World War 1914 - 1918 A Pictured History Part 25

CHAPTER 55 LAST DAYS IN GALLIPOLI Here is the third and last of the three chapters that deal with the fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. It describes the evacuation, which, carried outwith remarkable skill and efficiency, completely deceived the Turks ALTHO UGH the operations on the Gallipoli peninsula had failed to achieve their object, Sir HamiltonIan remained confident that, suit­ably reinforced, he could retrieve the situation and carry his campaign to a satisfactory conclusion. In communicat­ing these views to the secretary of state for war he asked for reinforcements up to twenty percent and outpointed that unless these were sent to him he could not launch any grand attack. On September 3 these views were put before the Dardanelles committee of the Cabinet by Lord Kitchener, who also informed them that the French Govern­ment had decided to land four divisions in an attack against the Turks 011 the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles, and that in these circumstances it would be necessary to replace the two French divisions at Helles with British troops. Owing to the fact that no French troops could be spared from the Western Front, however, the project fell through, and in the meantime Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and an attack on Serbia from that quarter became imminent. Thus another ele­ment was introduced into the problem, and the question of dispatching an Allied force to Salonika to help the Serbians was raised. This new situation gave rise to considerable differences of opinion amongst the members of the Dardanelles committee, and it was there­fore decided to send an officer of high standing to Gallipoli to report fully on the situation. The choice fell upon Sir Charles Monro, and Sir Tan Hamilton was recalled. On October 22 Monro left to takeover his new duties. Arriving on Gallipoli, he made a survey of the situa­tion and came to the conclusion that the forces should be withdrawn. Com­municating his views in a telegram to Kitchener, dated October 31, he said :With the exception of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the troops on the peninsula are not equal to a sustained effort, owing to the inexperienced officers, want of training of the men, and the depleted condition of many of the units. We merely hold the fringe of the shore, and are confronted by the Turks in very formidable entrenchments, with all advan­tages of position and power of observation of our movements. ...We can no longer count on any action by surprise, as the Turks are in considerably stronger force than they were, and have had ample time to provide against surprise landings ...It is, therefore, my opinion that another attempt to carry the Turkish lines would not offer any hope of success the Turkish positions are being actively strengthened daily. Our information leads to the belief that heavy guns and ammunition are being sent to the peninsula from Constantinople. Consequently by the time fresh divisions, if available, could arrive, the task of break­ing the Turkish line would be considerably more formidable than it is at present. .On military grounds, therefore, I recommend the evacuation of the peninsula. In view of Monro's report the authori­ties at home had to make a momentous decision. They were not helped, how­ever, by the views expressed by some responsible officers of the navy regarding the desirability of renewing the attack from the sea. Foremost amongst these was Admiral Wemyss, who was strongly backed up by Commodore Roger Keyes. A plan for renewed operations had been worked out,with the assent of Sir John de Robeck, and it was thought by these officers that if a number of warships could rush the Narrows a sufficient force would succeed in making the passage, when, in combination with submarines, they would be able to dominate the Sea of Marmora, thus cutting the main Turkish lines of communication. Although opposed to this scheme, de Robcck felt, nevertheless, that it merited the consideration of the Admiralty, and during October, therefore, he granted Commodore K eyes leave of absence togo to London and explain the plan. A t that time, just about to leave for Gallipoli, Lord Kitchener showed con­siderable interest in this idea and telegraphed to Keyes to meet him for a full discussion. The telegram, however, went astray and the meeting never took place. Keyes himself instates his" N aval Memoirs ”that the telegram was upheld by a secretary in the Admiralty and that his failure to meet Kitchener, together with Admiral de Robeck’s attitude, drove Kitchener to the conclusion that there was no salvation through the navy. Although the new naval attempt was not carried out, Commodore K eyes was never in doubt that the navy could have achieved its object. In his book he says: I wish to place on record that I had no doubt then, and have none now— and nothing will ever shake my opinion— that from April 4,1915 ,onwards, the Fleet could have forced the Straits, and, with losses trifling in comparison with those the Army suffered, could have entered the Marmora with sufficient force to destroy the Turco-German fleet. Faced with these conflicting opinions the Cabinet invited Lord Kitchener to help them incoming to a decision by making a personal inspection of the peninsula. He arrived at the scene of operations on November 9, and after examining the troops and defences came to the conclusion that, although a further assault was out of the question, the troops could at least hold fast to the ground they had gained, unless attacked by heavy reinforcements. He therefore devised anew plan for a landing at Ayas, in the Gulf of Alex- andretta, the object being to bar the path of a Turkish invasion of Egypt and to cover the pending withdrawal from Gallipoli. This operation was, however, overruled by the Cabinet, and Kitchener then agreed that the evacua­tion of Suvla and Anzac should be proceeded with, but recommended that Helles should beheld for the present. This, he maintained, would enable the navy to renew the attack if desired. Whilst these discussions were taking place, the troops were suffering severe hardships on account of the weather. The peninsula and the neighbouring islands, which were being used as bases, were subjected to a series of terrific storms during the autumn and early winter. On November 26, accom­panied by a violent thunderstorm, a hurricane flooded the trenches and caused terrible suffering. To add to the torment, a northerly wind of Arctic coldness began to blow on the night of the 27th. Snow followed, and the men, already soaked to the skin, had their clothes frozen stiff 011 their bodies. In the British lines 2S0 men were drowned in the trenches at Suvla, whilst many others were frozen to death where they stood. The ghastly climatic conditions were 110 more kind to the Turks. They had been preparing an offensive on a large scale, but the weather entirely- upset their new plan. On December 7 the Cabinet decided to evacuate Suvla and Anzac and retain the position at Cape Helles. This decision was communicated to Sir Rosslyn W emyss, who had succeeded de Robeck and to Monro, and although it drew along telegram of protest from the former, the decision was adhered to and preparations for the removal of the troops were putin hand. The main difficulty inlay concealing the withdrawal from the Turks and in making such arrangements and disposi­tions of the forces as would keep them 686
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