The Real Causes Behind the Disastrous Battle of Gallipoli

The Battle of Gallipoli
The battle of Gallipoli was fought during the First World War between the Entente Forces and the old Ottoman Empire of Turkey, supported by the Central Powers. The battle had far-reaching effects on all the countries involved. Find out more about this war, in this article.
Gallipoli is a peninsula located in northwest Turkey, between Dardanelles and the Gulf of Saros. During the First World War (WWI), it gained prime importance due to its strategic location with respect to the Allied Force's eastern front. The battle of Gallipoli, also known as Dardanelle campaign, was fought out between amphibious forces of Britain and France, with the aid of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and the Ottoman Empire, led by the charismatic Kemal Pasha Atatürk.

Precipitating Factors for the Battle

With the Ottoman Empire's inclusion in the Center Powers, the Entente Powers were desperately in need of an alternative route to Russia to get a breakthrough in the war. Germany and Austria-Hungary blocked the land route from Europe to Russia. The Baltic Sea was also blocked by Germany, and the White Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, mostly frozen anyway, were too distant from Russia. The only accessible route was through the Black Sea via Bosporus, which was controlled by the Turks.

With the closure of the only sea route to Russia, battle appeared inevitable for the Entente Powers. Besides, in what was termed as the 'Goeben and Breslau incident', two German warships were permitted to pass through the Dardanelles by declaring themselves as Turkish ships. This incident infuriated Britain and France, since their ships were waiting in front of the strait and could not pass through. Taking all these factors into consideration, the head of the British naval force, Winston Churchill, proposed a naval attack on Dardanelles.

Naval Attack

The naval attack on Dardanelles was a joint operation by the Anglo-French naval force. Old and obsolete ships of the British Royal Navy, considered to be unfit for usage against the German fleet, were used in the operation. On 19 February 1915, the Anglo-French force bombarded the coastal areas of Turkey. A second assault was made on 25 February.

A German wireless message stating that the Ottoman Dardanelles forts were running short of ammunition spread among the Allied Forces like wildfire and gave them a feeling that their victory was imminent. They launched a final attack on 18 March.

However, the naval attack could not succeed as the whole strait had been mined by Turkey and all attempts on the part of the Allies to remove these failed. British warships could not clear the strait, and many of their ships were lost. With the failure of the naval attack, a ground assault was deemed to be necessary.

Land Battles

For carrying out the ground operations, the Allied Forces planned to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton. The ANZAC, 29th British Territorial Infantry Division, the 1st Royal Naval Infantry Division, the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade and the French 1st Infantry Division took part in the ground battles.

On 25 April, the British forces landed at Helles and the ANZAC forces on the Aegean coast, situated on the north of Gaba Tepe. The Allied Forces started their operation on the morning of 25 April and besieged the Seddülbahir forts. The war resulted in great loss for the Allied army, as most of the soldiers could not land due to heavy firing by the Turkish army. The arrival of reinforcements prolonged the battle, but could not make it a success. The Turkish defense was remarkable, since while the British believed that they were facing 2 divisions of the Turkish army, there were only 2 battalions at Seddülbahir and only 3 were sent to their aid during the day.

On 28 April, the Entente army launched an attack which came to be known as the first battle of Krithia. It was a poorly coordinated battle. In the first place, the delay by the British army to attack Krithia had allowed Ottoman forces to reinforce the defenses to a great degree. Initially, the Entente forces were able to gain some ground, but could not capture Krithia in the face of stiff resistance from the Turkish army.

On 19 May, 42,000 Turks under the command of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made an assault on the 17,000 ANZAC troops. Despite heavily outnumbering the ANZAC, the Turks miserably failed to push them back, and suffered about 13,000 casualties, with the ANZAC only suffering about 680. On 4 June, a final attempt was made by the Allied Forces to capture Krithia, which also ended in a fiasco and both the sides sustained a large number of casualties.

On June 28, another battle took place at Helles, known as the battle of Gully Ravine where the Allied Forces attained limited success. The Turks launched another series of attacks between 1-5 July to push back the British army, but suffered heavy casualties and could not retrieve lost ground. The British made yet another attempt at Helles on 12 July, but with no success.

The August Campaigns

In August, a new plan was made by Hamilton for carrying out fresh campaigns. On August 6, two fresh infantry divisions landed at Suvla, but they advanced very slowly, which gave the Turks the opportunity to occupy the high grounds of the Anafarta hills. The battle was a prolonged struggle, in which neither side could emerge victorious. The ANZAC won a battle at Lone Pine, but could not succeed at Chunuk Bair and Hill 971.

The British forces made a last-ditch effort to attain victory at Suvla on August 21, with the attack on Scimitar Hill and Hill 60. By August 29, these battles ended without any success. Failure of the August assaults had cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future of the Gallipoli campaign.

In October, Hamilton was replaced and Lt. General Sir Charles Monro was appointed as the commander. In the meantime, Bulgaria joined the war as an ally of the Central Powers. Germany also developed a land route to Turkey for supplying arms and ammunition. Considering all these situations, Charles Monro suggested the evacuation of the peninsula (a course of action violently rejected by Hamilton) and Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, approved it after a personal visit to Gallipoli. The evacuation began on 7 December, 1915 and was completed on 9 January, 1916. It would not be far from the mark to say that the evacuation, which only saw 2 soldiers wounded, was the best executed plan of action in the entire Gallipoli campaign by the British force.

Though the Gallipoli campaign was decidedly an Allied failure, it made a profound impact on all the participating nations. It was the first major conflict Australia and New Zealand had participated in. The ANZAC are regarded as heroes and Anzac Day is celebrated in both the countries on 25 April, the date ANZAC landed in Anzac cove. For Turkey, the battle was of great significance, as it served as the basis for their war of independence, and the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
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