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Response to Review no. 705

My book Gallipoli: Attack from the Sea tells the story of the whole Gallipoli campaign with particular emphasis on the naval and submarine activity. It is therefore puzzling and somewhat disappointing that it should be reviewed by someone who is of the opinion that of the ‘few political and military stories worth telling about the Gallipoli operation … most … concern the matter of the campaign’s inauguration’. Given his bias, it is hardly surprising that the reviewer’s comments dwell on the book’s analysis of the inception of the Gallipoli campaign with woefully little discussion or even comment on the bulk of the book.

The reviewer is correct in his observation that this book does more than cover the naval aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, in that it gives context to those events by covering the issues leading up to the invasion as well as detail of the concurrent land battles. However, it would be wrong to say, as he does, that the chapters on strictly naval matters, especially those that deal with German and British submarines, ‘intersperse’ the other chapters. Over three-quarters of the book is devoted to the naval and submarine aspects so it would be more correct to say that these are interspersed by comment on the inception and the land battles. In that sense the book provides for the first time a complete coverage of the campaign so that readers interested in the naval and submarine aspects, which are often neglected in other books, can get a feel for, and the context of, what was happening on land.

His opinion of the submarine activity in the Dardanelles that ‘as history its importance is trivial’ implies that any wartime action that was unsuccessful is not worthy of historical consideration. Submarine activity, as I state, may not have played a critical role in the ultimate outcome of the Gallipoli campaign, but as one of many conflicts during the First World War, it is of no less historical importance than any other individual conflict. The ‘real war’ may have been happening on the Western Front, but given the stagnant nature of the Front in 1915, the attempt to break the deadlock through a new strategic initiative cannot be totally discounted to consideration of its inauguration only. The Gallipoli campaign had a direct impact in consuming considerable amounts of man and materials that might have otherwise been used on the Western Front, and this ultimately became one of the major reasons for its abandonment.

It is a pity that the reviewer fails to comment on the bulk of the book about the naval aspects of the Gallipoli campaign. However, on the one occasion when he does, he is incorrect in his observation. His comment that ‘the presence in the Sea of Marmara of two German battle-cruisers, one of greater size and fire-power than anything the British were planning to send there, was not considered deserving of attention’ is not correct. There was considerable concern that the two ships, the battle-cruiser Goeben (25,000 tons, ten eleven-inch guns) and the light cruiser Breslau (4,550 tons, eight five-point-nine-inch guns) had narrowly escaped engagement in the Mediterranean and their arrival in Turkey resulted in the closure of the Dardanelles and heightened Allied military interest in that part of the world. Had the Allied naval armada reached the Sea of Marmara it would have made short work of the Goeben had she been present. Many of the British and French battle-cruisers, although perhaps a bit slower, were generally as well armed or better armed (12-inch guns) and the Queen Elizabeth with her 15-inch guns would have greatly outranged the Goeben. Indeed, once the British submarine presence was felt in the Sea of Marmara, the Goeben remained in the Black Sea and it is unlikely that she would have ventured out to engage the Allied fleet.

The reviewer then again reverts to the inception of the campaign, with his own description and his claim that no analysis of this was undertaken in the book. He supports his claim by picking up on an unfortunate typographical error where Lloyd George was described as ‘Prime’Minister instead of Cabinet Minister (this will be rectified in subsequent reprints and in the forthcoming Turkish translation). (Lloyd George did become Prime Minister at a later date.) The reviewer goes on to state that the Prime Minister at that time, H. H. Asquith is ‘wholly absent from the book’ which is again incorrect.

There is much more of the Gallipoli campaign deserving of attention than just its inception, namely the evolution of what could and would be done, what occurred during the failed naval bombardments and the early successes of the submarines. The naval chapters particularly in the early part of the book add to this detail, and would appear to have been missed by the reviewer’s selective commentary. Although the reviewer feels that it was of no significance, he does state that ‘[t]his saga of the submarines in the Dardanelles constitutes a good adventure story’ and surely that makes for interesting and worthwhile history.