The Gallipoli campaign

APRIL 25,1915-JANUARY 8,1916

    The attack at Gallipoli was an idea of Winston Churchill (then Lord of the Admiralty) who -in front of the stalemate in the Western front- considered  Turkey (then Ottoman Empire) the weakest link among the enemy's allies.Indeed the Turkish army had suffered humiliating defeats during the Balcan wars of 1912-3 and the Ottoman empire had  most of its european territories taken by Greece,Bulgary and Serbia.A possible victory could start a revolution in Turkey and in the same time would have the eastern flank of the Central Powers exposed to the Allied forces.

 

The purpose of the operation was to create a new front in order to relieve Turkish pressure on the Russian army and by controlling the Dardanelles straits create a link with the Russian forces via the Black Sea

 The Gallipoli penisula  and the Dardanelles however were defended by many forts,about 200 guns,submarine nets and hundreds of mines.Despite all this problems,a naval operation,executed by the Royal Navy and the French Navy,was needed in order to clear the landing zone.The admirals refused to sent their best ships,having realized that this operation had small chances of success.However the Royal Navy had the support of the new battle ship Queen Elizabeth and of the two battle cruisers Inflexible and Irresistible.

    On March 18,1915 sixteen warships with their supporting vessels entered the straits led by Queen Elizabeth.The Turkish forts were heavy bombed by the fleet but without any success.The "finished" Turkish Army had no intention to surrender.Minesweepers (operated by civilians) were sent forward to clear the straits but they fled when the Turkish forts opened fire.The disaster was imminent.The French battleship Bouvet struck a mine a sunk in a few minutes.HMS Inflexible struck another mine and abandoned the battlefield listing heavily.HMS Irresistible had the same fate and she was abandoned by her crew.HMS Ocean suffered mine damage too.The fleet withdrew without destroying a single turkish gun....

   The Army generals were more optimistic about the outcome of the landing campaign.They had calculated that after 72 hours they would have Gallipoli secured.The force was commanded by General Ian Hamilton,a very brave and experienced officer.British,French,ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) troops formed the expedition along with minor Commonwealth contigents.Security leaks however had permitted to the Turkish army to prepare a strong defence line across the beaches.

  On April 25,1915 the attack began.In the British sector (Cape Helles),3 of the 5 beaches were taken without heavy opposition but  on the other 2 (V-beach and S-Beach) British soldiers found themselves under heavy fire and it was not until darkness when the remaining troops manage to partially secure them.In the ANZAC sector things were better.A strong current made them land past their target to a beach from then called "ANZAC Cove".The ANZACs manage to get ashore without serious problems and they reached quickly the central heights of Gallipoli.There they were stopped by the Turkish 19th division commanded by a great soldier and future founder of the Turkish Republic:Mustaffa Kemal.The British never managed to advace more than 5 miles inland while the ANZACs were still blocked near the heights.Hamilton tried to exit the stalemate ordering another landing at Suvla Bay but although the British troops were landed successfully they didn't manage to advance quickly and they were blocked soon by the Turks (who had succesfully resisted 3 diversion attacks by the Australians).

 

A detailed map of the battlefield (courtesy of Bryn Dolan)

 

 By the end of  the year both sides were close to collapse.When the Turkish soldiers woke up on January 9,1916 they were alone and victorious.Having fought with poor equipment,without the support of  a great fleet and with a terrible shortage of supplies they drove the Allies back to their ships. Perhaps the silent evacuation was the only military success of the Allied forces during the land operations.A total of 500.000 men were landed in Gallipoli but almost 300.000 became casualties.The only positive result was the weakening of the Turkish army which led to the British capture of Palestine in 1917.

 

INDEX OF LOCATIONS Courtesy of Bryn Dolan

bulletGALLIPOLI
Turkish Peninsula in the Aegean Sea. It stems from the 'European' side of Turkey. Between it and the 'Asiatic' side flow the Dardanelles. 'Gallipoli' is a Greek name; the modern Turkish town, formerly known as Gallipoli, is called  Gelibolu
bulletCAPE HELLES
The area of the Gallipoli Peninsula at which the British forces landed on 25th April 1915. This is the 'toe' of the peninsula, south of the village of Krithia, and was also where the French landed on 27th April after their diversionary landing at Kum Kale, on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles.
bulletSUVLA BAY
The area of the Gallipoli Peninsula, north of the Anzac sector, at which fresh British forces landed in August 1915.
bulletDARDANELLES
The long, narrow channel of water flowing from the Black Sea, through Istanbul, to the Mediterranean Sea. 'The Narrows' is a section of the Dardanelles, where the channel contracts to less than three-quarters of a mile (1200 metres), in the vicinity of the towns of Channakale (Asiatic side) and Eceabat (European side). 'Dardanelles' is also used as a term to refer to the Gallipoli campaign.

 

For more information regarding the Gallipoli campaign:

Leaders of ANZACS -A nice page dedicated to the ANZAC officers died during the Gallipoli campaign.Contains many valuable historical information and  a complete list of the casualties.