Bombardment of the Dardanelles
Allied Army and Navy, 300,000
General Sir Ian Hamilton
Vice-Admiral Sackville S. Carden
Vice-Admiral John de Robeck
Turkish Army, 500,000
General Liman von Sanders (German)
General Enver Pasha
General Djevad Pasha
General Mertens (German)
General von der Goltz (German)
General von Wangenheim (German)
General Talaat Pasha
Of all the transcendent blunders incident to the World War, none was so tragic in its consequences as that which sent 100,000 heroic Australian and New Zealand troops to their doom on the rocky Peninsula of Gallipoli in the spring of 1915. This ill-fated expedition was a part of the larger plan, involving the bombardment of the outer forts, the passage of the Dardanelles, the capture of Constantinople (Istanbul) and the relief of Russia, whose great need for ammunition England sought to supply. The clearing of the Dardanelles, if successful, would have enabled Russia, in her turn, to supply the Allies with millions of bushels of wheat. There was also to be considered the political effect of the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul), not only upon Greece, which was wavering between the cause of the Allies and of Germany, but upon Bulgaria and the Muslims in India and Egypt as well.
Powerful Defences of the Dardanelles
The Dardanelles, the historic water boundary separating Europe from Asia, is a narrow channel 47 miles long and from one mile to four miles wide. It waters the Eastern shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula, which are lined with perpendicular cliffs. From Cape Hellas, at the tip of the peninsula, where a sandy beach permits the landing of parties in small boats, the ground rises rapidly to a height of 500 feet, while beyond this ridge rises the peak of Achí Baba, 1,100 feet high.
At the narrowest part of the Dardanelles stand the Kilid Bahr Plateau, 700 feet high, and northwest of that is the Plateau of Sari Bair, 1000 feet high, and covered with a dense mass of ravines and thickets. The difficulty of landing a force in the face of an enemy intrenched on these heights may be guessed from the fact that the cliff rose almost sheer from the water's edge to a height of 500 feet. With the aid of German engineers, the Turks had constructed elaborate fortifications commanding both the Dardanelles and the Bosphorous, equipped with huge Krupp guns. The shores were lined with batteries for the launching of torpedoes. The entrance of the straits was guarded by four strong forts, equipped with batteries of 10- inch guns.
At no place along the shore was there a dock or landing place, and at only a few points might a foothold be gained by any expedition that succeeded in effecting a landing. With heavy cannon placed on the heights overlooking these shores, it seemed foolhardy to invade the peninsula until after the Turkish forts had been silenced. The English, therefore, decided to bombard the forts, confident that their 15-inch naval guns would stand out of range of the guns of the forts and smash them to atoms. Constantinople (Istanbul) and the forts along the Dardanelles were at this time garrisoned by 500,000 Turks under command of a German officer, General Liman von Sanders.
Blockade of the Dardanelles
As early as November 3, 1914, two days before Great Britain's actual declaration of war against Turkey, the English had bombarded the entrance forts in order to draw their fire and ascertain their range. On December 13th, Lieutenant Holbrook, in a small submarine, dove under five rows of mines in the channel and sank the battleship Messiduyeh, which was guarding the channel.
British Submarine Dives Under Mine Field
Another British submarine, on the next day, also dove under the Turkish mine field, but the Turks were now on the alert and so many mines were exploded around the British vessel that she had difficulty in escaping. A French submarine, on January 15th, also essayed the same feat, but was shot to pieces by the Turkish shore batteries. The English, meanwhile, had established a blockade of the channel, and in January, French and English squadrons had united to form a strong blockading fleet. The Island of Tenedos was seized and a base for naval operations established at Lemnos, 50 miles from Gallipoli.
The First Bombardment Opens with 12-Inch Guns
Anglo-French Fleet, 14 Vessels
Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden
Vice-Admiral John de Robeck
The first attempt to force the passage of the Dardanelles was begun on February 19, 1915, when a fleet of ten British and four French warships, under the supreme command of Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden, with Rear-Admiral Guepratte in command of the French division, arrived at 8 a. m. off Gallipoli. Forming in a semi-circle outside the entrance to the Dardanelles, the ships opened fire with 12-inch guns on the four outer forts. The bombardment continued until mid-afternoon, when three British and three French battleships closed in upon and silenced the land batteries.
Bad weather prevented further bombardments until February 25, 1915, when the outer forts again were silenced. Scottish trawlers, detached for the purpose from the North Sea Fleet, now swept the channel clean of mines for a distance of four miles. This enabled three battleships to enter the channel and pound Fort Dardanos on the Asiatic shore with their 12-inch guns, silencing it after a gallant resistance. Several concealed batteries were put out of action at the same time.
