Winston Churchill and the Dardanelles: A Dialogue in Ends and Means
by Trumbull Higgins
Macmillan, 308 pp., $6.95
British strategy, in both World Wars, pursued the same end: the defeat of Germany. In both wars, there was a similar debate over means. Should Germany be defeated by frontal assault in the West? Or was there a way round, by which Germany could be defeated more easily and at less cost? In the second war, the way round predominated. British troops were continuously engaged in the Mediterranean sphere from July 1940 until the end of the war. They took on substantial German forces only in June 1944. In the first war, the the bulk of the British army fought the Germans in northern France from start to finish. This strategy was advocated by nearly all the military advisers. Some political leaders did not like it. Lloyd George, when prime minister, constantly favored eastern campaigns. Though he sometimes got his way, these campaigns contributed little or nothing to the defeat of Germany. The only eastern operation of strategical significance during the first war was the expedition to the Dardanelles in 1915. This failed; and its failure relegated the later eastern campaigns to the rank of side shows. The sacrifices on the Gallipoli peninsula lingered long in British memories. The issues involved are still debated. Why was the Gallipoli campaign undertaken? Had it any chance of success? Why did it fail?
Mr. Trumbull Higgins is an uncompromising westerner. In an earlier book, Winston Churchill and the Second Front, he dealt firmly with British evasions during the second war, and made his opinion clear that Germany could be defeated only by a landing in northern France. His exciting and, in many ways, admirable book perhaps attributed too much deliberation to British policy. The British armies fought in Egypt and north Africa simply because they were there, and once started they could not stop. The first war is a rather different story. Then the British deliberately went to Gallipoli, and it should be possible to discover avowed motives. Mr. Higgins set out to find them. He had a subsidiary object in his search. Having rightly attributed most of the responsibility for British strategy in the second war to Winston Churchill, he hoped, as the title of his book implies, to find Churchill as the decisive force also in the first. Thus he would show that Churchill had pursued the delusion of the back door and the soft under-belly in both wars. This plan has not altogether worked out. Churchill was by no means alone in conceiving or in advocating the Gallipoli campaign. His special contribution was to press for stronger action, once the campaign had been decided on; and his simplemindedness made him a scapegoat for the muddles and failures of others. Churchill, being in charge of the navy, naturally advocated a naval strategy. At the same time, he was much less committed than others to a limited war; and he by no means seconded Lloyd George’s eastern enthusiasms later in the war.
Churchill was only one voice in favor of Gallipoli …