Emerging virtually uninjured from a shell shattered HQ in a chateau at Hooge in Belgium in October 1914, British Major General Sir Charles Carmichael Monroe (hereafter CCM) must have been congratulated as being a very lucky man: another British Major General and six of his staff officers died in the same German artillery barrage. But fate was to deal him the unluckiest of breaks as the War wore on, and left him with one of the least deserved bad reputations of the War.
Born at sea in 1860, CCM was 54 when the Great War broke out, and was said to have become 'rather fat' for a soldier. But CCM's earlier career had followed the classic pattern for a British Empire Army officer of: Sandhurst (1879); a commission in the Queens Royal Surrey Regiment (1881); Gibraltar (1898); Guernsey (1889); India (1891) - where he served in the Malakand Field and Tirah Expeditionary Forces in the North West Frontier Province - and the Boer War (1899). Returning to the United Kingdom (1901) he was appointed first as Chief Instructor, and then Commandant, of the Army School of Musketry at Hythe in southern England. Here CCM developed the disciplines of 'Rapid aimed rifle fire' - i.e. 15 rounds per minute - and 'Fire and movement'. Of which the former skill was to prove so crucial against the German mass infantry attacks in the early days of the BEF in France and Belgium; the Germans believed they were facing machine-gun fire.
In 1911 he became a Major General commanding the 2nd London Territorial Division..
In August 1914, CCM was given command of the British Second Division of I Corps of the BEF and took it to France.
The Western Front
CCM played an effective part with the Second Division in the 1914 Battles of Mons and the First Ypres. In December 1914 he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and Commander of I Corps, and participated in the Battles of Givenchy, Aubers Ridge and Festubert. In July of 1915, CCM was promoted to command Field Marshal Kitchener's new British Third Army. But in October 1915, before CCM could test their mettle in a major operation, he was suddenly called to replace General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF): the MEF had become seriously bogged down in the bloody Gallipoli Campaign.
If ever a commander was presented with a poisoned chalice, Gallipoli was a classic paradigm and CCM the unlucky recipient.
In early October 1915, General Hamilton, had been depressed by the transfer of two of his divisions from Gallipoli (sent to aid Serbia against a threat from Bulgaria) when he felt what he needed was large reinforcements, very large reinforcements. Accordingly, he had conveyed to the War Office in London a pessimistic prognosis of what the MEF could be expected to do without these additional troops. Although this attitude was ostensibly ill received in London, in fact concern was already being expressed behind the scenes by some senior military and political figures about the viability of the entire Dardanelles Campaign. Furthermore, this unease was exacerbated by allegations by the Australian Press about the conduct of the campaign. Implicit in these complaints were allegations about the misuse of the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) component of the MEF that was effectively trapped in its tiny enclave at Anzac Cove, half way up the western coast of the Gallipoli Peninsular.
On the 11th October 1915, Field Marshal Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum (K of K), British Secretary of State for War, further disquieted by negative reports from Hamilton's own senior officers, cabled Hamilton asking him what the casualties were likely to be if an evacuation, partial or total, was carried out. Hamilton's defensive response was pessimistic in the extreme. He claimed that due to the inexperience of his troops, it could be as much as 50% of those involved. And that evacuation could be a worse option than holding on awaiting the necessary heavy reinforcements. Hamilton foresaw the need for a total force of around 400,000 men; more than double his current available strength.
London's immediate response was to sack Hamilton and replace him with CCM. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Sir William Riddell (Birdy or Bill) Birdwood, commander of the ANZACs, was appointed to act as C-in-C pending CCM's arrival. CCM's brief was succinct; make a rapid report and recommendation of the feasibility of continuing the Dardnelles Campaign. CCM spent several days at the War Office studying all the relevant reports and documents and discussing the problem with Kitchener. Then with a fervent pro-Western Front attitude, and regarding Gallipoli as somewhat of a 'side show', he set off for Gallipoli.
Once on the Gallipoli Peninsular, CCM took to heart Kitchener's instructions for a rapid response. In a whirlwind tour he visited the Helles, Anzac Cove and Suvla Fronts in a single day (30th November 1915) and equally promptly sent off his recommendation. It strongly advised total evacuation. His estimate of probable casualties was 40,000 (40%); not all that different from Hamilton's pessimistic 50% figure. CCM then left for Egypt for discussions with Lieutenant General John Grenfell Maxwell, Commander-in-Chief, Egypt.
It was Monro's prompt action and decision favouring the evacuation of Gallipoli which led a frustrated and beleaguered Winston Spencer Leonard Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) to write his crushing comments;"He (Monro) came, he saw, he capitulated" and "He familarised himself in six hours with the conditions prevailing in the 15-mile front of Anzac, Suvla and Helles, and spoke a few discouraging words to the principal officers at each point".
However, such was the reaction in of the British Cabinet in London to CCM's prompt and categorical response, it was decided that the Secretary of State for War would personally visit Gallipoli and assess the situation for himself.
Field Marshal Kitchener duly arrived in Gallipoli and went ashore on the 13th November 1915. He was still not convinced that another attempt by the Royal Navy to force a passage through the Dardanelles to threaten the Ottoman capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) was beyond possibility, although the Royal Navy commanders were still strongly divided on the issue. After detailed on-the-spot discussions with all involved, including the French, who now also favoured withdrawal, Kitchener decided on a partial evacuation. However, his own commanders were still divided: Byng (Suvla) and Davies (Helles) were in accord with evacuation of their command areas whilst Birdwood (Anzac Cove) was against any evacuation at all. The enclaves of Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay would be evacuated, but the Helles Front would be held. However, the newly formed War Committee in London demurred and decided that the evacuation would be from all three Fronts i.e. a total withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsular and the Dardanelles. This amazing volte-face clearly indicates the bankruptcy of the Dardanelles Campaign when a possible 40% casualty rate suddenly becomes acceptable for merely fleeing defeated from the battlefield.
