Allied commanders during WWI have mostly come under heavy criticism in the books written after the event, particularly those written long after the event. This new book is rare in that the author has appreciated just how many changes applied from 1914 and required commanders to relearn military tactics from hard experience. Hamilton’s command in Gallipoli has been re-evaluated against these significant changes and the work done so well by the author could profitably be applied to many other battles, campaigns and leadership through WWI. Highly recommended.
NAME: Hamilton & Gallipoli, British Command in an Age of Military Transformation
AUTHOR: Evan McGilvray
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: The Great War, WWI, World War One, First World War, Gallipoli, technology, tactics, amphibious landing, trench warfare, machine guns, barbed wire
DESCRIPTION: Allied commanders during WWI have mostly come under heavy criticism in the books written after the event, particularly those written long after the event. This new book is rare in that the author has appreciated just how many changes applied from 1914 and required commanders to relearn military tactics from hard experience. Hamilton’s command in Gallipoli has been re-evaluated against these significant changes and the work done so well by the author could profitably be applied to many other battles, campaigns and leadership through WWI. Highly recommended.
It cannot be denied that a great many mistakes were made by the military and by politicians during the Gallipoli campaign, but then that applies to most wars because the war that a democracy prepares for is rarely the war that it is forced to fight by the aggressor. What is unique in WWI is that there were so many completely new factors conspiring together against both sides. The Germans grossly underestimated the British Expeditionary Force in France. The BEF punched far above its weight and frustrated the German plans for European domination. However, numbers do eventually tell and the BEF was forced into a series of courageous fighting withdrawals that inevitably exhausted it. When the French spotted a vulnerability in the German battle order, the BEF rose to the challenges of supporting their French allies but their exhaustion prevented them from turning the rapid German retreat into a rout. No one had prepared for a battle between machine gun armed trenches across a barbed wire strewn no man’s land and the British exhaustion gave the Germans enough time to dig the first trench lines, forcing the British to build counter trenches. That then dictated the conduct of war on the Western Front, with increasing use of heavy artillery and mining to turn the Front into a grinding machine that minced the opposing armies. The only alternative to standing and slugging it out in a war of attrition was to surrender or run. In the meantime, commanders tried everything they could think of to break the stalemate but only the availability of tanks in some numbers offered a new way.
Given the continuing flow of casualties and growing mounds of dead, politicians and soldiers grasped at anything that might change the news even though careful thought might have warned against many of these attempts. Even at sea and in the air, it was a sorry story of heavy casualties for very little gain. So, once the Royal Navy had successfully probed the Dardenelles, it looked possible to open a new front and seize Istanbul, taking the Turks out of the war and allowing troops to be thrown into a new front with Austria.
In the event, the first landings failed to break out towards Istanbul and Gallipoli settled down into a familiar war of trenches, machine guns and snipers. The British did have the ability to undertake shore bombardment from their superior naval force, but there was little ability to deploy aircraft in decisive numbers. What aircraft did operate with success were naval float-planes, including one that sank a Turkish ship with a torpedo, while still on the water taxiing. The British also lost an early aircraft carrier, the only one ever to be lost by the Royal Navy to fire. In particular, this new intense warfare not only emulated the trench warfare of the Western Front, but had the added problem that there was no friendly ground behind the trenches from which to bring up replacements and supplies. Everything at Gallipoli had to be brought in by ship and unloaded within range of Turkish fire.
The author has provided a provoking account that is balanced and illustrated by an interesting photo-plate section. The reader will gain fresh insights and these not only challenge the accepted history of the Gallipoli Campaign, but challenge some of the accepted views of other parts of WWI. Even one of the new weapons would have challenged accepted tactics, but in WWI there were just some many – torpedoes, warplanes, airships, submarines, quick-firing guns, armoured vehicles, machine guns, bolt action rifles, observation balloons, mechanical computers, radio communications, an almost endless list of battle changing technology, introduced into a world of warfare that had changed very little over hundreds of years.