Here's my three penny worth on Gallipoli by Peter Hart,. Is there any one left in the country who doesn't share an odd pint (some say very odd) pint with this loveable character?
Peter Hart is the Oral Historian at the Imperial War Museum and the author of several acclaimed books on the Great War including his Nigel Steel collaboration Defeat at Gallipoli
. As an acknowledged expert on Great War matters with a primary interest in the sideshow at Gallipoli it was inevitable he would release another publication on the subject. His latest offering, the appropriately named Gallipoli
will inevitably be well received by any Great War aficionado familiar with the no holds barred style of this competent author. This is not a rehash of the earlier publication, but one containing in the main unpublished combatants statements all skilfully merged into this definitive account. Admittedly there are no shortages of books on the Dardanelles campaign so why should we make room on our bookshelves for one more?
Hart is a writer at the pinnacle of his career with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign gained in part through interviewing veterans, unlimited access to archives and guiding British staff officers around the peaks and beaches of a coastline that still begs the question ‘What if?’ Competently writing about one of the classical naval and infantry failures in military history, especially one as diverse as the Dardanelles venture is quite a challenge, and here we have an account second to none. The book is in the authors familiar style of a meticulously researched well written account liberally interspersed with statements from both sides. I must admit in some books I find the use of statements a stumbling block to the flow of the account; however such irksome distractions can never be applied to the work of Peter Hart, an adroit master of the succinct telling quote.
In 1915 the British were the junior partner in the Franco-British alliance, and in most British accounts the presence of the French army receives scant recognition, for they are usually over shadowed by the coverage of the exploits of our colonial and empire troops. From the outset Hart declares his aim is to tell the tale of the multinational task force, therefore whether your interest concerns British, French, Australian, New Zealand or Indian combatants on land or sea this book is for you.
Hart also acknowledges ‘the victors in 1915’ and it’s a refreshing change to read the Turkish witness accounts, for they give an insight into the psyche of a much under-rated well trained, disciplined and competently led adversary, erroneously dismissed as amateurs by the British.
On the other hand, General Sir Ian Hamilton the commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was far from an amateur, he was a professional soldier but his grandiose planning relied on the success of each individual facet of military operations. Hart rightly asserts his over elaborate plans combined with the lackadaisical leadership of Hamilton and most
of his staff almost guaranteed failure. He further asserts the reason for failure was not due to ill fortune but muddled thinking, a fault neither Mustafa Kamel and General Otto Liman von Sanders possessed, their clarity of thought would prove the winning factor at every turn. But this is not a book about bashing generals, indeed there is some sympathy towards the predicament certain officers found themselves in, for in some respects it drew comparison to their peers on the Western Front.
Nonetheless each and every book on this subject exasperates the reader, for the troops whether at Anzac, Helles or Suvla were in a hopeless situation. Almost a century later historians with all the benefit of hindsight continue to disagree on the decision to open up an eastern front. Never the one to sit on the fence, Peter Hart describes the decision as an act of lunacy that could never have succeeded and convincingly supports his view throughout the work. In coming to his ‘lunacy’ conclusion, Hart has in my opinion ably countered the ‘worthy gamble’ assertions of his peers and provided adequate evidence to convince others to grasp the enormity of the failure at Gallipoli.
Nicely rounding off the book is a concise three day tour guide useful for visitors to the beaches and hills at Helles, Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay.
Peter Hart’s extensive research in British, French and Turkish archives has produced arguably the most readable and thought provoking account of a military fiasco fought by men of incredible heroic resilience. This 530 page doorstep of a book, is worthy of space on the bookshelves of any serious student of military history.