The conundrum facing the Secret Elite and their men in the War Council was fraught with difficulties. Russia had to be reassured; had to be kept in the war but kept out of the Straits. While Russia’s focus was fixed on Constantinople, Sazonov knew that the Czar’s armies could take neither the city nor the Straits. Emotionally it was their Achille’s heel, an issue so sensitive that the Secret Elite had to urgently deliberate on how they could use it to keep Russia from defection. What best to do?

maurice hankey

The man tasked by the Secret Elite to conjure the Gallipoli initiative was Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey. Secretary of the War Council, and a trusted inner-circle member of the secret cabal. [1] He was a strategist to whom they listened carefully. Hankey spent the whole of Xmas Day considering options they might take. His report, which was typed up next day became known as the ‘Boxing Day Memo’. [2] It proposed an operation against the Dardanelles and suggested that Britain should move three army corps to participate with Greece and other Balkan states in a combined naval and military attack. [3] Note the date; Boxing Day 1914. It was an idea that needed to be carefully considered in view of Russian sensitivities.

Sir Edward Grey was concerned that Greek involvement would upset the Russians so much that they ‘might well change sides in the war.’ [4] This demonstrated how critical and dangerous the whole issue of the ownership of Constantinople had become. Serious though it would be if Russia signed a peace treaty with the enemy, Grey’s fear that she might join forces with Germany against Britain and France sharpened their minds. Arthur Balfour, the sole conservative politician on the War Council and a senior member of the Secret Elite’s inner-core, [5] immediately pointed to ‘the menacing question of Constantinople’ and who would own the city. [6] And this was the nub of the problem; Russia would not countenance anyone else ‘owning’ Constantinople. But, would she accept British and French troops taking the city on her behalf? Perhaps, if the Russians were led to believe that this was what they wanted; that it was their idea in the first place.

John Hanbury-Williams

The Secret Elite had the very man in place in Petrograd to subtly influence them, Brigadier-General Sir John Hanbury-Williams. He had served in South Africa under the cabal’s leader, Lord Milner, with whom he kept in regular contact [7] and in Canada with Earl Grey, a member of the Secret Elite’s inner core. [8] Hanbury-Williams was identified by Professor Carroll Quigley as one of Milner’s Kindergarten, men at the very heart of the Secret Elite. [9] His ancestry gave him access to the Russian Imperial family and he was considered the Czar’s ‘sincere friend’. [10]

On 30 December he met with the Grand Duke Nicholas, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army and used the opportunity to plant the idea of a British intervention against Turkey in his mind. ‘I asked him, in the event of it being possible, whether he thought a naval demonstration [against Turkey ] would be of any use. He jumped at it gladly.’ [11] How clever. One week after Hankey and his Secret Elite compatriots had considered how they would carefully advance their strategy for the Dardanelles, Hanbury-Williams just happened to broach the subject with the Grand Duke.

With a growing anti-war element, civil unrest was still close to the surface and revolution was a realistic fear in the minds of the Russian leaders. The Commander-In-Chief’s thoughts were focused on Russia’s fragile domestic morale. He did not even mentioned the Dardanelles. [12] Whatever was said was subtly transformed into an appeal for help from the Grand Duke. Hanbury-Williams noted in his diary that ‘this conversation was really the origin of what eventually developed into the Dardanelles operation.’ [13] Absolutely so, but the seed was sown by the Secret Elite, not by the Grand Duke.

Late on 1 January 1915, Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador at Petrograd and one of the Secret Elite’s diplomatic enforcers, [14] sent a telegram to London stating that Grand Duke Nicholas had asked Britain for help to relieve pressure on his army fighting in the Caucasus. Before any action could be taken that problem solved itself. When the Ottomans attacked Sarikamish on 29 December they lost 30,000 men to a Russian counter attack. Enver Pasha, the questionable Turkish Minister of War, ordered his troops to abandon their great coats and packs before struggling over 10,000 feet high mountain passes in atrocious winter conditions. Many froze to death, and less than 18,000 Turks survived. It was an absolute disaster. As with many of his decisions, Enver’s judgment was either profoundly stupid or served some other purpose. In this instance his military incompetence changed the political picture. Within days the Turkish threat had been crushed, and ‘any plan to force the Dardanelles… ought to have died a fairly quick death.’ [15] In truth, there was never any need for a British ‘demonstration’ in Turkey to help Russia. The telegram and all that followed was part of the Secret Elite’s game-plan.

Kitchener discussed the next step with Churchill. He pointed out that there were no troops available for another front. [16] If there was to be an intervention it would have to be naval. [17] That same day, Kitchener sent a telegram to Petrograd, ‘Please assure the Grand Duke that steps will be taken to make a demonstration against the Turks.’ The War Council magnanimously endorsed its own idea. Churchill later recalled, ‘It was the least that could have been said in answer to a request of a hard-pressed Ally.’ [18] He ignored the fact that the Russians had already crushed the Turkish army in the Caucasus.


