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Classics Reissued: Gallipoli

By (May 24, 2015) No Comment

Gallipoligallipoli cover

by Alan Moorehead

Aurum Press, 2015

Thanks to the good folks at Aurum Press, we now have this elegant reprint of Alan Moorehead’s 1956 classic of colorful military history, Gallipoli, re-issued in time for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the disastrous World War I military fiasco in which British forces (heroically aided by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the famous “Anzacs”) attempted to force the Dardanelles Strait and deal a “death blow” to Turkey, thereby turning the tide of the entire war against the Central Powers. The idea had been the enthusiastically-adopted pet project of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, and since it dramatically underestimated the strength and determination of Ottoman resistance, it began failing almost immediately and ended up, over the course of the next ten months, in a complete Allied retreat at the cost of tons of equipment and hundreds of thousands of lives.

The debacle, which Sir Max Hastings refers to in his Introduction to this Aurum Press volume as “one of the great military tragedies of the twentieth century,” has been the subject of hundreds of books, but as Hastings quite rightly asserts, nobody’s ever described it better than Alan Moorehead.

Moorehead was born and educated in Australia and thus was in a natural position to lionize the celebrated Anzacs, and yet, in a conscious effort to provided a balanced account of the conflict, he reserves some of his most spirited prose for the Turkish side, starting with the Young Turks who held power in Constantinople:

Even in a place with so lurid a reputation as Constantinople it would be hard to imagine a stranger group of men. There is a dramatic quality about the Young Turks, a wild and dated theatricality, which is familiar and yet quite unreal. One tends to see them in the terms of a gangster movie, half documentary and half extravagant make-believe, and it would be very easy to dismiss them to that convenient limbo that envelops most political adventurers, had they not, just for this instant, had such power over many millions of men.

And of course concentrating on Mustafa Kemal, who would go on to become the near-legendary figure of Ataturk – and who clearly fascinated Moorehead psychologically:

A private rage against life seemed to possess him, and he had no talent for compromise and negotiation. Being contemptuous of other people’s opinions and impatient of all authority he seems somehow to have been trapped within his own mind. He waited in a resentful claustrophobia for the opportunity that never came, and while he waited the others so easily outstripped him.

Max Hastings has written well on Gallipoli in a few of his books but never at exclusive length, and he seems to have little patience for the scrim of myth-making that’s grown up around the subject:

In the First World Was as in the Second, victory could be gained only by defeating Germany on the Western Front, and Churchill was very foolish to suppose otherwise. Of course, a victory at the Dardanelles would have been very handy, and bolstered Allied morale. But it never looked like a war-winning stroke, and through the summer and autumn of 1915, it became an appalling drain on the Allied manpower and resources.

Too bad he didn’t have Churchill’s ear a century ago.