Lions Led By Donkeys Essay Research Paper

?Lions Led By Donkeys.? Essay, Research Paper “Lions led by donkeys.” Can this criticism be applied fairly to the Allied leaders responsible for the Gallipoli Campaign? Discuss.

?Lions Led By Donkeys.? Essay, Research Paper

“Lions led by donkeys.” Can this criticism be applied fairly to the Allied

leaders responsible for the Gallipoli Campaign? Discuss.

The Gallipoli Campaign is recorded in British history and through popular memory

as a heroic disaster: a possibly war-winning scheme that ended in complete

disarray. The horror of the First World War was encapsulated in this microcosm

of the wider conflict. It shared much with the Western Front in terms of the

discomfort of the trenches and the stalemate that came with them. But it also

had the difficulties of the amphibious nature of the operation as well as the

extremes of climate that the troops experienced. The Leadership that sent the

Allied troops to the Dardenelles has often been criticised for the foolhardiness

of the operation, but as the British Official Historian stated: “There is little

doubt today that the idea of forcing the straits …… was one of the few great

strategical concepts of the world war.” So why now does the whole campaign

receive criticism as strong as the following?

With the possible exception of the Crimean War, the Gallipoli expedition was the

most poorly mounted and ineptly controlled operation in modern British military


The answer lies within the quotation itself, specifically that it was “poorly

mounted and ineptly controlled”. In order to demonstrate this it will be

necessary to consider several levels of the “leadership” involved with the

operation. Initially the political-strategical decision making must be studied

as the root to the operations problems. The Naval and Army’s planning must also

be scrutinised as this fundamentally doomed the troops to failure. Finally the

tactical leadership must be considered in light of the situation developing on

the ground and how the Turks reacted to the amphibious landings.

Before scrutinising the expedition in any detail the background of the situation

must be explained so that one can have some sort of perspective on the decisions

that were made. By the end of 1914 a stalemate had developed in Europe. Already,

after only three full months of fighting, there were almost one million Allied

casualties and a trench system that stretched three hundred and fifty miles from

the North Sea to the Swiss Alps. No obvious successes were apparent in this

impasse; the Allies did not even seem to be wearing down the Germans in this

attritional form of warfare. Thus within the British higher command people were

looking at some form of flanking manoeuvre. Churchill and Lloyd George were keen

proponents of considering alternatives other than focusing entirely on the

theatre of conflict in the West. However many of the British and French General

Staff were wholly resolute on attacking the Germans head-on, quite

understandably so for the over-run French. As for the British, with their

traditional strength lying in their Naval and expeditionary forces, one is

surprised that alternatives to a continental land war were not considered more

readily. For example Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord’s proposition of a Naval

led invasion into Northern Germany through the Baltic. No such plans were given

much credibility by the General Staff’s overwhelming desire to fight a land war.

Ultimately this opposition of the General Staff was soon tempered by events in


The battles of Masurian Lakes and Tannenberg, August 1914 crippled Russia’s

war-fighting ability in two successive blows by the Germans. In order for the

Allies to keep Germany under pressure the war had to be fought on two fronts.

Those in the West were determined to prolong Russia’s war efforts for as long as

possible. Therefore when the British received requests for assistance from The

Grand Duke Nicholas, The Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armies, they were

taken seriously. In effect what he suggested was a naval or military

demonstration in order to place pressure on the Turks who were in turn placing

pressure on the Russian Army in the Caucasus. The pivotal role that the

Gallipoli operation could have had can clearly be seen from this summary by Sir

William Robertson:

The advantages to be derived from forcing the straits were perfectly obvious.

Such a success would, as the advocates of the project said, serve to secure

Egypt, to induce Italy and the Balkan states to come in on our side, and, if

followed by the forcing of the Bosporus, would enable Russia to draw munitions

from America and Western Europe, and to export her accumulated supplies of


Although a most succinct appraisal of the situation ironically Robertson opposed

the scheme. This was a characteristic of the Dardenelles operation in that many

people in positions of authority could see the benefits that it could

potentially bring yet still they would not take their focus from Western Europe.

