qualities.
The opposite view was that the Navy was a gigantic instrument of offensive war, capable of intervening with decisive effect in the general strategy, and that it must bear its share of the risks and sufferings of the struggle. The Grand Fleet must, of course, be maintained in an absolutely assured superiority to the maximum forces of the enemy; but even the vital units of the Grand Fleet must be used in battle and on great occasions with audacity and with a fierce desire to engage the enemy and turn to advantage the awful hazards of war. As to vessels surplus to the ample but strict numerical requirements of the Grand Fleet we have seen what may be called the ‘Forward School’ use them, or wish to use them—aye, and lead them—with a cold and calculated ruthlessness of consequences and furious refusal to be denied success never surpassed in naval annals. It was in this spirit that Beatty broke into the Heligoland Bight on August 28, 1914, pressed his pursuit of von Hipper on January 24, and led the battle-cruisers and the fast division at Jutland. Contrast his attitude of mind at Jutland, when two of his six ships with 2,500 men had been blown out of existence in a few moments, with that of Admiral de Robeck—an officer of the highest physical courage—but saddened and smitten to the heart by the loss of three obsolete vessels with small loss of life in the numerous fleet which he commanded. To write thus is not to justify foolhardiness or the throwing away of any advantage over the enemy. True daring in war arises from a just sense of proportion, which again can only spring from a wide comprehension.
Such is the true war spirit of the Navy, which only gradually liberated itself from the shortsighted prudent housewifery of the peace-time mind. It stirred beneath the ponderous routine of the line of battle; it sprang into action with the battle-cruisers in the North Sea, in the destroyers at Jutland and the Dover Straits, in the submarines in the Heligoland Bight and in the Sea of Marmora, in the motor-launches at Zeebrugge and Cronstadt.
The fact that one Admiral did not seriously attempt to force the Dardanelles when the Admiralty wished him to do so, and that the Admiralty would not allow another to try when he most earnestly desired, and the conclusions drawn therefrom throughout the Service, led us to a period of naval inertia and passivity from which there was a fearful awakening.
The entry of the Navy into the war was vehement and successful; the dash into the Heligoland Bight paralysed at the outset the German initiative; the Dogger Bank confirmed our prestige. The Germans waited solidly and passively for the next blow; they believed that they were about to receive it at the Dardanelles; but it never came. Slowly their diligent exact minds recovered confidence; slowly they divined the infirmities and misgivings which lurked behind the overwhelming Armadas of their opponents. It was very dangerous to leave them so long to think. Not until the war had lasted thirty months was Germany in a position to begin her real submarine attack. And to that attack we nearly succumbed. It ought never to have been possible; it never would have been possible but for the prolongation of the war. It would have been greatly diminished in intensity, in spite of the prolongation of the war, if the Germans had been continually pressed and harried by aggressive enterprise and novelty, if they had been bewildered and kept constantly in expectation. Through the greater part of 1915 peace brooded on the seas; through the greater part of 1916, apart from the Battle of Jutland, there was comparative peace. But thereafter there was a change which came near to our complete undoing.
The wonderful exertions of the British Navy to defend the life of Britain and the cause of the Allies against the ‘U-boats’ are a history in themselves. This supreme peril united both schools of naval thought. Those who had been content to limit the part of the Navy to maintaining the blockade and keeping open the sea communications found themselves challenged and in mortal peril even in their restricted sphere. There resulted the prodigious achievement of a victory over the most intangible of foes in which the whole Navy bore its part. It ought never to have been called for.
Yet even in their extreme danger the negative school of Admirals and those who followed their advice resigned themselves to defensive measures either of an active or passive character, such as eating less bread, ploughing up the land, cutting down the forests, dispersing thousands of guns on merchant ships, building more merchant ships for submarines to sink, strewing the seas with mines, consuming hundreds of destroyers and thousands of small craft on escort and submarine hunting. Still, even when the German Fleet was hopelessly crippled, they continued to strengthen the Grand Fleet—even when all the power of the American Navy was added to their own. And by all these means they drew upon our limited resources to such an extent that in 1918 the equivalent in men and material of fifteen or twenty divisions was denied to the hard-pressed fighting line on land; and Fisher had to coin the biting sentence, ‘Can the Army win the war, before the Navy loses it?’
