The Battle of Gallipoli, or the Gallipoli campaign, was one of the greatest disasters of World War One for the Allies. The campaign took place between 25th April 1915 and 9th January 1916 on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire and was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who believed the creation of a new war that the Ottomans could not cope with would end the war early.
The plan was suggested by Churchill on 25th November 1914, at which point he stated to the British War Council that there should be a new war front in the Dardanelles . On 15th January 1915, the plan was agreed and British troops in Egypt were put on high alert.
Churchill’s plan was simple in theory: split the German army - already split between the Eastern and Western Front - further still and force them to support the Turkish Army. The Turks were seen as a particularly weak member of the Central Powers so Churchill felt this would be necessary. When Germany went to assist, the Allies would attack the weakened German forces on both main fronts.
Churchill contacted Admiral Carden - head of the British fleet near Dardanelles - for his thoughts on a naval assault on the Turkish positions but Carden was cautious and suggested a more gradual approach. Churchill asked for this plan to be produced for submission to the War Office.
Unfortunately, senior commanders felt that Churchill was pushing too hard for the attack, which had no benefit from long term planning and was considered risky. However, the War Council approved the plan and February was set as the month for the battle to commence.
Unknown to many, there was some confusion surrounding the outcome of the meeting. Churchill believed he had been granted permission to go ahead, while Asquith believed that the plan was still provisional.
As a result, the plan was pushed through without all senior officers being in agreement, and Carden was given the go ahead to prepare an assault.
On 19th February 1915, Carden opened fire on Turkish positions in the Dardanelles. The attacked went well, with outer forts at Sedd-el-Bahr and Kim Kale falling quickly. However, in the Straits the Turks had heavily mined the water and the resistance of the Turks led to the attack coming to a halt. Carden collapsed from ill health and he was replaced by Rear-Admiral Robeck.
The attack hadn’t gone unnoticed at home, and soon military input came from former military secretary to Lord Kitchener, Lieutenant-General Birdwood. Birdwood, who commanded the ANZAC’s based in Egypt insisted that military support for the navy was imperative and appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton as commander of the new Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
The MEF contained 70,000 men from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some soldiers from France. Hamilton followed orders and left for the Dardanelles on 12th February and arrived on 18th March with little information about the military situation.
On the same day, the Allies suffered a huge naval defeat as three British battleships were sunk, and another three were crippled. In fact, Britain had lost two thirds of its battleships in the Dardanelles and Robeck was unsure about what to do next.
On 22nd March, Hamilton and Robeck decided that the naval fleet should sail to Alexandria so it had time to reorganise while Hamilton prepared for a land battle. However, Churchill stated afterwards that this decision was never run past the government or the War Council, which would not meet for another two months.
“No formal decision to make a land attack was even noted in the records of the Cabinet or the War Council. This silent plunge into this vast military venture must be regarded as extraordinary.”
The army’s input into the Gallipoli campaign was even more disastrous than the navy’s. While still of the belief that the Turks were not up to the same standards as the British and ANZAC troops, it was left to Robeck and Hamilton to organise the battle.
Hamilton decided to land at Gallipoli, with the 29th Division landing on five small beaches at the southern end of the peninsula, the ANZACs landing further north and the French landing at Kum Kale after pretending to land elsewhere.
It is generally assumed that the main failing of the Allied forces at Dardanelles was that they underestimated the ability of the Turks. However, the Turkish forces were actually very weak and poorly led, just as they had thought. On 24th March, General Liman von Sanders was handed command of 84,000 men - with a fighting capacity of just 62,000 - and asked to defend 150 miles of coastline. He placed his men away from the beaches but many Turkish officers argued that this was the wrong decision, as there were so few beaches the Allies could land on.
On 25th April the landings started. The British landed on three beaches without any trouble and while another was resisted, the Turks were defeated. However, the landing at Sedd-el-Bahr was a disaster as the British troops were caught in the fire of Turkish machine guns. Many troops were killed before they could even reach the beach.
Meanwhile, the ANZACs landed at Anzac Cove where they were forced to climb to reach the beach. The Turks managed to push back the initial ANZAC move and the subsequent fighting was very costly for both sides.
The next phase of the battle began in August with Hamilton ordering an attack on Sulva Bay. The landing - involving 63,000 Allied troops - took place on the 6th August in secrecy (so even senior officers didn’t know) and was supposed to result in 63,000 men taking Suvla Bay and then meeting with the ANZACs at Anzac Cove. However, the ANZACs cold not break out of Anzac Cove and the British were pushed back, only for Suvla Bay to be retaken on 10th August.
Meanwhile the number of opponents of the campaign in London was growing rapidly and Hamilton was replaced by Sir Charles Munro. He recommended evacuation, which was a success and occurred with no casualties at all on 19th and 20th December. The evaluation of Helles was also a success.
However, these successes could not mask the disasters that had taken place before, with more than 200,000 Allied casualties ultimately dying as a result. The number of Turkish deaths was also high, expected to be more than 200,000.
Once the campaign was finally over, opinions continued to be divided. Sir Edward Grey and Lord Slim were strong critics, stating that those in command were the worst in the British Army since the Crimean War. However, Churchill and Hamilton continued to defend their choices.
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