AUTUMN LUNCH & FIRST SEA LORD
The Association’s Annual General Meeting was held at 11.30am on 11 October 2016 at the Cavalry & Guards Club, 127 Piccadilly, London W1J 7PX. [The minutes of the meeting will be circulated with the Spring 2017 issue of The Gallipolian.]
The Autumn Lunch was held following the AGM. Our guest speaker was Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB, The First Sea Lord, whose talk was entitled Forcing the Straits – A Personal Perspective. This focussed on the lessons learnt from Gallipoli Campaign and its significance in the planning of future combined operations; the campaign being studied by British and US planners in the Second World War, and later conflicts, not least in the Falklands War. Sir Philip was kind enough to take questions afterwards which covered a wide range of related topics.
It is hoped to include the full text of Sir Philip’s speech in the next issue of The Gallipolian.
Photograph right: First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB
Sir Philip’s speech did include mention that "images of trenches and barbed wire, and of poppies in Flanders fields, are an indelible part of our collective national memory. But as you know better than most, the First World War reached far beyond the Western Front. Of all the many chapters of the 1914-1918 war, few were more global in character, or in carnage, than the Gallipoli Campaign. Thousands of French, Senegalese, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, Gurkhas and Newfoundlanders were lost at sea or fell on the shore and the cliffs, alongside tens of thousands of British and Ottoman dead."
He went on to say, "A century has now passed, in which time empires have come and gone, and yet the memory of this particular campaign still echoes through the Royal Navy, and across Defence, today. For me the lessons of Gallipoli have personal resonance, as a former commander of the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Task Group ten years ago, but also having been a junior officer serving in the flagship of that Task Group at the time of the landings in San Carlos Water during the Falklands Conflict thirty-four years ago."
Talking of the challenge the Royal Navy faced in 1915 he remarked, "the Dardanelles is a 60-mile strait separating Asia and Europe. The opening is guarded by the rocky peaks of the Gallipoli peninsula and at its narrowest point the channel is only just over a mile wide. The water flows in both directions, which produces difficult and opposing currents on and below the surface. Even today, it is an extremely testing stretch of water to navigate. I certainly wouldn’t like to manoeuvre a cumbersome WW1 era battleship through the narrow confines of that strait in hostile circumstances, let alone try and manoeuvre a whole battle squadron.”
Talking of the lessons, he said “whether Churchill, Fisher or the Admiralty were to blame is a matter for historians. But what is clear is that the Allies had massively underestimated their enemy ... The Ottoman fleet may not have been able to match the Royal Navy when it came to engagement between capital ships, but they didn’t need to. Mines were cheap, simple and in plentiful supply, and had the potential to cause huge damage in the confined waters of an international strait ... The mobile shore batteries, meanwhile, were on paper vastly inferior to the firepower of a battleship – and yet used in combination with mine laying they were deadly. The Ottoman forces were much faster to grasp these technologies and were able to apply them to the theatre in question – a theatre they knew well - with devastating success.”
In Sir Philip's conclusion he talked of commanders at Gallipoli facing unfamiliar threats from artillery and aircraft up high and submarines down below, "today, we must work in a complex multi-dimensional battle space. We feel this particularly acutely in the Royal Navy, operating as we do at sea, in the air, on land, in space, across the electromagnetic spectrum and in cyberspace.”
“The legacy of Gallipoli burns brightly ... “Perhaps unsurprisingly, the concept of amphibious operations fell out of fashion after 1915. Yet with the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940, it became clear to allied commanders that it would one day be necessary to return to the continent by means of an opposed amphibious landing. For these reasons, the success of the landings on Sicily, at Salerno and in Normandy owed much to the lessons of Gallipoli. Bitter as those lessons were, they enabled a new generation to develop skills in joint and combined operations. Churchill, in particular, was determined that this time around, nothing should be left to chance.”
He concluded that it is of course "very easy to talk about lessons when you have the benefit of hindsight and we must never forget that the men and boys of the Royal Navy and of all the allied forces, showed immense fortitude and bravery, and they paid a terrible price, as did the enemy."
Report by Foster Summerson & Stephen Chambers
Photograph below: Autumn Lunch at the Cavalry & Guards Club, London.