Forces of British marines were now landed to complete the destruction of the forts. AH the landing parties were successful except at Kum Kale, where the Britishers were driven back to their boats by a superior Turkish force. On March 5, 1915, Vice-Admiral Pierse, with a fleet of three vessels, bombarded Smyrna, inflicting much damage but not effecting a landing. An Anglo-French fleet of five warships steamed up the Dardanelles on March 6th, and attacked the Asiatic forts at close range, while the newer battleships, from the Gulf of Saros, bombarded the forts on the European side at long range. During this bombardment, Allied airplanes and a captive balloon circled around the forts, directing the firing.
This plan proving ineffective, the long- range bombardment of the Turkish forts on the European side of the straits was abandoned and the ships shifted their fire to the forts near Chanak. During this bombardment, the Turks scored three hits against the newest British battleship, the Queen Elizabeth. Resuming the attack on the next day, four French battleships steamed up the strait and again bombarded Fort Dardanos, while two British ships in the rear hammered the forts along the narrows. The guns of the Queen Elizabeth especially spread havoc among the garrisons of the Turkish forts, one of the shrapnel shells, containing 12,000 bullets, killing 250 Turkish soldiers.
The force of the high explosive shells was shown when, as they struck the Turkish works and exploded, tons of earth and cement were thrown hundreds of feet in air. The poisonous gasses emitted by these shells compelled the Turks to withdraw temporarily from their forts, giving the impression that the forts had been permanently silenced ; hence the frequent "silencing" of Dardanos.
The Expeditionary Forces Assemble
For several days there was a lull at the Dardanelles, while an Allied War Conference was in progress at the Island of Lemnos. At this conference, Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden was relieved of his command of the Allied fleet, and Vice-Admiral John de Robeck named to succeed him. Meantime, the Allies had been concentrating their Expeditionary Force for a landing at Gallipoli. An English army, 120,000 strong, mostly Australians and New Zealanders, had arrived at Lemnos, while a lesser French force had been assembled at Bizerts in the Aegean Sea. General Sir Ian Hamilton was in command of the British troops and General d'Amade in command of the French Territorials.
The First Blunder
At the conference held in Lemnos, it was proposed to launch a land attack upon the Gallipoli defences immediately. To this proposal General Ian Hamilton demurred on the ground that the British transports recently arrived at Lemnos, had been loaded in such a slipshod manner that the materials absolutely necessary for the protection of the troops upon their landing at Gallipoli were buried in the ships' holds under a weight of tents, hut parts, cooking utensils, etc. He represented that the slightest delay in landing the troops and providing them with materials of defense would entail terrible losses, if it did not prove absolutely fatal. Declaring that he could not embark with a transport fleet in such condition, General Hamilton urged that the whole fleet return to Egypt, and be reloaded. The suggestion was adopted.
Three Battleships Sunk by Turkish Mines
Now occurred the second blunder of this ill-fated campaign. Instead of waiting for the expeditionary forces, as agreed upon, Admiral de Robeck rashly decided to make a run past the whole line of powerful Turkish forts guarding the Narrows, ten miles from the entrance to the Dardanelles, where the stream is less than a mile wide. He hoped to silence all the forts without injury to his fleet and win a brilliant victory. On March 18, 1915, Admiral de Robeck's two squadrons of ten battleships advanced up the straits toward the Narrows and engaged the forts of Chanak. Under the combined fire of these naval guns, the forts ceased firing, but not until all the battleships had been crippled by the fire of the forts.
A third squadron of six British battleships then advanced up the Strait to relieve the disabled French squadron. Waiting until the narrow waterway was filled with ships, the Turks released a number of floating mines which were carried down with the current. The Bouvet struck one of these floating mines, and was blown up, sinking in three minutes and carrying all her crew to the bottom. Two hours later, the Irresistible and Ocean also struck floating mines and sank, but their crews were saved. The Inflexible was damaged by a shell and had to be beached at Tenedos. Several of her officers and crew were killed. The Gaulois also was damaged by shell fire and a huge rent torn in her bows. With the approach of darkness, the invading ships slipped out of the Dardanelles. The attack on the Narrows had failed, with the loss of three battleships and 2,000 men. Four other ships were so badly damaged that it was necessary to dock them.
Turkish Ammunition Almost Exhausted
It is now known that the Turkish forts were so short of ammunition that they could not possibly have held out two days longer if the Allies had continued their bombardment. United States Ambassador Morgenthau, in his book of reminiscences, recalls that on the evening of March 18, 1915, the Anadolu Hamidieh Battery, the most powerful of the Turkish defences on the Asiatic side, had in reserve only 17 armour-piercing shells, while Fort Kilid Bahr, on the European side, had only ten shells remaining.
Naval experts agree that if these two forts had fallen, the Allied fleets might easily have reached Constantinople (Istanbul) and thus have changed the whole face of the War.