General Sir Ian Hamilton (second from right) with three senior officers from the Dardanelles campaign: the navy's Commodore Roger Keyes, Vice Admiral John de Robeck, and Hamilton's chief-of-staff General Walter Braithwaite. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial H10350
General Sir Ian Hamilton (second from right) with three senior officers from the Dardanelles campaign: the navy's Commodore Roger Keyes, Vice Admiral John de Robeck, and Hamilton's chief-of-staff General Walter Braithwaite. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial H10350 Courtesy of Australian War Memor

Kitchener's order too brief in rush to the Dardanelles

AS THE Anzacs continued training for an uncertain mission supporting the British navy in the Dardanelles, and as the navy itself continued its unsuccessful assault, military orders in London were being issued with a remarkable lack of clarity and detail.

On March 12, 1915, British general Sir Ian Hamilton made his way to the War Office after being summoned by Minister for War Lord Kitchener, his former boss during the Boer War.

As Hamilton tells it in his Gallipoli Diary, published in two volumes after the war, Kitchener's announcement the 62-year-old was about to lead British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops into Turkey was delivered in 20 words, with little expectation of questions.

"We are sending a military force to support the fleet now at the Dardanelles, and you are to have command," Kitchener said, barely pausing to look up from what he was writing at the time.

So quickly was the general expected to depart for his new commission of leading the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had booked him out on a special train that evening. In the end, he left the next day - Friday the 13th.

Hamilton was used to Kitchener issuing him with brief, vague instructions - it happened all the time in South Africa - but that was during small, colonial skirmishes. This was a war such that no one had seen.

General Kitchener (front, second from right) and Colonel Ian Hamilton (front, far right), pictured at a peace conference in the Boer War in February 1901, just prior to Hamilton becoming Kitchener's chief-of-staff.
General Kitchener (front, second from right) and Colonel Ian Hamilton (front, far right), pictured at a peace conference in the Boer War in February 1901, just prior to Hamilton becoming Kitchener's chief-of-staff. Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

He had also been given little warning of the order, little time to prepare for what lay ahead and no choice over who his senior support staff were.

He later wrote: "My knowledge of the Dardanelles was nil; of the Turk nil; of the strength of our own forces next to nil.

"Although I have met K. almost every day during the past six months, and although he has twice hinted that I might be sent to Salonika, never once, to the best of my recollection, had he ever mentioned the word Dardanelles."

As Hamilton asked for more information from the magisterial war minister, Kitchener reinforced the following points: the army was there in a supporting capacity only, for it was still believed the navy could force the straits on its own; and no one thought the Turks would put up much of a fight either way.

But little was known about the size of the enemy force or its artillery capabilities.

Hamilton and his newly appointed chief-of-staff, Major-General Walter Braithwaite, returned to see Kitchener the next day, at which point they were issued their official instructions - what amounted to four pages and less than 1000 words.

Once again, the instructions assumed the city of Constantinople, jewel in the Turkish crown, would be the end point because the Dardanelles would be straightforward, and that this campaign would provide the flanking manouevre to the European deadlock already forming just months into the war.

Just before Hamilton and Braithwaite prepared to leave Kitchener's office and board their Black Friday train,

Kitchener told them: "If the fleet gets through, Constantinople will fall of itself and you will have won, not a battle, but the war."

It all sounded so easy.

Within a week the reality would be very different.

Who was Lord Kitchener?

Lord Kitchener, whose knowledge of topography failed him and the Anzacs at Gallipoli.
Lord Kitchener, whose knowledge of topography failed him and the Anzacs at Gallipoli. Contributed

The son of an army officer, he was born in 1850, educated in Switzerland and attended Britain's Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, before entering the military in 1871 and spending the first few years of his service as a surveyor and topographer before rising through the ranks as an officer.

Eventually attaining the highest rank in the British army of field marshal, Kitchener was a hero of colonial battles in Africa who was virtually deified in his homeland and later given a peerage followed by a viscountcy.

Unlike many of the politicians of the time, Kitchener foresaw the potential for the First World War to be long and drawn out, and he oversaw the expansion of the biggest volunteer army Britain had ever seen, as well as a significant rise in materials production to fight the Germans.

But the First World War was a different beast entirely from the colonial skirmishes for which he was famous, and which Winston Churchill described as "vanished light-hearted days" of battles in which "nobody expected to be killed".

The Minister for War's bullish personality meant he often ignored the advice of the general staff and, worse, was prone to prevarication - traits that would be exposed with severe consequences for the Anzacs.

For someone who had spent the first years of his military service specialising in topography, his lack of understanding of the Gallipoli terrain would prove to be one of the failings of the campaign from the very start.

Kitchener died halfway through the war, drowning after HMS Hampshire struck a German mine and sank in June 1916, as he was on his way to Russia to attend international negotiations. 

Who was Ian Hamilton?

General Sir Ian Hamilton, pictured here earlier in his career, was a highly decorated British officer before his appointment to oversee the Dardanelles campaign.
General Sir Ian Hamilton, pictured here earlier in his career, was a highly decorated British officer before his appointment to oversee the Dardanelles campaign. Courtesy of Australian War Memor

Born in 1853 and entering Britain's Royal Military College Sandhurst in 1870 - the first year that entrance to the army was gained by examination and not just buying a commission - Hamilton's first active service was in 1871 when he was transferred to India to take part in the Afghan War.

There was no doubt he was brave - he served with distinction throughout his more than 40-year army career, and he was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross.

But Hamilton was also an unconventional amalgam for a general: charming, kind, a free thinker who spoke several languages, an author and poet, a lover of tradition who nonetheless believed in "scientific" warfare and that the days of the cavalry were over.

Australia's official war historian, Charles Bean, said he had "a breadth of mind which the army does not in general possess".

But while the Dardanelles campaign was doomed from the start, and Hamilton had little time to plan compounded by a shortage of proper resources, he also failed to show strong leadership when it was necessary and was susceptible to ignoring the realities of the campaign's failures.

Eventually, his leadership came under fire and in October 1915 he was replaced by General Charles Monro, who recommended the evacuation of the peninsula.

Hamilton's two-volume Gallipoli Diary was published in 1920. He died in 1947, aged 94.



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