Monday, November 24, 2014

Gallipoli

Gallipoli
© 1956 Alan Moorehead
416 pages


        

 As the Great War ensnared powers beyond Middle Europe, it became  in truth a world war,  providing the spark to reignite old tensions in places like the middle east.  In late 1914,  the nations of the Black Sea became party to the conflict, and Turk railed against Russian and Bulgar as in conflicts of yore.  After months of bloody stagnation in Europe,  certain persons in Britain had an idea for altering the dynamics of the war;  invade Turkey, the sick man of Europe,  and encourage the Balkan Powers to rise against it. Not only would that force Turkey to release its pressure on Russia – allowing the tsar to concentrate fully on Germany and Austria – but it would put a handful of allied powers right behind in Austria’s backyard if the Balkans joined in.  The Central Powers would be well and truly surrounded.  The invasion would be so easy – use modern ships to blast a way through the narrow channel leading to Constantinople, using landings to help secure the forts if need be, and stand by and smile as the Turks fled before the might of modern military prowess. By awful luck, problems in command, and the feistiness of the Turks, however,  Gallipoli became a year-long tragedy,  a distraction from the west that never realized its promise.

Alan Moorehead’s Gallipoli covers the campaign from its planning through its execution to the end, when the greatest victory of the episode was realized in a bloodless retreat.  Addressing both the naval campaign and the months of trench warfare, and considering both the Turkish and Allied sizes,  Gallipoli impresses with its thoroughness and easy reading despite the grim nature of the work.  He covers the larger maneuvers in full, but during the months of gruesome gridlock breaks way to address the political ramifications of Gallipoli’s floundering, both on the Turkish and Allied sides. The book contains some of the best maps I've seen in a text of this kind, including three-dimensional renderings of the hills that deliver the difficulty of fighting in this terrain much more than a simple topographical map could have.  Gallipoli seems nothing if the difficulties of WW1 warfare concentrated into the narrow stretch of the Hellespont. In some areas of the ANZAC front, the opposing trenches were scarcely ten yards apart from one another, or within a grenade's -- or a tin of jam's - throw. In such confined quarters,  the two sides could not help but realize one another's essential humanity, and this is often a tale of well-meaning men making awful mistakes against one another. Moorehead's Gallipoli is what Churchill's campaign was not: most effective.







3 comments:

  1. Oh, Gallipoli was such a missed opportunity. It could really have been such a major strategic triumph if it had worked as planned, but it was so botched from the outset despite some pretty heroic attempts.

    Sounds like a fascinating book. I'll look out for it.

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  2. This looks like one that I need to find room for in my reading list. I admire Alan Moorhead and can tell from your review that this is history well-written.

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  3. A retired historian who I was talking about the book with holds Moorehead as very reliable. And yes, it is quite well done-- I was concerned about the potential of hundreds of pages on the agonizing waste of trench warfare, Moorehead addresses that without belaboring the point.

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