The Gallipoli Campaign was launched on 25th April 1915. It was the first major amphibious assault in modern warfare. The Gallipoli Campaign was designed to land forces in Ottoman Turkey, defeat them and capture Constantinople (Istanbul). This would enable the Allies to have safe passage through the Dardanelles and take the Ottoman Empire out of the first world war. The campaign faced major difficulties and failed to achieve its objectives. It is famed for the deployment of large numbers of ANZACS, troops from Australia and New Zealand.
Why did the British want to invade Ottoman Turkey at Gallipoli?
By 1915 it was clear that the Russian forces allied to Britain and France was in need of assistance. Continued Russian involvement in the war and any successes they achieved weakened the Germans on the Western Front by draining their resources. There were two viable routes for supplying Russia at this time. One was a treacherous sea route to the north which was subject to weather conditions in the near arctic conditions. The other was through the Mediterranean into the Black Sea. To send supplies via this route, the Allies needed to control the Dardanelles, the straight that linked the two bodies of water together. The Dardanelles were in Ottoman territory though, and the Ottomans had joined the war on the side of the Central Powers.
In February 1915 the French and Royal Navy were tasked with forcing its way through the Dardanelles. They failed to break through the sea defences that were in place. This left the Allies unable to pass through the straights. If the navy was unable to seize control of the straights from the sea, the defences on land would need to be captured. This would require an amphibious landing to seize and neutralise the gun batteries through the Dardanelles. This would be most effectively done by landing at Gallipoli.
Strategically it also made sense to try and remove the Ottoman Empire from the war. If a landing was required to silence the guns on the Dardanelles, a broader objective of defeating the Ottomans was a natural addition. Were this to be achieved, many troops in the Middle East and North Africa could be reallocate to other theatres of war.
What was the Allied plan for the Gallipoli Campaign?
Winston Churchill conceived the idea of assaulting Gallipoli. It was a means of easing the pressure on the Western Front. The 50km long Gallipoli Peninsula was an immediate objective. An additional objective was the defeat of the Ottomans. The navies of Britain and France would bombard fortifications along the peninsula. Marines would be landed to secure them and destroy them. Two amphibious lands were to take place at Gallipoli. A British force comprised of the 29th Division would land at Cape Helles whilst empire forces from Australia and New Zealand would land at Cape Tebe, now known as Anzac Cove.
The Naval Bombardment at the Dardanelles
The bombardment and landing of marines did achieve the aim of destroying many of the fortified positions that the Ottomans had along the peninsula. However these forts and guns were not heavily defended and whilst they were neutralised, there was no impact on the mobile field guns that were based in the area. The bombardment also came at a cost to the navy. Heavily mined, the Dardanelles claimed 3 Battleships sunk and 3 more severely damaged. The Navy could not afford further losses, the outcome of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns were now in the hands of the army.
The amphibious landings at Gallipoli
Neither the British or the ANZAC landing achieved its objectives. The British established a small beachhead but had underestimated Turkish resistance and could not advance. The ANZAC forces faced stiff resistance. They too managed to hold a beachhead at ANZAC Cove but were unable to advance inland.
The landings led to incredibly high casualties. Men left troop ships down gangplanks or were brought ashore on smaller barge like vessels. With machine guns placed among the Ottoman defences, many were mowed down as they reached the shore. An example is the first wave of men taken ashore by the troopship SS River Clyde. It carried 200 men. Only 21 reached the beach.
Gurkhas were among the troops making the landings. They were able to capture higher ground at Sari Bair. This was of great importance as the fighting in the sector had been ferocious: The Lancashire Fusiliers were awarded 6 Victoria Cross’ for actions on the first morning alone.
The Anzacs faced an immediate problem as they landed on the beaches. Though the enemy seemed less organised, the landing craft had drifted away from the designated areas of beach. This led to the Anzacs landing on beaches at the foot of cliffs. As the men made their way to the top of these cliffs the Ottoman commander launched a counter attack. This prevented the Anzac forces from advancing to higher ground and resulted in the Anzacs being surrounded and pinned down on the beaches and cliffs of Cape Tepe (Anzac Cove).
The intention of the allied forces was for the British force to advance on Krithia. THis would extend the beachhead and ultimately link up with the Anzac force. Assaults began on 28th April in an attempt to break through Ottoman lines. They continued until early June without achieving the objective.
June 1915: Dardanelles Committee
By June 1915 it was clear that the Gallipoli Campaign was failing to meet any of its objectives. Anzac and British troops had gained no more than a few hundred yards of land on the Peninsula and were suffering heavy casualties. Militarily the campaign was disastrous. It led to the creation of a Dardanelles Committee.
This committee decided to send 45,000 more troops to Gallipoli. They would launch a further amphibious attack on the peninsula. This assault also saw separate British and Anzac landings. The British landed at Sulva Bay, the Anzacs at Helles with a fresh assault also coming from Anzac Cove.
Advances were made as a result of these landings. The result was that the Ottomans made tactical retreats to even higher ground that was equally as hard to assault. Here, they dug in. At Gallipoli there was now Trench Warfare similar to that on the Western Front. The Ottomans had a distinct advantage in terms of the geography and were being resupplied and reinforced.
Both sides made attacks on the other. The British and Anzacs were unsuccessful in their attempts to break through Ottoman lines. The Ottomans were unable to drive the Allies back. It was a stalemate. In October 1915 the commander, Hamilton, was replaced by General Monro. His immediate recommendation was to abandon the campaign. Lord Kitchener, the overall Commander of British forces, visited the Dardanelles. He agreed that the campaign was unlikely to be a success, evacuation plans were drawn up and the Anzacs and British withdrew from Gallipoli in December of 1915.
Why were the Anzacs and British unsuccessful at Gallipoli?
The campaign did not have the support of all commanders from the start. The defences both naval and land based in and around the Gallipoli peninsula were much stronger than anticipated. The Ottomans were organised, well equipped, well trained and supported by German officers who had experience of fighting against the British from the Western Front. The Anzac landing craft hitting the beach at the wrong location did not help matters, nor were matters helped for the Anzacs that they faced a good commander who recognised that this was a major assault instead of a feint at the outset. Planning had not taken into account the geography, the supply lines or investigated the readiness for battle or resolve of the Ottoman forces.
The Guardian: What happened at Gallipoli?
Imperial War Museum: What do you need to know about the Gallipoli campaign?
National Army Museum: Gallipoli
The National Archives: Education Department unit on the Dardanelles and Gallipoli