What lessons can be learned by leadership displayed by both sides during the Gallipoli Campaign

The Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War is a valuable case study for learning about leadership qualities and styles. Although it is a sad fact that close to 500,000 lives were lost in the campaign, the decisions taken and tactics adopted during the course of these battles would serve present and future generations of military and political leaders. As some historians already point out, the Gallipoli campaign holds a special place in the annals of World War.

Leading a Multicultural Army:

The campaign was witness to some inspiring leadership skills that combined ethical norms, bravery and an astute understanding of the technical aspects of modern warfare. It is a tribute to those great men that they could exercise such superior qualities in the midst of a very unsettling phase in European history. The commanders were often handed charge of troops drawn from various nations. It requires of the leader to be sensitive and understanding of his subordinates’ sensibilities and cultural practices in order to win the trust and respect of the unit. For example, the Turkish forces were for the large part led by a German General, under whose exemplary leadership the combined allied efforts were nullified. What is all the more impressive is the fact that such a difficult challenge was successfully dealt with for nearly a year, which is a long time in a war situation. The successful organization of Turkish troops under a German leader acts as a model of cooperation to this day. The men in charge of United Nations operations across the globe today can learn a lot from the way Turkish and German nationals cooperated during a crucial juncture of the first Great War.

The exemplary leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk):

During the battle at Dardanelles, the outstanding leadership traits of Ataturk came into effect. The success at Canakkale Savaslari had boosted the morale of Turkish combatants. And they followed in the same vein at Dardanelles by exhibiting similar valour and resolve. This is a crucial battle result as the fall of Dardanelles to the Allied forces would have handed them a strategic advantage – as it would have opened the doors for an invasion of Constantinople, the Turkish capital. The victory at Dardanelles reinforced the Turkish nation’s faith in their leader Ataturk, whom they elected president after the war. This allowed Ataturk to implement his revolutionary principles, the foundations of which are still evident today.

Good Leaders don’t ignore their subordinates:

The British War Cabinet’s decision to attack turkey is preceded by an interesting turn of events. The leading advocate for such a move was the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Churchill argued that a surprise attack on Turkey would debilitate them from further participation in the War and facilitate Allied march into Constantinople. The capture of Constantinople would give the allies the much coveted access to the Black Sea, via which they can send supplies to their allies in Russia. Theoretically, it was a sound idea – victory in Gallipoli could have fastened an early end to the war. But it is imprudent of military officers to neglect practical difficulties into account. Although the top brass of the British military machine concurred on the value of victory in Turkey, all of them without exception failed to take into consideration other valuable factors like terrain and enemy strength. Interestingly, the British troops did not share the same enthusiasm that their commanders did – there was scepticism among the lower ranks about the feasibility of the project. In hindsight their fears proved true. It further goes to show how the combatants in the thick of action possess a better sense of ground realities than their arm-chair commanders. Here is a lesson for all leaders – Heeding to the feelings of the subordinates can provide valuable clues which can be used in devising more suitable plans of action.

A Rational and a Balanced Mind is required of all Leaders:

With the setback of the Dardanelles initiative, the British high command arrived at the conclusion that an amphibious assault was the only option left. As a result, a strong regiment of 70,000 soldiers of British, French, Australian and New Zealand nationality were assembled. The allied forward thrust met with immediate resistance. Consequently, the Allies managed to hold their beach positions with great difficulty. And they were stay put in that position for another 4 months. It was at this juncture that the idea of opening a front at Suvla Bay was conceived. This was to prove another disaster for the Allied forces. But, Winston Churchill was willing to submit to the realities of the situation and called for further reinforcements. Fortunately, his wish was countermanded which prevented further casualties. The episode goes to show how military leaders are gripped by irrationality in their pursuit of a glory that is elusive. When so much is at stake, both for the nation and the individual, the tendency is to take unwarranted risks. The countermand order to Churchill’s request for troops was a decision taken in a balanced frame of mind by weighing the pros and cons of the eventual course. Hence, all leaders should train themselves to preserve their rationality in the most turbulent of times.

The Leadership of General Liman von Sanders:

The German General Liman von Sanders, was instrumental in the outcome of the battle for Cape Helles. Cape Helles was an important objective for the Allies in the Dardanelles initiative. The combined efforts of the Allies were weakened by the conflict of interest among the coalition partners. For instance, the Russians were more concerned by the advantages Britain and France would gain through the conquest of Constantinople even though they were all fighting on the same side. The apprehension on the part of the Russians meant that they were reluctant to undertake their assignments on the Black Sea. They also undermined the British efforts by providing unreliable intelligence. It goes to show how national self-interest can supersede mutual agreements and treaties. Leaders will have to understand that all agreements, coalitions and contracts need to be backed up by contingency plans – as breach of agreements and violations of treaties are much too common in international affairs.

A Silver Lining in every Dark Cloud:

It is important to note that although the Allies were embarrassed by their failure to occupy Turkey, the Gallipoli diversion helped in distracting the German high command and slowed its march toward Moscow. Winston Churchill’s reputation suffered a huge setback. However, the experience was to come in handy for Churchill during his bigger role as the Prime Minister of Britain in the Second World War. Hence, there is no such thing as total disaster. This is something all leaders need to keep in mind. As long as mistakes are identified and seen to it that they are not repeated, all experiences can be useful. Such an attitude is essential for all leaders. It is what separates the average ones from the great ones.

