Hamilton’s entry for the 15 March makes clear some of the grave doubts he had about the organization and planning of the upcoming Campaign.
One reason he suggests is that the soldiers at this early stage were considered second in line. It appears confidence was running high in the Admiralty and Hamilton’s force was there to clean up after the initial Naval engagement. Also Kitchener made it clear the engagement was to be limited as they could not afford the men and equipment if the campaign spread. As Hamilton puts it: … When we get into the Marmora I shall be faced by a series of big problems. What would I do? From what quarter could I attack Constantinople? How would I hold it when I had taken it? K. asked me the questions. With the mud of prosaic Whitehall drying upon my boots these remarks of K.’s sounded to me odd.
Hamilton then goes into a long, and rather odd, reverie about Kitchener want to be Viceroy of India, and how if he were in charge he would have led India to defeat the Turkish army. Perhaps behind all this wishful thinking is the fact that his present command seemed woefully lacking in any kind of planning. Again in Hamilton’s words:
Ten long years of General Staff; Lyttelton, Nicholson, French, Douglas; where are your well-thought-out schemes for an amphibious attack on Constantinople? Not a sign! Braithwaite set to work in the Intelligence Branch at once. But beyond the ordinary text books those pigeon holes were drawn blank. The Dardanelles and Bosphorus might be in the moon for all the military information I have got to go upon. One text book and one book of travellers’ tales don’t take long to master and I have not been so free from work or preoccupation since the war started. There is no use trying to make plans unless there is some sort of material, political, naval, military or geographical to work upon. … all in all things didn’t seem to be off to a good start. Geoff Barker, Research and Collection Services Coordinator, Parramatta Council heritage Centre, 2015]
… Embarked at Marseilles last night at 6 p.m. and slept on board. Owing to some mistake no oil fuel had been taken aboard so we have had to come round here this morning to get it. Have just breakfasted with the Captain, Cameron by name, and have let the Staff go ashore to see the town. We do not sail till 2 pm: after special trains and everything a clean chuck-away of 20 hours.
I left off in the S. of S.’s room at the War Office. After the bursting of the aeroplane bomb K. did most of the talking. I find it hard to remember all he said: here are the outstanding points: (1) We soldiers are to understand we are string Number 2. The sailors are sure they can force the Dardanelles on their own and the whole enterprise has been framed on that basis: we are to lie low and to bear in mind the Cabinet does not want to hear anything of the Army till it sails through the Straits. But if the Admiral fails, then we will have to go in. (2) If the Army has to be used, whether on the Bosphorus or at the Dardanelles, I am to bear in mind his order that no serious operation is to take place until the whole of my force is complete; ready; concentrated and on the spot.
No piecemeal attack is to be made. (3) If we do start fighting, once we have started we are to burn our boats. Once landed the Government are resolved to see the enterprise through. (4) Asia is out of bounds. K. laid special stress on this. Our sea command and the restricted area of Gallipoli would enable us to undertake a landing on the Peninsula with clearly limited liabilities.
Once we began marching about continents, situations calling for heavy reinforcements would probably be created. Although I, Hamilton, seemed ready to run risks in the defence of London, he, K., was not, and as he had already explained, big demands would make his position difficult with France; difficult everywhere; and might end by putting him (K.) in the cart. Besika Bay and Alexandretta were, therefore, taboo – not to be touched! Even after we force the Narrows no troops are to be landed along the Asian coastline. Nor are we to garrison any part of the Gallipoli Peninsula excepting only the Bulair Lines which had best be permanently held, K. thinks, by the Naval Division.
When we get into the Marmora I shall be faced by a series of big problems. What would I do? From what quarter could I attack Constantinople? How would I hold it when I had taken it? K. asked me the questions.
With the mud of prosaic Whitehall drying upon my boots these remarks of K.’s sounded to me odd. But, knowing Constantinople, and – what was more to the point at the moment – knowing K.’s hatred of hesitation, I managed to pull myself together so far as to suggest that if the city was weakly held and if, as he had said, (I forgot to enter that) the bulk of the Thracian troops were dispersed throughout the Provinces, or else moving to re-occupy Adrianople, why then, possibly, by a ‘coup de main’, we might pounce upon the Chatalja Lines from the South before the Turks could climb back into them from the North. Lord K. made a grimace; he thought this too chancy.
