Tag Archives: Turkey

The Naval Attack on the Dardanelles 1915 (1) Planning

From late 1914 onwards there was a dispute over British military strategy. The ‘Westerners’, including most generals, saw the Western Front as the decisive theatre. However, the ‘Easterners’, mostly politicians or admirals, thought that stalemate on the Western Front could not be broken, so wanted to launch an offensive elsewhere, probably the Near East, where they hoped to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war and persuade Italy and neutral Balkan countries to join the Allies.[1]

Admiral Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord proposed a number of schemes, including attacks on Zeebrugge. Borkum, Cuxhaven and the Baltic.[2] On 3 January 1915 he gave Winston Churchill, the First Lord and thus his political superior, a plan that he and Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Council, had devised for a major offensive against the Ottoman Empire. It involved attacks on Gallipoli and Istanbul: although then referred to as Constantinople in English, it has officially been called Istanbul since the Turks captured it in 1453.

It looked good on paper, but was impractical. It needed far more British troops than would have been released from France and assumed that Bulgaria and Greece, strong rivals and both neutral, would enter the war on the Allied side and co-operate.[3]

The day before, Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia had requested that the British carry out a ‘demonstration’ in order to distract the Ottomans who were attacking in the Caucasus; Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, told Churchill that the only place where such an action might succeed was the Dardanelles, but there were no troops available.[4]

By 4 January the Russians had forced the Ottomans to retreat from Sarikamish, but the British, apparently unaware of this, continued to look for ways to help their ally against the Ottomans.

Churchill was attracted by part of Fisher’s plan, which was for an attack by old battleships on the Dardanelles. He ignored Fisher’s requirement for the warships to be accompanied by troops, who would take the high ground along the Gallipoli side of the Dardanelles.[5]

The Royal Navy had always argued that warships could rarely attack forts successfully without support from land forces. Lord Nelson had argued that ‘any sailor who attacked a fort was a fool,’ and the former First Sea Lord Sir Arthur Wilson was the only senior officer of the early twentieth century who disagreed.[6]

On 3 November 1914 and Anglo-French squadron had bombarded the outer forts of the Dardanelles from 13,000 yards, damaging one of them. This led some to think that it might be possible to destroy them from a range at which they could not reply. However, it also alerted the Ottomans to the fact that they might be attacked. After the war, this was described as an ‘unforgivable error’ by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and ‘an act of sheer lunacy’ by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon.[7]

Hankey told Arthur Balfour, the former Conservative Prime Minister who would soon succeed Churchill as First Lord in a Coalition government, that:

‘from Lord Fisher downwards every naval officer in the Admiralty who is in the secret believes that the Navy cannot take the Dardanelles position without troops. The First Lord still professes to believe that they can do it with ships, but I have warned the Prime Minister that we cannot trust in this.’[8]

Balfour was one of the few that favoured an attack by only ships.[9] Churchill later admitted that he would not have gone ahead with a naval only attack had he known that 80-100,000 troops would be available by May. However, in January Kitchener had said that 150,000 men would be needed and few could be spared.[10]

Arthur Marder argues that in the end the ‘famed Churchillian impetuosity, eloquence and doggedness carried the day.’[11] Churchill argued, on the basis of the performance of German artillery against Belgian forts in 1914, that the Ottoman forts would not be able to resist the fire from 12 and 15 inch battleship guns. However, the Germans had forward observers to correct their fire, whilst the Allied ships would be firing on concealed positions from several miles away with no observers on shore. The Germans were also using howitzers with a higher angle of fire than battleship guns.

It had been hoped that seaplanes could act as spotters, but they found it difficult to take off unless the sea was very calm and could not fly high enough to safely and successfully spot the fire. The sea also affected the stability of the ships as gun platforms, another disadvantage compared with shore guns.

The risk from minefield was also ignored or under-estimated. The Ottoman shore batteries only needed to sink or force away the minesweepers, which were trawlers manned by peacetime fishermen who were members of the Royal Naval Reserve, to prevent the battleships from continuing.

Even if the battle fleet did manage to get past all the gun batteries, it was not clear what it was then supposed to do. It was apparently assumed that its appearance at Istanbul would cause a revolution, even though it would not have been accompanied by any land forces to occupy the city and its communications would be open to attack by any remaining forts.

Jellicoe later wrote in the margin of his copy of volume ii of Churchill’s The World Crisis:

‘Has anyone who wants to push battleships through the Dardanelles said what they propose they should do when through and how their communications are to be maintained and from what base are they to work?’[12]

Churchill assumed that the old battleships were of little value in the North Sea, so could be risked in this operation. However, before the Battle of Jutland, most British admirals thought that a major fleet action might cause such heavy losses amongst the dreadnoughts of both sides that the RN’s vast superiority in pre-dreadnought battleships would then become decisive.[13]

The next entry in this series will describe the actual attack.

 

[1] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. ii, p. 202.

[2] T. Travers, Gallipoli, 1915 (Stroud: Tempus, 2001), p. 20.

[3] Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 204.