Accordingly, CCM was instructed to develop and execute a carefully planned strategic withdrawal, with a leading tactical role to be played by Birdwood and his able Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant Colonel Brudenell White.
The evacuation of Gallipoli by the MEF
With the competent and able Birdwood and White team in charge of the detailed planning of the evacuation, CCM was able to concentrate on the overall strategy. It was decided that there would be a staged withdrawal of the approximately 136,000 men, 17,000 horses and 400 guns of the MEF from Gallipoli. All to be carefully orchestrated so that the Ottoman Army would have had no inkling of what was going on until all the Allied troops were clear and safely off-shore in their transport ships. The troops at Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay would be secretly concentrated and taken off from their respective beachheads. Those on the more extensive Helles Front would be stealthy withdrawn down predetermined escape routes to the foot of the Peninsular into assembly and evacuation points at Gully Beach, W Beach and V Beach.
It was decided that Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay would be evacuated first; permission for the Helles evacuation would follow from the War Committee in London in due course. Under the guise of an apparent normal winter force reduction, over the nights of 11th to 16th December 1915 non-combatant troops, hospital staff and selected units of the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions, the New Zealand and Australian Division and the Indian Mounted Brigades, were successfully withdrawn from both Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. This was followed by the main evacuation manoeuvre that was completed in three waves over the nights of the 17-18th/18-19th and 19th-20th December 1915. All the evacuations were carried out under the daily personal supervision of General Birdwood. Various stratagems had been devised to conceal the withdrawals from the Ottoman Army. These included maintaining camp-fires, pre-set rifles arranged to fire at various intervals by devices activated by water-weights and candles and a large underground mine fired by a delayed action fuse.
The Ottomans were entirely deceived and the Anzac Cove/Suvla Bay force of 80,000 men was successfully withdrawn with only two Allied casualties, both of whom were only lightly wounded. Many Ottomans subsequently fell victim to the underground mine and booby traps that the British left behind in their wake; a cause of long-lasting Ottoman complaint as these casualties occurred post evacuation.
There now was a short hiatus as CCM awaited an order from the British Cabinet authorising the evacuation of the remnants of the MEF on the Helles Front. This finally arrived on 28th December 1915, and Monro and Birdwood planned to repeat the earlier staged withdrawal plan at Helles as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman Army Commander, General Liman von Sanders belatedly realising that Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay had been evacuated, decided to attack the remnants of the MEF at Helles and brought up eight new divisions. But due to various delays these were not ready to attack until the 7th January 1916. But much of the earlier martial fervour of the Ottoman soldier had dissipated and they were without their revered leader General Mustafa Kemal who had retired from the fray in early December 1915, ill with recurrent bouts of malaria and exhaustion.
CCM and Birdwood, in consultation with the French commander, General Brulard, decided that the first step in the Helles Front evacuation was to withdraw the French contingent - minus their artillery, which was required for the rearguard - and by the 1st January 1916 all the French troops had been withdrawn.
At this juncture, on the 31st December 1915, CCM left for Cairo en route to a new appointment on the Western Front as General Officer Commanding First Army.
The evacuation of the Helles troops was left to a combined leadership of Birdwood and Royal Navy commanders Vice-Admiral John Michael de Roebuck and Commodore Roger John Brownlow Keyes. Using essentially the same tactics they repeated the earlier success. Despite having to fend off Liman von Sanders' attack on the Helles Front, they completed the evacuation of Gallipoli on the night of the 8-9th January 1916 with no further casualties. Most of the evacuees were shipped to Egypt for reorganisation and training and eventually were transferred to the Salonica and Western Fronts.
The success of the evacuation of Gallipoli prompted comment that if only as much good organisation and preparation had guided the initial stages of the assault on the Dardanelles, as was demonstrated by CCM's clever evacuation strategy, the whole disastrous saga of the Dardanelles Campaign could have been avoided.
Return to the Western Front
CCM's return to the Western Front was short in duration and not entirely marked with success. CCM's First Army's performance at Vimy Ridge by IV Corps in May 1916, and a diversionary attack at Fromelles by XI Corps in October, was considered to be below standard in both planning and execution.
In October 1916 CCM was sent off to India - the destination of many 'kicked upstairs' commanders - as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. There he worked hard and diligently in building up the strength and efficiency of the Indian Army. This programme subsequently provided a strong strategic reserve of trained manpower and supplied many well-trained men for service in the Mesopotomian and Palestinian Campaigns.
An unfortunate event during the CCM administration was the infamous Amaritsar Massacre on 13th April 1919. Here 400 civilians were shot and killed, and over 1,000 injured, by 90 Indian and Gurhka soldiers at the Jallianin Wallah Bagh (a walled garden) in an misguided attempt to quell a rioting crowd. Although not directly involved, CCM's reputation suffered by association and his inability to justify the action.
CCM completed his military service as Governor and Commander of Gibraltar from 1923-28. He died in 1929, aged 69 years, whilst serving as Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's successor as a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum in London.
There is little doubt that Winston Churchill's sarcastic and scurrilous condemnation of CCM's decision to evacuate the MEF from Gallipoli did much to create a bad reputation for CCM. This despite a post-war consensus that CCM's advice to evacuate Gallipoli was both logical and sound, and the general 'post-mortem' plaudits he received for his excellent Gallipoli evacuation plan that was executed under extremely adverse conditions. Surely a case of the written word of a prominent author and personality being more powerful than the facts.