Gallipoli 10: It’s All For You

First World War Hidden History

On 6 January 1915 Winston Churchill sent a telegraph to the commander of the Mediterranean fleet, Vice-Admiral Sackville-Carden asking how many ships he needed to break through the Dardanelles and how he would go about it? In his response five days later Carden suggested a force of 12 battleships, three battle-cruisers, three light cruisers, 16 destroyers, six submarines, four seaplanes and 12 minesweepers. In addition, he required a dozen support vessels. Surely but subtly, responsibility for the operation that could never succeed was passed to Carden.

Dardanelles Gun

What he proposed was not so much a plan as the order in which the ships might attack the Dardanelles forts, [1] but from that moment on, Churchill presented Carden’s list as if it was a carefully considered strategic plan. The old Vice-Admiral imagined that battleships would first bombard the outer forts guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles from a long distance. Minesweepers would…

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Gallipoli 8: Trouble With Russia

First World War Hidden History

Russian_prisoners_tannenberg

Once the immediate German threat to Paris had passed, and the Western Front stuck fast in what would become a four year-long stalemate of miserable trench warfare, London was faced with a serious problem. The Russians had been badly beaten on the Eastern Front. They had invaded Germany’s eastern borders but were driven back by the German defensive-offensive at the Battle of Tannenberg and the first Battle of the Masurian Lakes. Despite outnumbering the German Eighth Army under von Hindenberg and Ludendorf by almost two to one, the Russians had lost some 300,000 men by the middle of September 1914. Rather than face the wrath of the Czar, General Alexander Samsonov shot himself.

Russian morale plummeted. Such heavy and unexpected losses only six weeks into the war drained their enthusiasm. With the way to Constantinople blocked by the Goeben, some of the Czar’s advisors began to consider an armistice with…

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Gallipoli 6: Neutral Till It Suits

First World War Hidden History

The entry of Goeben and Breslau to the Dardanelles, barely a week into Britain’s war with Germany, was a significant achievement. It felt like a defeat; it was anything but.

The Royal Navy suffered a widely felt embarrassment at the incapacity of its Mediterranean fleet to destroy two relatively easy targets. In the eyes of fellow senior officers, the failure to engage the enemy was seen as a shameful episode, contrary to the finest traditions of the navy. The commanders of the British cruiser squadrons, Rear-Admiral Milne and Vice-Admiral Troubridge, were recalled to London in response to widespread public criticism. These senior officers had to be held to account to placate the Russians who might have asked even more awkward questions about the Goeben’s escape. They protested that they did no wrong. Milne insisted that he had given ‘unquestioning obedience’ to Admiralty orders and was able to demonstrate that in…

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