When Was the Battle of Gallipoli and What Was Its Significance?

The Battle of Gallipoli (February 1915 – January 1916) was a pivotal World War I campaign where the Allies sought to control the Dardanelles Strait.

Despite initial optimism, the Allies faced fierce Ottoman resistance, resulting in a costly stalemate. The Gallipoli Campaign holds significant national importance for Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey, shaping their modern identities.

Gallipoli Landing in 1915

Reasons why the Allies wanted to seize the Ottoman Straits

The Gallipoli Campaign was conceived as a way to open up a new front against the Central Powers, specifically the Ottoman Empire, which was an ally of Germany. Thus it was hoped that the campaign the east could relieve pressure on the heavily contested Western and Eastern fronts.

The Allies (primarily Britain and France) aimed to secure the Dardanelles Strait, a strategic waterway that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, leading to Istanbul and the Black Sea.

By doing so, the Allies hoped to capture Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. This would also open a maritime supply route to Russia.

Moreover, a victory against the Ottomans would boost Allied morale and provide a propaganda victory, demonstrating their ability to achieve significant military objectives.

It was also believed that if the Allies could quickly knock out the Ottoman Empire, it might encourage neutral nations, particularly those in the Balkans, to join the Allied cause.

Gallipoli Campaign

Controlling the Dardanelles Strait would provide the Allies a direct naval route to Russia, facilitating the exchange of supplies and munitions. It was hoped that from there, Constantinople would be captured, which would in turn knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war, thereby eliminating one of the Central Powers.

Whose idea was it to attack Gallipoli Peninsula?

The Allies deemed the Gallipoli Peninsula extremely vital to the entire campaign.

The idea to attack Gallipoli primarily originated with Winston Churchill, who was then the First Lord of the Admiralty for Britain during World War I.

Churchill believed that campaign would alleviate the stalemate on the Western Front by opening a new front against the Central Powers. Despite Churchill’s enthusiasm, the campaign was fraught with planning and execution errors, and it ultimately resulted in a significant military disaster for the Allies.

Onset of the Campaign

The campaign began with a naval assault on February 19, 1915. Allied warships, primarily British and French, attempted to bombard and destroy the Ottoman forts guarding the Dardanelles. However, after initial successes, they faced heavy resistance, underwater mines, and difficult waters.

For example, the assault was compromised by unfavorable weather conditions. The poor visibility due to the bad weather hindered the accuracy of the bombardment. Additionally, the same weather conditions affected the operations of reconnaissance planes, which were essential for gathering intelligence and accurately pinpointing the locations of Ottoman artillery positions.

Throughout the months of February and March, the Allied bombardment faced challenges in effectively targeting and neutralizing the Ottoman defenses.

Allied Commanders of the Campaign

Initially under the command of Admiral Sackville Carden, the Allied troops that landed on Gallipoli were tasked to destroy Ottoman batteries.

Following an intense battle fatigue and nervous breakdown suffered by Carden, the British senior commander was relieved of command. Admiral John de Robeck was then placed in command of the campaign to destroy Ottoman fortifications along the Dardanelles (Canakkale Bogazi).

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Why was there a need for a land campaign?

It’s said that Admiral de Robeck’s operation, which was launched on March 18, came tantalizingly close to success; the Turkish land-based artillery was nearing the point of exhausting its ammunition supply.

However, a major setback occurred when the Allies unexpectedly encountered mines in the straits. These mines resulted in the sinking of three Allied battleships, including the French battleship Bouvet which went down with more than 550 lives.

Gallipoli Battle

Fleet of Allies in the Dardanelles

Recognizing the risks and the potential for even greater naval losses, De Robeck made the decision to halt the naval assault altogether.

After the naval campaign faced obstacles, it was decided that ground forces were necessary to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, which would then allow naval forces to clear the strait. This led to the landings at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

The Gallipoli campaign, both on land and at sea, ended in disappointment for the Allies. Despite the setbacks, de Robeck was honored for his service. Nonetheless, by 9 January 1916, he faced the somber task of overseeing the withdrawal of Allied troops from Gallipoli. Image: Sir John Michael de Robeck – commander of the Allied naval force in the Dardanelles

Allied Forces’ Land Operation

The onset of the Gallipoli Campaign was marked by optimism and the hope of achieving a swift victory against the Ottomans. However, as the campaign progressed, the Allies faced staunch resistance, leading to a prolonged and costly battle with significant casualties on both sides.

For example, it was estimated by some military analyst at the time that the Allied needed in neighborhood of 145,000 land troops to successfully take out the Ottomans. As a result of the Allied Forces’ gross underestimation of the resolve of the Ottomans, less than half of that number was deployed to Gallipoli.

On 25 April 1915, under the command of General Ian Hamilton, Allied forces made a landing at Cape Helles and Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Despite their attempts, Allied forces, which primarily comprised of British, Australian, French, and New Zealand soldiers, struggled to make significant progress.

