Saturday, January 03, 2015

January 3rd, 1915

- Churchill discusses a potential naval operation against the Ottoman Dardanelles today with Admiral Fisher.  The latter is enthusiastic, but only if an attack is immediate, includes the landing of 100 000 soldiers (75 000 from the Western Front and 25 000 from India), military support from Greece and Bulgaria, and uses only pre-dreadnoughts.  Of the four points, only the latter is possible - in particular, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of Sir John French agreeing to withdraw such a substantial force from the Western Front, given the belief of himself and the rest of the BEF leadership that the war can only be won or lost in France and Belgium.

The First Lord, however, is taken with the idea of a purely naval operation, and in particular of using the power of the Royal Navy to force the Ottoman Empire out of the war.  The great hope is that if a powerful British squadron can force its way through the Dardanelles and anchor off Constantinople, the Ottoman government will collapse, opening sea lanes to Russia and invasion routes to the Balkans.  This is more than simply aiding the Russians - to its most ardent supporters the Dardanelles operation carries the potential to win the war without the constant slaughter of the Western Front.

Crucially, when Churchill sends a message to Vice Admiral Sackville Hamilton Carden, commanding the British squadron currently blockading the Dardanelles, he asks simply if he thinks the Dardanelles can be forced by a naval operation - no mention is made of amphibious operations.  This opens what will grow into a great chasm between the First Lord and the First Sea Lord - the former believes that the navy can do the job by itself, while the latter, worried over warship losses, believes army support is essential.  It will be a long-simmering divide, but one that will eventually destroy not only their working relationship but the government itself as well.

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