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Land Long Read Military History

Gallipoli. It’s all about logistics.

Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version

It can be argued that logistics was the primary reason for the instigation of the Gallipoli Campaign.  It is also a viable conclusion that the lack of integrated logistical planning and support made disaster inevitable.1  Both these statements surmise why sustainment should be at the heart of all military planning.  Poor integration of the supporting arms can be the difference between success and failure.  A lack of consideration of sustainment will still cause failure in modern warfare and itmust be understood and incorporated by commanders throughout the ranks.

This paper reviews the Gallipoli Campaign of World War One starting by explaining the strategic and political reasons behind its conception.  It then addresses the initial naval plan and explores inadequacies in the amphibious landing planning process.  It examines the landings and sustainment once ashore before comparing the differences between the initial landings and assaults with the August Offensive.  Throughout, this article highlights where tactical opportunities were missed due to logistical constraints.  The article concludes with the lessons learnt and the relevance to military planning today.

Context

Most people will be aware that the Gallipoli Campaign was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allies to remove the Ottoman Empire from World War One.  Less well known are the reasons why this plan came into being.  Winston Churchill is intrinsic to the conception of the Gallipoli Campaign, yet it started with Russia requesting Allied assistance in the Dardanelle Straits.2  Russia wanted the Allies to control the Straits for two strategic reasons.  Firstly, the Straits are the only sea route from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea, and were therefore strategically important for Russia.  Not having access to the Mediterranean had a significant impact on supply which was severely impacting the Russian economy.3  Secondly, Russia was fighting Germany on its Eastern Front and wanted German forces to be stretched.4  Britain and France were also keen on drawing German military resources away from the Western Front.  More broadly, Britain also wanted control of newly discovered oil fields in the Persian Gulf as well as security of the Suez Canal.5  France also saw the opportunity to increase its influence in Syria and Lebanon.6  It was therefore agreed that annexing Constantinople was in the best interests of all the Allies.

General Sir Ian Hamilton. NAM. 1983-02-61-1

The Allies forces never intended to launch a land campaign.  The initial plan was for a fleet of obsolete battleships to isolate the city and not to become decisively engaged.7  With the Ottoman Empire already in strategic decline, the Allies anticipated that if they could succeed in encircling the city and cut off supply routes the Ottomans would capitulate.8  However, this assumption was never tested as naval forces failed to pass through the Straits.

Resource allocation

This is where the first significant logistical failing is demonstrated.  The Western Front was the Allied main effort and strategic priority.  Gallipoli was a secondary effort. The Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Sir Ian Hamilton, was appointed with a condition of his appointment being that he did not ask for additional resources.9  This resource constraint hampered the campaign throughout.

Prior to the battleships entering the Straits, minesweepers had been employed to clear them.  The minesweepers afforded to the Gallipoli Campaign were not purpose built but where small fishing boats that had been converted to enable them to conduct a minesweeping function.10  Strong currents prevented the minesweepers being able to systematically conduct their task as they were unable to keep on an even trajectory.  For example, they missed a row of 20 mines in Eren Keui Bay which led to the sinking of three of the 16 battleships lost during the campaign with another three crippled.11  Sailing into this minefield stopped the naval advance with the risk of further casualties considered high.   Unbeknown to the Allies, Ottoman forces had exhausted almost all their heavy artillery.12  Had the Allies chosen to continue it is likely they would have advanced largely unopposed.  Had Hamilton had options to reinforce the fleet he could have taken more risk and prevented the fated decision to conduct a land assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  Equally, if purpose-built minesweepers had not been reserved for use at the Western Front, it is likely naval forces would have been successful at passing through this point of the Straits.

Planning omitted all G4 staff

Following this set back it was unanimously decided that the only way to proceed was a land assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  There are many reasons that attributed to the failure of the land campaign.  However, they started during the planning phase where doctrine stated the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force required three branches (the General Staff Branch (G), the Adjutant General’s Branch (A) and the Quartermaster General’s Branch (Q)) however, staff weighting of these branches was by no means equal.13 G Branch was established first, with the main staff all accompanying Hamilton on his voyage.  Whereas A and Q Branch leads were not even appointed until the day Hamilton set sail.  This disadvantaged the branches in two main ways; they had less time to plan and were not afforded the opportunity to build a relationship with Hamilton.  They were also considerably smaller and held ranks far below those that would have been held on the Western Front.14  By the time A and Q Branches arrived, the landing plan had already been approved and the senior commanders already briefed undermining the role of logistics.15

ANZACS landing supplies at Gaba Tepe 1915. NAM. 1972-08-67-2-108

Although refinements to the plan were made, it stood that the generalist officers had planned in isolation with little knowledge or understanding of the supporting process.  Casualty estimates had been largely overlooked, with estimates a fraction of the actual number. Instead there was a fatalistic attitude, with priority given to fighting and many injured left for hours to die.16  Basic sustainment plans, such as the provision of water, had barely been considered.  When the specialists became aware of the plan they were concerned about the lack of sustainment planning, yet it was too late to greatly influence it.17  Unfortunately this was a situation that occurred frequently during the campaign, causing questions to be asked in London on Hamilton and G Branches ability to rectify their mistakes.

