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Book Review - The Artillery at ANZAC: Adaptation, Innovation and Education


By Chris Roberts and Paul Stevens

Big Sky Publishing, 2021, ISBN 9781922387936, 374pp
Artillery at ANZAC book cover

Reviewed by Dr Albert Palazzo

The 1915 Gallipoli Campaign features highly in the consciousness of many Australians and New Zealanders. Much has been written on the campaign at Anzac Cove and it must be a challenge for authors to find something that is new, relevant and important to say. When Chris Roberts and Paul Stevens, conceived of their book it must have been a ‘challenge accepted’ moment, a challenge in which they succeeded brilliantly. In The Artillery at Anzac: Adaptation, Innovation and Education Roberts and Stevens have produced a commendable work that brings to life an overlooked aspect of the Gallipoli campaign — the artillery and the role of the gunner — as well as illustrating how a novice force comes to grips with the conditions of modern battle.

When the Anzacs came ashore at Gallipoli, its gunners had (at best) only rudimentary training. What little training they had was for a war of manoeuvre, not the stalemate they now confronted. There was much to learn and, though much improved over the next eight months, when the campaign ended mastery still eluded them. In part, this was because the gaps to overcome were numerous, a consequence of a lack of realistic preparation before the war. Other issues, such as the shortage of weapons, particularly heavy howitzers, and ammunition were conditions that lasted the entire campaign. The ground was also unpromising for the artillery: There were too few positions with good lines of fire onto enemy positions and too many field guns, whose flat trajectories were unable to search reverse slopes, and not enough howitzers that could have hit such locations.

Roberts and Stevens carefully illustrate the learning process that took place at Anzac Cove. While inadequate ammunition could not be overcome, because Gallipoli was a minor theatre relative to the Western Front, great strides were made in the coordination of artillery, fire management across brigade, division and nationality lines, and working with the ships of the Royal Navy. The key players in the learning process were Talbot Hobbes for Australia and George Napier Johnston for New Zealand. It was their tireless efforts that brought order to the gun lines while working towards the design and implementation of uniform procedures. One lament, as Roberts and Stevens point out, was the tendency for the guns to be brought into an operation’s planning at the last moment. This resulted in a rush to develop and issue the fire plan and an artillery contribution of lesser magnitude than it might have been.

All militaries have to adapt, innovate and educate at the start of a war since combat conditions are always different from the routine of training. But some of the deficiencies the gunners had to overcome at Gallipoli could have been minimised with realistic and more frequent training prior to the conflict’s commencement. One of the lessons of The Artillery at Anzac is that the pre-war period matters, whether for training or weapon acquisition. Gunners, for example, could not secure howitzers because their home countries did not make them, nor could Gallipoli compete with the needs of more important theatres. This is a timeless lesson, as is the need to incorporate the support arms into planning - at the start of planning and not as an afterthought.

A notable contribution by which the authors do their readers a great service is the attention they gave to the book’s illustrations. The maps are gorgeous and comprehensive and compare favourably with what you would expect from a coffee-table atlas. The pictures are also numerous and appropriate to the text. An additional strength of the book is its eight appendixes. The non-gunner will be grateful for the information provided on the artillery’s order of battle, the detail on guns and ammunition employed, as well as the descriptions of the Royal Navy ships that supported the Anzacs. It was also nice to find out what happened to the leading artillerists during the rest of the War. What is disappointing is that there is not similar detail for the Ottoman artillery which would have allowed a technical comparison of the guns used during the campaign.

The Artillery at Anzac is an excellent account of a sub-theme of a campaign that resonates with the Australian and New Zealand populace. Following on from last year’s release of Clash of the Gods of War, the study of the supporting arms is getting a well deserved examination. Military professionals should heed the words of Roberts and Stevens. This is an account of soldiers trying to overcome deficiencies while under fire from an opponent who occupied a superior position. In the end, the campaign was a failure and the troops (and nearly all the guns) were withdrawn. Compared to the landing, the Anzacs conducted the withdrawal with skill and precision— a reflection of the learning that had taken place. Hopefully, Australian soldiers will never find themselves in such a position again. But hope is not a plan. Perhaps the most important lesson of The Artillery at Anzac is that war may not give you a second chance to do it right.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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