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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Admiral Sir Sackville Hamilton Carden

Sackville Hamilton Carden, nephew of my grandfather, belonged to the Barnane, Tipperary, branch of the family. His papers were given to me by his granddaughter, and selected material will be used in an Exhibition in Portsmouth starting on March 25th 2015, the anniversary of the attempt to force the Dardanelles. My short book Carden and the Dardanelles, based on his papers, will be available as soon as copyright consent for some additional material has been obtained.

 Here is a summary.

Until 1915, Sackville Carden’s naval career could be described as excellent if not spectacular.  He earned the Légion d’Honneur and other medals for his part in clashes in Suakin in 1884 and Benin in 1897, was promoted to captain in December 1899 and to rear-admiral in 1908. By 1910 he was flying his flag in the battleship London in the Atlantic Fleet, aged 53. This was expected to be pretty much the culmination of his career and his last sea-going post. By the outbreak of the Great War he had stepped ashore to become the vice-admiral in charge of the dockyard in Malta.

Rather to everyone’s surprise he was chosen in September 1914 to command the British battle squadron (and also French forces under Amiral Guépratte) in the eastern Mediterranean. He became Churchill’s pawn in his plan to open a new theatre of war by forcing the Dardanelles and capturing Constantinople. On Churchill’s instructions Carden drew up a detailed plan and told Churchill that it might be successful. Churchill used Carden’s plan to force agreement from the War Council and in March 1915 Carden found himself flying his flag in the first super-dreadnought Queen Elizabeth, the newest and most formidable battleship in the world, commanding a fleet which included another dreadnought and twelve older battleships, four cruisers, six submarines, twenty-one minesweepers and other ships, perhaps the largest fleet to go into battle since Trafalgar. The bombardment of the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles began on 19 February 1915.

It proved impossible to force the Dardanelles under Carden’s plan, which required the Turkish guns to be silenced before the fleet entered the Narrows. Instead of admitting defeat and withdrawing, Churchill pressed for greater efforts, and with reluctance Carden planned to risk disaster by entering the strait before the guns were silenced and the mines swept.

At that point he collapsed and had to hand over to his No.2, Admiral Jack de Robeck, who pressed on, soon losing the French battleship Bouvet with 640 men. Then the dreadnought Inflexible was badly damaged, the battleship Irresistible was utterly obliterated, and two more allied battleships were lost.

The whole project should have been called to a halt, but plans were already afoot for the army to invade, leading to the horrors of Gallipoli.

Carden wanted to return to his post as soon as he recovered, but his career was over. He received his knighthood in 1916 and retired as a full admiral the following year. Perhaps Marder was right in saying that ‘Carden was a charming man and an ideal peacetime admiral, but he had none of the qualities needed for an admiral at war in the technical age.’

(He has a chapter to himself in Turtle Bunbury’s book The Glorious Madness - Tales of the Irish & the Great War, Gill & Macmillan, 2014)


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