Nevertheless, by an enormous inroad upon our resources and an amazing exhibition of seamanship and faithful skill and courage, the British Navy eventually crushed the ‘U-boat.’ But how narrowly and at what a cost!
It was left to Admiral Keyes to show at Zeebrugge that there were other ways of making war from the sea.
The end of the Dardanelles campaign closed the second great period of the struggle. There was nothing left on land now but the war of exhaustion—not only of armies but of nations. No more strategy, very little tactics; only the dull wearing down of the weaker combination by exchanging lives; only the multiplying of machinery on both sides to exchange them quicker. The continuous front now stretched not only from the Alps to the Seas, but across the Balkan Peninsula, across Palestine, across Mesopotamia. The Central Empires had successfully defended their southern flank in the Balkans and in Turkey. Their victory quelled simultaneously all likelihood of any attempt against their northern flank upon the Baltic. All such ideas had received their quietus. Good, plain, straightforward frontal attacks by valiant flesh and blood against wire and machine guns, ‘killing Germans’ while Germans killed Allies twice as often, calling out the men of forty, of fifty, and even of fifty-five, and the youths of eighteen, sending the wounded soldiers back three or four times over into the shambles—such were the sole manifestations now reserved for the military art. And when at the end, three years later, the throng of uniformed functionaries who in the seclusion of their offices had complacently presided over this awful process, presented Victory to their exhausted nations, it proved only less ruinous to the victor than to the vanquished.
The tale is told. Yet at its conclusion we may cast back upon it one final glance. It is impossible to assemble the long chain of fatal missed chances which prevented the forcing of the Dardanelles without experiencing a sense of awe. One sees in retrospect at least a dozen situations all beyond the control of the enemy, any one of which, decided differently, would have ensured success. If we had known when it was resolved to make the naval attack that an army would be available and would be given, a surprise combined naval and military attack upon the Gallipoli Peninsula would have been decided upon and backed with goodwill. If an army had never been sent, the Navy with its mine-sweeping service well organized would have resumed its efforts after the check on March 18; and had it resumed, it would soon have exhausted the ammunition in the Turkish forts and swept the minefields. Had the despatch of the 29th Division not been countermanded on February 20, or had it been packed in the transports in readiness to fight on disembarkation, Sir Ian Hamilton would have attacked the Gallipoli Peninsula almost immediately after March 18 and would, in that event, have found it ill-defended. The battles of June and July were all critical in the last degree. Any substantial addition to the attack would have been decisive. The paralysis of the Executive during the formation of the Coalition Government in May, delayed for six weeks the arrival of the British reinforcements, and enabled the Turks to double the strength of their Army. Thus the favourable moment at the beginning of July was thrown away. The Battle of Suvla Bay in August was marked by a combination of evil happenings extraordinary among the hazards of war. The story of the IXth British Corps and of the whole Suvla landing would be incredible if it were not true. The resignation of Lord Fisher, my dismissal from the Admiralty, and the unpopularity of the Dardanelles enterprise through ignorance, intimidated our successors on the Board of Admiralty from accepting responsibility for the risks that were necessary. The refusal of the Greek alliance and army when offered in 1914; the failure to obtain that alliance and army when sought in 1915; its mad rejection by Russia; the delicate balance on which the fateful decision of Bulgaria depended; the extraordinary circumstances in Paris which led in September, 1915, to the appointment of General Sarrail and to the proposal of the French Government to send a large expedition to take possession of the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles, and the reversal of this policy which offered so many prospects of success; the diversion of all the forces that became available towards the end of 1915 from the vital objective of the Dardanelles and Constantinople to the prodigal, and for nearly three years indecisive, operations from Salonika; the final decision to evacuate Gallipoli, at the time when the position of the Turkish army was most desperate and the British Navy most confident—all these are separate tragedies.
It was not ordained that the world should escape easily from Armageddon, that victory should bring triumph and profit to any of the combatants, or that old systems should endure unchastened among men.