The Gallipoli campaign of WWI, took place between the 25th April 1915 to 9th January 1916. The Gallipoli peninsula, a part of Turkey that juts out into the Aegean Sea is about 50 miles long and no wider than 12 miles. Between the peninsula and the Asian continent are the Dardanelles, now known as the Canakkale Straits.
A joint British and French operation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia. The landings to achieve this end were to take place on the peninsula. The attempt failed, with heavy casualties on both sides.
- The Allies were keen to open an effective supply route to Russia, efforts on the Eastern Front relieved pressure on the Western Front.
- By late 1914 the Western Front in France and Belgium had effectively become a stalemate. A new front was desperately needed. The Allies hoped that an attack on the Ottomans would draw Bulgaria and Greece into the war on the Allied side.
- In November 1914, First Lord of The Admiralty, Winston Churchill,l put forward his first plans for a naval attack on the Dardanelles. Initially, the attack was to be made by the Royal Navy alone, with only token forces from the army being required for routine occupation tasks.
- On 19 February, the first attack began. It was agreed a main attack would be launched on or around 17th March 1915.
- On 18th March the main attack was launched. The fleet, comprising 18 battleships and support ships, targeted the narrowest point of the Dardanelles.
- Minesweepers were ordered to proceed along the straits, manned by civilians and under constant fire from Ottoman shells they retreated leaving the minefields largely intact.
- As a result, many ships were sunk or suffered bad damage.The losses prompted the Allies to cease any further attempts to force the straits by naval power alone.
- It was decided that ground forces were necessary to eliminate the Ottoman mobile artillery.
- Australian and New Zealand soldiers were in Egypt, waiting to go to France. They would be joined by troops from England, the 29th Division and the Royal Naval Division as well as French troops. There was a delay of over six weeks before many of the troops arrived from Britain, allowing Ottoman forces time to prepare for a land assault.
- The invasion plan of 25th April 1915, was for the 29th Division to land at Helles on the tip of the peninsula and then advance upon the forts at Kilitbahir. The Anzacs were to land north of Gaba Tepe. This sector of the Gallipoli Peninsula became known as ‘Anzac’, the area held by the British and French became known as the ‘Helles sector’.
- On the afternoon of 27th April the Turks launched a concerted attack to drive the Anzacs back to the beach. With the support of naval gunfire, the Ottomans were held off throughout the night but a siege situation had begun.
- On 28th April, the British intended to capture Krithia. The plan of attack was too complex and poorly communicated to the commanders in the field
- With Ottoman opposition strengthening by the day, the opportunity for the anticipated swift victory on the peninsula was disappearing. Helles, like Anzac, became a siege situation.
- The first attempt at an offensive at Anzac took place on 2nd May. The troops advanced a short distance and tried to dig in but were forced to retreat by the night of 3rd May, having suffered about 1,000 casualties.
- Believing Anzac to be secure, two brigades, the Australian Second Infantry Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade,were sent to the Helles front as reserves for the second battle at Krithia starting on 6th May. A small gain was made but at huge cost in casualties.
- The plan for a decisive breakthrough was lost and casualties mounting, about 25% of troops on both sides. In the meantime the Suvla landing was reinforced by the arrival of further British Divisions, the 53rd and 54th.
- Battles at Scimitar Hill and Hill 60, were meant to join up the fronts of Anzac and Suvla but failed
The Gallipoli Campaign had failed but even in the face of failure and terrible loss of life, still Kitchener was reluctant to withdraw. Eventually after leaving the starving, freezing and diseased troops in place for a further few months, the order to evacuate was given.
- After the evacuation and the loss of 2000,000 men, Churchill still staunchly defended his decision to go ahead with the campaign………
- Lloyd George was concerned by military leaders making poor decisions based on insufficient detail and before the campaign is quoted as saying, ‘Expeditions that are decided upon and organised with insufficient care, generally end disastrously.’