By Alan Moorehead
(Aurum Press, 384 pages, £25) A century after the attempt by Britain and her allies to force the Dardanelles Straits and, by capturing Constantinople, knock Germany’s ally Turkey out of the First World War, it’s good to see a reprint of a classicsic account of the campaign. First published in 1956 and written by an experienced war correspondent, this book remains a highly readable account.
An initial naval attempt to force the straits was foiled by poor planning, bad luck and determined Turkish resistance. Troops were landed to clear the guns that dominated the straits but met fierce resistance from the few Turkish troops on the peninsula. The men who got ashore dug in and, for the next eight months, battled to expand their tiny bridgeheads. It was trench warfare at its worst, made more hideous by the heat and insanitary conditions. Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZACS) fought their first battles here and Gallipoli remains central to their national identities.
The only major success of the campaign was the total evacuation of the peninsula without a single casualty. Units were marched silently to the beaches and taken off in the dark. In daylight, groups of men appeared to be unloading stores and carrying them inland as usual. The artillery gradually reduced its firing and the trench garrisons were thinned out until on 20 December the northern bridgeheads were evacuated and, a few days later, the other beaches.
It was a campaign fought in the face of bad generalship and confusion among the politicians directing the war and, in retrospect, was unlikely to have ever succeeded.
Though the campaign is covered from the highest level, with few of the individual soldiers’ stories that pepper more recent accounts, this book is an excellent read and introduction to the fighting that went on.
Phil Tomaselli is a military family
Members of the British Royal Naval Division on the attack at Gallipoli in April 1915