The Gallipoli Plan

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 155th installment in the series. NEW: Would you like to be notified via email when each installment of this series is posted? Just email RSVP@mentalfloss.com.

November 25, 1914: The Gallipoli Plan

The tragic Gallipoli campaign, which lasted eight months from April 1915 to January 1916 and saw around half a million casualties from combat and illness on both sides, had its origins in First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill’s ambition to exploit British sea power with an attack on the flanks of the Central Powers spearheaded by the Royal Navy. Churchill and First Sea Lord Admiral Jackie Fisher believed, rather optimistically, that they could sidestep the stalemate on the Western Front and deliver a decisive blow to end the war by playing to Britain’s traditional area of strength; not coincidentally, it would also burnish the reputation of the “senior service,” which had stumbled badly in the opening months of the war with multiple defeats due to bad luck and sheer incompetence.

The Ottoman Empire’s declaration of war on the side of the Central Powers in early November 1914 vastly expanded the scope of the conflict and confronted the Allies with an array of new threats, the most immediate of which was a Turkish attack on British-occupied Egypt. Indeed, as soon as they entered the war the Young Turk triumvirate of Enver Pasha, Djemal Pasha and Talaat Pasha began planning an offensive to seize the strategic Suez Canal, connecting Britain to India and Australia, with help from a German officer, the memorably named Kress von Kressenstein. 

While they hurried troops from India, Australia, and New Zealand to Egypt to defend the canal, the British cabinet also considered ways to carry the fight to the Turks using Britain’s available resources. One obvious possibility was a campaign to wrest control of the Turkish straits and Constantinople, thus decapitating the Ottoman Empire and reopening the maritime supply route to Russia through the Black Sea.

Churchill first presented his proposal to attack the Turkish straits to the British government’s War Council on November 25, 1914, arguing that an offensive would force the Germans to send reinforcements to the Turks, drawing troops away from the Western Front. In its original form the plan was mostly a naval operation, sending a fleet of obsolete battleships and smaller ships to “force” the straits by clearing mine fields overpowering the Turkish fortresses on shore; only later would it snowball into a full-scale amphibious debacle (illustrating the phenomenon now known as “mission creep”).

Of course even in its original limited form the plan carried considerable risks, as the War Council minutes noted: “Mr Churchill suggested that the ideal method of defending Egypt was by an attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This, if successful, would give us control of the Dardanelles and we could dictate terms at Constantinople. This, however, was a very difficult operation requiring a large force.” The other members of the War Council were skeptical at first, but Churchill’s persistence and enthusiasm eventually won them over, and planning began for one of the bloodiest battles of the war. 

Kitchener’s Army

The First World War was unprecedented in its scale and violence, which produced huge numbers of casualties and forced both sides to begin drawing on their reserves of manpower much sooner than anyone expected. Although British newspapers were generally circumspect about the losses suffered by the British Expeditionary Force (due to strict limits on coverage and careful filtering of information by the government) by late November the bloodshed at Mons, the Marne, the Aisne, and Ypres had all but wiped out the original all-volunteer army; according to an official tally, by December 1914, out of 140,000 men the BEF had suffered 95,654 casualties, including 16,374 dead, forcing British generals to hurry troops from overseas to fill in the gaps. 

With France outnumbered on the Western Front and Russia struggling on the Eastern Front, Britain not only needed to make good these losses but quickly field a much larger army in order to even have a chance of winning the war. After shocking the public with his prediction that the war would last three years, in early August 1914 Secretary of State for War Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener called for the creation of a vast new army numbering at least a million men. Days later Parliament quickly approved plans to recruit half a million men, with another 300,000 added by the end of September.

As events at Ypres soon showed, even this was insufficient. On November 1 Kitchener promised French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre that Britain would have a million men in the field within eighteen months, and on November 20 Parliament voted to add another million men to the recruiting goals. Now-iconic recruiting advertisements showed Lord Kitchener pointing at the passerby imploring him to “Join Your Country’s Army!”

