‘One of the great accounts of the Gallipoli campaign’ The Gallipolian
Gallipoli 1915 is available to buy here.
This is the Publisher’s Note to Silvertail’s new edition:
Joseph Murray was the son of a Scots miner who lived and worked in County Durham. He was educated at the Leazes Council School, Burnopfield, but left at the age of twelve to work in the mines himself. It had to be proved to the authorities that it was essential that he should do so to provide additional money for the home. At the outbreak of the First World War, he walked to Elswick in Newcastle upon Tyne and signed on in the Royal Naval Reserve, going first to Crystal Palace and then to Blandford with the Hood Battalion, before sailing to Gallipoli. Murray, who was born in 1897, was eighteen years old when he experienced the campaign. He had the remarkable good fortune to go through the whole fighting from the landing to the evacuation without a serious wound and kept a rough diary on scraps of paper, some of which he sent home and others he kept with him. Later in Spitzbergen, when engaged in mining exploration, he pieced the scraps together and made a rough narrative, and later he wrote Gallipoli 1915 from this material.
The general historical background to the events in which he was a participant may be summarised as follows: At the beginning of the 1914 war, Turkey’s position was that of an unstable neutral. The Young Turks were in power, a revolutionary party not entirely acceptable to the British Government. The German Military Mission under Liman von Sanders dominated the Turkish Army; the British Military Mission had rather less control of the Turkish Navy. Then, towards the end of September 1914, a German officer authorised the closing of the Dardanelles by mines, a flagrant breach of Turkish neutrality, and a month later Turkey was at war on the German side. The importance to Britain was this: the Black Sea was now effectively sealed off from the Mediterranean and the vital supply line to her Russian ally was cut.
By April 1915 the war in France and Flanders had reached a trench bound stalemate. The vast Russian armies had suffered defeat at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes; they wanted help in the form of arms and ammunition; and they wanted the Turks distracted from their campaigns in the Caucasus. If Russia collapsed, Germany’s most serious worry, that of fighting a war on two fronts, was gone. The situation revived an old idea of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, an operation to force the Dardanelles and seize Constantinople. Kitchener made it clear that he could spare no troops from the main battlefields, and so the first plans were for a primarily naval assault.
In March 1915 a combined Franco-British force attempted to sail up the Dardanelles; as they reached the Narrows and victory seemed in sight, three battleships fell victims to mines, and the operation was temporarily halted and finally given up. It was now clear that the Navy could not do the whole job themselves. A combined operation was planned and launched on 25th April, 1915. The command of the Army was given to General Ian Hamilton, who was told by Kitchener: ‘If the Fleet gets through, Constantinople will fall of itself and you will have won not a battle, but the war.’
In the weeks following the naval attack, the Turks had not been idle. The command of the force defending the Dardanelles was given to Liman von Sanders; he had six divisions, and he disposed them with extraordinary skill. The Allied Force consisted of 75,000 men: the Anzac Corps – two divisions, one Australian and one New Zealand; 29th British Division; a French division; and the Royal Naval Division, to which Joseph Murray belonged. The Anzacs landed at Gaba Tepe; 29th Division at Cape Helles, to be joined by the French, who had made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a bridgehead at Kum Kale, and the Royal Naval Division, which had first staged a diversionary mock-landing further up the peninsula, to keep the Turkish troops widely dispersed. The Cape Helles landing was reasonably successful, but Mount Achi Baba, which dominated the whole bridgehead, was not captured in the, first few days as planned, and indeed never was. The Anzacs only established them- selves on a narrow strip of cliffside which was overlooked at close quarters by the Turkish positions. Attempts to break out of the two separated bridgeheads were unsuccessful and incurred heavy loss of life.
The situation was again a stalemate, but the casualties continued to mount. It was decided that the only way out of the deadlock was a fresh landing, to be made at Suvla Bay, further to the north. General Hamilton now had 120,000 men available in all; the Turks numbered about the same. On 6th August a force of 20,000 men was landed at Suvla Bay; in spite of their taking the Turks partially by surprise, and tremendous support from the Anzacs, at the end of twenty-four hours they had barely advanced two miles. It was not enough. The battle dragged on for a further three weeks but achieved practically nothing.
In October, the first plans for evacuation were discussed; by December, rumours had spread round the fighting men. The Anzac and Suvla Bay positions were abandoned on the 19th December. The four divisions at Cape Helles held on alone against twenty-one Turkish divisions. On 8th January 1916 the last British troops were safely evacuated from Cape Helles. The Gallipoli campaign was over.