The Gallipoli campaign cannot be said to have been poorly served by historians. Indeed, this is the author's second work on the subject, the first, "Defeat at Gallipoli", was co-authored with Nigel Steel. However, this book makes a strong claim to adding much that is new to our understanding of what it meant to be a participant in the ill-fated Dardanelles adventure. And one that I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone interested the subject.
The telling of history, particularly that concerning the Great War, has developed significantly in the past thirty years or so. The actions of great men and plans of campaign illustrated by broad arrows on a map have been largely overtaken by anecdotal accounts of the actual participants. Both approaches have their merits but weaknesses too. Detached accounts telling how this or that division or brigade moved an inch across a map pay little heed to the price paid by the men on the ground. Whilst the stories of the men themselves without the historical infrastructure on which to link the reality of war to how and why they came to be there in the first place leave the reader little the wiser. And Peter Hart again proves himself to be a master at combining the two traditions, complemented with his own informed and expertly articulated interpretation of events.
'Gallipoli' is written in the author's by now trademark style. The motivations and actions of those at the very top of the chain of command are outlined clearly and concisely, setting in context the experiences of those given the job of putting the lofty aims of the likes of Churchill into practice. But, and this was for me the stand out feature of this work, the author reminds us that the allied forces were not simply battling military incompetence, difficult terrain, a harsh climate and flies but well-led and very brave, professional Turkish soldiers. In addition, we are reminded of the French contribution to the campaign, one that has received little attention from English-speaking authors (and I suspect amongst French ones too). Indeed, Peter Hart goes so far as to argue that the French were the most effective military force on the allied side and given the hardest task, exposed as they were to fire from the Asiatic shore whilst tackling some of the toughest conditions found anywhere on the Peninsular.
The role of the French contingent might surprise many readers, as will, perhaps, the author's firm assertion at the very beginning of the book that the campaign was a forlorn hope from the start. Hart's contention is that politicians looking for a cheap alternative to taking on Germany on the Western Front did more than delude themselves, they wasted thousands of lives in the process. And the grand scheme to send aid to Russia via the Dardanelles is exposed as a complete fantasy. The irony that the British in 1915 lacked the very shells and artillery required to break the deadlock of trench warfare, either in France or Gallipoli, meaning there were none to spare for the Russians in the first place, is not lost.
Although this is the author's second visit to Gallipoli, the quotations from those involved are all new; their power will make an impact on the most avid reader of military history. As such, `Gallipoli' is another magnificent tribute by Peter Hart to the generation that fought the Great War. I am, as anyone might guess, an admirer of the author's work. But what is clear here and in his other works is that Peter Hart directs our admiration to those whose story he has so beautifully told. Highly recommended.