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Book Review – The Grand Deception

September 01, 2015

By the end of 1914 Russia had already suffered one and a half million casualties, and called on Britain to present ‘a show of force in the Dardanelles’ to assure Germany that Russia was not without allies. Appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, Churchill felt it necessary that he have a significant naval victory to enhance his political aspirations, and played the Admiralty and its Sea Lords against the War Council by creating his own agenda. He went so far as to create a fictitious War Council meeting on 5 Jan 1914.

Although Russia did not ask for the forcing of the Dardanelles, Churchill seized the opportunityto use only the British Navy (to be withdrawn if the opposition became too great), but his ego was so great that on 20 February 1915 he had a press release placed in The Times prophesizing the forcing of the Dardanelles by the British Navy. First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher and Lord Kitchener as Head of the Army, had acquiesced to the naval forcing on the proviso that disengagement would be exercised to avoid any major losses. Churchill, now locked in to ‘saving face’ for the Navy and Britain, authorized (against the Sea Lords’ consent) an attack on 20 March that proved very costly indeed. Despite the naval force being unable to clear the Turkish sea mines and withstand and counter fire from concealed howitzers, Churchill still insisted naval thrusts on the Dardanelles be continued after 20 March.

At a Cabinet meeting on 7th April Churchill assumed responsibility (totally outside his political authority) for the military invasion of Gallipoli. With 75,000 troops who would be totally dependent on sea supply, facing 80,000 well-prepared Turks, (who had an additional 200,000 reinforcements that were never called upon), the Gallipoli Campaign began. Meanwhile, Churchill was still determined to force the Dardanelles.

Lord Fisher resigned in May 1915 and Churchill was removed from the Admiralty on the 17th of the same month.Kitchener drowned on 5 June 1916 when HMS Hampshire sank after striking a mine. The ten-man Dardanelles Commission heard evidence from September to December 1916 and released their first report in March 1917. Three Commission members (including former Prime Ministers Fisher and MacKenzie of Australia and New Zealand respectively) refused to sign what they considered to be a flawed Final Report. British PM Asquith and Churchill were deemed remiss in their actions but were not fully held to account. Scapegoats were needed, and Lord Fisher and the recently deceased Lord Kitchener were the obvious choices.

In 1923 Churchill wrote The World Crisis that would justify all of his actions during the Dardanelles campaign. He used, very selectively, all his own private papers – thus flouting the Official Secrets Act, whereas all other official documentation was subject to the Fifty Year Rule and not publically available until the mid-1960s. Martin Gilbert, as Churchill’s biographer used The World Crisisas source material, thus consolidating Churchill’s version of events.

Despite the release of the private papers of Churchill’s contemporaries in the 60s, there is still reluctance on the part of many modern writers to acknowledge that there is another side to the Dardanelles campaign. Twenty-first century writers are still using The World Crisis and Gilbert as source material. The lack of willingness by British scholars to undertake thorough research to determine the extent of Churchill’s, Fisher’s and Kitchener’s culpability for the event surrounding the Dardanelles engendered in Tom Curran a desire to redress this deficiency.

In 2001 Curran commenced a PhD on Churchill and the Dardanelles campaign. His doctorate was awarded in 2007 and has been the foundation for this book that has been edited by Andrew Bonnell, one of Tom’s doctoral supervisors.This work is an outstanding testament to the dedication and tenacity by the author to exhaustively research every possible available resource.

The Royal United Services Institute of Victoria Library wishes to thank the author for providing a copy for review.

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