Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_wrong at Gallipol

What went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915?

Source 5

Handwritten copy of a letter from Churchill to Lord Kitchener, dated 27 February 1915


➜ CHAR 13/46/62

Simplified Transcript

My dear Kitchener,
The War Council on 18 February asked me to arrange transport for the 29th Division to go to the Dardanelles. I’ve now found out that you cancelled this order on the 20th and I wasn’t told. This could have been very serious.

I’ve now arranged again for the division to be transported but it seems that they’ll be held up for two weeks. It looks as though they’ll arrive before the end of March. May I ask what’s happening with the French troops? I understand the War Office doesn’t want them to come to Lemnos. I hope they won’t be stopped from travelling at least until the cabinet has discussed the issue.

Yours truly

Original Transcript


My dear Kitchener,
The War Council on the 18th instructed me to prepare transport inter alia for the 29th Divn [division], and gave directions accordingly. I now learn that on the 20th you sent Col Fitzgerald to the Director of transport with a message that the 29th Divn was not to go, & acting on this, the transports were countermanded without my being informed. It is easy to see that grave inconveniences might have resulted from this if it had been decided at Friday's council to send this division at once.

I have now renewed this order for the preparations of the transports; but I apprehended that they cannot be ready for a fortnight. It now seems vy [very] likely that the passage of the Dlles [Dardanelles] will be completed before the end of March, perhaps a good deal earlier.
May I ask also to be informed of any instructions given to the French Divn? I understand that the W. O. do not wish them to come to Lemnos. The absence of any British regulars seems to make the presence of the French specifically necessary; & I trust they may not be prevented from coming until at any rate the matter can be disclosed in cabinet.

Yours truly.
W. S. C.

What is this source?

This is a letter from Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty (handwritten by his Private Secretary, Edward Marsh) to Field Marshal First Lord Kitchener, Secretary for War, on the transport of troops to the Dardanelles.

Background to this source

In 1915 the British were looking for a way to attack Germany or its allies because they were making no progress on the Western Front and neither were their Russian allies, on the eastern front. A plan to attack Germany’s ally Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915 was agreed. The Imperial War Council charged Winston Churchill with conducting the approved plan of attack on Gallipoli.

The Gallipoli operation was a risky and daring gamble that required coordination and communication between multiple parts of the armed forces. At the time of the War Council meeting, the number of troops, especially the 29th division, was discussed. While Lord Kitchener said he didn’t feel they were necessary, he eventually agreed to the plan involving the 29th division but his doubts remained. It was very unusual for someone of the rank and status of First Lord of the Admiralty to have his orders over-ruled or contradicted without his knowledge.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

This source is another key element in examining what went wrong at Gallipoli. It can be used to further examine the relationship between Churchill and Lord Kitchener. It’s also useful as you try to infer the limit or boundaries of leadership between the two military offices.

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 gave Churchill the authority to begin conducting this operation?
  2. Explain the timetable that existed between Churchill giving the orders to transport the 29th division and when those orders were countermanded.
  3. How did Churchill respond to Lord Kitchener in response to his orders being countermanded?

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 operations seems thorough and sensible.

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

There’s evidence of proper inter-service communication.

Leadership and command appears effective.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • The key issue in this source is the relationship between Churchill and Kitchener and how this would affect the Gallipoli operations. Does the letter seem friendly and co-operative or is there an edge to it?

Explore the guide to interpreting letters

Source 6

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