Your RDA of Irony

The Best Laid Plans….

It is February 19, 1915 and you are invited on an all expense paid cruise of the Mediterranean. Tour the charming shores of the Dardanelles on our way to Constantinople! (Itinerary subject to change.)

Quite a change! How should I describe Gallipoli? Imagine if Gettysburg had lasted 11 months and every day was a disaster. Of the 500,000 men in the Allied expedition, half of them were killed or wounded. The casualty rates among the Australians and New Zealanders were nearly one hundred percent; entire ANZAC battalions were wiped out in the campaign. To this day, Gallipoli–the heroism, the horrors and the futility– is seared in the history and consciousness of Australia and New Zealand. They remember Gallipoli, and the British incompetence that caused it.

Ironically, the strategy behind the campaign was brilliant. With its complete mastery of the sea, the British navy would force its way up the Dardanelle Straits, seize Constantinople, knock Turkey out of the war, open the Black Sea and supply the beleaguered Russians on the Eastern Front. Yes, the idea was brilliant, but reality was not accommodating.

When the combined British and French fleets first undertook their expedition–on this day in 1915— they found the channel had been mined and the Turkish batteries were more accurate than expected. Faced with unanticipated losses and unnerved by further uncertainties, the fleets retreated. In fact, they had already encountered the worst and would have had a comparatively mild cruise to Constantinople. The Allies did not know that, however, and the Turks did not bother to correct them.

The Allies had an alternative plan. They would land an expeditionary force on the coast along the Dardanelles, and brushing aside the surprised and sparse Turkish forces, march to Constantinople. Of course, the aborted naval expedition had made the Turks and their German advisers aware of the Allies’ intentions; and so they prepared for a second attack. The Dardanelles were no longer lightly defended.

Furthermore, there was an obvious place for the Allies to begin such an invasion: a peninsula jutting from the straits. It was called Gallipoli. Six weeks after the failed naval attack, the Allied troops began landing on Gallipoli.
But nothing seemed to go right. The troops were not transported to the right locations. Instead of disembarking on wide, gently sloping beaches, the soldiers found themselves trying to scale cliffs. As for the light, sparse Turkish resistance, there were six divisions and they fought ferociously.

The Allies did establish their beachheads but in eleven months, they never got much further than where they had originally landed. Their brilliant strategy had resulted in a irretrievable military disaster. The Allies had no hope of success and no choice but to evacuate.

It was a Turkish victory and one general, who had been distinguished for his leadership, would in a few years become the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal remains a hero of Turkey.

It was a British catastrophe and the Lord Admiral of the Navy, who had conceived the brilliant strategy, resigned in disgrace. He was given the rank of colonel on the Western Front and he half-hoped to be killed in action. But he survived, a heavy-drinking eccentric, an entertaining but dismissed backbencher in Parliament.

He had skill as a writer and lecturer and was able to make a living with his theatrical talents. As he aged, he became increasingly outspoken and belligerent, an imperial anachronism in a mundane, accommodating world.   But he thought of himself, not as a has-been or a relic, but as a thundering Jeremiah who foretold the gathering storm.

And he made himself heard with an eloquence that defined history. The scapegoat of 1915 would become the Prime Minister of 1940.

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