Irish naval commanders at the Dardanelles

I finally got involved in a thread in predicated to:

Anzacs to be left out of British WWI Commemorations – what chance the Irish Regiments will even get a mention?

Finally, unable to resist the temptation, I spent a half-an-hour of loose time recalling that two Irish-born navy men had been at the heart of the Dardanelles campaign. You can read my effort there, post #85 on page 9, or take it, slightly amended, from here:

New departures

The Dardanelles Campaign — famously — marks the birth of three modern nations (Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, since you’re asking).

Each marks that in different ways, though the three share the recognition of the event’s significance.

Anzac Day

The key date is 25th April. Since 1990, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke (for Australia) and Governor-General Paul Reeves (for New Zealand) attended the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove. This solemn event — now removed to North Beach, for reasons of numbers attending — has become a Rite of Passage for young Antipodeans. And afterwards to Sultanahmet for the equally-traditional Efes swill.

The Pert Young Piece was there a couple of years ago. Since the DCM and Cross of Karageorge, awarded to her Great Uncle, Bombardier Nevil Pigot, B. By., 68th Bde, RFA, were among her reasons for being present, she was taken aback by the ignorance among all concerned that British troops had, actually, also been at the Landings.

So, I’d suggest there is an essential misconception in this thread. It’s not that Anzacs are being written out of the narrative. It’s more that Australians and New Zealanders have a different thread of the same wider narrative. And properly so. Nor did the Turkish scratch army disgrace themselves — but that’s yet another story.

Sir Sackville Hamilton Carden and Sir John de Robeck

Both British naval commanders who contributed substantially to the Dardanelles affair were — inevitably, it seems, in these contexts — Irish-born. As was said by the other originator of “Malcolm Redfellow”, back at TCD in the early 1960s, it’s only too obvious when the British military are planning a major disaster — they sent Welsh, Scottish and Irish troops. The Dardanelles fits the pattern, with the addition of the unfortunates from the Southern Hemisphere

Let’s trace the history:

CardenAt the outbreak of war (August 1914) the German warships Goeben and Breslau escaped from the Mediterranean into Turkish waters. The commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean was Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne, and — although officially exonerated — when the French assumed command of the Allied navies in the Mediterranean, Milne was discreetly removed from the scene. Vice-Admiral Carden (born Templemore, co. Tipperary, and image, right), already in his late 50s and approaching normal retirement, was appointed to command the British battle squadron in the Mediterranean.

Within days of his appointment, the Turks closed the Dardanelles (27th September 1914). This provoked the declaration of war against Turkey (5 November 1914). Carden was in command of the British and French forces sent to bombard the forts on the narrows.

In January 1915 Churchill’s scheme to occupy the Gallipoli peninsula came to the war council. Carden was cabled to enquire whether the Dardanelles could be forced by naval power: his response was the business could not be “rushed” but “might be forced by extended operations with large numbers of ships” [see Trumbull Higgins, page 80]. This ran contrary to all text-books and military experience, but on this basis Churchill instructed Carden to produce a comprehensive plan, which Carden did and which went to the war council on 11th January, and was approved on 28th January.

Phase 1 was a concentrated bombardment of the forts, begun on 19th February, and under Carden’s command. Only later did it become evident that, with German aid, the outer and intermediate forts had been substantially strengthened, and minefields laid. Carden was deficient in not properly deploying aircraft and minesweepers, but equally the war council was divided over the whole scheme (First Sea Lord, Admiral John Fisher, who had commanded in the Mediterranean 1899-1902, was hostile to the whole business).

220px-John_Michael_de_RobeckCarden, quite obviously, was not up to what he had been tasked to do. He was short of recent sea-going experience, and his health was poor. On 16th March 1915, three days before the planned attempt to force the Dardanelles strait, he passed command to Rear-Admiral John de Robeck (born Naas, County Kildare, and image right), and returned to the U.K.

John de Robeck was presented with an insoluble problem, but so nearly came within touching distance of cracking it. The Turkish batteries ran out of ammunition: only the minefields (which took out five battleships) aborted the naval assault. With the arrival of General Hamilton, de Robeck was able to pass on overall command, and personally withdraw with his reputation largely intact (his despatches are on-line, and well worth the visit).



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One response to “Irish naval commanders at the Dardanelles

  1. Pingback: Back to the grind | Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service

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