Military Review


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The Dardanelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs

Richard Van Emden and Stephen Chambers

Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2015, 344 pages

Book Review published on: January 17, 2017

This is a collaborative effort between Richard Van Emden, a well-published British author, historian, and filmmaker whose focus has been the Great War, and Stephen Chambers, a military historian and author whose focus has been the Gallipoli Campaign. In Gallipoli, they use their tremendous knowledge and expertise to bring to light the story of the Gallipoli Campaign as seen through the eyes of the participants of both sides. Source material for this well-researched book includes published and unpublished memoirs, diaries, magazines, museum materials, other Gallipoli books, and a large amount of archived material.

Well written and logical, Gallipoli is relatively free of difficult military language and detail, and it does not require a detailed understanding of the campaign or World War I to understand the events relayed by the authors. This book is for World War I enthusiasts, novice and scholar alike, as well as military professionals interested in the impacts of strategic and operational decisions on the men and women who will execute them.

The book’s structure is an intricate weave of first-hand accounts connected by the author’s narratives in a chronological event sequence. Along with the first-hand accounts, generally from company-grade officers and enlisted soldiers, is a tremendous number of photographs that lend great support to the reader’s understanding of the participants. If a picture paints a thousand words, as used in Gallipoli they provide the reader the opportunity to view the great panorama on which this campaign unfolds.

While the introduction and first chapter, “Forcing the Straits,” provide an effective strategic and operational setting, the focus of this book is tactical. The title, Gallipoli: The Dardanelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs, identifies the focus as man at war. There are many published strategic and operational analyses of this campaign. Gallipoli puts a human face on the execution of the strategic and operational decisions.

The book’s organization tries to provide balance between the Turkish and the Allied views, but I felt, if it were available, more Turkish input would be needed for telling the whole story. The difficulties of the soldier in war are not limited to one side. It is one thing to study the campaign through plans, orders, and grand sweeping movements on the battlefield. It is quite another to attempt to see that same campaign through the eyes of the participants. From the Turkish view, the campaign ended with their honor intact but at a cost of nearly three times as many deaths as their adversaries. If you are interested in examining how the tactical execution of strategic guidance could go terribly wrong, then the Gallipoli Campaign is one for your research.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Terrance M. Portman, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas