The Gallipoli Campaign 1915 - 1916

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The term 'Gallipoli' refers to the attempts by the French, British and Commonwealth forces during 1915 and 1916 to force the Dardanelles and constitutes one of the most interesting (if not controversial) operations in World War One. It was one of the first ever major amphibious operations in modern warfare and used aircraft (as well as an aircraft carrier), aerial reconnaissance, landing craft, radio communications, artificial harbours and submarines. Its lessons were far reaching, and were remembered long after the event in such campaigns as the Normandy Landings in 1944 and the Falklands Conflict of 1982.

Gallipoli, Naval attack, 1915) Gallipoli, Initial landings, 1915 Gallipoli, Suvia bay landings and Anzac breakout
The initial attempt to force the straits was made in February and March 1915, and was purely a naval affair. It was instigated at the insistence of the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill after asking the opinion of Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden. The first attack was made on 19 February with twelve capital ships (the French ships Bouvet, Charlemagne, Gaulois and Suffren; the British ships HMS Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Inflexible, Vengeance, Albion, Cornwallis, Irresistible and Triumph) and while initial operations were successful, bad weather halted the expedition. Vice-Admiral John de Robeck commenced a second attack on the 25 February, and managed to overpower the main batteries. Landing parties were put ashore at Kum Kale and Sedd-el-Bahr and disabled the remaining guns. The mobile batteries could not be so easily put out of action though and thwarted the attempt to clear the minefields by minesweepers. The third and final naval assault was made on 18 March with eighteen capital ships (two in reserve) formed in three waves. The first and second waves met with success but as the third wave advanced and the second started to withdraw, they ran into an unexpected minefield. This resulted in Bouvet, Inflexible, Irresistible and Ocean hitting mines, all but Inflexible sinking. The attack was called off, despite being close to success. After this, the two senior commanders in the Mediterranean, de Robeck and General Sir Ian Hamilton decided on a land campaign, "which Kitchener could never quite decide whether to support fully or not." (Travers, 1994, p. 223)

Hamilton prepared his four divisions for the assault, only one of which, the 29th was a regular formation. The landings took place on the 25 April 1915 with the Turks, under the command of Liman von Sanders, a German, being deceived with feint assaults by the Royal Naval Division at Bulair and the French at Besika Bay. The landings showed imagination however and may well have succeeded early on, but for a combination of mediocre leadership, the shortage of time for preparation, the geography and terrain in the peninsula with its few beaches and constraints on logistic support. Unfortunately, the "British Army was too rigidly structured . . . to attempt amphibious operations" and it was "the antiquated command structure that impeded progress." (Travers, 1994, p. 223) The British advance crucially lost momentum, and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landing on the western coast between Gaba Tepe and Ari Burnu ('Anzac Cove') met with stiff resistance from the Turkish 2nd Division commanded by Colonel Mustapha Kemal (Atatürk) and almost got thrown back into the sea.

Between May and July, the French and British slowly advanced up the peninsula while the Anzacs clung to their small perimeter, inflicting massive losses on sustained Turkish attacks.

In August, a change of heart in London brought Hamilton reinforcements with which he prepared another ambitious offensive. The assault would be conducted in three parts. The first involved two columns from Anzac Cove (after it was reinforced with some 20,000 British and Gurkha troops) making their way through a relatively undefended route (reconnoitred by a New Zealander, Overton) to attack the key position (Chunuk Bair) in the Sari Bair mountains. The second involved the 1st Australian Division attacking the supposedly impregnable Lone Pine position and the third would be the amphibious operation with IX Corps, under General Stopford, at Suvla Bay, on the night of the 6 - 7 August. The Australian assault on Lone Pine succeeded due to careful and imaginative planning. The two columns came very close to succeeding in their missions but the right column suffered delays due to exhaustion and so missed the opportunity to initially take Chunuk Bair but managed to take it with the help of the remainder of the left column, who, after being badly mauled by artillery fire, failed to take Hill Q. They were subsequently thrown off Chunuk Bair by a near suicidal charge led by Kemel. The great gamble had failed. The landings at Suvla were conducted successfully, but the British forces were slow to exploit this and after they had finally started moving, attacked the Turkish forces defending the Suvla Plain on the 21 August from which they could not be dislodged.

Hamilton was recalled and his replacement Monro, advised evacuation, which was eventually agreed. Churchill resigned and went to the Western Front. The evacuations were organised and conducted in a real show of brilliance, first of Anzac-Suvla and then of Helles in December and January, with not a man being lost, under the noses of the Germans and Turks who had nothing but admiration for their conduct. The campaign had cost the Allies some 46,000 killed (26,000 British) and the Turks, over 200,000. One cannot help but wonder about what might-have-been, with the narrowness between victory and defeat being an extremely slim one.

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Bibliography

Battleground Gallipoli: Suvla August Offensive, Stephen Chambers. A detailed history of the disastrous British landing at Sulva Bay in August 1915, an offensive that showed the British high command at almost its worst. Ends with three day-long walks around the battlefield area. All well supported by eyewitness accounts and contemporary photographs. [read full review] cover cover cover
Mons, Anzac and Kut, by an MP, Lieutenant Colonel the Hon. Aubrey Herbert MP, ed. Edward Melotte. Three very different diaries from the same author that show how attitudes to the war changed in the first two years of the First World War as the promise of a short exciting war faded away. They also provide some valuable insights into the events they portray, illuminating the chaos of the early fighting in France and the hopelessness of the Allied position at Gallipoli. [read full review] cover cover cover
GalipoliGallipoli 1915, Haythornthwaite, Philip J., Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 1991, Campaign Series No. 8. This Osprey covers the famous Gallipoli campaign in World War I, where British, Australian and New Zealand forces fought a bloody stalemate against the Turks in a hope of opening a second Front. [see more] cover cover cover
Gallipoli , Moorehead, Alan, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Ware, 1997 cover cover cover
James, Robert Rhodes. 'Gallipoli Campaign' in Holmes, R. (Ed) Oxford Companion to Military History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, pp. 343 - 345.
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Travers, Tim. 'The Army and the Challenge of War 1914 - 1918' in Chandler, David and Beckett, Ian. The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994, pp. 215 - 240.
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Fromkin, David. 'Gallipoli Campaign' in Cowley, Robert & Parker, Geoffrey. The Osprey Companion to Military History, Osprey Publishing, 1996, London, pp. 175 - 176.
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (20 June 2001 ), The Gallipoli Campaign 1915 - 1916, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_gallipoli.html

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