Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_wrong at Gallipol

What went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915?

Source 3

A handwritten copy of a letter from Churchill to Lord Kitchener Secretary for War, dated 18 February 1915


CHAR 13/47/69

Simplified Transcript

My dear Kitchener

If our naval attack on the Dardanelles is successful, we may have tremendous opportunities which we wouldn’t be able to exploit unless we have troops ready to help. This may happen in 3 weeks’ time. I think we should have 50 000 men within three days’ notice either to take over Gallipoli once the Turks have abandoned it or to capture Constantinople if there’s a revolution there. We would never forgive ourselves if the opportunity was lost because the army wasn’t around. I hope you’ll send the 29th Division to Alexandria or Lemnos. Before it arrives we should know whether the Greeks will help or support us.

The troops can be left on ship as long as they can come ashore to train and stay fit. It seems to me that the 50 000 men will come from
1) 1/ 29th division 18,000
2) Australians or other troops from Egypt 22,000
3) One battalion of RN division in details 10,000

You’ll then have a force within 2 days’ steaming of Salonica or Constantinople which might be important in encouraging Bulgaria to join us against the Turks.

Original Transcript

February 18, 1915
My dear Kitchener

If our operations at the Dardanelles prosper, immense advantages may be offered wh[ich] cannot be gathered without military aid. The opportunity may come in 3 weeks time; And I think at least 50,000 men sh[oul]d be within reach at 3days notice, either to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula when it has been evacuated, or to occupy C'nople [Constantinople] if a revolution takes place. We sh[oul]d never forgive ourselves if the naval operations succeeded and the fruits were lost through the army being absent. I hope earnestly that you will send the 29th Divn [Diviision] complete either to Alexandria or Lemnos as convenient. Before it arrives, we shall know how the naval operations are going to turn out. The attitude of the Greeks may also have become defined in a satisfactory manner.

The troops can always live in the transports for 10 days to a fortnight, all the material can be left onboard, only the horses and men being exercised on shore to keep them fit. It seems to me that the 50,000 men cd be provided as follows:
1) 29th division 18,000
2) Australians or other troops from Egypt 22,000
3) 9battns [Battalions] of RN [Royal Navy]Divn [Division] & details 10,000


You wd then have a force within 2 days steam of Salonica or C'nople, wh having regard to the political circs of Turkey and the Balkans, might produce vy great results.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a letter written by Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, to Lord Kitchener, head of the army and Secretary for War.

Background to this source

After getting approval from the Imperial War Council, Churchill began implementation of the plan to attack Gallipoli. However, some of the troops he felt he was promised hadn’t arrived. Kitchener was worried about sending the troops to Gallipoli and Churchill had to pester him. So Churchill was writing to Kitchener, ahead of the meeting of the Imperial War Council meeting on the following day, to try and persuade him.

The Gallipoli operation was a risky and daring gamble that required coordination and communication between multiple parts of the armed forces. Traditionally, the army and the navy were used to operating independently and sometimes even saw each other as rivals.

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. Why does Churchill want the 50,000 troops?
  2. How does he try to persuade Kitchener?
  3. Where will the troops be sent?
  4. According to Churchill, why will it be useful to have the troops in this location?

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?
The planning for this operation seems thorough and sensible.

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

Churchill seems over-optimistic about his plans.

The Allies have considerable respect for their Turkish opponents.

➜ Download table (PDF)
➜ Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • To understand this source you might find it helpful to look at the map on the investigation page.
  • Churchill was massively enthusiastic and positive about the Gallipoli campaign. One of the key questions is whether his optimism ran ahead of his planning. Consider this as you read the source.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters

Source 4

Back to sources page

Back to investigation page