The Ottomans, with German advisors, had used the two-month interval following the initial naval assault to bolster their ground defenses, making the Allies’ task even more challenging. Subsequent attempts to gain a foothold, such as the August 1915 effort at Suvla Bay, met with failure.

Commodore Roger Keyes, a key figure in the naval operations, advocated for another attempt to break through the straits. However, Admiral John de Robeck advised against this, a recommendation that the Admiralty upheld.

Extent of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign

The Australians and New Zealand troops were the first to land on the shores of Gallipoli. Thousands of troops from those two nations landed on the beach that later came to be called Anzac Cove.

After going past of a series of impediments, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces had to contend with an extremely tough terrain. Complicating matters was the fact that the Ottomans were perched on a high ground, allowing them to unleash a flurry of attacks on the advancing ANZAC forces.

It’s estimated that about 2,000 casualties were suffered by the ANZAC troops on the beaches alone.

British forces

On the other hand, British forces landed on the south of Anzac Cove – making their landing on sections S, X, W, V, and Y of the shores of Gallipoli. There was initially progress made at Section Y; however, things quickly turned chaotic and the casualties became extremely high at the other sections. For example, at Section W alone, over 550 British troops lost their lives.

Aside from the fact that the terrain was an extremely difficult one, Allied forces did not help their case by having a relatively disorganized tactics. Ineffective communication was also one of the reasons why regiments like Dublin Fusiliers and the Munster Fusiliers incurred staggering losses.

Having taken immense hits, Allied forces decided to dig in to shield them from the barrage of attacks rained down on them on Ottoman forces, who were led by senior military official Mustafa Kemal.

Ultimately, Allied forces would find themselves heavily pinned down. This allowed Ottomans to become even more organized and to even dare a counterattack. However, New Zealand and Australian troops, supported by fire from naval ships, managed to stifle the Ottoman counterattack.

In late April, British forces made a daring attempt to capture the town of Krithia only for them to be halted in their tracks. That particular operation resulted in about 3,000 casualties on the Allies.

The battle enters into a state of attrition

As Allied forces tried in vain to make any significant progress following the landing, Ottoman forces were afforded time enough to re-strategize and put up even stronger defense systems.

By early May, it had become obvious even to the most optimistic of Allied command officers that the Gallipoli Campaign was poised to become an attritional battle.

Every time Ottoman forces marshalled an attack against the invading Allied forces, their attacks were ultimately repulsed. Notable examples of those stifled Ottoman counterattacks were at Anzac and Helles. Similarly, Allied forces’ second and third swings at Krithia was met by stiff Ottoman resistance on May 6 and June 4, respectively. In the latter, Allied forces fielded five divisions.

It was simply a case of where an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. For example, in one Ottoman attack, which involved over 40,000 troops, British forces of about 16,500 stood their ground and forced the Ottomans to pull back. In that particular attack, Ottoman casualty was in the region of 2900.

Captain Leslie Morshead in a trench at Lone Pine after the battle, looking at Australian and Ottoman dead on the parapet. Image: Allied troops in a trench

The end of Gallipoli Campaign

Facing stiff and determined opposition, General Hamilton made desperate appeals to central command for an additional 100,000 or so troops to help him break past Ottoman defenses. As Allied forces were busy on the Western Front, Hamilton’s appeal did not get any positive response, and so the attritional battle would rage.

Just as it could not get any worse for Hamilton and his forces, Ottoman neighbor Bulgaria joined the fray, lending their support to the Ottomans and the Central Powers.

Having failed miserably to accomplish any of the objectives set out at the start of the campaign, General Hamilton was relieved from command and replaced with Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro.

With things looking very bleak for their forces, senior Allied leaders and military commanders came to the sad conclusion that the Gallipoli Campaign was futile to continue. Therefore, Allied leaders decided to cut their losses, pack up and evacuate the Ottoman Straits.

By January 9, 1916, the Allies had pulled out from Gallipoli.

Consequences of the failed campaign

The defeat of Allied forces at Gallipoli was one of the most significant moments in World War II, certainly for the Ottomans.

First of all, it’s been estimated that campaign resulted in heavy casualties for both sides. The Allies had over 200,000 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), while the Ottoman Turks had similar numbers.

Second, the failed campaign had political consequences, especially in Britain. General Ian Hamilton, the British commander, was recalled and did not hold a significant command again. The most significant political casualty was Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. He resigned from the government and spent some time on the Western Front before returning to politics.

From the Ottomans’ perspective, their successful defense of the Dardanelles boosted the morale and reputation in many ways that historians cannot begin to mention. Their German allies also gained confidence in the Ottomans’ ability to hold their own (for a while) in the war.

The aftermath of the Gallipoli Campaign had profound implications, both immediate and long-term. Militarily, the campaign offered a brutal lesson in the challenges of amphibious warfare, which would be heeded in future military operations, especially during World War II.

For Australia and New Zealand, both of which were young nations at the time, the Gallipoli campaign played a pivotal role in shaping national identities. ANZAC Day (named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is now commemorated every 25th of April, marking the anniversary of the first major military action by Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign.

