The Gallipoli Campaign was the unsuccessful Allied ground effort during World War I to secure the Turkish Straits and drive the Ottoman Empire from the war. Although the naval effort to force the Dardanelles during February–March 1915 had failed, much had been invested, and political pressure to continue the campaign meant the belated injection of land troops.London had actually taken the decision to send out land forces even before the naval bombardment of March 18, 1915. While First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill exhorted naval commander Vice Admiral Sackville Carden to greater action, first sea lord Admiral John Fisher and secretary of state for war Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, came to the conclusion that troops would have to be landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula at the northern entrance to the Dardanelles.
Rear Admiral John de Robeck, who replaced Carden as Allied commander on March 16, concluded, after meeting with ground force commander General Sir Ian Hamilton on March 22, that army support would be necessary before the naval assault could continue.Kitchener arranged to send the untrained Australian and New Zealand Corps (ANZAC) of two divisions, then in Egypt. He also decided to send the crack British 29th Division and the Royal Navy divisions. The French also agreed to send a division. Kitchener appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the force of 75,000 men. There was little preliminary planning for the troop landing on Gallipoli. Maps were few and inaccurate, and intelligence about Ottoman forces was virtually nonexistent. Hamilton also lost valuable time by deciding to concentrate his forces in Egypt.
Tipped off by the naval bombardment, the Ottomans prepared for Allied landings. Inspector general of the Ottoman Army German generaloberst Otto Liman von Sanders took charge of the defenses. He had available the Ottoman Fifth Army of six widely dispersed divisions. Hilly and rocky, the Gallipoli Peninsula was ideal defensive terrain, and Liman von Sanders organized strong positions in the hills immediately behind likely invasion beaches. He was ably assisted by Ottoman colonel Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk).
An armada of 200 Allied ships gathered for the landings, which were supported by 18 battleships, 12 cruisers, 29 destroyers, 8 submarines, and a host of small craft. On April 25, 1915, Allied troops went ashore at five beaches around Cape Helles (the extremity of the peninsula) and on the southwest side of the peninsula to the north near Gaba Tepe, at a beach still called Anzac. Ottoman opposition was fierce, and Allied casualties were heavy; however, by nightfall the forces were established ashore. French troops landed on the Asiatic side of the straits at Kum Kale, where they met a larger Ottoman force. With advance impossible, on April 27 the French were evacuated and transferred to Helles.
The Allied troops were in two lodgements about 15 miles apart, controlling only small pieces of territory. The fighting took the form of trench warfare, with opposing lines often only a few yards apart. The Ottomans could easily detect any Allied moves to drive them from their almost impregnable positions. Ottoman artillery was ideally situated to shell the beaches.Early in May the Allies sent out two additional divisions and a brigade from India. Although some ground was gained, stalemate soon followed. The British then supplied five additional divisions, monitors for shore bombardment, more naval aircraft, and armored landing barges, but Ottoman strength increased apace, to 16 divisions.
A new naval attack was abandoned in mid-May after the Ottomans sank the British battleship Goliath. Only submarines could make the passage through the narrows to interfere with Ottoman shipping, and 7 of 12 submarines sent (9 British and 3 French) were lost. One, the E-14, did get into the Sea of Marmara and sank a troopship with 6,000 men aboard, all of whom perished. The E-11 also blew up an ammunition ship. German submarines were also active. The U-21 torpedoed and sank the old British battleships Triumph and Majestic.The Allies landed two of their new divisions at Suvla Bay, north of Anzac, on the night of August 6–7. Kemal, now a corps commander, helped limit the landing to little more than a toehold. The Allied plan called for reinforced units to break out and seize the high ground to the east of Suvla that dominated the landing areas. Although Liman von Sanders shifted his resources north to meet the Suvla Bay threat, Allied commanders wasted this opportunity.
At the end of August the French offered to send a whole army, and the British found two additional divisions for yet another invasion, planned for November. This was postponed when Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central powers. By the middle of September the French government concluded that there was no hope for the campaign. The British government persisted, unwilling to sacrifice a venture in which so much had been invested. Meanwhile, a storm of criticism appeared in the Australian and British press, based on reports by war correspondents about the incompetence of British land commanders.In October 1915 Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro replaced Hamilton. Pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of the Allied positions ashore and the impending winter, Monro pressed for evacuation. A blizzard at the end of November, the worst in recent memory, resulted in Allied casualties of 10 percent at Gallipoli. Kitchener went out to inspect the situation in person and also argued for evacuation. On December 7 London agreed.
Despite Monro’s fears of up to 40 percent losses, Kitchener predicted that it would go smoothly. The Allies steadily withdrew supplies by night, and the evacuation was completed during the night of January 8–9, 1916. It was the largest operation of its kind prior to the extraction of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940. Much to the astonishment of the Allied command, it was carried out with virtually no losses.Accurate casualty totals for the entire 259-day campaign are not available. The official Ottoman figure of 86,692 killed and 164,617 ill or wounded is undoubtedly too low. A reasonable figure might be 300,000 casualties. Total Allied casualties were about 265,000, of whom some 46,000 died.
The Allied failure meant that the straits remained closed, the Ottoman Empire continued in the war, and easy access to Russia was cut off. The effect of this in bringing about the military collapse of Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution can only be guessed. At the time and for years afterward, Churchill received most of the criticism for the failure. In August 1916 the British appointed a commission to investigate the campaign. At the end of 1917 the commission concluded that the campaign had been a mistake. The Gallipoli Campaign failed because of faulty planning, poor leadership, and indecision.Although the operation had failed, the Gallipoli landing was much studied in the years following the war. The operation utilized considerable experimentation in naval aviation and landing and resupply techniques, which proved influential in the development of U.S. Marine Corps amphibious doctrine in World War II.
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Great Britain, Dardanelles Commission. The Final Report of the Dardanelles Commission. London: HMSO, 1919.
Hamilton, General Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. New York: George H. Doran, 1920.
James, Robert Rhodes. Gallipoli: The History of a Noble Blunder. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
Moorehead, Alan. Gallipoli. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.