Author: George H. Cassar
Publisher: Helion & Company, 256 pages 24 b/w photos, 10 b/w maps
Published: April 2019
You often hear about books filling gaps in history, and this one is no exception. France, very much a reluctant partner in the Gallipoli campaign still made a significant contribution to it by sending its Corps Expeditionnaire d'Orient (CEO), comprising of two divisions as well as six pre-dreadnought battleships, four cruisers, and a host of auxiliary vessels that included minesweepers and submarines. Additionally, it supplied a total of 79,000 troops, supported by a full complement of Corps artillery and high explosive shells. Their contribution was important and their soldiers brave. The role of the French is barely mentioned if at all, and when it is, it is often a fleeting reference without background or detail. George H. Cassar’s work helps address this balance, although this is not the first time he has ventured into writing about the French in the campaign. Published in 1971 he wrote French and the Dardanelles: A Study of Failure in the Conduct of War, now almost a half century ago. The book focussed heavily on Anglo-French policy, so more on what was happening at the political and diplomatic levels as opposed to on the battlefield. The author admits that it had gaps in any analysis of the French side of the land operations, so it is fortunate that Cassar has now filled that gap with this excellent new book. It is far from a republication of the same work, but a rewrite, including more focus on the actual French military and naval operations in the Dardanelles. Whilst I would not say it is the 'complete story', for the first time we do have a single volume that tells the story of the French at Gallipoli, and in English.
France was very much the junior in this British-led expedition, although they were not there to solely help the British but to protect their interests in the Near East, in particular to secure their slice of the Ottoman Empire following what was expected to be certain victory. It would be a costly partnership from the beginning. The book recounts the naval offensives including the 18 March when battleship Bouvet was sunk with the loss of over 600 of its crew. The chapter on the 25 April landing at Kum Kale makes an interesting read, and although a diversionary action, it could be argued that the French were the only force to achieve their objective that day. Thrown into the battles of Krithia the French had to operate in one of the most difficult positions of the line, on the right of the British, where they were not only enfiladed by Turkish batteries on the Asian shore, but shot at from behind, and in front confronted by an impenetrable ravine, the Kereves Dere. For months the French tried to break out of this trap but despite bravery and great sacrifice, could make little progress. When talking casualties the number of French killed, wounded or missing in action was placed at over 27,000, disproportionately higher than even the British. The CEO, with support of General Joffre, were close to being reinforced, but then the Central Powers attacked Serbia causing a rethink of strategy and a new front was opened in Salonika. This was the writing on the wall for the French at Gallipoli, as it was for the British, and the campaign was brought to a close.
Whilst it would have been good for the book to contain more on the French naval and land operations, Cassar has done the French contribution justice and makes this work the go-to place for anything you need to know about the French in the Dardanelles. This book needs to be on the shelves of anybody interested in Gallipoli. Highly recommended.
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