Anzac Day, April 25th, marks the Centenary of the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in the end a tragic failure, with heavy losses of British, Australian and New Zealand life. Churchill usually comes in for (and deserves) some of the blame, but rarely does everybody “get it right.” Such is a piece in Forbes: “Winston Churchill’s Terrible Leadership Failure.”
This piece gets several facts wrong and oversimplifies to the point of confusion. Churchill’s failure was over the Dardanelles naval attack of 18 March 1915; the landings on Gallipoli came in late April, after the naval attack had failed, and were not directed by him. The original idea was not proposed by Churchill, who initially doubted it, while Lord Fisher, who later deserted him, at first supported it. Churchill was First Lord not “Lord” of the Admiralty; Prime Minister Asquith was not at that time a Lord.
Far from offering “disaster utterly incommensurate with any advantage,” the naval plan, whose first phase nearly succeeded, offered an alternative to the slaughter on the Western Front, a chance to put Turkey out of the war, and to relieve the Russians in the Black Sea. Clement Attlee, later a Labour Prime Minister, called it “the only imaginative concept of the war.”1
It is true that Churchill continued to support the operation far too long and placed inordinate faith in on-scene commanders; but in the subsequent inquiry he was largely exonerated, and they were blamed.
“Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan”—yet Churchill took responsibility and admitted his mistake: “trying to carry out a major and cardinal operation of war from a subordinate position.” He never did that again.