Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Even fairly early in the war it was realised at the highest levels of the British military that once involved on the continent against a sizeable, prepared army the
A First Contingent from Canada- 30,000 strong- had just set sail when “the Governor General telegraphed the Secretary of State for the Colonies an offer by the Dominion Government ‘to place and maintain in the field a second overseas contingent of twenty thousand men.” This contingent would first be raised from the overflow of men willing to go on overseas service. ”Ottawa immediately ordered the mobilisation of a second contingent. Fifteen new battalions were to be raised, and to ensure a steady stream of reinforcements, it was decided to keep thirty thousand men continuously under arms in Canada.” This, which seemed prudent in October of 1914 was already agreed to be inadequate within a month. The sheer breadth the war was reaching impressed the idea that Canada may not only be required to form battalions for front line service, but to provide supporting lines of communication and headquarters elements to build the structure for higher levels of organisation not previously anticipated, or even with precedence in Canadian military history. Outfitting another division did not particularly mean that the CEF’s establishment overseas would change. The 2nd Contingent was raised, initially, with the idea it would provide supplemental reinforcement for the 1st Division. Even after the 2nd Contingent was properly structured into a three brigade division in its own right, there was not an automatic evolution to combine the two divisions within the next highest command structure-the corps.
As an organisational concept, the corps was a relatively new practice for the British. Field Marshal Sir John French had the presence of mind to split the original BEF into two corps upon embarking for France in August. Owing to the size of the Force and the expanse of land they were moving into, placing corps commands in between himself and his brigades made for much easier command and control. The British, though, did not view corps as impermeable, and were liable to have brigades or divisions shifted from one to another. The Second Contingent, then could possibly be placed alongside British units in a separate corps from the 1st Canadian Division, and quite possibly one or the other would be moved about should the need arise. It didn’t take long for the notion of permanent corps structures as a necessity took hold. Britain would be raising armies of several corps each; the more ingrained a structure in subsequent formations would help to make this growth a smooth process. So it was that the 2nd Division allowed for the formation of the Canadian Corps, to be commanded by Lt General Edwin Alderson, a British officer of nearly forty years of service who had been the general officer commanding the 1st Canadian Division even before it had left Valcartier. Now, besides the rank and file, the Canadians required a corps level general staff, of 25 personnel administering what would be 37,000 men. Many of the staff positions would be filled with British officers until Canadian candidates could be pushed through a quick learning version of the Staff College.
Within the structure of this 2nd Division was a battalion, whose existence had been made possible through the request of prominent citizens that a unit be created from Francophone men, mostly out of Quebec. Numbered by the precedence of their forming as the 22nd (Canadiennes-Francais) Battalion, they would from this receive the nom-de-guerre which is perpetuated in Canada’s Army today: “The regiment is nicknamed the ‘Van Doos’, a corruption of vingt-deux, French for ‘twenty-two.” It certainly wasn’t only language which separated them from their comrades. Large numbers of men in the other battalions had been born in or were only one generation removed from the UK. The 22nd was uniquely Canadian, able to take centuries of heritage into its own traditions. They chose as their symbol the beaver, and while adhering to uniform and doctrine of Empire troops, selected a jaunty, Quebecois paddling tune as their quick march. “Vive La Canadienne” (“Long Live the Canadian Girl”) has a strong cadence- from calling when to pull a stroke in a heavy canoe crewed by twelve men- and lyrics, from earlier than 1840 speaking of a longing for the beauty of the girls at home. It “is not an anthem in the traditional sense; it neither extols the virtue of a nation, nor upbraids its citizens.”
With the rest of 2nd Division, the Van Doos would deploy to France in September 1915, after months spent training in an area of south east England. “By the time the foremost elements of the Second Contingent arrived in the United Kingdom, the bulk of Canadian troops already in the country…had moved to the Shorncliffe area in Eastern Command,” records the official history of the CEF written by Colonel Nicholson, “the open fields beside Shorncliffe and the rolling Kent countryside beyond provided ideal conditions for company and battalion training.” “Its first major attack took place at Courcelette, France, in September 1916. The French-Canadian soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas-Louis Tremblay, pushed back repeated enemy assaults and held the village while surrounded on all sides for three days and three nights. Of the 800 men who took part in the initial assault, 118 were left three days later.” In service on the Western Front from September 1915 to November 1918, the 22nd would suffer close to 4,000 casualties through this time, placing what would become defining names of battles on their list of honours.