Landings

Another logistical error became apparent as soon as the landings began.  On one of the beaches at Cape Helles, on the southern tip of the peninsula, the SS River Clyde was used to transport 2,000 troops.18  The SS River Clyde was a converted collier, a novel idea proposed by Edward Unwin who was a Royal Navy officer.19  As it was Unwin’s idea he was given command of the collier and oversaw the adaptions.  However, Unwin did not have a technical education.  Whilst his idea was sound, the alterations were made on the assumption that troops would disembark unopposed.20  There were only four holes cut into the steel hull, two on each side and all on the lower deck.21  This allowed the troops to disembark in a single continuous line from only four locations degrading their ability to assault under fire.  The positioning of these holes was decided to marry up with a plank that would lead to a row of smaller boats that could be run over to get ashore.  This meant that all troops were disembarking in a single line at the same height.  With the benefit of hindsight, the ease with which machine guns could target disembarking troops is clear.22

The SS River Clyde. NAM. 1965-10-209-13

Once the troops were ashore the logistical problems increased.  Medical services were quickly overwhelmed.  Reports of medical capacity differ, but it was generally agreed that there were 6 hospital ships.23  The  capacity of each ship varied, as they were repurposed to the role rather than purpose built. However, each ship could transport approximately 150 personnel and this gave a total capacity of just under 1,000.  In reality the ships transported about 3000 soldiers on each medical evacuation due to high demand.24  Yet, the medical evacuations did not begin immediately.  No evacuations could take place until the ships had been emptied of soldiers and supplies.  This took considerable time and led to many soldiers dying on the beaches waiting for evacuation.25  This led to a second medical logistical problem.  The ferocity of the fighting and requirement to dig in coupled to mean that bodies were left unburied for weeks.  The decomposing bodies attracted flies which led to high levels of disease.  At one point in August 2015 it was estimated that 80% of Allied troops had dysentery, with more troops ineffective from disease than from enemy fighting.26  The impact of disease, caused by poor logistical integration, had a significant effect on operational effectiveness.

Resource shortages

The problems of disease were further exacerbated by a lack of water.  Wells in Gallipoli were rare, with the limestone geology of the peninsula making the water undrinkable in large areas even if wells had been drilled.27  This meant water needed to be transported from Egypt and then landed and transported to the front line.28  It was estimated that each soldier was allocated one pint of water per day.29  Considering the levels of activity being undertaken, significantly more water was needed highlighting the limits of logistical sustainment.  With water so scarce, it was used purely for drinking rather than for cleaning further deteriorating hygiene conditions.  A desalination system was built on the beaches that was capable of purifying the sea water to make it drinkable.  However, due to the large volume of casualties the sea was closely linked with the death of comrades so many soldiers refused to drink the water.30  Although the solution was feasible, the lack of emotional understanding eroded the moral and consequently physical components of fighting power.

As well as a shortage of water there were also shortages of food, ammunition, and building materials.31  This was exacerbated due to inefficient unloading at the beaches because of a lack of fatigue parties to move the stores.  Attempts were made to mitigate the issues with Egyptian and Greek workforces contracted to carry out logistical support.  However, this was unsuccessful as these workers were quick to find cover when the beaches were shelled and would not return to work easily.  Their ineffective work rate meant commanders resorted to relying on military personnel.  This was further complicated by conflicting doctrine on command at the beaches.  Doctrine stated that the high-water line and below was to be controlled by the Navy.32  Yet it was the Army’s responsibility to conduct most of the unloading.  This created confusion in command and control at the beaches further reducing logistical efficiency.

August offensive

In an attempt to break the stalemate, it was decided to provide a surge of troops to Sulva Bay, known as the August offensive.33  The inability to store significant volumes of supplies was a large contributing factor to the failure of this offensive, as it was impossible to sufficiently store enough basics like food, water, and ammunition to relieve the logistical system enough for the additional arrival or troops.  Instead the new troops were bringing the majority of these necessities with them.  Further confusion and complication led to mistakes with landing enough water for these troops.  Exactly what happened to the water is debated, some loss of water is blamed on mechanical breakdown of lighters, some lighters had navigational errors as well as lighters struggling due to currents.  What is agreed, is the troops ran out of water which is a key factor as to why the offensive stalled.

