Suvla – the August offensive by Stephen Chambers

One of the fundamental tenets of modern British military practice has been to never, ever reinforce defeat. In other words, to not keep on flogging a dead horse. The Gallipoli campaign is a sober example of this. Noble in its intentions, once the Anglo-French fleet failed to force the Dardanelles by sea (and they might have succeeded if only they had pressed on a bit further) ground forces were landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, in an attempt to dominate the straits from the land.

In an abject lesson for later amphibious operations, the British at Helles and the ANZAC‘s further north failed to gain sufficient lodgement areas to build up their forces. In addition, the front line was so close to the sea that the lines of communications were frequently under fire. This lack of a lodgement area prevented the Allied forces from building up enough momentum to push on and capture the rest of the Peninsula.

Rather than seriously evaluate the viability of the whole Campaign, General Sir Ian Hamilton chose to make another landing, in between ANZAC and Helles at Suvla Bay. Quite why he thought that another limited landing, lacking in expertise and resources, would work where two others had failed is beyond me, it does strike one as a lack of imagination. Things might not have been so bad, had Kitchener not sent out Sir Frederick Stopford to command the Corps at Suvla. Lacking in experience and elderly, Stopford was sent out for old-fashioned, Army seniority reasons. One of the Divisional Commanders was a Lieutenant-General, and Stopford was the only available General who was senior to him – sending out a junior would have been unthinkable to what was still a hierarchy conscious Army.

Predictably, the landings at Suvla  met with little success. They were hallmarked by a lack of urgency in the initial landings and poor leadership thereafter, but also some very brave service by the rank and file, and indeed the opposing Turkish soldiers. Incidentally, the Turks at Suvla were led by a certain Mustafa Kemal. Among the men who fought at Suvla were the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, containing more than a few Portsmouth men. The whole peninsula was evacuated in late 1916, a costly failure indeed.

This book by Stephen Chambers serves as a very good history not only of the Suvla Campaign, but also the Gallipoli Campaign in general. It is by no means light on the bigger picture, in particular the issues surrounding Stopford. It also serves as a very good battlefield guide. Of course visiting Gallipoli is a bit more tricky than just nipping over on the ferry to Normandy or Flanders. It’s a long trek from the nearest airport, is in a pretty remote region with few facilities and poor transport, and apparently is home to plenty of wild dogs!

Naturally the amount of people going to Gallipoli is never going to be huge, but when I come to think of it, I’ve read plenty of battlefield guides for places I’ve never been anywhere near. For me, its actually quite an interesting way of being a battlefield tourist without the bother! In  that sense, I enjoyed it very much and it certainly added a lot to my understanding of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Suvla – the August offensive is published by Pen and Sword

3 Comments

Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Uncategorized, World War One

3 responses to “Suvla – the August offensive by Stephen Chambers

  1. John Erickson

    Our Smithsonian Channel (produced by the Museum of the same name) has a very good 2-hour documentary on Gallipoli. It’s a very under-studied campaign that sheds a lot of light on the successes and blunders of European amphibious operations during World War 2. (I tend to think of it as the Dieppe of WW1, with which it had a number of items in common.)
    This sounds like an excellent book. Have I told you lately how much I envy you? ;)

    • James Daly

      John, you might have mentioned it once or twice ;)

      It’s striking, for me, how all of the lessons for Normandy should have been learnt after Gallipoli. Logistics, lodgements areas, landing craft, leadership. Four L’s! It really shouldn’t have taken Dieppe to learn what we already knew.

      Interestingly, General Urquhart also based the withdrawal over the Rhine from Arnhem on the evacuation from Gallipoli, something that he learnt in a promotion exam. It was done in a ‘collapsing bag’ manner, so the enemy in both cases did not realise an evacuation was taking place until it was too late. So the British Army as an institution was obviously studying Gallipoli into the 1930′s, but how well the lessons were learnt seems to have varied.

  2. Pingback: Under the Devil’s Eye: The British Military Experience in Macedonia 1915-1918 by Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody « Daly History Blog

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