Last Bri­tish Gal­lipoli war­ship un­rav­els the myths of WWI dis­as­ter

The China Post - - LIFE - BY ROBIN MIL­LARD

The United King­dom’s last sur­viv­ing war­ship from Gal­lipoli is be­ing re­stored to mark the bloody cam­paign’s cen­te­nary, as a new ex­hi­bi­tion tries to counter myths sur­round­ing the dis­as­trous World War I of­fen­sive.

HMS M33, one of only three Bri­tish ships re­main­ing from the whole 1914-1918 war, is be­ing painstak­ingly ren­o­vated in a dry dock in Portsmouth, the Royal Navy’s home on the English south coast.

The rudi­men­tary bat­tle­ship is be­ing con­served to help bring the story of Gal­lipoli to life — and at­tempt to paint a more rounded pic­ture of the costly Al­lied at­tempt to seize the Turk­ish penin­sula.

“She’s a lit­tle time cap­sule,” said Nick He­witt, strate­gic devel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive at the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Royal Navy, stand­ing on the up­per deck.

“She’s a sur­vivor that ac­tu­ally went into ac­tion and fought in a re­ally sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­na­tional cam­paign.”

Ly­ing next to King Henry VIII’s beloved Mary Rose and Ho­ra­tio Nel­son’s Trafal­gar flag­ship HMS Victory, M33 stands tes­ti­mony for the World War I mar­itime war ef­fort in the pan­theon of Bri­tish ships.

Built in seven weeks, the 54-me- ter-long steel ship is flat-bot­tomed so it can get in close to shore and attack land tar­gets ac­cu­rately with its dis­pro­por­tion­ately large guns. It had a crew of 78.

The ship has been freshly re­painted in the black and white “daz­zle” style — geo­met­ric shapes in­tended to con­fuse the en­emy.

But the 2.4- mil­lion- pound ( NT$ 111.138 mil­lion; US$ 3.6mil­lion) restora­tion project aims to con­serve the gun­boat rather than re­fit it.

“There’s lay­ers of his­tory in that steel,” He­witt said.

When it opens to the public in Au­gust, vis­i­tors will be able to tour the decks, the cramped living quar­ters and the ammunition rooms.

In the empty boiler room, au­dio­vi­sual dis­plays will re­vive the hell of Gal­lipoli.

More Than 100,000 Killed

On March 18, 1915, joint Bri­tishFrench naval forces sought to force their way through the Dardanelles Straits sep­a­rat­ing Europe from Asia in a bid to take Con­stantino­ple, now Istanbul, and se­cure a sea cor­ri­dor to the Rus­sian em­pire.

The plan was con­ceived by Win­ston Churchill, later the UK’s World War II prime min­is­ter.

But the naval attack was re­pelled, forc­ing the Al­lies to begin an eight-month land cam­paign on the Gal­lipoli penin­sula on April 25 — backed by fire sup­port from the likes of M33 — which the Ot­toman forces also won.

The Ot­toman Em­pire lost more than 50,000 men; the UK nearly 35,000; France close to 10,000; Australia al­most 9,000 and New Zealand nearly 3,000. More than dou­ble th­ese num­bers were wounded.

Gal­lipoli is por­trayed in Turkey as a mighty victory, whereas Down Un­der, “it’s heroic An­zac (Aus­tralian and New Zealand Army Corps) sol­diers be­ing led to dis­as­ter by bungling Bri­tish gen­er­als,” He­witt said.

It is seen as a found­ing mo­ment for the mod­ern na­tions of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey.

“It’s barely re­mem­bered here (in the UK), and if it is, it’s seen as an Aus­tralian story. And in France it’s al­most en­tirely forgotten,” He­witt added.

Fu­til­ity of Al­lied Cam­paign

The Na­tional Mu­seum of the Royal Navy, next to HMS M33, is at­tempt­ing to dis­pel mis­un­der- stand­ings about the cam­paign in its ex­hi­bi­tion, “Gal­lipoli: Myth and Mem­ory.”

“What we’re try­ing to do is re­store some bal­ance to the Gal­lipoli story,” He­witt said.

“Gal­lipoli has a cen­tral myth: that it was a land battle fought by mainly Aus­tralian and New Zealand sol­diers. And it’s more com­pli­cated and nu­anced than that.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion uses a cap­tured Turk­ish ma­chine gun, an ad­mi­ral’s plan­ning notes, troops’ di­aries, air­dropped pro­pa­ganda mes­sages and even a Bri­tish sub­ma­rine periscope pierced by a Turk­ish shell to help tell a fuller story.

How­ever, it does not seek to di­min­ish the An­zac con­tri­bu­tion nor air­brush the cam­paign.

“It is an Al­lied dis­as­ter,” said He­witt, who de­scribed the attack as “ill-thought through and prob­a­bly un­achiev­able.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which opened last month, runs un­til Fe­bru­ary 2016.

One 79-year-old mu­seum vis­i­tor said his sol­dier fa­ther had sur­vived Gal­lipoli with the Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment’s 5th Bat­tal­ion.

“The most mov­ing part is the fi­nal im­age of the war me­mo­rial and ceme­tery at An­zac Cove,” he said.

“It puts the best light on the fu­til­ity of it all.”


A view from the front of the newly re­stored HMS M33 Min­erva in Portsmouth’s His­toric Dock­yard in Portsmouth, Eng­land on Thurs­day, April 16.

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