Yet the landings at Sulva Bay did show a considerable improvement from the initial assault.   The medical plan was better with a largely accurate casualty estimate combined with an effective casualty treatment plan.  This included 15 hospital ships, 9 transport ships and small craft (compared to the 6 hospital ships in the April landings that covered multiple beaches).34  Good planning and communications resulted in casualty evacuation during daylight and stores replenishment at night.  This meant that the casualties were less disruptive to the resupply process and were treated and evacuated far swifter than during the April landings.  There were also less casualties during landing, although the reasoning behind this is complex, it can in part be put down to the use of Beetles.  Beetles are amphibious landing craft fitted with ramps which allowed for rapid disembarkation straight on to the beaches.35These were requested for the April landings but due to the Western Front’s primacy they were not released.36

W Beach. NAM. 1975-04-71-43

The decision itself to land at Sulva Bay can be seen as an acknowledgment of logistical failings and a desire to rectify these issues.  Unlike the other beaches, Sulva Bay was able to support deep water piers.37  These were crucial to effective unloading of stores.  There were also plans to build a tramway that would remove a large amount of the workload required to manually handle stores to the front line.  This never came to fruition though as a decision was taken to cease the Gallipoli Campaign prior to work commencing, but it does demonstrate a greater focus on logistics planning.

Increased logisitical oversight

As the Gallipoli Campaign continued there was also acknowledgment of the scale of the logistical effort.  In June an additional staff branch was created, however the commander appointed had no logistical experience which significantly hampered its effectiveness.  He was swiftly replaced by someone with far more relevant experience which marked the turn of logistical success.39  From the omittance of the A and Q branches during the April landings planning to the combined approach taken to the evacuation, this was clearly a lesson well learnt.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the lessons about logistics learned during the Gallipoli Campaign remain relevant today.  However, it is acknowledged that at times combat personnel will be required to make quick decisions and time for logistical consultation will not be available.  Therefore, it is imperative that all commanders have a basic understanding of logistical planning.  Without a knowledge of lead times, availability, and demand capacity, plans risk not being realistic, resulting in poor execution.  The principle of foresight requires the supporting elements to have some knowledge of the plan being constructed, the more notice that can be given the higher likelihood that successful support will be attained.  Although it is recognised that there has to be balance in the amount of time spent on sustainment during career courses, has the British Army currently got the balance, right?  If there had been an integrated approach from the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, with equal resource priority given between the Gallipoli Campaign and the Western Front, could success have been achieved?

Cover photo: NAM. 1965-10-209-13

Rose Constantinou

Rose Constantinou is a serving officer in the British Army. She has deployed and served with a variety of units including the Rifles, the Mercian Regiment, and Armoured Engineers. She has a MEng from Southampton University.