Thus a key facet to the campaign’s failure was in British high command;

throughout its implementation there was a constant need to plan based on

compromise. On a strategic level the disparity between the military commanders

and the political leadership of the country was immediately apparent. The

political hierarchy had a broader perspective of the international situation;

they realised the potential that Turkey held in the Dardenelles’ position and

therefore coveted it. The Military command, predominantly the Army were solely

focused on the job in hand. The Turks, however, were also aware of the British

need to have influence in the area. They were also aware that Russia and Greece

were only too willing to join Britain in supporting any such operation as it

would allow Turkish lands to be carved up as spoils of war. A result of which

would be the Russian gain of much desired access to “warm-water” ports. Due to

these pressures the Turks were pushed toward German influence at a very early

stage of the war because of the perceived greater threat from the Allies.

The military hierarchy had, as previously suggested, been totally focused on the

forces deployed in France. Kitchener was initially resolute that he had no

forces which he could possibly send eastward. A result of this was an attempt to

force the straits with a purely naval operation of a combined British and French

fleet during February and March 1915, as a result of the Russian call for

assistance. This was not the first attempt of the war to use a naval force to

attack the area of the Straits. In November 1914 the Mediterranean Squadron of

the Royal Navy bombarded the forts at Sedd-el-bahr and Kum Kale either side of

the mouth of the Dardenelles. This twenty minute action did little to the Turks

other than wake them to the prospect of further, perhaps more serious attempts

to force the straits. The initial plan of 1915 to try and take the Straits by a

progressive bombardment whilst steadily moving up the channel. The over-riding

reason was the political aim of the operation, in that its intention was to

relieve pressure on Russian military forces. What also spurred the naval project

forward was the success, albeit limited, of the previous year’s bombardment. The

Royal Navy did recognise the land based threat that the forts held however what

they failed to realise that in order to prevent the guns being repaired and

brought back into action the ground had to be held. The small parties of Marines

that did actually go ashore during the operation, although not necessarily for

this purpose, were inadequate. It was more through the dogmatic insistence of

Churchill and Admiral Fisher in the Admiralty on the operation that had it

approved, rather than any sound military planning. In fact the Admiralty and

General Staff had studied proposals for attacking Turkey through the Dardenelles

in 1904, 1906, 1908 and 1911 and had concluded a naval force alone could not

achieve the aim. Yet still the British hierarchy allowed the operation to

continue because of its strategic importance. Any chance of real success for the

later joint operations were severely limited by this “compromised” attempt at


By 23 March 1915, after a month of attempting the naval option both Admiral de

Robeck and General Sir Ian Hamilton considered the plan to have failed. Under

the command of Admiral Carden, de Robeck’s predecessor and originator of the

plan, the fleet had lost a third of its strength: six ships in all to mines and

gun-battery fire. Hamilton had been dispatched by Kitchener to aid Carden with

forces drawn from the Middle East. Fundamentally this decision had been arrived

at too late and this phase of the operations mounted in the area were at an end.

Again this period of action in the Dardenelles had forewarned the Turks and

their German advisory command under General Liman von Sanders. So the actual

landings themselves were a part of larger picture of operations which had

occurred in the area of the Dardenelles. Each British engagement had escalated

the level of violence and each attempt to force the Dardenelles was only just

rebuffed until a full scale landing force was required to achieve any

significant success.

Sir Ian Hamilton was given an “Army” to conduct the Gallipoli campaign, but this

was very much an army in terms of paperwork rather than experience. It consisted

of a mix and match of various units from throughout the Empire. By far the most

experienced was the 29th Division which consisted of various Regular units drawn

from overseas postings. As a Division they had hardly operated at all, and the

operation they were about to embark on was far from the usual garrisoning

activities that they were used to conducting. After the 29th the only other unit

with any real prior experience was the Royal Navy Division. This too had its

flaws, in that it comprised of mainly fleet Marines who had predominantly served

as auxiliaries to ships. This was apparent in their lack of heavy equipment;

they were seriously lacking in any sort of artillery. Even at this stage one can

see how the higher command back in England, with its preoccupation with the

Western Front, severely hampered the efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean by the

nature of the “experienced” troops it provided. The remainder and the bulk of

the force was made up of conscripted men. The Australian and New Zealand Army

Corps (ANZACS) were to prove their valour in the following action, but also to

show their inadequate training and experience on the tactical level of command.

