Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_wrong at Gallipol

What went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915?

Source 2

Minutes from the British Imperial War Council meeting on 19 February 1915


➜ CHAR 2/86/5

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

Lord Kitchener said that he’d been told the Turks were pulling back from the Suez Canal in Egypt. With this threat gone, the existing forces in Egypt could defend the Canal and so the Australians and New Zealanders weren’t needed to help protect it. Therefore he thought they could be used instead of the 29th Division to support the attack on the Dardanelles. They’d arrive sooner than the 29th Division and he wanted to keep the 29th Division in reserve.

Churchill said he’d be disappointed if the 29th Division weren’t sent to the Dardanelles. It was a heavy load to place on the Royal Navy alone and success would be very significant. There was stalemate in France and the Russians had been stopped by the Germans. The Dardanelles was the only real chance of making a breakthrough. This would be a very efficient use of 50, 000 men and we’d never forgive ourselves if the operation failed because we didn’t have enough troops to support it.

Lord Kitchener said the war committee should be very wary of sending the 29th Division. The Russians had suffered heavy defeats. If they suffered a knock-out blow, the Germans could move forces to France and the 29th Division would be needed there.

Lloyd George agreed the situation with Russia was serious.

The Prime Minister agreed too, but he thought the best action was an attack at the Dardanelles.

Lord Kitchener agreed. If not sending the 29th Division would put the Dardanelles campaign at risk, then he’d send it.

Original Transcript

This Document is the Property of his Britannic Majesty's Government

Printed for the Imperial Committee of Defence July 1916.

To be returned to the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, 2 Whitehall Gardens, S. W. at the conclusion of the inquiry
Secretary's notes of a Meeting of a War Council held at 10, Downing Street. February 19, 1915


The Prime Minister (in the Chair)
The Right Hon [Honourable]. A.J. Balfour M.P.
The Right Hon. The Viscount Haldane of Cloan, K.T., the Lord High Chancellor
The Most Hon. the Marquis of Crewe, K.G., Secretary of State for India
The Right Hon. W.S. Churchill, M.P., First Lord of the Admiralty
Admiral of the Fleet the Right Hon the Lord Fisher of Kilverstone, G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., First Sea Lord of the Admiralty
Admiral of the Fleet Sir A.K. Wilson. G.C.B., V.C.,O.M., G.C.V.O.
The Right Hon.. D. Lloyd George, M.P., Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Right Hon.. Sir E Grey, Bt., K.G. M.P., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Field- Marshall the Right Hon. Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, K.P., G.C.B., O.M, G.C.S.I., G.C.M.G., G.C.I.E., Secretary of State for War.
Lieutenant-General. Sir James Wolfe Murray, K.C.B., Chief of the Imperial Staff
Lieutenant- Colonel. M.P.A. Hankey, C.B., Secretary.

Attended - Major General C.E. Callwell, C.B., Director of Military Operations

The Dardanelles

Lord Kitchener said that the latest information from Egypt was that the Turks were retiring from the Canal. There appeared to be no intention of an advance by the Turks in greater force than before. For repelling such attacks, or even stronger attacks, the garrison of Egypt was sufficient without the assistance of the Australians and New Zealanders, who numbered 39,000 in all, and were regarded as an army corps. He was inclined to substitute these troops for the XXIXth Division in support of a naval attack on the Dardanelles. They would arrive at Lemnos sooner than the XXIXth Division, as the latter would in any case have to go first to Alexandria to land its horses and impedimenta, which would not conveniently be landed at Lemnos owing to the absence of facilities. The XXIXth division would be held in readiness to proceed later to the East, if required. In view of the recent Russian set-back in East Prussia, he was averse to sending away the XXIXth division at present.

General Wolfe Murray said that it was only proposed at present to send the infantry of the Australians and New Zealanders, numbering 30,000. The cavalry would then be left in Egypt. This would leave 44,000 men for the defence of Egypt, including Indians and Territorials.

Mr. Churchill said it would be a great disappointment to the Admiralty if the XXIXth division was not sent out. The attack on the Dardanelles was a very heavy naval undertaking. It was difficult to over-rate the military advantages success would bring. Its importance could only be appreciated by considering the question as a whole from the point of view of the Allies. In France there was a complete deadlock: the Russians were arrested. At what point, then, could a favourable blow be struck by the Allies? The reply was the Dardanelles. In his opinion, it would be a thrifty disposition on our part to have 50,000 men in this region...

We should never forgive ourselves if this promising operation failed owing to insufficient military support at the critical time...

Lord Kitchener said that the War Committee ought to consider very seriously before advising the removal of the XXIXth Division to the East. The situation in Russia had greatly deteriorated during the last week or two. The Russians had lost very heavily in men, and, what was more serious, they had lost heavily in rifles, of which they were short. If the Germans could inflict a sufficiently decisive defeat on the Russians they would be in position to bring back great masses of troops very rapidly to France, and there would be a great demand for reinforcements in the Western theatre of war.

1) Mr. Lloyd George agreed that the position was very serious....

The Prime Minister agreed, but considered that the most effective way would be to strike a big blow at the Dardanelles.

Lord Kitchener agreed with the Prime Minister. If the fact of not sending the XXIXth Division would in any way jeopardize the success of the attack on the Dardanelles he would despatch it...

What is this source?

These are minutes taken from the Imperial War Council’s meeting on planning operations on the fighting of the First World War. The document you can see here was submitted as part of the Dardanelles Commission of Enquiry which was held after the campaign in 1916, hence the date of the source, but it’s based on discussions the Council held in February 1915 and the minutes of those discussions.

Background to this source

As fighting on the Western Front was beginning to get bogged down, Great Britain's ally, Russia, was fighting Germany in East Prussia. Churchill presented an idea to the Imperial War Council about attacking a key location in the territory of the Ottoman Empire. The plan was to stretch German military resources, remove the Ottoman Empire (Germany’s ally) from the war and influence other Balkan countries into joining the side of the allies.

The site chosen was the Dardanelles Straits, which linked the Black Sea with the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean, near the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. This was a key location for controlling the seas and opened a southern front far away from western European bases.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating what went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Who was present for this discussion?
  2. What was happening in Egypt?
  3. What did Kitchener want to do with the 29th Division?
  4. What did Churchill want?
  5. What was the situation in the fighting between Russia and Germany?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference?Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
There is complete agreement about what to do with the 29th Division.

The various government departments are co-operating.

The planning for this operations seems thorough and sensible.

There’s agreement that the Dardanelles attack should go ahead.

The various fronts of the war (Western Front, Eastern Front, Middle East) can be seen separately and don’t affect each other.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • When Kitchener talks about ‘the canal’ he means the Suez Canal. This was a vital strategic waterway for the British and empire forces.

Source 3

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