[4] Travers, Gallipoli, pp. 19-20.

[5] Marder, From. vol. ii, pp. 204-5.

[6] Quoted in Ibid., p. 200.

[7] Quoted in Ibid., p. 201.

[8] Quoted in R. A. Hough, The Great War at Sea, 1914-1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 153.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Marder, From, p. 212.

[11] Ibid., p. 213.

[12] Quoted in Hough, Great, p. 152.

[13] Marder, From, pp. 214-19.

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When Security Measures Work – Stratfor

When  Security Measures Work is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

By Scott Stewart Vice  President of Analysis

On Feb. 1, a Turkish national named Ecevit Sanli walked up to the side  entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara like many others had done that day.  Dressed inconspicuously, he waved a manila envelope at the man inside the guard  booth as he approached the entrance. The security guard had no reason to  distrust the man approaching the checkpoint; the entrance is used to screen  packages, and perhaps the guard assumed Sanli was dropping off a document or was  a visa applicant at the wrong entrance. What the guard did not know, perhaps, is  that Sanli was a person of interest to the Turkish police, who suspected that he  was plotting an attack.

The guard opened the door of the access control building — the outermost  door of the embassy compound — to speak to Sanli, who took one step inside  before detonating the explosive device that was strapped to his body. The  explosion killed Sanli and the security guard, seriously wounded a journalist  who was visiting the embassy and left two other local guards who were manning  the entrance with minor injuries.

The embassy’s local security personnel, as designed, bore the brunt of the  attack. They are hired and trained to prevent threats from penetrating the  embassy’s perimeter. The low casualty count of the Feb. 1 attack is a testament  to the training and professionalism of the local guards and the robust, layered  security measures in place at the embassy — factors for which those responsible  for the attack apparently did not sufficiently plan.

Layers of Security

Sanli apparently had hoped to breach the outer perimeter of the compound and  to detonate his device inside the embassy building. Reportedly he carried a  firearm and a hand grenade, and the way he approached the access control point  likewise suggests he hoped to gain entry. Had he wanted to kill Turkish  citizens, he could have done so simply by hitting the visa line outside the  embassy.

At embassy compounds, secondary access control posts for vehicles and  pedestrians typically are staffed with fewer guards than more heavily traversed  access points, such as the main entrance or the entrance to the consular  section. This particular access point had two guards at the vehicular entrance  and a third guard to receive and screen packages and pedestrians. Since there  was no drop slot for packages and envelopes, the guard inside the access point  had to open the exterior door to receive deliveries. It is likely that the  plotters knew about this procedure, which probably factored into their decision  to breach the perimeter at this entrance. Moreover, the attack happened around  lunchtime, so it is also possible that attackers thought the guards would be  inattentive.

Though these smaller access control points have fewer people guarding them,  they still boast at least two heavy security doors that all visitors must pass  through. Many embassy compounds, including the one in Ankara, have a third door  located inside the building. This multiple-door configuration, referred to as a  sally port by security officers, provides an additional level of security at  perimeter security posts. Sally ports equipped with magnetic locks and  reinforced doors can also serve as effective traps for intruders.

The access control point constitutes just the outer perimeter of the embassy.  There is also another layer of external security at the entrance to the embassy  building itself. It is possible that Sanli thought he could somehow use his  weapon or grenade to penetrate that layer once he got through the access control  center, but the forced entry/bullet resistant doors and windows on the embassy’s  exterior would not have been quickly or easily penetrated by such weapons.

Whatever his plan, Sanli never had the opportunity to fully execute it. He  was stopped immediately inside the access control center by the security guard  and detonated his suicide device just inside the door. The force of the blast  blew the outer security door off its hinges and cracked the reinforced concrete  exterior wall of the access control building. But the embassy perimeter was not  breached, and Sanli never got near the embassy building.

Security Designs

Embassy security measures are designed with specific threats in mind. Sanli,  for example, executed precisely the type of attack that embassy security was  meant to counter: an isolated terrorist strike that circumvents a host country’s  police and security services. Ankara is an older embassy office building, but it  has received security upgrades over the past few decades that have given the  facility decent access control and concentric layers of security meant to stymie  intrusions.

Like most older embassy buildings, however, it does not meet the security  requirements put in place in the wake of the embassy bombings of the 1980s. The U.S. Consulate  General building in Istanbul, which was completed in 2003, exemplifies a  building that meets those requirements. Not only is it constructed to  specifications, it is also appropriately far enough from the street to help  counter threats, such as those posed by Sanli, and to help withstand the damage  of a vehicle bomb.

But even the most modern embassies cannot withstand all types of threats,  including those posed by long periods of mob violence. On Sept. 14, 2012, a large mob  overwhelmed the outer security perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in  Tunis — a newer facility with a robust security design — causing  millions of dollars of damage. Tunisian authorities responded quickly enough to  prevent the mob from entering the main embassy building, but with sufficient  time the  mob could have breached the facility.

