The military situation

Trench warfare was continuing along the Western Front, but Falkenhayn had no major offensive in view before the spring because he was too embroiled in his Eastern Front (see my post of 5 December 2014).

Meanwhile, on 13 January 1915 the War Council met to discuss the Admiralty’s plan to force the Dardanelles and attack Constantinople. First Lord Winston Churchill had asked Vice Admiral Sackville Carden, Commander of the East Mediterranean Fleet, whether he thought it possible to get through the heavily defended strait. Carden replied from the area: ‘I do not consider the Dardanelles can be rushed. They might be forced by extended operations with large number of ships.’ Churchill then asked Carden to produce a detailed plan of these extended operations. The plan arrived in London on 11 January and comprised seven stages lasting a month.

Note that the plan did not involve British troops. The idea was that once the presence of a British fleet outside Constantinople, shelling the city, had led to the collapse of the Turkish government and most of the Ottoman polity, a large army of Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs and Russians would carve up the country. Russia was to occupy Constantinople, which would greatly raise morale at home, and the freeing of its sea passage to the West would immediately boost its imports of much-needed arms and its own export of grain. The loss of Germany’s Turkish ally would eventually undermine its Eastern Front.

Kitchener was relieved that no British troops were involved in this plan, as he had made it clear he had none available. He therefore, as the War Council’s minutes record, ‘thought the plan worth trying. We could leave off the bombardment if it did not prove effective [my emphasis]’. This was probably the position, too, of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, who had been brought back to office at the age of seventy-four, was increasingly unstable, and said nothing at all at the meeting. Fisher had never thought the Gallipoli Peninsula and Constantinople could be taken by a naval force alone, but he failed to say so and presumably thought foreign troops would be brought in if the naval action succeeded in forcing the strait (which he doubted anyway).

With no dissensions, then, today’s War Council decided that ‘the Admiralty should prepare for a naval expedition in February to bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula with Constantinople as its objective [my emphasis]’.

As the Dardanelles Commission was to enquire in its report of 1917, how was it possible for a naval force to ‘take’ a peninsula?

Next entry: 15 January 1915: The move to barracks

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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