15 March 1915: The strain tells

After the naval bombardment at the Dardanelles was suspended on 8 March, the weather worsened but the highly energetic Commodore Roger Keyes was able to make some progress with the minesweeping by replacing trawlermen with Navy volunteers.

On 11 March Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) replied to Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden’s wire of 11 March with a carefully crafted one that included the words: ‘We do not wish to hurry you or urge you beyond your judgment, but we recognize clearly that at a certain point in your operations you will have to press hard for a decision, and we desire to know whether you consider that point has now been reached.’

Carden did not reply.

In what was to become a fateful pattern during the Gallipoli campaign, Carden had practically been brought out of retirement to command the East Mediterranean Fleet, and in Alan Moorehead’s words ‘he had already had a long winter at sea off the straits before this action had begun’. He had lost his appetite and was getting very little sleep. He was worried sick about every aspect of the operation.

On 14 March Churchill telegraphed again. It was a long wire containing top secret intelligence about the depletion of the Turks’ ammunition on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but it ended with almost an order: ‘The unavoidable losses must be accepted. The enemy is harassed and anxious now. The time is precious as the interference of submarines is a very serious consideration.’ Carden replied that he would probably attack on 17 March.

Tonight, Monday 15 March 1915, Carden had a nervous breakdown. He had to relinquish his command and sail home immediately.

On 17 March Churchill appointed Carden’s second, Vice-Admiral John de Robeck, to command what Churchill called ‘the Mediterranean Detached Fleet’ (it included a French squadron) and de Robeck promptly told him that, weather permitting, he was going to attack the forts at the Narrows next day.

Next entry: 18 March 1915


About Patrick Miles

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