Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Broken Chain

33 Strategies of War, R. Greene

World War I began in August 1914, and by the end of that year, all along the Western Front, the British and French were caught in a deadly stalemate with the Germans. Meanwhile, though, on the Eastern Front, Germany was badly beating the Russians [getting beat up by Germany - again?], allies of Britain and France. Britain's military leaders had to try a new strategy, and their plan, backed by [..] Churchill and others, was to stage an attack on Gallipoli, a peninsula on Turkey's Dardanelles Strait. Turkey was an ally of Germany's, and the Dardanelles was the gateway to [Istanbul..]. If the Allies could take Gallipoli, [Istanbul] would follow, and Turkey would have to leave the war. In addition, using bases in Turkey and the Balkans, the Allies could attack Germany from the southeast, dividing its armies and weakening its ability to fight on the Western Front. They would also have a clear supply line to Russia. Victory at Gallipoli would change the course of the war. The plan was approved, and in March 1915, General Sir Ian Hamilton was named to lead the campaign. Hamilton, at sixty-two, was an able strategist and an experienced commander. He and Churchill felt certain that their forces, including Australians and New Zealanders, would out-match the Turks. Churchill's orders were simple: take Constantinople. He left the details to the general.

Hamilton's plan was to land at three points on the southwestern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, secure the beaches, and sweep north. The landings took place on April 27. From the beginning almost everything went wrong: the army's maps were inaccurate, its troops landed in the wrong places, the beaches were much narrower than expected. Worst of all, the Turks fought back [..] well. At the end of the first day, most of the Allies' 70,000 men had landed, but they were unable to advance beyond the beaches, where the Turks would hold them pinned down for several weeks. It was another stalemate; Gallipoli had become a disaster.

All seemed lost, but in June, Churchill convinced the government to send more troops and Hamilton devised a new plan. He would land 20,000 men at Suvla Bay, some twenty miles to the north. Suvla was a vulnerable target: it had a large harbor, the terrain was low-lying and easy, and it was defended by only a handful of Turks. An invasion here would force the Turks to divide their forces, freeing up the Allied armies to the south. The stalemate would be broken, and Gallipoli would fall [..].

Hamilton's style was to tell his officers the purpose of an upcoming battle but leave it to them how to bring it about. He was a gentleman, never blunt or forceful [..] Hamilton did have one request. Once the Turks knew of the landings at Suvla, they would rush in reinforcements. As soon as the Allies were ashore, then, Hamilton wanted them to advance immediately to a range of hills four miles inland, called Tekke Tepe, and to get there before the Turks. From Tekke Tepe the Allies would dominate the peninsula. The order was simple enough, but Hamilton, so as not to offend his subordinate, expressed it in the most general terms. Most crucially, he specified no time frame. He was sufficiently vague that Stopford completely misinterpreted him: instead of trying to reach Tekke Tepe "as soon as possible," Stopford thought he should advance to the hills "if possible." That was the order he gave Hammersley. And as Hammersley, nervous about the whole campaign, passed it down to his colonels, the order became less urgent and vaguer still [..].

The attack began in the early morning of August 7. The next morning Hamilton began to sense that something had gone very wrong. From reconnaissance aircraft he knew that the flat land around Suvla was essentially empty and undefended; the way to Tekke Tepe was open--the troops had only to march--but they were staying where they were. [..Hamilton decides to visit the front himself] He finally located Hammersley--he was at the far end of the bay, busily supervising the building of his temporary headquarters. Asked why he had failed
to secure the hills, Hammersley replied that he had sent several brigades for the purpose, but they had encountered Turkish artillery and his colonels had told him they could not advance without more instructions [..] Although it was already night, Hamilton ordered Hammersley to send a brigade immediately to Tekke Tepe. It would be a race to the finish.

Hamilton returned to a boat in the harbor to monitor the situation. At sunrise the next morning, he watched the battlefield through binoculars--and saw, to his horror, the Allied troops in headlong retreat to Suvla. A large Turkish force had arrived at Tekke Tepe thirty minutes before them. In the next few days, the Turks managed to regain the flats around Suvla and to pin Hamilton's army on the beach. Some four months later, the Allies gave up their attack on Gallipoli and evacuated their troops.

Analysis [..]

If your orders are vague and halfhearted, by the time they reach the field they will be meaningless. Let people work unsupervised [..] they will see in your orders what they want to see [..] Unless you adapt your leadership style to the weaknesses of the people in your group, you will almost certainly end up with a break in the chain of command.

The excerpt above has some interesting side conclusions: First is, even though Galipoli could not be won by the Allies, this did not "change the course of the war". Germany and Ottomans eventually lost. Second, the battle of Galipoli was Britain's to lose. The other side fought well, true, but Brits were planning, attacking, just not at the top of their game. If they were, with the right commander in charge, the war would have been over. They had everything else in place.

If the course of the war did not change, then what did change? The only thing Galipoli achieve was propelling the career of a young officier named Kemal giving him the hero status who successfully fought the British at Suvla. Kemal would later become the founder of Turkland.

The Alllies' eventual win was a deterministic event. Germans chose wrong; they partnered up with Ottomans, a land based power, who could not complement Germany - another land based power. The ultimate good thing coming out WWI obviously is the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire which could not be stopped either, as it was several centuries in the making. It is immensely interesting also that the crap heritage of the "Holy" Roman Empire reaching the 20th century this way. It certainly died a slow painful death.