Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

The Gallipoli Campaign may go down in history as one of the great military blunders, but it stemmed from a reasonable strategic aim to restore the line of communication with Russia via the Dardanelles to keep the Eastern Front active. Further, the original plan was rather different:

There were three ways that the Allies could employ to gain control of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorous. One method was to send a fleet to force the Strait and then, presumably, bombard Constantinople itself from long range.


Another option was to land troops on the weakly defended Gallipoli Peninsula, secure the coast of the Strait, then march overland to Constantinople.


The third option was to do both: seize the Straits and the Peninsula. These attacks would mutually reinforce each other: land forces seize and hold the forts while minesweepers clear the Straits, then Royal Navy ships fire in support of the troops as they approach Constantinople. Admiral Fisher, First Sea Lord, immediately seized upon this option but stressed that it must be simultaneous and it must be done as soon as possible.


Opposition to Fisher’s plan, especially amongst generals on the Western Front who wanted every man available for the trenches, led to a half-way compromise.


The first naval attack occurred on February 19th, 1915 when the ships exchanged fire with the Turkish forts. Poor weather caused a full attack to be delayed until February 25th. Initially, the attack went well. Turkish gunners fled from the heavier bombardment from the battleships. Small units of British soldiers and Marines were landed on both sides of the strait and encountered only light resistance except one fort on the Asiatic side whose defenders inflicted heavy casualties on Royal Marines before capitulating.

The Turkish gunners, however, soon returned and resumed firing as the Allied troops abandoned the forts. The small minesweepers, manned by civilians, fled from the harassing fire despite not being hit. The task force again withdrew to regroup. Another full attack was planned for March 18th. By then, the Turkish forts seem to have found their range. Minesweepers cleared the first line of mines, but again the small ships fled once under fire of the forts. In this attack, the Bouvet, the Irresistable, and the Ocean were sunk. The Inflexible, the Suffren, and the Galois were damaged enough that they were out of action. The Albion, the Agamemnon, the Lord Nelson, and the Charlamagne were heavily damaged.

The naval commander, Admiral de Robeck, at first wanted to renew the attack but by March 22nd, the decision had been made by the Kitchener to send the troops required for a land campaign. The naval task force turned to await the arrival of the troops.

Had the troops been present, this would have been the perfect time for the Allies to succeed. The naval attack had induced panic in the Turkish army and their German allies, who sent urgent requests for reinforcements of any kind. No counterattack was ever executed against the landing parties that were sent ashore. When news of the British attack reached Constantinople, the Turkish populace panicked. Government officials made plans to flee the capital. The naval attack had come on the heels of an abortive Turkish invasion of Russia which ended with massive Turkish casualties at the Battle of Sarikamish on 4 January 1915. The German embassy expected the Turks to sue for peace and burned their records in expectation of fleeing the city. Even a few shells lobbed into the city might have caused a complete collapse. The only ones that expected the allied attack to fail were the allies themselves. The Turkish government was so panicked that they entirely turned over the defense of the Dardanelles to the ranking German advisor, General Liman von Sanders. Sanders knew that an amphibious attack was coming and, looking over the panicked Turkish defenses, said: “If the English only leave me alone for eight days!”

The allies gave him four weeks. Although the War Council had planned to send troops if they naval attack did not succeed, very few preparations had actually been made.

Some of the beach landings went disastrously. Some went well:

Only two of the landings were being disputed and troops at the other locations had complete freedom of action to attack the Turks on their terms. The most difficult part of an amphibious assault — getting off the beach — was all but accomplished.

But then the allies stopped. At S Beach, a British battalion was confronted by an overstretched Turkish platoon. But their orders were to get ashore and wait. And so they did. The British commander in charge of Y Beach, where there were no defenders at all, was told to wait for orders to push on. He received no communication of any kind from his higher headquarters for 29 full hours after landing. During this lull, Hamilton remained afloat having chosen not to make the landing at any one place to preserve his situational awareness. This may make sense today with modern communications systems, but in 1915 it rendered Hamilton unable to affect the situation. So much planning had gone into the landings that, once the landings were accomplished, subordinate commanders had no direction.

The Brits could have used a young Rommel on their side.


  1. But we did have Christ on our side.

    See Geoff Page’s poem “Christ at Gallipoli” at

  2. Adar says:

    In a gun battle between forts ashore and ships at sea the gunners ashore have the big advantage, three times the accuracy of naval gunfire.

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