One of their number was a stocky twenty-five year old machinist named Joseph Kaeble, from Sayabec, a tiny municipality on the south shore of the St Lawrence Seaway. Sayabec is still small, recording just over 1800 inhabitants in the 2011 census. When Kaeble volunteered in 1916, he was on his way to joining what had become the largest concentration of his countrymen outside of Toronto and Montreal. He made corporal in April, 1918, almost a year since he had been wounded in the shoulder in mopping up actions following Vimy Ridge. Assigned command of a Lewis gun section, Cpl Kaeble was on the front line in June, 1918 amidst a period of intense German offensives which had stretched the Allied front to the breaking point. The 22nd Bn War Diary records “During the day enemy artillery below normal. At 9.45 pm enemy attempted to raid our front line.”
Three raiding parties, numbering fifty men each had used the cover of a short barrage to move in closely to the Canadian trenches. They struck at separate points, and a bloody contest was begun. Throwing grenades as they came, men of the Rheinisches Infantirie-Regiment Nr 65 were able to approach within a few feet of the trench where Cpl Kaeble was one of the few men yet unwounded. “A few men of the attacking party managed to reach our parapet but were immediately repulsed by the aid of Lewis Guns and bombing.” Without a good field of fire from the trench, Cpl Kaeble exposed himself from the parapet to put effective fire on the enemy, firing the Lewis gun from the hip. Shattered by grenades and artillery, he fell back into the trench, firing his weapon all along, and is recorded as saying “Tenez bon, mes vieux, ne les laissez pas passer, il faut les arreter!” (“Keep it up, boys, do not let them get through, we must stop them!”) “At this post” the after action report notes, “fierce fighting with bayonet took place.” Later it was determined “A great number of enemy dead (were) lying in no man’s land….Numbers of enemy wounded high, as shrieks and screams were heard in no man’s land and whistling for streacher(sic) bearers.”
Evacuated to a field ambulance, Cpl Kaeble was assessed as having suffered compound fractures to both legs, and shell wounds in his left hand, neck and both arms. It would be too much for him to overcome. According to his will, his widowed mother was his sole beneficiary. Cpl Kaeble was posthumously gazetted to the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery and extraordinary devotion to duty” on 16 September 1918.
Postscript: Cpl Kaeble, before his death had been awarded the Military Medal-“For bravery in the field”, which is the usual citation. The announcement was gazetted after his death, which means he never had the opportunity to wear his MM.
 Nicholson, GWL, Col. “Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919” Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, 1962 pg 109
 Nicholson, ibid.
 Cook, Tim “At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916” Penguin Canada, 2007 pg 305
 Nicholson, ibid. pg 113
 Holmes, Richard, “The Western Front” BBC Books 1999 pg 217
 War Diary Entry, 22nd Battalion, 8 June 1918, courtesy Library and Archives Canada
 War Diary Appendix 22nd Bn, “Special Report on Enemy Attempted Raid During the Night 8/9 Jun 1918” LAC Canada
 Special Report, ibid.
