Churchill hatches a plan for Dardanelles
As the Anzacs underwent intensive training in the Egyptian desert in preparation for the battlefront, decisions were being made at the highest levels thatwould determine their fate. In Part 11 of our Centenary Milestones series, we focus on Winston Church
ON JANUARY 13, 1915, the beginnings of a plan that would change the course of the Anzacs forever was being decided behind closed doors in London.
Politician Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, presented his plan to capture the Dardanelles to the British War Council.
He saw it as a naval action that would give the Allies access to the Sea of Marmara and Black Sea, and thus supply route access to its ally, Russia.
Another potential benefit of this plan was drawing Greece and Bulgaria to join the Allies, for these neighbouring countries were constantly circling the Ottoman Empire (known then as the “sick man of Europe”) in pursuit of more territory.
Churchill had been ruminating over the Dardanelles scheme since September 1914, a month before Turkey closed the straits to Allied shipping, but it wasn’t until early in January that he raised it with British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.
Churchill had already cabled Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden, commanding the British naval squadron in the Mediterranean, asking if the Dardanelles could be forced by ships alone.
Carden replied: “I do not consider Dardanelles can be rushed. They might be forced by extended operations with large num- bers of ships.”
Carden, who had four battleships at the time, outlined a scheme to capture the Dardanelles in stages with 12 battleships, extra submarines, four seaplanes and 12 minesweepers.
The Vice-Admiral’s plan contained enough detail to appear credible to the War Council, which was quite taken with the idea when Churchill presented it during the January 13 meeting.
There was another reason opening up a Turkish front sounded appealing – the news from the Western Front was becoming more depressing all the time, and the Allies could do with a victory somewhere.
Churchill’s scheme was approved.
Despite the general enthusiasm for the Dardanelles plan, there was an important dissenting voice , however – that of First Sea Lord John Fisher, who had been brought out of dis- tinguished retirement by Churchill.
Fisher – a naval hero who was more accustomed to directing the Admiralty with the support of the political First Lord than taking orders from him – did not believe the Dardanelles should be a naval operation alone.
The straits, a long-known strategic asset, were well protected with forts and batteries along their length, not to mention natural geography, the advantage of height giving the Turks good visibility over any invaders below.
According to Les Carlyon’s Gallipoli, later in January Fisher wrote a letter to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe stating his disapproval of the strategy.
“I just abominate the Dardanelles operation, unless a great change is made and it is settled to be a military operation, with 200,000 men in conjunction with the fleet,” he wrote.
But by then it was too late. Carden would be granted his extra ships and a plan was being developed to make the first naval assault on the Dardanelles the following month.
If it failed, ground troops would have to come from somewhere.
The Dardanelles defences in February/March 1915. The straits connected to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, which were of strategic importance.
Winston Churchill with the British Army Council on a visit to France in the early part of the war.