Authority and competence

In Australia and New Zealand, April 25 is known as Anzac Day, and commemorates the bravery of the soldiers who fought in the Gallipoli campaign, and in subsequent battles and wars. The Gallipoli campaign was also something of a disaster, although in the general consideration of World War 1, not an exceptional disaster. In my sequence of futuristic novels, one of the issues I am looking at is that of governance, and World War 1 shows possibly some of the worst aspects. The question is, why should some people command or govern? What should qualify them for that responsibility?

The Gallipoli campaign was considered as a sideshow by the British leaders, even the second best in equipment and leaders was too good for it, and it showed it during the performance. The campaign started with an ill-advised naval bombardment. All this did was to alert the enemy that the British were coming. Then followed four weeks wherein the Turks could reinforce their defences. Had there been no landings, this bombardment could have been inspired, but there were. The Anzacs landed at what was called Anzac cove, terrain that was ideally suited for defence. It is reputed that they landed at the wrong place, thanks to faulty navigation. However, that was far from the worst that happened.  When it was clear that the Anzacs were bogged down, the British did what should have been done initially: they landed a force of 20,000 men at Suvla Bay, to be opposed by only 1500. This should have been a straightforward victory, but the Turks had a very strong ally: the British generals, who, Sir John Monash was later to describe as the most abject collection of generals ever assembled at one spot. The planned attack at Suvla Bay was excellent in concept, but it required vigorous leadership.

Here we address the problem of how to lead? Perhaps the most important feature is to give clear instructions. This landing appeared to be plagued by the need for secrecy, a need so well kept that the landing forces themselves did not know what they were supposed to be doing. Few officers even had maps, and worse, half the maps were Turkish and half had place names translated into English, so communication between officers was difficult. To add to this, previously the 10th Division at Gallipoli was commanded by Lieutenant General Mahon, who, however, was regarded as an indifferent commander. The problem now was that whoever commanded at Suvla had to be senior, and resources were limited. Eventually, of the available Generals, they settled on Stopford, who had never commanded in combat and had been on the retired list since 1909, and was in poor health. The very senior officers under his command were little better in the fitness stakes. The landing was incompetent, being done in the wrong order so that troops had to cross one another’s path to get to their assigned targets, and many just got lost. Once ashore and organized, nobody pressed forward against the enemy, who were grossly outnumbered. Success was at hand, despite the blunders, but nobody could be bothered to get up and take it. Support was missing: seemingly nobody realized that troops in hot conditions might need water, so water remained unsupplied for days. For several days, Stopford could not even be bothered landing, nor even overseeing supply. Finally, the weaponry was inadequate for what was to come later, when the Turks got themselves organized.

The point here is that the more senior you are in an organization, the worse the consequences of stupidity. If a private is stupid, he dies; if a General is stupid, thousands die. Accordingly, it would seem to be highly desirable that those put in authority should have the competence to exercise that authority properly. That has been addressed, at least to some degree, in the more modern armies, where field officers are at least young enough and fit enough to do their jobs, but the concept should apply in many other areas than the military. Does it really?

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