Gallipoli, 1915-1916: Churchill's Road to Jerusalem -- Failure and Vindication

Article excerpt

Do our older readers of Midstream remember the popular series of novels for young boys in the late 1920s and early 1930s entitled "The Boy Allies," which described various battles of World War I as witnessed by the fictional "Boy Allies"? One of the series was The Boy Allies at Gallipoli. Also, in the same period, there was a popular dance recording of "Dardanella," played by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. I had no idea in those days that I would someday be preparing a military study of the real battle of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles.

My concern with Gallipoli began during World War II. On 24 January 1942, I testified in uniform before the presidential commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts trying Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Major General Walter C. Short for failing to safeguard the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor against the Japanese surprise attack of 7 December 1941. I was called because of my two studies: (1) the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 in which the Japanese navy destroyed Russia's Pacific fleet at Port Arthur in a surprise attack on 4 February 1904; and (2) the Allied invasion of Gallipoli in 1915-1916, which hardly got beyond the beaches and ended in failure and the evacuation of over 230,000 men. Justice Roberts asked: "What were the penalties dealt the responsible commanders?" My reply: "The Russian admiral at Port Arthur was killed in the attack; and Winston Churchill, planner of the Gallipoli campaign, was removed from the War Cabinet."

My Russo-Japanese War article appeared in Midstream (January 2000). The Gallipoli study, never published before, describes Churchill's plan for: (1) relieving the Russians from the Turkish invasion forces in the Caucuses; (2) ousting the Turks from Palestine and Syria, conquering Constantinople, and extending the British Empire in the Middle East; and (3) granting the Jews nationhood in Palestine, a mission formalized two years later by the Balfour Declaration. The plan was conceived when World War I was in its second year, at a time when the Allied forces on the Western Front were stalled and Turkey joined with Germany and invaded Russia, thereby creating an Eastern Front.

World War I broke out on 4 August 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium. A series of decisions and actions initiated primarily by Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill resulted in Britain's embarking on the road to Jerusalem, then part of the Ottoman Empire. The road became clearer on 27 October 1914, when two German battleships flying German and Turkish flags bombed Russian ports on the Black Sea. On 2 November, Russia declared war on Turkey, and on 5 November, Britain and France declared war on Turkey. The contestants were now lined up in two blocs: (1) the Allied Nations comprising Britain, France, and Russia; and (2) the Central Powers consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey.

Britain's declaration of war of 5 November was voted for by the British War Council, composed of Churchill, Foreign Minister Edward Grey, Secretary of State for War General Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, and Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. That day Asquith warned Turkey that its attacks on Russian ports "have rung the death knell of Ottoman dominion not only in Europe but in Asia."(1)

On 25 November, at a meeting of the War Council, Churchill raised the matter of protecting Egypt and the Suez Canal and then recommended that the Allied Nations attack Turkey through the Dardanelle Straits and seize Gallipoli, the strategic peninsula safeguarding Turkey's capital and major seaport Constantinople. However, First Sea Lord Admiral John Arbuth Fisher, supported by Kitchener, urged instead a large-scale frontal invasion of Germany by crossing the North Sea. No decision was reached that day.

The war, however, was now being fought on two fronts: the western, where Britain and France were pitted against Germany and Austria, and the eastern, where Turkey was roughing up the Russians. …