The best would be if we did not land a man until the Turks had come to terms. Once the Fleet got through the Dardanelles, Constantinople could not hold out. Modern Constantinople could not last a week if blockaded by sea and land. That was a sure thing; a thing whereon he could speak with full confidence. The Fleet could lie off out of sight and range of the Turks and with their guns would dominate the railways and, if necessary, burn the place to ashes.
The bulk of the people were not Osmanli or even Mahomedan and there would be a revolution at the mere sight of the smoke from the funnels of our warships. But if, for some cause at present non-apparent, we were forced to put troops ashore against organized Turkish opposition, then he advocated a landing on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus to hold out a hand to the Russians, who would simultaneously land there from the Black Sea. He only made the suggestion, for the man on the spot must be the best judge. Several of the audience left us here, at Lord K.’s suggestion, to get on with their work. K. went on … The moment the holding of Constantinople comes along the French and the Russians will be very jealous and prickly. Luckily we British have an easy part to play as the more we efface ourselves at that stage, the better he, K., will be pleased.
The Army in France have means of making their views work in high places and pressure is sure to be put on by them and by their friends for the return of the 29th and Naval Divisions the moment we bring Turkey to book. Therefore, it will be best in any case to “let the French and Russians garrison Constantinople and sing their hymns in S. Sophia,” whilst my own troops hold the railway line and perhaps Adrianople. Thus they will be at a loose end and we shall be free to bring them back to the West; to land them at Odessa or to push them up the Danube, without weakening the Allied grip on the waterway linking the Mediterranean with the Black Sea.
This was the essence of our talk: as it lasted about an hour and a half I can only have put down about one tenth of it.
At odd times I have been recipient of K.’s reveries but always, always, he has rejected with a sort of horror the idea of being War Minister or Commander-in-Chief. Now by an extreme exercise of its ironic spirit, Providence has made him both.
In pre-war days, when we met in Egypt and at Malta, K. made no bones about what he wanted. He wanted to be Viceroy of India or Ambassador at Constantinople. I remember very well one conversation we had when I asked him why he wanted to hang on to great place, and whether he had not done enough already. He said he could not bear to see India being mismanaged by nincompoops or our influence in Turkey being chucked out of the window with both hands: I answered him, I remember, by saying there were only two things worth doing as Viceroy and they would not take very long.
One was to put a huge import duty on aniline dyes and so bring back the lovely vegetable dyes of old India, the saffron’s, indigo’s, madders, etc.; the other was to build a black marble Taj at Agra opposite the white and join the two by a silver bridge. I expected to get a rise, but actually he took the ideas quite seriously and I am sure made a mental note of them.
Anyway, as Viceroy, K. would have flung the whole vast weight of India into the scale of this war; he would have poured Army after Army from East to West. Under K. India could have beaten Turkey single-handed; aye, and with one arm tied behind her back. With K. as Ambassador at Constantinople he would have prevented Turkey coming into the war. There is no doubt of it. Neither Enver Pasha nor Talaat would have dared to enrage K., and as for the idea of their deporting him, it is grotesque. They might have shot him in the back; they could never have faced him with a war declaration in their hands. As an impresser of Orientals he is a nonesuch. So we put him into the War Office in the ways of which he is something of an amateur, with a big prestige and a big power of drive. Yes, we remove the best experts from the War Office and pop in K. like a powerful engine from which we have removed all controls, regulators and safety valves. Yet see what wonders he has worked!
Still, he remains, in the War Office sense, an amateur. The Staff left by French at the W.O. may not have been von Moltke’s, but they were K.’s only Councillors. An old War Office hand would have used them. But in no case, even had they been the best, could K. have had truck or parley with any system of decentralization of work–of semi-independent specialists each running a show of his own. As late (so-called) Chief of Staff to Lord K. in South Africa, I could have told them that whatever work K. fancies at the moment he must swipe at it, that very moment, off his own bat. The one-man show carried on royally in South Africa and all the narrow squeaks we had have been completely swallowed up in the final success; but how will his no-system system work now?
Perhaps he may pull it through; anyway he is starting with a beautifully cleaned slate. He has surpassed himself, in fact, for I confess even with past experience to guide me, I did not imagine our machinery could have been so thoroughly smashed in so short a time. Ten long years of General Staff; Lyttelton, Nicholson, French, Douglas; where are your well-thought-out schemes for an amphibious attack on Constantinople? Not a sign! Braithwaite set to work in the Intelligence Branch at once. But beyond the ordinary text books those pigeon holes were drawn blank. The Dardanelles and Bosphorus might be in the moon for all the military information I have got to go upon. One text book and one book of travellers’ tales don’t take long to master and I have not been so free from work or preoccupation since the war started. There is no use trying to make plans unless there is some sort of material, political, naval, military or geographical to work upon.
