16 February 1915: The die is tossed…

Since the War Council had decided on 28 January (see my post of that date) to mount a purely naval operation to force the Dardanelles a month later, not a great deal had happened. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, had sent two battalions of his Royal Naval Division to Mudros to supply landing parties for blowing up the Turkish shore batteries once they had been silenced by the East Mediterranean Fleet. The French remained enthusiastic and were even offering troops. The bombardment of the outer forts by the navy was now due to begin on 19 February.

However, out of the blue the Admiralty produced a memorandum pointing out that if the straits were to be of any sustained use to merchant shipping, both shores would have to be held by Allied troops after the fleet had passed into the Sea of Marmara. In fact the best plan, the memorandum argued, would be to mount a combined operation from the start and to occupy the whole peninsula…

Today, 16 February 1915, the memorandum was urgently discussed at an informal meeting of ministers, which quickly mushroomed into an impromptu meeting of the War Council. The meeting decided to send the 29th Division to Mudros as soon as possible, together with a force from Egypt, and to assemble landing craft. If done, this would change the nature of the Dardanelles campaign completely. The 29th Division (subsequently known as ‘the Incomparable 29th’) was made up of regular units gathered in from the Empire and until now the plan had been to send it to France.

As the official history of the Dardanelles campaign (vol. 1, 1929) remarks: ‘The intention of breaking off the attack, if satisfactory progress were not made by the fleet, had begun to disappear.’ Kitchener and others believed defeat of this kind was no longer an option. The 29th Division was to be the die. It had been tossed now, but not cast.

Next entry: 19 February 1915: The die is caught…


About Patrick Miles

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