Supplementing these forces was an Indian Brigade and a Territorial Division both

of which lacked any indirect fire support. In all the lack of Artillery was to

prove one of the decisive points in the forthcoming fighting. The Turkish guns

and snipers were to prove themselves deadly adversaries to the exposed troops,

especially in the ANZAC areas. The lack of Allied fire support compounded the

difficulty the men had in attacking high ground over exposed slopes. The

inadequate fire support can also trace its origins to the strategic level

planning. The Western front itself had scarcely adequate shells or artillery

pieces and each gun averaged less than ten rounds per day, a hopeless amount

during offensive operations. In terms of the Gallipoli offensive on paper the

Divisions involved were supposed to have had a compliment of at least three

hundred and six guns to support them; in reality they had one hundred and

eighteen. Here again the influence of the Western front was to take its toll:

the landings on the 25th April coincided with the 2nd Ypres offensive, the

stock-piling of munitions for this had a knock on effect on the Gallipoli


Thus the nature of the troops that were to conduct this operation and the

manner in which they were prepared was to play a decisive role in the conduct of

the operation. Flaws in the strategic planning were to have a noticeable effect

during the later campaign. Flaws that could have been avoided had the operation

been planned from the start as a decisive joint operation. Instead the

intermittent efforts of the Royal Navy, who were clearly forced into action

prematurely by political pressure in the need to support Russia and Churchill’s

insistence on action, warned the Turks of future attacks.

Although fettered by the insufficient material support from his superiors,

Hamilton’s concept of operations and planning was actually quite successful in

that Liman von Sanders could not pin-point where the main thrust of the landings

was to arrive. Even on the first day of the landings von Sanders concentrated

his own efforts around Bulair forty miles to the North of Cape Helles. However,

events were to take a turn for the worse through accident and more significantly

lack of command. A comparison of the events on the 25th of April show very

different reactions by the ANZACS and British forces. In the case of the ANZACS

mistakes on landing sites were to cripple their operation, for the Lancashire

Regiment on W and V beaches of Cape Helles it was to save many lives. The

reaction of the two different units shows the contrast between the experienced

and inexperienced but also highlights the flaws of the command and control in

each. The ANZAC forces were to land North of the main beaches in the area of

Gaba Tepe, however, either through navigational error or the effect of currents

they landed several miles further up the coast. The effect of this was

ultimately to stifle the Antipodeans’ assault.

Although they did make rapid inroads initially with little resistance they

floundered under the counter-attack led by Mustafa Kemal the commander of the

Turkish 19th Division. In reality Kemal had only a Regiment to hold the ANZACS

within their perimeter. But the Australian and New Zealanders showed their lack

of combat experience during these early vital stages. Instances of the ANZACS

being delayed on seeing the Turks lie down made them hesitate enough for

reinforcements to arrive under Kemal’s control. The ANZACS had assumed that

there was some sort of threat hence the Turks taking cover, in fact it was a

deception plan devised by Kemal. A ruse that would not have worked on the more

battle hardened troops who would have been aware of the urgency to push on

during this early phase. The ANZAC commanders were not resolute in their

actions; the incorrect landing sites threw them off guard which led them to make

fundamental errors that were to cause constant problems later. The ANZACS were

aware that they had to push inland yet instead of adapting to the location in

which they found themselves they tried to stick to the original plan. They

attempted to march onto their original objectives, but the geography and enemy

resistance were to hamper them. This inertia caused the ANZACS to fail to see

that in the environment they found themselves domination of the high ground was

paramount for success. By the time they realised this Mustafa Kemal had

consolidated his positions even though throughout this phase of the battle he

had be outnumbered by no less than three to one.

The 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers were to assault the two central beaches

of the main landing sites. These were named W and V and were to be the location

of some of the bloodiest fighting of the first day. For the Lancashires relief

for the troops caught in the thick of the fray came from a company who had

landed incorrectly to the flank on the main position. The significant difference

between these regular soldiers and the ANZACS was they used the mistake to their

advantage and rolled up the flank of the enemy, thus relieving the troops on the

beach. The resolute spirit of the Lancashires is reflected in their Regimental

toast which originates from that day: “Six VC’s before breakfast!” The result of

the blood shed on these beaches and those immediately neighbouring them was that

the original landing parties were a spent force. They could not consolidate

their gains. It is at this point that the planning and command structure’s

failings show the most.