 Supplement to the London Gazette (No. 11076) 16 September 1918
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
It can become incredibly easy, when gifted with all the information hindsight allows to be too critical of past events. The writing of this short series on Gallipoli has given me pause for thought as to whether or not the course of action taken was correct, considering the outcome. In studying these events, I have information on their progression and depths of situational intelligence (enemy dispositions, terrain) that the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force’s commander,
General Hamilton had it in mind that the landings to be made by the 29th Division around Cape Helles would be the main effort in opening the ground campaign. To confound the Turkish forces defending the area, the French units and the Royal Naval Division under Hamilton’s command were to make feinted landings far removed from the 29th’s beaches. Directly supporting the actions at Cape Helles, the Anzac portion of the MEF were to put ashore at a midpoint on the peninsula, designated Z Beach. Scheduled to land moments before the Cape Helles embarkations, this covering force had as its objective the high features of successive ridge lines a few miles inland from the beach. “The Anzacs, the biggest part of the Allied force, were to be taken up Gallipoli’s Aegean coast….Their destination was a promisingly easy-looking beach leading to flat terrain at a point called Gaba Tepe.” This would give them a dominant position over inland roads, allowing the Anzacs “to cut off Turkish reinforcements heading south towards the main British landings at Helles.”
0415 hrs., 25 April 1915, 3rd Brigade 1st Australian Division came ashore not at Z Beach, but due to tidal current at a point 1.6 km north of the indented location, which would become known as Anzac Cove. This mistake may well have been fortuitous, as even though 3rd Bde would suffer heavy casualties on landing at Anzac Cove, it is speculated that the defences at Z Beach may have made landing there more costly. As it was, once ashore at the wrong place, further actions would have to be improvised so that the day’s objectives could be met. “Instead of the flat and easy ground that supposedly lay beyond Gaba Tepe, they found themselves having to clamber up into steep craggy hills and rock-lined ravines in the face of gunfire from Turkish riflemen concealed in the nearby hills.” Despite the setbacks, the 3rd Bde fought forward to gain the heights along Chunuk Bair and Sari Bair. Within the first few hours of making landfall, the Divisional War Diary notes “Bde considerably mixed but roughly in order 9, 10, 12, 11 (Battalions) from right.” At 0700, the battalions reorganised to “push on” and within the hour had repulsed a Turkish counter-attack. Even in the face of fairly heavy casualties, the Australians had managed to overcome a difficult start and their own inexperience so that by late morning, the outlook of the operation was projecting success. Limits, however, had been reached “Unaware of this numerical advantage, Lieutenant-Colonel Ewen Sinclair-Maclagan, commander of the 3rd Australian Brigade, makes a crucial tactical decision at 400 Plateau: he persuades Colonel James McCay (2nd Australian Brigade), to reinforce his right flank rather than head up Hill 971 as originally ordered. Sinclair-Maclagan then orders his men to dig in at 400 Plateau rather than advance further. These decisions would be subsequently criticised as tactical errors.”
Lt Colonel Mustafa Kemal, the officer commanding the 57th Turkish Infantry Outnumbered and with remaining forces still en route, the 57th pressed forward into the broken scrub of the ground just taken by the Australians. In what was described as “heavy and close” fighting, - at points hand-to-hand and with bayonet- Kemal’s daring shook the invaders loose. At 1600 hrs. Turkish forces had once again secured the high ground. There would be no opportunity to put any more men on the beach, “By the afternoon of 25 April, the beach was crowded with the wounded from the ferocious actions being fought out along the ridges. That day an estimated 2,000 wounded passed through the cove, while others lay out on the battlefield awaiting evacuation.”
In the first twelve hours, some 12,000 Anzacs had come ashore; “they…had formed a beachhead, albeit much smaller than intended. In places they were clinging onto cliff faces with no organised defence system. Their precarious position convinced both divisional commanders to ask for an evacuation, but after taking advice from the Royal Navy about how practicable that would be, the army commander decided they would stay. The exact number of the day's casualties is not known. The ANZACs had landed two divisions but over two thousand of their men had been killed or wounded, together with at least a similar number of Turkish casualties.” Those still fit for duty were short on ammunition and exhausted from the day’s efforts. As night fell, the Australians were ordered to dig in on what ground they still held. “The Australians and New Zealanders remained crowded into, and unable to break out of the wretched toehold.”