The Valour and Determination of Captain Alfred Shout & Colonel William Malone:

One leader of men who captured the imagination of both his subordinates and his enemies is Captain Alfred Shout. His name had become synonymous with the battle for Walker’s Ridge. Atop Baby 700, Captain Shout engaged the Turkish defence with his predominantly under-trained troops and still managed to hold ground. But what brought Alfred Shout enduring recognition and a place in the history books is his unsurpassed dedication to his men. Shout not only the leader of the Anzac battalion but he also helped save several lives through his courage and determination. In spite of being hit by several bullets, Captain Shout continued to carry wounded men away from the line of fire. He is said to have saved a dozen lives in this fashion. But what makes the endeavour all the more remarkable is the fact that Shout himself was severely wounded while performing these brave acts – his arm was made useless by the impact of an artillery and his lung punctured by one of the bullets. Yet, he persisted in carrying out his duty to the nation and to his fellow combatants. The severe strain would ultimately claim his life, but still, his commitment to his men helped inspire others in the thick of battle. It is only apt that Captain Alfred Shout was posthumously honoured with the Military Cross for his services to the Allied cause. Captain Shout’s story is one of leading by example. To gain the respect and admiration of equals and subordinates alike, a leader will have to set an example through his actions. And Captain Shout’s heroics will remain a worthy lesson for all leaders.

Another hero for the Allies worthy of mention is Colonel William Malone. His inspirational leadership at Quinn’s Post helped the Allies’ cause by driving the Turkish frontline further back. Sadly though, Colonel Malone was killed by a stray artillery fire. Nevertheless, his men carried on the fight in the same spirit which helped secure some key positions. The story of Colonel Malone’s sacrifice goes on to highlight another key leadership quality – dedication and commitment to the cause.

Lessons learnt from the Anzac Cove fiasco:

The fiasco at the Anzac Cove would epitomize the lack of planning on part of the Allies. A wave of New Zealand soldiers were sent to back up the already inland Australian regiment. But the New Zealanders lost track of their destination and landed further ashore on what would later be named the Anzac Cove. Further chaos and confusion ensued as the Anzacs had no alternative but to move inland. Without a centralized command and a clear vision of the objectives, the operation failed miserably. To add insult to injury, the Anzacs faced further turmoil from well-trained Turkish snipers. The Anzac casualties were so high that serious consideration was given to abandoning the operation altogether. But indifferent to the general consensus, General Hamilton ordered his men to move on irrespective of enemy hostility. The fiasco at the Anzac Cove would lead to General Ian Hamilton losing his job. Here is an important lesson for all leaders. No amount of ambition can act as a substitute for methodical and meticulous planning. The damages at the Anzac Cove could have been averted or substantially reduced had General Hamilton prepared and coordinated more carefully.

The Disadvantages of Underestimating the Opponent:

The Gallipoli Campaign will always be remembered for the Allied defeat against all odds. The Allies came very close to gaining some strategically important victories in the course of their year long ordeal in Turkey. The defeat of the Allies is all the more surprising, given their superior technological know-how and greater numbers. But contrary to accounts of Gallipoli by Western scholars, a study of Turkish documents of the time reveal how advanced their intelligence operations were and how prepared their commanders were. For example, the Turkish high command was well aware of the Allied forces’ impending initiatives in the month of April 1915. They also anticipated the withdrawal of enemy troops toward the end of November that year. Both these predictions proved to be accurate. It is evident that British officials underestimated the Turkish military infrastructure and sophistication. One of the qualities of good leadership is gaining sound understanding of the competition. The British leadership apparently failed in this regard. Hence their failure will serve future generations of leaders in emphasizing the importance of gaining an accurate estimate of the opponent.

The Benefits of Planning and Foresight:

There were other significant factors as well that undermined Allied efforts. The infantry under the British command were not properly trained. The Mitchell Report too points to this drawback. On top of that, some serious technical difficulties were overlooked in preparation for the campaign. For example, the capability of the Royal Navy in the unique geographical conditions of the Dardanelles straight was never tested before and no special provisions were made atop the warships to counter these challenges. Thus, the limitations of British naval gunnery were exposed in the most embarrassing manner. The estimate of the Turkish ammunition was also well off the mark. All these factors, when combined, offers a recipe for disaster, which the Gallipoli campaign was. Foresight, which is a key leadership quality, was evident in the leadership of General Limon von Sanders and found inadequate in the Allies.

When it was finally decided to end the Gallipoli Campaign, the Allies displayed some qualities that they lacked previously in the campaign. The withdrawal of the Australian and New Zealand troops (the Anzacs) drew much praise for the way in which it was executed. There was not a single casualty during the withdrawal in December as the operation was carried out under high secrecy. It is ironic however, that the Allies got their act together after suffering great damage to their resources. The December withdrawal of troops, which ended the campaign, remains the only efficient and well-planned phase of the whole operation. This further highlights the importance of sound planning. In this instance, the Allied leadership applied the principle and it fetched agreeable results.


Fewster, Kevin., “Gallipoli: The Turkish Story”, Allen & Unwin, 2003.

Haythornthwaite, Philip J., “Gallipoli 1915: Frontal assault on Turkey”, Osprey Publishing, 1991.