Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review - "Gallipoli" by Peter Hart

Many books have been written about the battle on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. It is a battle that shows up the futility on war above all other battles. On the Allies side 162,000 men were killed, while 186,869 Turks also died. The campaign lasted 259 days, so that works out at just over 1,300 soldiers on average being killed every day. Peter Hart has written another excellent book about the First World War. In addition to being an excellent account of the battle as told by the soldiers themselves, it is also a hugely sad book as you almost cannot believe some of the decisions that were made, and how lives on both sides were thrown away needlessly.

Image from
Peter Hart is a military historian at  The Imperial War Museum with access to oral histories gathered from war participants. I have previously read and reviewed another of his books "1918 - A Very British Victory".

The following extract (page 283) sums up for me the message that Hart pulls no punches is getting across to the reader:

"Taken as a whole the scheme was utterly unrealistic. It demanded feats of endurance from the assaulting columns climbing to Sari Bair which would have made Hannibal think twice; it asked raw troops to perform like veterans and sickly veterans to put their illnesses behind them; it required leader-ship from incompetents; it sought to create diversions by attacks that bitter experience had already shown were bound to fail. And worst of all it assumed, despite all the evidence so far accumulated, that the Turks would fight badly".

One of the most famous attacks in the battle was at The Nek. 600 men from the 3rd and 8th Light Horse went over the top in four waves at The Nek and "into legend". They were gunned down "in seconds". There were 372 casualties, with 234 dead. The third and fourth waves knew that after the savagery of the first two attacks that they would fail and likely be killed, but they attacked anyway rather than disobey direct orders. Peter Weir made a film about this attack in 1981 - "Gallipoli" starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, which shows the terror, bravery, sacrifice, and utter waste of this attack at The Nek. I watched this film again after finishing the book - it almost breaks your heart. I have absolutely no doubt that if I was 18 years old in 1915 that I, like thousands of others, would have joined up - both the Munster and Dublin Fusiliers suffered badly at Gallipoli. 96 years later - all the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli are dead. But what a waste in 1915.

No comments:

Post a Comment