19 February 1915: The die is caught…

At a meeting of the War Council on this day, Kitchener withdrew his agreement to send the crack 29th Division to the Dardanelles. Before the die could hit the cloth, he had caught it and pocketed it again. His action may seem impulsive, but there were complex motives behind it and it must be remembered that his military judgement at this time was unchallengeable.

The French government had promptly agreed to contribute a squadron to the naval attack on the Dardanelles and despatch an infantry division in support. The French High Command, however, was adamant that the latter should not be drawn from its forces on the Western Front, and was putting enormous pressure on Kitchener to commit the 29th Division exclusively to France. Meanwhile, the ‘Winter Battle in Masuria’, as it was called, threatened the collapse of the Russian front in the south, which could lead to the Germans massing for a new attack in the West. From this, Kitchener concluded that it was imperative to keep the 29th, his last remaining Regular division, at Sir John French’s disposal on the Western Front.

Winston Churchill was now lobbying for having at least 50,000 troops available to reach the Dardanelles at three days’ notice. The fact that Kitchener had withdrawn the 29th shows, however, that he still did not regard the expedition as a single combined naval and military assault. Otherwise, why would he or the majority on the War Council have been content for the naval attack to go ahead on this very day? Kitchener still spoke of it as ‘the forcing of the Dardanelles’ and believed with the Government that an immediate diversion had to be made there to impress the Balkan states and dissuade Bulgaria from entering the war on Germany’s side.

Nevertheless, it was agreed that troops would be sent, and Kitchener proposed immediately despatching a small force from Egypt to be at the Fleet’s disposal, and preparing the Australian and New Zealand divisions in Egypt to go to the Dardanelles instead of the 29th.  As the Official History (1929) puts it: ‘No one suggested the advisability, now that troops were to be sent, of avoiding the risk of a piecemeal attack, and of waiting for a combined operation with all the advantages of surprise.’

Meanwhile, the results of today’s bombardment of the outer forts by half of the East Mediterranean Fleet were difficult to assess and no more operations could be undertaken for five days because of bad weather…

Next entry: George convalescent

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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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