Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for January 24, 2014

There were two options for the Western Front in 1916: either attack in the Somme or in Flanders.

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The Somme was chosen for a number of reasons. In December 1915 and through to January 1915, the French Commander General Joffre was advocating for an offensive in 1916 in the Somme region. He saw the Somme valley as a place where the British and French armies were physically touching and where their efforts could be most easily combined, and it had also been a quiet sector in 1915 and an offensive there might surprise the Germans. Still a meeting in January 1915 between Joffre and the British General Haig decided that the British would launch an attempt that summer to seize the Belgian coast, a diversionary attack in April in the Somme, while the French would launch a separate offensive on their own at an undetermined location sometime in June. A few days later Joffre changed his mind and asked for a British offensive focused on the Somme river sometime in the spring in addition to the operations already outlined. The British were understandably hesitant to commit to so many operations given the heavy casualties of the Western Front.

In February, King Albert of Belgium expressed his opinion that Belgian soil should be liberated by indirect rather than direct means (that is, no offensives that would devastate his already war torn country). After that, the British idea to launch an attack in Flanders was more or less rejected in favor of an offensive in the Somme as the French had outlined.

By mid-February, the Allies received word that a German attack at Verdun was likely and on 21 February their Verdun offensive was launched. The result, as you know, was that the British committed to a predominantly British-led attack in the Somme to relieve pressure against the French. Though the final plan would be debated in the coming months, Albert’s rejection and the German attack ultimately ended the chance for any other British operations in the summer of 1916.


The Gallipoli Campaign


ANZAC soldiers land at Gallipoli, 25 April 1915.

Nearly a full third of the initial invasion force, over 300 men, were cut down within 30 seconds of landing on the beaches. Most died even before they could get off the boats. Cut down by sniper and machine gun fire.

The planning of the invasion was done on flawed drawings of what the captains “thought” the terrain would be. In reality, the ANZACS faced an almost sheer cliff that was riddled with emplaced Turkish machine guns and snipers. Add that to the fact that the initial landing forces were over 1km north of where they should have been and that is already a recipe for disaster.

The fleet conducted a shelling campaign ON THE WRONG BEACH. The beach the invasion force landed at was untouched by artillery fire.

Even if they had correct information, and had landed at the correct site, they still would have been fighting desperate men and women who knew every centimeter of that peninsula, led by a fearless and frankly brilliant commander who was able to push them further than anyone thought.

ANZAC troops charging at Gallipoli, 1915.

ANZAC troops charging at Gallipoli, 1915.

The lack of forward momentum meant that the trenches were dug, and no one could move. Supply lines were nearly non-existent, and the re-use of latrine pits meant dysentery and other diseases wreaked havoc on the invasion forces, decimating both people and morale.

The ANZACs were not just fighting the Turks, they were fighting disease, they were fighting the very land itself. An insufficiently planned and researched operation with frankly idiotic execution that cost thousands of lives, both ANZAC and Turkish, simply so Churchill could garner himself some kudos. It could never have worked, it was never going to work, and with a little more care and planning, it could have easily been avoided.

Dulce et decorum est. Pro patria mori.

Anzac ANZAC soldier carrying a wounded comrade on Gallipoli

“Those heroes that shed their blood, And lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies, And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side, Here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, Who sent their sons from far away countries, Wipe away your tears, Your sons are now lying in our bosom, And are in peace, After having lost their lives on this land they have, Become our sons as well.”

— The Enemy Commander, Founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk