Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Campaign in Gallipoli

by Hans Kannengiesser Pasha
Translated by Maj. C.J.P. Ball
The Naval and Military Press, Ltd., 1927 (facsimile)
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

German General & Turkish Field Marshal—
Liman von Sanders with Mustafa Kemal

Hans Kannengiesser (1868–1945) was a major general seconded from the German Army to the Turkish Army. He initially arrived in Constantinople as part of the 500-man military mission (a list of the officer corps is an appendix to the book) in December 1913. The Turkish government had asked for German help in reorganizing their army after the disastrous defeats in the Balkan Wars. The employment was met with protests from the French government, who controlled the Turkish police, and the British government, who controlled the navy. At the onset Kannengiesser's duties were with the War Office, during which he came into daily contact with Enver Pasha, one of the three Young Turks who controlled the government, and with his friend, Liman von Sanders who headed up the military mission.

The author's preface clearly lays out what his intentions were toward writing The Campaign in Gallipoli: "I have to date vainly awaited a history of the Gallipoli campaign, something more than a casual story in the newspapers … this is the reason why I have now seized a pen and believe myself to be fulfilling a comradely duty." The completed book appeared in 1927. The copy I reviewed was a facsimile produced by The Naval and Military Press. My research did not reveal any other books by Kannengiesser or even a biography beyond its Turkish placement.

The Campaign in Gallipoli begins with the author returning to Constantinople aboard ship after observing a practice mobilization and a conscription process in Northern Anatolia in early August 1914. Rumors abounded of world-shaking actions, but factual news was non-existent in a day without wireless communication. Throughout the trip, his anxiety was quite high because of the lack of communication available. Whenever the ship docked along the Black Sea coast, he sent his aide to find out what news was available. The aide always came back with no news. It wasn't until they finally arrived in Constantinople that Kannengiesser learned that the war had begun. Predictably, his reaction on hearing from a man in the street that Germany had declared war on France and Russia was to correct the man and tell him that undoubtedly France and Russia had declared war on Germany.

Turkish Field Piece at Gallipoli

With that observance I expected that the author would be another Great War German general who would bombastically criticize the Allies and dwell on the Central Powers fighting the good fight with incompetent commanders. I was pleasantly surprised to find the author's further writing very neutral and decidedly professional in tone with the exception of perpetuating the myth that Russia declared war on Turkey when it laid mines off the Bosporus and the Turkish navy had retaliated almost immediately by bombarding Russian ports. But even in that belief, Kannengiesser very succinctly notes that Turkish ships were shelling the Russian ports within one day of the supposed mine laying, a feat that was impossible without planning, considering the distance across the Black Sea. I decided to go on with the reading.

The next few chapters lay out what importance Turkey had in the Great War and why the Turks decided on an alliance with Germany. None of the paragraphs imply that Turkey was pulled into the fray without a choice. In his assessment of the Turkish Army, the author is quick to point out that the Balkan Wars and the Italian invasion of Libya had destroyed the army and depleted its supplies. I got the impression that he was not supportive of Turkey's decision. After the general descriptions, Kannengiesser launches into the Allied attempt to force the Dardenelles in November 1914. It is very apparent that the author, in 1927, had access to British documents on the campaign, and he reports what they said very accurately without bias. I could almost say that he applauded the actions, and his depiction of squabbling over Constantinople by the Allied governments and Greece (still a neutral at this time but opposed to seeing Russia in control of the strait) is quite interesting.

The author also outlines Liman von Sanders's (he was promoted to field marshal in the Turkish Army) plan to defend the Dardanelles in detail. In essence von Sanders knew the army couldn't lay out trench lines from one end of Gallipoli to the other. He, instead, opted for the concentration of a few divisions at likely landing places with the rest of his force in such positions that they could come to reinforce resistance when it was needed. Kannengiesser lays out the order of battle in detail and adds a brief description of the divisional and corps commanders. There are very few disparaging comments in these descriptions and the word "incompetent" never appears.

Depiction of British Forces Attacking Heights Above Suvla Bay in August
This Is When the Author Made His Biggest Contribution to the Campaign

Kannengiesser became involved in the fighting on 26 April 1915. Von Sanders ordered him to take over the 5th Division after the previous commander was ordered to another division. Kannengiesser's description of Kemal is complimentary, except that he notes Kemal took advice from no one, including his staff. When the author arrived at the divisional headquarters he was told that he was not needed and for the next two chapters the reader gets to experience Kannengiesser's frustration as he shunted from one division to the next, finally winding up in the 9th Division as an adviser of sorts. His advice often fell on deaf ears, but there were incidents in which his directions, such as digging trenches deeper and moving key elements out of sight, were accepted. He was constantly out at the front pointing this or that out and trying to improve the conditions that the common soldier lived under. Instead avoiding him, the men began to look forward to his company while the officers worried about his popularity.

Being constantly out in the front put him in places that proved crucial to the defense. His claim to fame rests in one particular incident. He was placed in command of two regiments in the 9th Division and ordered to move them north to find out what was going on near Suvla Bay in August 1915. Kannengiesser issued the orders for his regiments and then set out to reconnoiter the area he was to take over to better position the regiments when they arrived. There was news of Allied activity in the area, but nothing was known of its degree.

When Kannengiesser arrived on the heights overlooking Suvla Bay he found that the Allies were landing in force. His regiments were two days away. The author interrupts to say that there were many reports of what he did next, including a picture of him raising his sword and leading his division forward against an already entrenched enemy. Very quickly he says the incident didn't happen that way. Instead what he did was gallop along the heights looking for the contingent that was supposed to be watching the site. He found a battery of light artillery protected by an infantry platoon of about 20 men. He ordered these men, who questioned his authority, into action. They demurred, especially since he had to talk through an interpreter. As he puts it, "I threw myself at them," and they opened fire. The English, who were beginning to ascend, immediately lay down and did not return fire. Kannengiesser had the opinion that the English, under the hot sun and beginning the climb, were glad to stop and lie down. Luckily for him, two infantry regiments were traversing the area behind him. He took over command, after great difficulty again, and pushed them into defensive positions.

His defense of the heights goes into some detail regarding the Allied side, naming regiments and their intentions, and he quickly states that his meager force should have been overwhelmed. However, it wasn't. Why? He doesn't offer any explanation, despite an apparent access to British documents, except that maybe the commanders were worried about supplying water forward. To that he notes that had the Allies taken the heights there was water in abundance. Another explanation offered was that the commanders were simply not aggressive enough.

Kannengiesser was eventually wounded and sent to Constantinople to recover. In the meantime, the campaign boiled down to a stalemate, and he didn't return until the very day that the evacuation began. The Campaign in Gallipoli ends with no further exploits on his part except recovering abandoned supplies.

This book is a well-balanced depiction of the Gallipoli campaign from the Turkish perspective. The author does not talk in the bombastic manner so prevalent among German chroniclers. His description of a typical Turkish soldier is not critical, citing culture and religion as a driving factor. It lauds the soldiers' courage and determination. Moreover, it is well rounded, drawing heavily from British sources for a depiction of their actions. Another attribute is that Kannengiesser gives identity to his staff and commanders down to company level. He does not lead the troops; captains and the like do and they are named. This is a book that should be on the Great War aficionados' shelves.

Michael Kihntopf

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