Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_wrong at Gallipol

What went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915?

Source 4

A document (‘appreciation’) in which Churchill set out the arguments he would use in a War Council meeting, dated 25 February 1915


 CHAR 2/74/57

Simplified Transcript

This is a document I (Churchill) used as the basis for arguing in favour of sending troops to Gallipoli at a meeting of the Imperial War Council (and which I also sent to other key people who would be at the meeting).

1. Russia won’t be strong enough to invade Germany for a long time. On the other hand, Russia is able to hold back the Germans from invading them. If this situation frees up German forces they won’t be able to send them to the Western Front quickly.

2. The British and French trench lines are strong. We’re stronger than we were at the start of the war and the Germans have smaller forces facing us than they did then. Even if they pushed us back they’d suffer heavy losses. Taking a few divisions to Gallipoli wouldn’t weaken us dangerously.

3. The only place where we can take any kind of initiative is in attacking Constantinople and driving Turkey out of the war.

4. The following military forces are available:

In England 29th division another territorial division 36,000 men

Under orders for Lemnos: R.N. Division 12,000 men

From Egypt: 2 Australian divisions 39,000

French division (say) 20,000 men

Russian brigade (say) 8000 men

5. All of these troops can be transported to the region by March 21st if we give the order now. If the navy hasn’t broken through, the troops can be used to attack Gallipoli. As soon as the Dardanelles are open to us they can operate from Constantinople to finish off Turkish forces. Bulgaria and Serbia may also join forces with us.

Original Transcript

Appreciation submitted to the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Balfour, and used by me as a brief to argue from in the War Council of 26th February.

1. Russia.- We must not expect Russia to invade Germany successfully for many months to come. But though the Russian offensive is paralysed, we may count on her not only maintaining a successful defensive, but effectively containing and retaining very large German forces on her front. There is no reason to believe that Germany will be able to transfer to the West anything like 1,000,000 men at any time; nor anyhow that German forces large enough to influence the situation can arrive in the West before the middle of April.

2. The Anglo-French lines in the West are very strong, and cannot be turned. Our position and forces in France are incomparably stronger than at the beginning of the war, when we had opposed to us nearly three-fourths of the first line of the German army. We ought to welcome a German assault on the largest possible scale. The chances of repulsing it would be strong in our favour; and even if its success necessitated retirement to another line, the superior losses of the Germans would afford good compensation. The issue in the West in the next three months ought not to cause anxiety. But, anyhow, it is not an issue which could be decisively affected by four or five British divisions.

3. For us the decisive point, and the only point where the initiative can be seized and maintained, is in the Balkan Peninsula. With proper military and naval co-operation, and with forces which are available, we can make certain of taking Constantinople by the end of March, and capturing or destroying all Turkish forces in Europe (except those in Adrianople). This blow can be struck before the fate of Serbia is decided. Its effect on the whole of the Balkans will be decisive. It will eliminate Turkey as a military factor.

4. The following military forces (at least) are available immediately:-
In England {29th Division}
{Another Territorial Division} 36,000
Under orders for Lemnos: R.N. Division 12,000
From Egypt: 2 Australian Divisions 39,000
French Division (say) 20,000
Russian Brigade (say) 8,
Total 115,000

5. All these troops are capable of being concentrated within striking distance of the Bulair Isthmus by 21st March if orders are given now. If the naval operations have not succeeded by then, they can be used to attack the Gallipoli Peninsula and make sure that the fleet gets through. As soon as the Dardanelles are open, they can either (a) operate from Constantinople to extirpate any Turkish forces in Europe; or (b) if Bulgaria comes in at our invitation to occupy up to the Enos-Midia line, they can proceed through Bulgaria to the aid of Serbia; or (c) if Bulgaria is merely confirmed in a friendly neutrality, but Greece comes in, they can proceed through Salonica to the aid of Serbia.

W. S. C.
February 25, 1915

What is this source?

This is a document which Winston Churchill put together to plan the arguments he would use at a meeting of the Imperial War Council to gain support for and plan the risky Gallipoli attack. Churchill had sent a copy of this document (which he calls an ‘appreciation’) to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Arthur Balfour (a member of the War Council).

Background to this source

As the British and French allies were beginning to experience the stalemate that became the stereotype of the Western Front in the First World War, the Russian army, attacking from the east, had begun to suffer setbacks. To take advantage of the situation while the German army was still spread between two fronts, and before they had a chance to shift troops from east to west, Churchill wanted to stretch the German army even further with an attack on Germany’s ally Turkey at the Gallipoli Peninsula.

With the destabilizing situation of their Russian ally, the War Council (with responsibility for the general direction of the First World War) was looking for a way to exploit the German situation, who were over-stretched by facing enemies on two fronts, to bring the conflict to a quick and decisive end.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re are 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 is the intended audience for this document by Churchill?
  2. How strong are the Russians?
  3. How strong are the British and French positions?
  4. What does Churchill want to do?
  5. What resources does he need to achieve his aim?

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?
An attack on Gallipoli seems like a sensible plan of action.

Churchill doesn’t have the full support of the Council for this plan.

This new plan is a major change from the original plans.

There are plenty of troops available.

Churchill’s plans seem over-optimistic.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • When looking at this source it might be worth contrasting the detailed exchanges between Churchill and Carden in Source 2 and the amount of detail Churchill gives about Gallipoli in this source.

Source 5

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