Winston had been in a fever to get us off and had ordered a special train for that very afternoon. My new Staff were doubtful if they could get fixed up so quickly and K. settled the matter by saying there was no need to hustle. For myself, I was very keen to get away. The best plan to save slips between cup and lip is to swallow the liquor. But K. thought it wisest to wait, so I ‘phoned over to Eddie to let Winston know we should not want his train that day.
Next morning, the 13th, I handed over the Central Force Command to Rundle and then, at 10.30 went in with Braithwaite to say good-bye. K. was standing by his desk splashing about with his pen at three different drafts of instructions. One of them had been drafted by Fitz–I suppose under somebody’s guidance; the other was by young Buckley; the third K. was working on himself. Braithwaite, Fitz and I were in the room; no one else except Callwell who popped in and out. The instructions went over most of the ground of yesterday’s debate and were too vague. When I asked the crucial question:–the enemy’s strength? K. thought I had better be prepared for 40,000. How many guns? No one knows. Who was in command? Djavad Pasha, it is believed. But, K. says, I may take it that the Kilid Bahr Plateau has been entrenched and is sufficiently held. South of Kilid Bahr to the point at Cape Helles, I may take it that the Peninsula is open to a landing on very easy terms. The cross fire from the Fleet lying part in the Aegean and part in the mouth of the Straits must sweep that flat and open stretch of country so as to render it untenable by the enemy. Lord K. demonstrated this cross fire upon the map. He toiled over the wording of his instructions. They were headed “Constantinople Expeditionary Force.” I begged him to alter this to avert Fate’s evil eye. He consented and both this corrected draft and the copy as finally approved are now in Braithwaite’s despatch box more modestly headed “Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.” None of the drafts help us with facts about the enemy; the politics; the country and our allies, the Russians. In sober fact these “instructions” leave me to my own devices in the East, almost as much as K.’s laconic order “git” left me to myself when I quitted Pretoria for the West thirteen years ago.
So I said good-bye to old K. as casually as if we were to meet together at dinner. Actually my heart went out to my old Chief. He was giving me the best thing in his gift and I hated to leave him amongst people who were frightened of him. But there was no use saying a word. He did not even wish me luck and I did not expect him to, but he did say, rather unexpectedly, after I had said goodbye and just as I was taking up my cap from the table, “If the Fleet gets through, Constantinople will fall of itself and you will have won, not a battle, but the war.”
At 5 o’clock that afternoon we bade adieu to London. Winston was disappointed we didn’t dash away yesterday but we have not really let much grass grow under our feet. He and some friends came down to Charing Cross to see us off. I told Winston Lord K. would not think me loyal if I wrote to another Secretary of State. He understood and said that if I wanted him to be aware of some special request all I had to say was, “You will agree perhaps that the First Lord should see.” Then the S. of S. for War would be bound to show him the letter:–which proves that with all his cleverness Winston has yet some points to learn about his K. of K.!
My Staff still bear the bewildered look of men who have hurriedly been snatched from desks to do some extraordinary turn on some unheard of theatre. One or two of them put on uniform for the first time in their lives an hour ago. Leggings awry, spurs upside down, belts over shoulder straps! I haven’t a notion of who they all are: nine-tenths of my few hours of warning has been taken up in winding up the affairs of the Central Force.
At Dover embarked on H.M.S. Foresight, a misnomer, for we ran into a fog and had to lie-to for a devil of a time. Heard far-off guns on French front, which was cheering.
At 10.30 p.m. we left Calais for Marseilles and during the next day the French authorities caused me to be met by Officers of their Railway Mobilization Section. Had my first breathing space wherein to talk over matters with Braithwaite, and he and I tried to piece together the various scraps of views we had picked up at the War Office into a pattern which should serve us for a doctrine. But we haven’t got very much to go upon. A diagram he had drawn up with half the spaces unfilled showing the General Staff. Another diagram with its blank spaces only showed that our Q. branch was not in being. Three queried names, Woodward for A.G., Winter for Q.M.G. and Williams for Cipher Officer. The first two had been left behind, the third was with us. The following hurried jottings by Braithwaite.
Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, Volume 1, George H Doran, New York, 1920