Retreat from Gallipoli
The 15th of December 1915 AD
The fiasco that was Gallipoli was ended in the winter of 1915-16, the last troops being evacuated from Helles on January 9 1916. Perversely the only element of the campaign that was well and imaginatively organised was the evacuation.
The French politician Aristide Briand (we also have him to thank for the Treaty of Locarno which moved Europe almost inevitably from WWI to WWII ) was one of the first proponents of a campaign against Turkey that would bring down the Ottoman Empire. Churchill weighed in with his thoughts, though his view was of a naval bombardment in the end followed by occupation. The thinking was that Turkey was on the verge of collapse – an idea supported by intelligence from T.E. Lawrence – and that should a way be driven through to Russian territory it would facilitate the supply of material to increase the pressure on Germany on the Eastern Front (though as Britain was desperately short of food and equipment this still seems a mad vision).
The allies – many troops from Australia and New Zealand, plus British and French forces – were unable to get beyond small beachheads. They were poorly led (as ever in the conflict), with Kitchener and his staff incapable of arranging adequate supplies; with the ground chosen to attack being beneath high ground occupied by the Turks with fortified artillery positions, and largely bereft of cover. The naval bombardment before the landings showed the Turks exactly what was coming and where. Half a million men died in the campaign before the command accepted that loss of prestige was better than continued slaughter.
Only two soldiers were lost in the retreat, an incredible success in terrible contrast to the continual bloody failures beforehand. Devices such as rifles rigged to fire by themselves gave cover to the departing troops, fooling the Turks into missing what was happening.
The outcomes of the campaign were many: Kitchener was sidelined, albeit with no public loss of face; Churchill when he returned to Parliament was kept out of the cabinet for a time; various senior commanders were disgraced. But the main result was a new independently national consciousness for the Australians and New Zealanders, who had suffered at the hands of upper class incompetents from a land far distant from their own, and suddenly felt the bonds of Empire withering.
More famous dates here
4354 views since 15th December 2008
On this day: