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

Friday, December 11, 2020

By Accident: The Anzacs Road to Gallipoli


Heading Ashore at Anzac

Roger Lee, Australian War Memorial

As is well known, it was the failure of naval firepower to suppress both the fixed and mobile artillery defending the Straits that forced the Allies to resort to the use of land forces. And available reserves of land forces in early 1915 were very small.

The Australians found themselves on Gallipoli almost by accident. They were in the area and available. When war was declared and the first AIF raised, the intention was it would sail to Britain, train in camps there and be sent forward to France as required. 

Perhaps fortunately for the Australians and New Zealanders, the rush of volunteers in Britain itself so overwhelmed the available facilities that the War Office diverted them to Egypt for training.

The entry of Turkey into the war and the Turkish attack on the Suez Canal in February 1915 simply confirmed the decision to leave the Anzacs in Egypt to train, as they augmented existing British troops in defence of the canal zone.

The Anzacs’ lack of training and experience was another factor. The War Office was never very keen on the Dardanelles “adventure,” so when directed to provide troops, it actively resisted sending any of its battle experienced units from the Western Front.

It couldn’t avoid the use of regulars altogether. The British regular 29th Division, offered up by Kitchener to support another politically inspired adventure into Salonika to support the Serbs, was diverted to the Mediterranean.

The bulk of the fighting force, was supplied by the British Royal Naval Division and the two Anzac divisions. Finally, even had the War Office tried to transport sufficient numbers of experienced troops from France to the Mediterranean, gathering sufficient numbers of transports to carry them would have been an almost insurmountable problem. As it was, logistics and logistics support was to be the Achilles heel of the whole venture. 

Hunkered Down

Although it is true that soldiers seem needed when diplomacy fails, using a mixed force of partially trained, inexperienced troops in a hastily planned operation designed to offset a failure of naval or gunboat diplomacy was a very risky solution.

Gallipoli was not the result of a cogent, well-developed strategy. From the appointment of the commander-in-chief down, decisions were made in haste, on the basis of poor or incomplete information and against an ill-defined objective.

The surprise is not that the operation failed but that it achieved as much as it did.

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