Such was the case at the newly built and occupied U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,  Libya, in May 2011. After U.S. diplomats were ordered to leave the country, the  local security force was unable to prevent a large  mob, which constituted security forces and Moammar Gadhafi supporters, from  ransacking, looting and burning the facility. The attack rendered the building  uninhabitable.

Embassy security measures are also not designed to prevent prolonged  assaults by militant groups armed with heavy weapons. Security measures can  only provide a delay against a persistent attack by a mob or militant  organization. They cannot withstand an indefinite assault. Without extraordinary  security like that of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s, embassy  security only works when the facility enjoys the support and protection of the  host country as mandated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Attackers’ Weakness

Sanli’s method of attack played right into the strength of the embassy’s  security measures. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front believed Sanli could threaten or shoot his way through  the embassy’s concentric rings of physical security. If so, they underestimated  the physical security measures in place and the dedication and bravery of the  local guard force.

Notably, attack planning is not a strength of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front. Over the past decade, the group has conducted several  attacks, including five suicide bombings, but their attacks have been famously  poorly planned and executed. Often they fail to kill anyone but the suicide  bomber. They also have had problems with the reliability of their improvised  explosive devices, such as the suicide vest that failed to detonate during  the suicide  bombing attack against the Turkish justice minister in April 2009.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front’s Sept. 11, 2012, suicide  bombing against a police station in Istanbul killed the bomber and one police  officer. In that attack, the bomber threw a grenade at the security checkpoint  at the building’s entrance, but when the grenade failed to detonate he was  unable to get past security at the building’s entrance. Only then, in a move  similar to the Feb. 1 attack, did he detonate his device.

Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Devrimci Sol, the Revolutionary  People’s Liberation Party-Front’s parent organization, conducted a spate of  attacks in Turkey that targeted the United States and NATO. Because of the  timing, U.S. terrorism investigators believed that Saddam Hussein’s government  sponsored these attacks. Currently, some leaders of the Revolutionary People’s  Liberation Party-Front’s factions live in Syria and maintain close connections  with the al Assad regime. Some of the group’s militants have fought with the  regime forces, and the group has published statements supporting the al Assad  regime. They have also fomented pro-al Assad and anti-intervention  demonstrations inside Turkey. This pro-Syrian sentiment, or perhaps even  financial enticement from the Syrian government itself, could explain the motive  for the attack against the U.S. Embassy. Therefore, it is possible that there  could be other anti-U.S. or anti-NATO attacks like those seen in 1991.

The Feb. 1 bombing serves as a timely reminder of several facts that tend to  be overlooked. It reminds us of the underlying terrorist threat in Turkey. It  also reminds us that not all suicide bombers are jihadists, let alone religious.  Indeed, there is a long history  of secular groups engaging in suicide terrorism. Last, it reminds us that  not all threats emanate from al Qaeda and the constellation of groups and  individual actors gathered around its ideological banner.

Perhaps most important, the incident highlights the heroism and dedication of  the local guards who serve at U.S. embassies around the world. In the Feb. 1  attack, the embassy’s security equipment functioned as designed, and the guards  performed as they were trained, undoubtedly saving many lives. These local  guards are often criticized when they make a mistake, but they are too  frequently overlooked when security works.

Read more:  When Security Measures Work | Stratfor

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The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, 1898-1918 by Sean McMeekin

The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, 1898-1918 by Sean McMeekin is the story of German attempts to raise a Jihad against the Allies in the Middle East during World War I. Reviews have mostly been positive; negative ones on Amazon are mostly from readers who assumed from the first part of the title that was about the construction of the railway. That is part of the story, but a long way from being the whole of it. The second part of the title, The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, more accurately describes the book.

The story is of the strategy of the Central Powers, so concentrates on them, but the Allied response is not neglected. Russian, British, US and French archives have been used as well as Turkish, German, Austrian ones. An Epilogue discusses the impact of German wartime actions on the modern Middle East.

McMeekin manages to combine the telling of an exciting story with archival research. The number of characters can be hard to follow, but they are well drawn. He points out that German and Ottoman relations were often poor, and that their aims sometimes conflicted, especially in the Caucasus in 1918.
The Germans thought that that could use the power of Islam to bring down the British Empire. In fact, many Muslim leaders took German gold but did little in return, and often tried to play off Germany against Britain.

Logistics were a major problem for the Germans, who could not supply enough arms to their potential Muslim allies. The two main Ottoman victories over the British Empire, Gallipoli and Kut-al-Amara, resulted from German discipline and Turkish tenacity, not Islam. There isn’t a great deal on the main military campaigns.

The number of quotes from John Buchan’s novel Greenmantle are a bit strange in a non-fiction work. The author comments on the historiography of the Armenian massacres, but does not take a clear stance; he teaches at Bilkent University in Ankara, so may be constrained in what he can say. These are minor criticisms. The book is now out in paperback as well as hardback, and it is also available as an e-book.

This review is a slightly re-worded version of one that I originally posted on the Great War Forum, an excellent website for anybody interested in World War I. This link is to the thread that includes my review, and this one is to Forum’s home page.

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16 March 2012 · 5:57 pm