Hindsight, once again, makes it far too easy to assign an evaluation of history. Dan Snow, a BBC presenter on military history diminished the accomplishments of the Anzacs at Gallipoli by reminding the present observer that their contribution to the campaign was peripheral. “Far more British soldiers fought on the Gallipoli peninsula than Australians and New Zealanders put together. The UK lost four or five times as many men in the brutal campaign as its imperial Anzac contingents. The French also lost more men than the Australians.” In response, it can be taken that such things do not always rely on how many of one nation’s forces fought. For Canadians, Vimy Ridge is a touchstone of national emergence, but would also be seen as a small measure placed in context against British efforts in the Arras campaign, of which Vimy was a diversionary objective. However, these assessments while not untrue, are a little unfair. Australia, very much like Canada had wholeheartedly committed itself to the Imperial war effort. Such as Sir Robert Borden, Canadian Prime Minister had declared his country’s answer to Britain’s call was “Ready, aye, ready”, his Australian colleague, Prime Minister Andre Fisher had responded to the war with the promise that “We shall pledge our last man and last shilling.”
Australia very nearly did. “Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26 111, comprising of 1007 officers and 25 104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7 779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers in Australian units.” Overall, the tiny, worlds-away nation has much to take pride in. In his book on travelling through Australia in the early 2000’s, American author Bill Bryson provides this insight: “It is a fact little noted outside Australia- and I think worth at least a mention here- that no other nation lost more men as a proportion of population in World War I than Australia. Out of a national population of under 5 million, Australia suffered a staggering 210,000 casualties- 60,000 dead, 150,000 injured. The casualty rate for its soldiers was 65 percent.”
 Meyer, G.J. “A World Undone”: The Story of the Great War 1914-1918, Delta Books, 2006, pg. 309
 Meyer, G.J., ibid. pg. 310
 War Diary, 1st Australian Division, 25 April 1915. Courtesy Australia War Memorial
 Meyer, G.J., ibid. pg. 312
 Snow, Dan “Viewpoint: 10 big myths about World War One Debunked” BBC.com 25 February, 2014
 Bryson, Bill “In A Sunburned Country”, Anchor Canada (Random House) 2000, pg. 296
Tuesday, 10 March 2015
Even after the costly losses on the 18th of March when Admiral de Robeck’s task force failed to pass through the Dardanelles, it was still firmly believed that Constantinople could be taken from the sea. The overall idea hadn’t changed- British and French ships would besiege the ancient city, forcing its surrender. It was getting there which was proving problematic. Ships of the line could push through the channel with enough speed such that the Turkish guns situated on the high ground on both sides wouldn’t be too bothersome. It was the mines, laid in the hundreds, which were the real problem. Mine sweeping is delicate and precise work, requiring the trawlers- mostly privately owned and crewed by civilians- whose task it was to clear a path to do so with great care and thus sacrificing speed for thoroughness. This, in turn, placed them at the mercy of the Turkish gunners, working from mobile pieces or well-fortified emplacements on the slopes reversing from the channel side; both equally difficult to hit from thecovering ships down below. A conundrum faced de Robeck. To get his ships through, the mines must be cleared, to clear the mines, the guns must be taken out; and his ships simply could not reach the Turkish guns. Overall, the hope had been to restrict actions in the area to the Navy alone, but it was becoming more apparent that troops would be required to land and take the positions along the peninsula by force.
Success or failure here would go towards a resolution to the debate which had consumed the attention of military planners and political minds. Since the establishment of strong trench lines on the Western Front, two opposing points of view on how to proceed had developed. Sir Richard Holmes puts it succinctly that there “Were those ‘easterners’ who, in Kitchener’s words, were inclined to regard the Western Front a ‘a fortress which cannot be taken by assault,’ and to look elsewhere for a decision….On the other side of the debate were those who argued that there was no alternative to the Western Front.” Much more than philosophical, attempting a resolution in either the wet or the east would dictate where valuable and scarce resources; most critically in manpower and munitions, would be allocated. Precisely because they were scarce meant that a full effort in both areas couldn’t be done concurrently. At the centre of this was the 29th Infantry Division.