On 3 January First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, sent a note to Churchill saying that an attack by the navy could not succeed. He advocated a joint naval and military campaign with warships forcing the Dardanelles while large military forces were landed on both the Asian and European shores. [19] Admiral Frederick Tudor, Third Sea Lord, also told Churchill that the navy could not do this on its own. [20] This was not what he wanted to hear. He sought other opinions, including those of Admiral Jackson who thought that he would be ‘mad to try and get into the Sea of Marmora without having the Gallipoli peninsula held by our own troops or every gun on both sides of the Straits destroyed.’ Churchill was very careful not to show this to his colleagues in the War Council. [21] Determined to find the answer he wanted, Churchill worked his way down through the Admiralty ranks. He telegraphed Vice-Admiral Carden, Commander of the Mediterranean Squadron. Was the forcing of the Dardanelles by ships a practicable operation? This time he added a point which was meant to bias the response. ‘Importance of the results would justify severe loss.’

Eager to please, Carden replied cautiously On 5 January: ‘I do not think that the Dardanelles can be rushed, but they might be forced by extended operations with a large number of ships.’ Churchill had at last found a semblance of naval support. Next day Churchill assured the Vice-Admiral that, ‘high authorities here concur in your opinion’ and asked what number of ships he would need. The Vice-Admiral assumed that the ‘high authorities’ included the Admiralty representatives on the War Council, Admirals Fisher and Sir Arthur Wilson, [22] Churchill duped Carden in order to get the response he wanted. No ‘high authorities’ had agreed with his opinion. None of them. First Sea Lord Fisher had bluntly stated that the navy could not take the Dardanelles, while Admiral Wilson had neither been asked for, nor proffered, an opinion.

If all of this was above above board, surely Churchill would have turned to the Admiralty’s expert on the Ottoman Navy, Rear-Admiral Limpus. Here was the former head of the British naval mission in Constantinople, the man who ‘knew the Turks and the Dardanelles’ defences intimately’, [23] and ‘all their secrets’. [24] Yet Churchill shunned him. Why? The stark truth is he knew that Rear-Admiral Limpus, like Admirals Fisher, Tudor and Jackson, was opposed to his plan. [25] Limpus believed that the first stage of any attack on the Dardanelles had to be be an amphibious landing. [26] It could not be undertaken by the navy alone.

Vice-Admiral Sackville-Carden

This was not the first time that such views had been clearly expressed. In 1906, the Admiralty considered a naval assault on the Dardanelles, too risky, [27] concluding that it would ‘have to be undertaken by a joint naval and military expedition,’ [28] Churchill himself agreed in 1911 that it was ‘no longer possible to force the Dardanelles.’ [29] Four years later it had become so imperative that he canvassed opinion across the higher echelons of the navy until he found the answer he wanted. Vice-Admiral Carden knew nothing of the wide consensus of opposition to a purely naval assault on the Dardanelles. He had been reassured that ‘people in high authority’ agreed with his assessment. Poor Carden. The man asked to prepare a naval attack on the Dardanelles was the one with least knowledge. He was denied access to the vast quantity of intelligence which had been gathered on the Dardanelles defences by Admiral Limpus, Ambassador Mallet and others.

Carden was set up to be the perfect patsy when the plan failed, for fail it must.

[1] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, pp.153-160 and p. 313.
[2] Stephen Roskill, Hankey, Vol.1 1897-1918, p. 148.
[3] Ronald P. Bobroff, Roads to Glory, Late Imperial Russia and the Straits, p 125.
[4] David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, p. 127.
[5] Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 312.
[6] Roskill, Hankey, p. 150.
[7] Terence O’Brien, Milner, p. 267.
[8] Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 312.
[9] Ibid., p. 52 and 56.
[10] John Hanbury-Williams, The Emperor Nicholas II As I Knew Him, Diary in Russia, pp. 22-5.
[11] Ibid., p. 24.
[12] Sean McMeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War, p. 129.
[13] Hanbury-Williams, The Emperor Nicholas II, p. 24.
[14] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, p. 280.
[15] Graham T Clews, Churchill’s Dilemma, p. 60.
[16] Winston Churchill, World Crisis 1915, p. 94.
[17] Peter Hart, Gallipoli, p. 15.
[18] Churchill, World Crisis 1915, p. 93.
[19] Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, p. 27.
[20] Tim Travers, Gallipoli, p. 22.
[21] Edmond Delage, The Tragedy of the Dardanelles, pp. 27-28.
[22] Henry W. Nevison, The Dardanelles Campaign, p. 25.
[23] B.H. Liddell Hart, History of the First World War, p. 213.
[24] Alan Moorehead,  Gallipoli, p. 60.
[25] Harvey Broadbent, Gallipoli, The Fatal Shore, p. 21.
[26] John Laffin, The Agony, p. 9.
[27] Memorandum by the General Staff, 19 December 1906, National Archives, PRO.  CAB/4/2/92.
[28] Michael Hickey, Gallipoli, p. 28.
[29] James, Gallipoli, pp. 3-4.