The first few months saw hundreds of thousands of young (and many not-so-young) British men heeded the call, with groups of friends flooding recruiting centers to join up together in “pals” regiments. As in so many other war-related areas, the huge response seemed to catch British authorities completely unprepared, as reflected in the rudimentary or simply non-existent food, lodgings, uniforms, and equipment that welcomed new recruits. One 21-year-old British recruit, Robert Cude, noted in his diary: 

… no steps were taken to receive us, and so no food awaited us, and no sleeping accommodations… Very little breakfast awaited us. Was one of the unlucky ones myself. Could not stomach the fight for a bit of greasy bacon. Still, to add insult to injury, am told to wash up the plates of those who had been fortunate… We are to help form another new division, remainder go to Dover… No food, manage to sleep a little with someone sleeping on top of me. Breakfast arrived at last, one sausage per man, no bread, then beginning to resent treatment… camp in uproar, armed pickets on gates, only infuriated men more. Boys demand food, failing this, leave to go home and get some. 

In the same vein James Hall, an American who volunteered to serve in the new British army, recalled:

Although we were recruited immediately after the outbreak of war, less than half of our number had been provided with uniforms. Many still wore their old civilian clothing… We did not need the repeated assurances of cabinet ministers that England was not prepared for war. We were in a position to know that she was not… Our deficiencies in clothing and equipment were met by the Government with what seemed to us amazing slowness.

In any event the response was hardly one of uniform, unalloyed patriotism. Unsurprisingly Britain’s ever-present class tensions manifested here as well, as some working class men believed they detected a certain hypocrisy among their social betters when it came to joining up. In a scene which could be right out of “Downton Abbey,” in one rural village Reverend Andrew Clark noted at the beginning of September: “Village lads are not very pleased at pressure put by the Squire to compel his two footmen to enlist. To use the phrase of one of the lads, the ‘idle sons’ of the house ought to have set the example of going, though married, with children and something over the age.”

Meanwhile the overseas troops, mostly Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders, were training in Salisbury Plain in southwest England, which – aside from the chance to see Stonehenge – they generally viewed as a dismal bog, especially when rain turned it into a vast expanse of mud (which was excellent preparation for Flanders). One Canadian recruit, J.A. Currie, summarized the training regimen in Salisbury Plain: “The battalion soon settled down to a hard syllabus of training and instruction, beginning with squad drill. It was drill, drill, drill, all day long, rain or shine, and it was almost always rain.” And an anonymous Australian recruit noted wryly: “Barring the heavy frosts, the rain, and foot-deep mud, things weren’t so bad in camp.” Marches were another favorite pastime, according to the same Australian: “After lunch we usually went for a route march… On most days we did about ten miles, but twice a week or so we put in a fifteen to twenty mile stunt…”

Although the overseas troops were all volunteers apparently eager to serve “King and Country,” and many even identified themselves as “British,” national identities had already begun forming within the Empire and these, along with inevitable class tensions and rigid army discipline, inevitably gave rise to personal conflicts.

J.A. Currie recalled the case of one Canadian recruit who was found drinking whiskey outside the camp by military police, who testified: “When we told him that it was our duty to take him into custody, he became very abusive, calling us ‘Thick-headed John Bulls,’ ‘Fat-headed Englishmen,’ ‘Mutton heads,’ ‘Blasted Britishers,’ etc. He had also abused the English people in very violent terms.” 

According to another Canadian recruit, Harold Peat, British authorities were confused by the Canadians’ relatively egalitarian social relations: “The military authorities could not understand how it was that a major or a captain and a private could go on leave together, eat together, and in general chum around together.” Of course at the same time the overseas troops had their own views on social graces, and often professed to be shocked by the behavior of the British lower classes. Ever opinionated, the anonymous Australian had mixed views on British Tommys: “Tommy Atkins can fight… but compared with the Australasian bushman… he is in many respects an uncivilised animal.” 

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Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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