Footnotes

  1. Aylin Öney Tan, “ANZAC Biscuits versus Turkish Peksimet: How Food Logistics Affected the Gallipoli Campaign,” Dublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016 Food and Revolution (n.d.).
  2. Jessica Brain, “Winston Churchill,” Historic UK (), accessed February 10, 2021, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Winston-Churchill/
  3. AJ Heywood, “The Logistical Significance of the Turkish Straits, Russo–Ottoman War and –19171 Gallipoli Campaign in Imperial Russia’s Great War, 1914,” n.d.
  4. History Crunch, “Eastern Front of World War I,” History Crunch – History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More, 2015, https://www.historycrunch.com/eastern-front-of-world-war-i.html#/.
  5. Kresha Kopik, “Line of Fire (2of12): Gallipoli (WWI Documentary),” YouTube, July 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzIgnUo17C0.
  6. ibid
  7. NZ History, “The Gallipoli Campaign,” New Zealand History, accessed February 10, 2021, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/landing-plans.
  8. Mehmet Fatih Baş, “Warfare 1914-1918 (Ottoman Empire/Middle East) | International Encyclopedia of the First World War (WW1),” Encyclopedia.1914-1918-Online.net, July 22, 2019, https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/warfare_1914-1918_ottoman_empiremiddle_east.
  9. T.H.E. Travers, “Command and Leadership Styles in the British Army: The 1915 Gallipoli Model,” Journal of Contemporary History 29, no. 3 (July 1994): 403–42, doi:10.1177/002200949402900303.409.
  10. Gordon Smith, “Royal Navy Vessels Lost and Damaged at Sea in World War 1,” Www.naval-History.net, accessed February 10, 2021, https://www.naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritishBVLSaRN1507.htm.
  11. Kresha Kopik, “Line of Fire (2of12): Gallipoli (WWI Documentary),” YouTube, July 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzIgnUo17C0.
  12. ibid
  13. ibid
  14. ibid
  15. ibid
  16. Glyn Harper, “Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive. By Rhys Crawley. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. Xiv, 364. $34.95.),” The Historian 78, no. 3 (September 1, 2016): 562–63, doi:10.1111/hisn.12287
  17. Rhys Crawley and Michael Locicero, Gallipoli : New Perspectives on the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, 1915-16 (Warwick, England: Helion & Company Limited, 2018).
  18. National Army Museum, “‘The Landing from HMT River Clyde, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915’ | Online Collection | National Army Museum, London,” Collection.nam.ac.uk, accessed February 10, 2021, https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1956-02-719-1.
  19. Chalfont, “Gallipoli Part IV: First Landings at Cape Helles and Y Beach on 25th April 1915,” accessed February 10, 2021, <a href=”https://www.britishbattles.com/first-world-war/the-gallipoli-campaign-part-iv-the-first-landings-at-cape-helles-and-y-beach-on-25th-april-1915/”>https://www.britishbattles.com/first-world-war/the-gallipoli-campaign-part-iv-the-first-landings-at-cape-helles-and-y-beach-on-25th-april-1915/</a>.
  20. ibid
  21. S Monick, “Gallipoli: The Landings of 25 April 1915 – South African Military History Society – Journal,” Samilitaryhistory.org, December 1984, http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol064sm.html.
  22. ibid
  23. Glyn Harper, “Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive. By Rhys Crawley. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. Xiv, 364. $34.95.),” The Historian 78, no. 3 (September 1, 2016): 562–63, doi:10.1111/hisn.12287
  24. QARANC, “Hospital Ships WW2 and World War 1,” Www.qaranc.co.uk, n.d., https://www.qaranc.co.uk/hospitalships.php.
  25. AWM, “Dawn of the Legend: 25 April 1915 the Casualties Debacle | the Australian War Memorial,” Awm.gov.au, 2016, https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/dawn/plan/casualty.
  26. BBC, “BBC Timewatch – Gallipoli: The First D-Day,” VidoEvo, accessed February 10, 2021, https://www.vidoevo.com/video/dzR4Sk00cWuRpcVVNT28/bbc-timewatch-gallipoli-the-first-d-day.
  27. Peter Doyle and Matthew R. Bennett, “Military Geography: The Influence of Terrain in the Outcome of the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915,” The Geographical Journal 165, no. 1 (1999): 12–36, doi:10.2307/3060508.
  28. Jeff Cleverly, “More than a Sideshow? An Analysis of GHQ Decision Making during the Planning for the Landings at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, August 1915,” War in History 24, no. 1 (January 2017): 44–63, doi:10.1177/0968344515602917.
  29. Jenny Macleod, Gallipoli (Oxford, United Kingdom; New York, Ny: Oxford University Press, 2015). 51.
  30. BBC, “BBC Timewatch – Gallipoli: The First D-Day,” VidoEvo, accessed February 10, 2021, https://www.vidoevo.com/video/dzR4Sk00cWuRpcVVNT28/bbc-timewatch-gallipoli-the-first-d-day.
  31. Glyn Harper, “Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive. By Rhys Crawley. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. Xiv, 364. $34.95.),” The Historian 78, no. 3 (September 1, 2016): 562–63, doi:10.1111/hisn.12287
  32. ibid 160-161
  33. ibid
  34. ibid
  35. Stephen Luscombe, “The Gallipoli Campaign: Seizing the Dardanelles,” accessed February 10, 2021, <a href=”https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/beetles.htm”>https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/beetles.htm</a>
  36. ibid
  37. Glyn Harper, “Climax at Gallipoli: The Failure of the August Offensive. By Rhys Crawley. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Pp. Xiv, 364. $34.95.),” The Historian 78, no. 3 (September 1, 2016): 562–63, doi:10.1111/hisn.12287.158-160.
  38.   This highlights the importance of subject matter experts over appointing acquaintances and friends.  Logistics is a profession that not all manoeuvre commanders are capable of.

    Further lessons were also learnt during the campaign including the importance of foresight.  With lines of communication between Britain and Gallipoli 3,500 miles long the ability to predict what would be required was paramount.38Jenny Macleod, Gallipoli (Oxford, United Kingdom; New York, Ny: Oxford University Press, 2015), 63.

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