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«A Slashing Man of Action»

The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP

Elaine McFarland

Hailed by General Sir Ian Hamilton as «a slashing man of action», Aylmer Hunter-Weston began the Great War as one of the British Army’s rising stars. By its close, his reputation was very different. Branded by some contemporaries as a «butcher» and a «mountebank», he has also been criticised by modern military historians both for his role in the Gallipoli campaign and also at the Somme, where his corps suffered the worst losses of any engaged on the first day of the battle. Drawing on original archival research, this is the first full-length study of his colourful and controversial career. It explores how he gained his sanguinary reputation, and asks how far this was actually deserved. Rejecting a simplistic «butchers and bunglers» approach, it argues that Hunter-Weston was an intelligent and highly professional soldier, whose failures can best be understood by reference to the structural challenges of modern war on a mass scale. There is no doubt that his personal flaws and idiosyncrasies contributed to his woeful image, but he also emerges as a transitional figure, frustrated by a battlefield in which managerial skills had become more important than heroic personal leadership. Indeed, his career offers valuable glimpses into the practical business of generalship, including the under-researched «political» role of senior officers. While not one of Britain’s great commanders, «Hunter-Bunter» remains one of the most compelling.
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Chapter Nine: Achieving the Impossible – The Beaches and Beyond



Achieving the Impossible – The Beaches and Beyond

There was to be no triumphant charge up Achi Baba. Instead, the unassuming ridge remained a recurring image in Hunter-Weston’s scrapbook, seeming to edge a little further away in each photograph. During the first desperate weeks of the campaign, he launched a series of brutal, slogging attacks that barely had any effect on the enemy’s defensive superiority. Having lost any hope of surprise, both the magnitude of the challenge facing the expedition and the risks of failure continued to grow rapidly. Many of the decisions that Hunter-Weston made during the initial phase of the fighting at Gallipoli may have been wrong or poorly judged, but none of them was easy.

The View from the Bridge

The landings made at Helles on 25 April were fought as separate battles, but together they removed any hope of a swift and decisive resolution to the campaign. Reports of enemy activity were already reaching the Turkish III Corps HQ as the Euryalus sailed within sight of Cape Tekke at 3 a.m.1 Two hours later, the KOSBs and Royal Marines were able to struggle up the cliffs at Y Beach unopposed. Lieut.-Colonel Matthews, who persisted in viewing the landing as a ‘demonstration’, sent out scouts, but otherwise he spent the morning awaiting further orders.2 The SWBs also easily achieved ← 145 | 146 → the other flank assault at S Beach on the eastern edge of Morto Bay; the shortage of...

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