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

Central and North Burnett Times - - REAL ESTATE - By CHRISTINA ON­G­LEY

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.

PHOTO: COUR­TESY OF AUS­TRALIAN WAR MEMO­RIAL H12243

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.

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