The Narrows | 16 Mar 1915

Change of command in the Dardanelles safely executed, Admiral de Roebeck opts not to tinker with the plan that Admiral Carden had developed before stepping down. We’ll have a look at it in more detail.

First Champagne

General Joffre finally puts this sorry affair out of its misery today. He orders General de Langle to have one last go at breaking through with the remaining reserves, and then to bring the offensive to an end. They’ll then dig in and await further orders. It’ll take four days for the battle to finally peter out, but it’s now been given up on by everyone except the poor fuckers who are going to die now, at the fag end of it.

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I am absently humming the theme from Jaws and I have no idea why
I am absently humming the theme from Jaws and I have no idea why

Forcing of the Dardanelles

Let’s review the situation. The fleet’s been trying to force passage through the Dardanelles since February 25th. The outer forts were quickly silenced and entrance to the strait gained. They’ve then spent three weeks trying to solve an unstoppable force/immovable object quandary. Near Canakkale is the Narrows; as the name suggests, it’s the narrowest part of the Dardanelles. Let’s go back to the medium of terrible MSPaint maps.

As ever, this is a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.
As ever, this is a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.

The Narrows

To this point, the naval tactics have been safety-first. By day, when they can theoretically see where they’re shooting, the fleet has in various cautious combinations been trying to silence the strong forts and large siege guns (marked in dark grey). They’ve also had to contend with fire from a large number of highly mobile field artillery batteries (light grey). Their attempts have, for a variety of reasons that usually boil down to “we can’t really see where we’re shooting”, achieved virtually nothing. They can’t get close enough for some properly accurate fire, though, on account of those dratted mines.

By night, they’ve been trying to sneak minesweepers up to the Narrows to clear the mines (in pink). Unfortunately, there’s a pair of powerful searchlights at the Narrows. Even when the underpowered minesweepers can fight the current up to the minefields, they’re then lit up for everyone to see. They can’t do their work clearing the mines, because they’re being fired on by the guns that the ships are too far away to shoot.

So now the fleet is going to throw caution to the wind. All they’re waiting for is good weather. On the first clear day, they’re going to unbolt the kitchen sink and throw it in. The four most modern battleships (this is a relative term, but it does include the state-of-the-art Queen Elizabeth) will open fire at range to at least suppress some of the gunfire from the forts.

At the same time, a larger force of older ships, including the four French battleships, will go further in and thoroughly suppress the field artillery. The minesweepers can then be brought up to deal with the first belt of mines in the afternoon. With them cleared, the Narrows forts can be engaged at close range and definitively put out of action.

The mines in the Narrows itself can then be removed, and after taking care of a few older, less concealed forts on the far side, the only thing standing between the fleet and Constantinople is a showdown in the Sea of Marmara with the Ottoman fleet, led by Goeben and Breslau. It’ll surely be no match for the overwhelming quantity of pre-dreadnoughts, and their destruction will clear the way for the Russian Army to sail from Sevastopol and attack Constantinople.

One way or another, something’s going to happen when the fleet next sails.

Colonel Hankey’s note

Meanwhile, back in London, Lt-Col Hankey (secretary to the War Council) has sent a memo to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Nobody appears to have paid much attention to it. This is rather regrettable, because it clearly and succinctly predicts exactly what’s going to happen over the next nine months. He begins by noting (at some length) that originally only a naval operation had been planned, and now that they’re proposing to land the Army on Gallipoli.

Is it not desirable that the War Council should ascertain definitely the scope of the operations contemplated, and the extent of the preparations made to carry out these operations? In this connection it must be remembered that combined operations require more careful preparation than any other class of military enterprise. All through our history such attacks have failed when the preparations have been inadequate, and the successes are in nearly every case due to the most careful preparation beforehand. It would appear to be the business of the War Council to assure themselves, in the present instance, that these preparations have been thoroughly thought out.

He further points out (again at length) that any chance of achieving surprise has been entirely lost by not just landing troops straight away. But it seems that they’re going to do it, so he continues:

It is suggested that the War Council ought to cross-examine the naval and military authorities on the extent of the preparations, and particularly with regard to such points as the following:

a – The number of troops it is proposed to employ?
b – The arrangements made for the supply of boats and tugs?
c – The preparations made for the provision of landing piers, pontoons, etc.?
d – The arrangements for the supply of water and provisions?
e – The hospital arrangements. Is it contemplated to use nothing but floating hospitals, or will there be field hospitals on shore?
f – Is it expected that the Dardanelles will be [captured quickly], or is the possibility of [trench warfare] contemplated?
g – In the latter event, what siege guns will be available, and what arrangements have been made for landing them and their ammunition?
h – Possibly, it is proposed that the [battleships] should supply the necessary heavy artillery to overcome the enemy’s heavy movable artillery. If so, are the military authorities satisfied that the projectiles available in [battleships] are suitable for this purpose, and that they will be able to search the valleys in which the howitzers are likely to be found?
i – What arrangements have been made for the supply of the very large amount of ammunition that may be required for the operation?
j – What arrangements are contemplated for the transport from the landing place to the army, of supplies of ammunition, food, water, etc., over a rough country with very few roads in it, bearing in mind that these roads will probably be broken up by the enemy before evacuating them?

We’ll be looking at each of these issues as they come up under the tag “Hankey’s points”, which should have turned blue if you’re reading this more than a month or so after it was first posted. Hankey then moves on to his conclusion.

Unless details such as these, and there are probably others, are fully thought out before the landing takes place, it is conceivable that a serious disaster may occur.

There is nothing I can possibly add to this.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Champagne (First Champagne)
Forcing of the Dardanelles

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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