The concept of the landings was successful in that Liman von Sanders did not

know were to concentrate his forces in order to repel the British. A

diversionary landing by the French at Kum Kale across the Bosporus was a success

and drew much of the Turkish forces to the Asiatic side of the Dardenelles.

Equally the demonstration by the Royal Naval Division drew attention away from

the landings around Cape Helles. However, it was through the resilience of the

sub-units of the Turkish Army that the landings failed to achieve their desired

effects. The majority of the resistance that the British encountered came from

platoon or company held positions which were well sited to counter an attack.

The failing that the British experienced was not indecisiveness, as was the case

with the ANZACS, but their inflexibility. These Regular units were well

practised in the traditional British ordered form of fighting. However, this

resulted in an inability to move away from the given plan in order to adapt to

the situation on the ground. This was certainly the case at Cape Helles. Whilst

three regiments were being massacred on the central axis of the landings the

units on the flanks had taken their objectives. Tragically they were either

unaware or reluctant to do anything about the situation less than two miles

march from their own positions.

Hamilton was also at fault during this time. He had ensconced himself on HMS

Queen Elizabeth during the battle. The ship itself had its own responsibilities

during the landings in terms of providing fire support, and had inadequate

signalling equipment for an amphibious force commander. So from the outset

Hamilton had cut himself off from any direct intervention with the action on the

ground. At most he could steam up and down the coast, but this too was also

constrained by the missions of the warship. Furthermore the two corps

commanders, Hunter-Weston with the British at Cape Helles and Birdwood with the

ANZACS at Gaba Tepe, were also afloat and they too had inadequate signalling

equipment to the shore. Fundamentally those that were in command of the major

areas of responsibility were not in any position to react to the situation on

the ground. It was from this that the momentum of the Allied landings ground to

a halt. Lack of experience and inertia at the lower levels of command and the

Commander-in-Chief’s inability to formulate any sort of informed picture of

events on the ground caused the operation to flounder at this early, vital


Subsequent operations in the Dardenelles were equally unsuccessful. By the end

of May U-boats had sunk three British ships providing fire support. As a result

HMS Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn with the rest of the Fleet supporting the

operations causing the support for those on land to be weakened further still.

The Sulva Bay landings during August 1915 were much more adequately equipped for

instance they had powered barges capable of landing up to five hundred men. Yet

the fundamental problems were still there: inertia from inexperience on the

ground, and the distanced and non-contactble senior commanders. The latter were

often so inured by their Western Front experiences during the Sulva Bay landings

that they too readily dug in. This later phase of the Dardenelles campaign

showed that the soldiers were far from defeated themselves. The diversionary

attack by the ANZACS during the Sulva Bay landings were extremely costly in

terms of casualties, however, the soldiers demonstrated their fighting spirit in

that fifteen Victoria Crosses were awarded at the Battle of Lone Pine Ridge


Hamilton’s replacement, Sir Charles Monro, was mocked by Churchill because his

first recommendation on arrival in October 1915 was to withdraw. Churchill

stated “He came, he saw, he capitulated.” However, Monro was a Western Front

commander held in high regard. On inspecting the situation himself Kitchener

agreed to Monro’s plans. Even at this late stage of the Gallipoli campaign one

can see the machinations of politics at work in the decision-making process.

Huge pressure had been levied upon the British hierarchy to conduct this

operation, yet its execution was half-hearted in terms of preparation at the

strategic level and ineptly commanded at the tactical level. Again the British

Official Historian puts this quite succinctly:

Many reasons combined to frustrate an enterprise the success of which in 1915

would have altered the course of the war. But every reason will be found to

spring from one fundamental cause – an utter lack of preparation before the

campaign began.

This lack of preparation can be seen in the intermittent naval actions that did

little material damage to the Turks but succeeded in warning them of further

action. These were carried out with complete disregard to prior tactical

planning that had taken place concerning the very same scenario. Nonetheless the

pressure that was placed upon those in Government, particularly Churchill, for

the operation to succeed caused sound tactical planning such as the need for

surprise to be ignored. Hamilton’s attempts were crippled from the outset due to

the inadequate experience of the bulk of his forces, and the lack of necessary

battle-winning artillery. His method of command was the underlying factor

however in that it was indecisive and far too removed to affect the action on

the ground. At lower levels this caused stagnation and stalemate on the