Battle of Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a peninsula located in northwest Turkey, between Dardanelles and the Gulf of Saros. The Gallipoli war took place in the year 1915 and lasted for almost a year, from February 1915 to January 1916. It was also known as Dardanelles campaign or Gallipoli in United Kingdom, Les Dardanelles in France, Canakkale Savaslari in Turkey and Gallipoli campaign or Gallipoli in Australia and New Zealand.

During World War I, in 1915, Gallipoli became the center of bloody encounters between the Central Powers (Germany, Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria) and the Entente or Allied Powers (United Kingdom, Russia, France, Australia and USA).

Battle of Gallipoli – Causes or Precipitating Factors

In late 1914, the world war on the western front, in France and Belgium came to a standstill. The Entente Powers were desperately in need of an alternative route to Russia, the eastern front, to get a breakthrough in the war. Germany and Austria-Hungary had blocked the land route from Europe to Russia. Germany also blocked the Baltic Sea, and the White Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk were too distant from Russia. The only accessible route was through Black Sea and the entrance was Bosporus, which was controlled by Turkey.

Initially, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) wanted to be a partner of the Allied Forces, on the condition of regaining some areas occupied by Russia. However, on receiving a negative response from the Allied Powers, Turkey joined the Central Powers. It blocked the sea route to Russia, by closing the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.

With the closure of the only sea route to Russia, the battle of Gallipoli appeared inevitable for the Entente Powers. Besides, two German warships, namely Goben and Breslau 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. Taking all these factors into consideration, the head of the naval force, Winston Churchill proposed a naval attack on Dardanelles.

Battle of Gallipoli – Naval Attack

The naval attack on Dardanelles was a joint operation by the Anglo-French naval force and some old and obsolete ships of the British Royal Navy were also used in the operation. On 19th February, 1915, the Anglo-French force bombarded the coastal areas of Turkey. A second assault was made on 25th February.

Meanwhile, a German wireless message that the Ottoman Dardanelles forts were running short of ammunition spread among the Allied Forces, giving them the feeling that their victory was imminent. They launched a final attack on 18th March.

However, the naval attack could not succeed as the whole strait was 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 exploded and sank into the sea. With the failure of the naval attack, a ground assault became the need of the hour.

Battle of Gallipoli – Ground 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 Corps (acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), 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 25th April, the British forces landed at Helles, the French at Kum Kale on the Asian shore, and the Anzac forces on Aegean coast, situated on the north of Gaba Tepe. The main destinations of the Allied Forces were Seddulbahir, Ariburnu and Kabatepe, also known as Anzac Cove, and Sugla. The forces reached the first two destinations on 25th April and the last one on 8th August,1915.

The Allied Forces started their operation on the morning of 25th April and besieged the Seddulbahir coast. The war resulted in great loss for the Allied army, as most of the soldiers could not get reach land due to heavy firing by the Turkish army. The arrival of reinforcements prolonged the battle, but could not make it a success.

On 28th April, British and French army launched an attack which came to be known as the first battle of Krithia. It was a poorly coordinated battle. Initially, they were able to gain some ground, but could not capture Krithia in the face of stiff resistance from the Turkish army.

On 2nd May, the joint forces of Australia and New Zealand attacked Anzac Cove under the command of General Godley. The troops retreated on 3rd May, after suffering almost 1000 casualties. On 6th May, two brigades of Australia and New Zealand under the command of Hamilton moved towards Helles. In this campaign, Allied Forces sustained heavy casualties, and succeeded in capturing only a quarter of a mile. This was also known as the second battle of Krithia.

On 19th May, 42,000 Turks under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk made an assault on 17,000 Anzac forces. The Turks failed miserably to push back the Anzac forces, and suffered about 13,000 casualties. On 4th June, a final attempt was made by the Allied Forces to capture Krithia, which also ended in fiasco and both the sides sustained a large number of casualties.

On 28th June, another battle took place at Helles, known as the battle of Gully Ravine in which the Allied Forces attained limited success. The Turks launched another series of attacks between 1st to 5th of 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 12th July, but with no success.

Battle of Gallipoli – The August Campaigns

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

A last effort to attain victory at Suvla was made by the British forces on 21st August with the attack on Scimitar Hill and Hill 60. By 29th August, these battles ended without any success. Failure of the August assault 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 ammunitions. Considering all these situations, Charles Monro suggested the evacuation of the peninsula, and Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener approved it, after a personal visit to Gallipoli. The evacuation began on 7th December, 1915 and was completed on 9th January,1916.

Though, the Gallipoli campaign was a fiasco, it made a profound impact on all the participating nations. It was the first major conflict, in which Australia and New Zealand participated. The Anzacs are regarded as heroes and Anzac Day is celebrated in both the countries. 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.