THE GALLIPOLI EVACUATION
The Gallipoli Evacuation
Author: Peter Hart
Publisher: Australia and UK by Living History (2020), 312 pages, 3 maps, b/w photographs
Price: £18.00 / AUD$35.99 (Softback and ebook)
Publishers blurb … The expedition to wrest the Narrows from the Turks had failed, and Constantinople remained an impossible dream. Now in December 1915, some 135,000 men, nearly 400 guns and 15,000 horses were collectively trapped in the bridgeheads at Anzac, Suvla and Helles. The invaders found themselves caught in a nightmare scenario: they could not advance, but how was it possible to retreat from trenches overlooked by the Turks? Who would take the responsibility for the hard decisions to be taken? The soldiers? Or the vacillating politicians busy ‘passing the buck’ back home in London? With every day that passed the Turks moved up more guns, threatening to blast to pieces the flimsy piers, breakwaters and blockships that acted as makeshift harbours to feed and supply tens of thousands of men. And winter was coming. But the evacuation plans were brilliant, especially the early introduction of ‘silent periods’ to confuse the Turks. But it was still a damn close-run thing. A spell of bad weather in the final days might have destroyed the flimsy piers, leaving thousands trapped helpless should the Turkish guns open up and their infantry swarm over No Man’s Land. This then is the story of how the Gallipoli garrison escaped to fight another day.
Gallipoli remains a campaign that fascinates many, and never a year goes by without another book on the subject. Peter Hart’s The Gallipoli Evacuation is the only single volume book that I can recall that concentrates solely on the evacuation, and a good one it is too. Many members will be familiar with Peter Hart, a prolific writer on First World War history who has a passion for the study of Gallipoli. Hart is a former oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, a contributor to numerous TV documentaries, a producer of his own podcast series, and a lecturer who has spoken for the Gallipoli Association at several conferences. Published by Mat McLachlan’s Living History, this book has a clear and engaging narrative, supported by veteran testimony, clear maps and a selection of black and white photographs.
The evacuation period takes places after the failures of the allied offensives, and against the backdrop of a coming winter, the terrible November storms and an ever strengthening Ottoman defence, reinforced by heavier guns from Austria-Hungary. Hart takes the reader through the intricate planning to its tense but successful execution, not only once for the Anzac / Suvla beachhead, but twice to include the final withdraw from Helles.
Withdrawal of an army in the face of the enemy, with its subsequent evacuation by sea is a complex and dangerous military operation. It can be said that the Gallipoli evacuation ranks among the most impressive, imaginative and audacious operational successes of the entire war. The event makes a fascinating study and reveals many of the essential ingredients of amphibious warfare: unity of command, close joint coordination, detailed planning, clear objectives, tactical ingenuity, constant, flexible supervision, operational security and good luck. Whilst many of these qualities were noticeably absent during the eight month campaign, the evacuation was executed with no lives lost and no man left behind. Harts writs about this miracle of planning and engineering that extracted some 135,000 men, nearly 400 guns and 15,000 horses under the very noses of the Ottoman defenders. Whilst we can learn much from the Allied failures on Gallipoli, there is equally much to be learned from the brilliant success of its evacuation.
As with all Hart books you get a good selection of first-hand accounts that helps to bring alive the narrative, all adding a gripping drama to the unfolding story. Whilst a few of these accounts I have come across before, many are new and fresh to Gallipoli writings. Hart fills a gap in many Gallipoli bookshelves with this must-read for anyone interested in the campaign. Highly recommended.
Living History Link: https://livinghistorytv.com/book/the-gallipoli-evacuation-by-peter-hart/