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Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916

5 August 2022

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916, Sterling Michael Pavelec, 2020, ISBN 9781682475454, 215 pp.

Gallipoli was an added front opened by the British and the French in World War I (WW I) with the idea to break the trench warfare stalemate against Imperial Germany in Western Europe. On paper it looked like a promising prospect to the Allies—the British Army had their colonial forces at its disposal—Australia and New Zealand—nearby; Britain’s Royal Navy had plenty of seapower to spare for the campaign (especially a number of battleships); the French had their navy and army; both France and Great Britain had nascent airpower. All were great advantages over the Ottoman Empire which had sided with Imperial Germany in WW I. The plan was simple: Great Britain to take the European side of the Dardanelles Strait—which joins the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea—while the French took the Asian side. With a bit of luck, battleships would blast their way through the strait and soon be knocking on the front door of Istanbul. The surrender of the Ottoman Empire (later reformed into the country, Turkey) would greatly expose Germany’s southern flank—it would tear it open. The Ottomans were perceived to be at a great disadvantage not having significant industry, lacking a sea going navy, and possessing little to no aircraft. 

What could go wrong? Would the flimsy aircraft of the day make a difference? Could leaders combine land, sea and air forces to their greatest effect?

Pavelec answers these important questions and more—much more—in Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916. He answers them with telling detail bringing readers into the day-to-day-air warfare planning and missions during the nine month long Gallipoli Campaign. Ironically, the Gallipoli Campaign quickly mired into the same stalemated trench warfare it was intended to break in Western Europe. Tens of thousands of men on each side but never more than a handful of aircraft for either side—yet leaders on both sides began thinking of air warfare differently from their counterparts in Western Europe, by thinking strategically. Pavelec describes the challenges in easily understandable and empathetic writing as well as how they were inventively met. His research is superb and necessarily limited primarily, but not exclusively, to UK sources—which he openly discusses—as the French, German and Turkish sources are few, if any. 

The context of the ground war is, of course, paramount to understanding the decision making of the air warfare leaders. Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 outlines and specifies this quite well for the reader. This understanding aids in comprehending why the Ottoman forces could not dislodge the western forces or why the western forces could not get off the landing beaches for an almost-to-incredible-to-believe three fourths of a year.

WW I aviation changed rapidly, significant advances every six months or so, and air warfare tactics were nascent—so the strategic aviation thinking was dynamic to say the least. Naturally, scouting and artillery spotting became the first missions. Then, unlike the Western Front, the Allied forces on the southern portion of the peninsula attempted to cut off (interdict) Ottoman supply lines at the northern end. Eventually, air to air combat ensued with the arrival of more modern aircraft such as the Fokker Eindecker and Nieuport 10. Pavelec describes the effects of each aircraft type had on the war effort as each arrived—and there were many aircraft types which found their way to Gallipoli. The Allies had a long logistic train and, perhaps unexpectedly, so did the Ottomans who obtained their aircraft as well as pilots, from Germany. How these two countries addressed their aviation logistics involved the effects of politics, stale paradigms and innovative leadership. Principal individual players on each side are so well written of that readers will feel as if they would recognize them on the street and begin conversing with them quite easily.

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 is another book in the Naval Institute Press series on airpower and is an excellent addition. Pavelec rightly acknowledges that this period of aviation history has not been given the attention it deserves. This is where strategic air power was conceived with the use of interdiction, deep reconnaissance to support land as well as sea operations, and gaining air supremacy. 

Airpower Over Gallipoli 1915-1916 is an expert and flowing written history that is remarkably  backed up with an excellent series of appendices. These appendices make quick work for the reader to understand the context of this fascinating chapter of early airpower, and are an unexpected gift:

  • Appendix I: Gallipoli Personalities (individual descriptions and their suggested biographies)
  • Appendix II: The Aircraft of Gallipoli (the numerous types and their details)
  • Appendix III: The Literature of the Gallipoli Campaign (including the land and sea war)

Pavelec has also provided a thorough index as well as comprehensive notes and citations throughout. Aside from its obvious value to those interested in aviation and airpower history it is also an exciting take of aviators, passionate in their professions, combating not only opposing forces but their own command hierarchies.

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