Dardanelles-Gallipoli Centenary

Dardanelles-Gallipoli Centenary

First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill with Admiral Jackie Fisher, who served as his First Sea Lord in 1914-15.
First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty Win­ston Churchill with Admi­ral John Arbuth­not “Jacky” Fish­er, who served as his First Sea Lord in 1914-15.

Anzac Day, April 25th, marks the Cen­te­nary of the land­ings on the Gal­lipoli Penin­su­la, in the end a trag­ic fail­ure, with heavy loss­es of British, Aus­tralian and New Zealand life. Churchill usu­al­ly comes in for (and deserves) some of the blame, but rarely does every­body “get it right.” Such is a piece in Forbes: “Win­ston Churchill’s Ter­ri­ble Lead­er­ship Fail­ure.”

This piece gets sev­er­al facts wrong and over­sim­pli­fies to the point of con­fu­sion. Churchill’s fail­ure was over the Dar­d­anelles naval attack of 18 March 1915; the land­ings on Gal­lipoli came in late April, after the naval attack had failed, and were not direct­ed by him. The orig­i­nal idea was not pro­posed by Churchill, who ini­tial­ly doubt­ed it, while Lord Fish­er, who lat­er desert­ed him, at first sup­port­ed it. Churchill was First Lord not “Lord” of the Admi­ral­ty; Prime Min­is­ter Asquith was not at that time a Lord.

Far from offer­ing “dis­as­ter utter­ly incom­men­su­rate with any advan­tage,” the naval plan, whose first phase near­ly suc­ceed­ed, offered an alter­na­tive to the slaugh­ter on the West­ern Front, a chance to put Turkey out of the war, and to relieve the Rus­sians in the Black Sea. Clement Attlee, lat­er a Labour Prime Min­is­ter, called it “the only imag­i­na­tive con­cept of the war.”

It is true that Churchill con­tin­ued to sup­port the oper­a­tion far too long and placed inor­di­nate faith in on-scene com­man­ders; but in the sub­se­quent inquiry he was large­ly exon­er­at­ed, and they were blamed.

“Suc­cess has a thou­sand fathers, but fail­ure is an orphan”—yet Churchill took respon­si­bil­i­ty and admit­ted his mis­take: “try­ing to car­ry out a major and car­di­nal oper­a­tion of war from a sub­or­di­nate posi­tion.” He nev­er did that again.

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