Gallipoli, Peter Fitzsimons

gallipoliPeter Fitzsimons’ book is probably the Gallipoli account I should have read first.

It covers the major aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, from its planning, through the battles and then on to the evacuation that brought it to an end. There are also the differing viewpoints of the main combatants involved: Turks and Germans, as well as men of various ranks among the British and Anzac “invaders”.

It was Fitzsimons who first made me aware of the blatantly obvious (but mostly overlooked) reality, that the last word in my previous sentence is a very appropriate description of the Gallipoli campaign. The Turkish fighters were in fact defending their homeland against an invasion force.

Arguably, Fitzsimon’s style makes this book a better general introduction to Gallipoli than the Les Carlyon book of the same title* that marked the starting point my Anzac journey. Both books are lengthy and cover a large number of complex inter-related events and the actions of many individuals and groups, but Fitzsimons seems to do it in a more accessible way.

Then again, his book had an advantage – I had already become familiar with a lot of the Anzac story before I picked it up. When I started Carlyon’s book I knew nothing at all about the subject, so the process of piecing events together wasn’t so simple and therefore the book took more effort to follow. Maybe Fitzsimons’ book was easier because of what I’d already learned through Carlyon.

Troops, supplies and tents along the beach at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Troops and supplies at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Fitzsimons is a journalist, and throughout Gallipoli he divides chapters into smaller sections with “newspaper headlines” marking out different topics or viewpoints within the text. These headlines start with the relevant date and then give a hint of the events covered in the section that follows, such as this one leading up to the landing of ANZAC troops:

WEE HOURS, 25 APRIL 1915, CAST OFF AND DRIFT ASTERN.

I found these headlined sections helpful, not only as cryptic teasers regarding what I was about to read, but also as convenient resting points, where I could pick up or put down the book depending on the amount of time available for reading.

Fitzsimons shows a lot of respect for the Anzac men and the place in the story of Australia’s sense of identity, but he does so without glorifying the campaign into which they were thrown. He leaves no doubt that the invasion was ill-conceived, poorly managed, incompetently led and destined to fail. He shows that the troops persisted against impossible odds that saw a large percentage of them killed or seriously wounded, while often those directing their actions remained in safety, making decisions without actually knowing what was being faced by the men they were sending to their deaths.

fromelles-pozieresI still have two or three more Gallipoli books to get through including Gallipoli Air War by Hugh Dolan and In Great Spirits, the WWI diary of Archie Barwick, but I’m now looking forward to Fitzsimons’ next book Fromelles & Pozieres which I’ll use as my introduction to the Anzac involvement on the Western Front. I already have an autographed copy pre-ordered.

gallipoli PF

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* see here: Les Carlyon

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5 Responses to Gallipoli, Peter Fitzsimons

  1. Marleen says:

    That’s some intense quoting of Churchill at the end. What’s the source at #24?

    • Onesimus says:

      I’ll have to check the book for that reference when I get home.
      There are a few “interesting” things mentioned about (and from) Churchill.

      In my wide reading about Gallipoli and the wider issues of WWI I now understand why my grandad saw Churchill as a warmonger.

      • Marleen says:

        That’s so interesting, when he’s treated like a hero and a such a great man.

      • Onesimus says:

        The reference to the quote about Churchill is from Winston Churchill as I Knew Him, by Violet Bonham Carter (p361) Eyre & Spottiswoode & Collins, London 1965.

        Perhaps Churchill’s nature was what was needed in Britain’s leader during WWII.
        However in the First war his obsessions led to some of the most ill advised plans being implemented, costing 10s of 1000s of lives. The major such example being the whole Dardanelles campaign which was his idea.

        From the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign he undermined the likelihood of its success by effectively forewarning the enemy of what lay ahead, motivating them to strengthen their defences before serious attacks took place.

        One such case was when he (without approval of the war cabinet) decided to send a ship to shell Turkish forts along the coast. That ship caused significant damage to a fort, but because it wasn’t part of a sustained action, and the ship was withdrawn. the Turks recognised the potential danger and reinforced the defences of the forts along that coast and mined the waters. So when the REAL attempt to break through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara was commenced, Churchill’s navy faced greater opposition and lost ships and hundreds of men to mines; leading to the abandonment of the attempt.

        After that the land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula was ordered, but the Turks were now ready for it.

        Churchill’s failure eventually led to him losing his authority, after which he enlisted as an officer and served on the frontline trenches.

  2. Marleen says:

    Thank you for all of that.

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