In February of 1915 “it was still in England, not committed to any theatre of operations, and therefore available.” Formed in Warwickshire between January and March 1915, of units recalled to England from foreign garrisons, the 29th was the last division in the British order of battle composed of mostly regular army battalions. Such as that was, “after six months of war a division that was both intact and made up of experienced professional soldiers” made it a highly coveted asset. Field Marshall Sir John French, in command of British forces in France and Belgium wanted it to be placed under his command in the hopes it would be able to add to a general offensive. Admiral Jackie Fisher, in command of the Royal Navy had posited that the 29th could be used to make a landing against Germany via the Baltic. There was little end to where this division might be sent; but outside of French, other plans for the 29th were based upon the supposition that territorial and colonial units should be adequate to the task of holding an established line in Europe; that the 29th could be more useful applying their expertise in more dynamic operations. The division departed England for Alexandria, Egypt in mid-March; ostensibly to be used in a prospective campaign in Salonika. It would form the core of a combined command to be known as the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force which would include the Australian Imperial Force, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force; which would be formed into one corps to be known as the “Australia New Zealand Army Corps” (ANZAC) and the French Corps Expeditionnair d’Orient. All told, the MEF had 75,000 men and was placed on the 12 of March under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton.
Ten days after his appointment, Hamilton met with de Robeck about the situation in the Dardanelles. Both agreed that the naval advance could not be resumed “without the assistance of strong landing parties.” Historian Liddell Hart notes that not only the Naval actions had put Turkey on high alert; their abrupt cessation and a complete disregard for operational secrecy made clear the intention of the British to begin a ground campaign. Alarmed at the disposition of Turkish forces in the face of such obvious intentions, the commander of the German Military Mission, an attaché to the Turkish government, General Liman von Sanders lobbied for the ability to control efforts in the threatened area. He was given an independent command of six divisions. All he required, was enough time to place them and make the area defensible, and estimated that given eight days, he could have everything in place. In the event, von Sanders had nearly four weeks, which “was just sufficient to complete the most indispensable arrangements.” The Turkish divisions were distributed to points of prospective attack, and unfortunately not concentrated at the places the British intended to put ashore. General von Sanders had done the best with what he had to hand; there was no way to cover all possible approaches with overwhelming numbers, so he held back one division in a central location in the upper peninsula as a general reserve and spent a great deal of time making improvements on the road system. Under the command of an officer who, though capable had been sidelined because of his political opposition to the current government of Turkey, Lt Col Mustapha Kemal, this division would be able to provide support to the most threatened area once the British attack developed.
With 84,000 men, von Sanders’ force had a slight numerical advantage, but his uncertainty in placing them dissipated this. On balance, the MEF didn’t have ample time to plan what is one of the most complex types of operations. Seaborne assaults require an immense amount of coordination between services and intricate tactical and logistical arrangements. The troops would be required to secure a beachhead for subsequent landings, and then, when in enough numbers, move up steep and rocky defiles to engage the defenders. Odds were massively stacked against them. Hamilton had planned to land the 29th Division on four beaches, “Y”, “X”, “W” and “S” around the southern tip of the upper peninsula at Cape Helles and Sedd El Bahr, the ANZAS would land at “Z” beach, on the northern side, with the Royal Naval Division and the French forces making feint landings in other locations. “In retrospect,” says Sir John Keegan, “it is possible to see that Hamilton’s plan could not work, nor could any other have done with the size of the force available to him.” Keegan allows for the possibility of success at Gallipoli, providing a much larger allotment of troops had been made available; while conceding that such numbers did not exist, and most of all that a “large commitment of troops was, in any case, outside the spirit of the enterprise, which was designed to achieve large results without dissipating the force engaged on the Western Front.” Nevertheless, the operation would be the largest military landing in history to that point. Taking Hamilton’s 75,000 men into action were “two hundred transport ships…accompanied by eighteen battleships, a dozen cruisers, twenty-nine destroyers and eight submarines.” Where they were going to land by and large were in places that von Sanders hadn’t adequately prepared. Despite Keegan’s hindsight, it could have been possible for things to have turned out more in favour for the British than they did.
Part of the problem was that Hamilton had to act quickly, and this expedience had a dreadful effect. The other was due to the ground itself. “The geography of the region and the limited size of supporting forces available prevented the Allied troops from advancing beyond those positions they originally commanded. Most of the beaches, unprepared and under defended were taken quite easily, and the heights made with little effort and light casualties. “At first in the dim light nothing could be seen but the great wall of the bluffs close on to 200 feet high. …the apparently vertical cliffs modified into steep slopes or red clay, thickly covered with scrub.” Lack of clear and contingent instruction, of a comprehensive coordinated effort, and an absence of initiative on the part of commanders in areas where landings had been successful meant that there was no forward thinking beyond just getting ashore. Which also meant that some units would remain idle when perhaps they could have been best used to support others who weren’t experiencing the same level of success. Nowhere was this more evident than at “V” Beach, where a daring plan to get men inland had not worked well at all.
An old collier, the River Clyde had been repurposed into a latter-day Trojan
First to disembark was to be the First Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers, a regular army unit from recruiting districts in Ireland. Things had not gone to design at all. The River Clyde had grounded further out than had been hoped, the two lighters which had come forward were struggled into position to provide the bridge point, their crews under intense fire from above the whole time. By the time all was set for the Munsters to go, the entire landing area was enfiladed by machine gun and light artillery, the men were cut down, almost before they could move from ship to shore. The slaughter was appalling, wounded and dead were now blocking the gangways, making egress of the still fit difficult. One of the lighters broke its mooring, stranding men trying to move forward, and allowing the Turks to pick them off as they stood helpless. Others jumped clear of the bridge but were weighed down by equipment and drowned, or caught up in barbed wire which had been laid in the shallow edges, and shot down there. In the midst of this, a sailor named Williams jumped into the water from the lighter he was crewing. “When he had first volunteered to join the specially selected crew he had been told by Commander Unwin that he was full up and that he ‘did not want any more petty officers’. Williams had protested, offering to give up his rate if it would ensure his inclusion with the salty retort, ’I’ll chuck my hook if you’ll let me come.’ Unwin commented many years later, ‘I did, to his cost but everlasting glory.’” So, as of that morning, now Able Seaman Williams was in water to his chest, wresting the tow line of the lighter so that it would come about to be close to a spit of land from where the men could make ground. The line wasn’t long enough to be brought in and tied off, so Williams stood, exposed to fire, holding fast his line for an hour, allowing the soldiers to pass to the beach. He might have stayed longer had he not been terribly wounded byshellfire, from which injuries he would shortly die. William Charles Williams would be awarded the Victoria Cross, the first ever to be posthumous award for naval personnel, and one of six merited to the River Clyde for the landing at V Beach, Cape Helles, 25 April 1915. The Munsters would lose seventy percent of their effective strength in the landing, and it became necessary to hold off putting men ashore until dark, when at last the wounded and dead could be moved off and the remaining thousand men aboard the River Clyde could move onto the beach.
Thus started the first day of a campaign which would last a further eight months, and fail to accomplish what it had been set to do.
 Holmes, Richard, “The Western Front” BBC Books, 1999 pg. 58
 Meyer, G.J. “A World Undone”: The Story of the Great War 1914-1918, Delta Books, 2006, pg. 265
 Meyer, G.J., ibid. pg. 266
 Keegan, John “The First World War” Vintage Canada Edition, 2000, pg. 239
 Liddell Hart, Basil “History of the First World War” Pan Books, 1972, pg. 70
 Liddell Hart, Basil, ibid. pg. 172
 Liddell Hart, Basil, ibid.
 Keegan, John, ibid. pg. 241
 Keegan, John, ibid.
 Smithsonplanning.au; “Monumental Moments”-from “Cobbers-Stories of Gallipoli 1915” by Jim Haynes, ABC Books pg. 3
 Meyer, G.J., ibid. pg. 307
 Jim Haynes, ibid. pg. 4
 Gillon, Stair, Captain, “The Story of the 29th Division: A Record of Gallant Deeds” Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. 1925, pg. 19