Strategically, the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign ensured that the Ottoman Empire remained in the war. The stalemate in the East continued, diverting Allied resources and attention from the Western Front.

While the Ottoman Empire held on during the war, it was eventually partitioned after World War I, leading to the Turkish War of Independence and the eventual establishment of modern Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli.

Militarily, the Gallipoli failure caused a reevaluation of strategies by the Allies, who then shifted their focus to other fronts. The debacle also highlighted the difficulties of amphibious operations and the importance of comprehensive intelligence, planning, and coordination in such endeavors.

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Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later famous as Ataturk) was a key Ottoman military leader during the defense of Gallipoli from Allied forces

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In the midst of the fierce fighting during the Gallipoli campaign, moments of humanity emerged between opposing sides. The Ottomans and the Allies occasionally engaged in small, non-hostile exchanges despite being entrenched in a brutal war. The Ottomans would toss dates and sweets into the trenches of the Allied soldiers. In a reciprocal gesture, the Allies sent back cans of beef and packs of cigarettes. These exchanges highlight the underlying humanity of the soldiers and the recognition of shared hardships, offering brief respite from the horrors of battle and fostering fleeting connections between adversaries.

The human cost of the battle

The Gallipoli campaign during World War I was marked not only by intense combat but also by the devastating effects of the environment and inadequate infrastructure. Alongside the direct harm caused by warfare, the campaign was severely exacerbated by non-combat factors.

As summer approached, the soaring temperatures worsened the already challenging living and fighting conditions for the troops.

The heat, combined with improper waste management and inadequate sanitation facilities, led to a surge in the fly population. These flies, carriers of diseases and contaminants, quickly infested food and water supplies, making them unsafe for consumption.

As a result, dysentery, a debilitating and sometimes deadly gastrointestinal disease, spread rapidly among the troops. This added layer of adversity meant that many soldiers were fighting a dual battle: one against the enemy and the other against illness.

ANZAC Day

The high casualty rates and the ultimate failure of the campaign to achieve its strategic objectives left a profound impact, particularly on the national consciousness of countries like Australia and New Zealand. The campaign is commemorated annually on ANZAC Day, April 25th.

Other names of the Gallipoli Campaign

The Gallipoli Campaign is known by several names, depending on the perspective and nationality of those referencing it:

  1. Dardanelles Campaign: This name refers to the strategic aim of capturing the Dardanelles strait, the narrow waterway connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara.
  2. Çanakkale Battles: In Turkey, the campaign is often referred to as the “Çanakkale Savaşları” or “Çanakkale Battles.” Çanakkale is the name of the province in Turkey where the Gallipoli Peninsula is located.
  3. Battle of Çanakkale: Another name used in the Turkish context.
  4. ANZAC Campaign or Battle: The term “ANZAC” stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which played a significant role in the campaign. In Australia and New Zealand, the campaign is commonly associated with the term ANZAC, and April 25th, the anniversary of the landings, is commemorated as ANZAC Day.
  5. Names in Turkish: The campaign in Turkish has gone by a number of names, including Çanakkale Savaşım, Gelibolu Muharebesi, and Çanakkale Muharebeleri. The name “Çanakkale Muharebeleri” is derived from Çanakkale, the province in Turkey where the Gallipoli Peninsula is located. The term directly translates as “Çanakkale Battles.”

Conclusion

The memory of the Gallipoli Campaign has lingered for over a century. For Turks, Australians, and New Zealanders, it remains a significant chapter in their respective national histories.

Questions & Answers

Troops of the 29th Indian Brigade landing at Cape Helles

Who were the main military leaders of the campaign?

Allied Forces:

  • General Sir Ian Hamilton: He was the commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, tasked with carrying out the landings and subsequent operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
  • Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro: Took over command from Hamilton.
  • Winston Churchill: As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was one of the key proponents of the Gallipoli Campaign, although he did not directly command troops on the ground.
  • General Henri Gouraud: Initially in charge of the French forces, he was later wounded and replaced.
  • General Maurice Bailloud: Took over command from Gouraud.
  • General Sir William Birdwood: Commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

Ottoman Empire:

  • General Otto Liman von Sanders: A German officer, he was in charge of the Ottoman 5th Army and played a crucial role in organizing the defense of the Gallipoli Peninsula.
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (then known as Mustafa Kemal Pasha): Commander of the 19th Division, he played a significant role in the defense, especially during the initial landings at ANZAC Cove. He would later become the founder of modern Turkey.
  • Enver Pasha: As the Ottoman Minister of War, he was one of the main leaders responsible for the overall defense strategies of the empire, though not directly on the Gallipoli front.
  • Cevat Pasha: Commanded the Ottoman forces at various sectors during the campaign.

Atatürk with Ottoman military officers during the Battle of Gallipoli, Çanakkale, 1915

What was the casualty from the Gallipoli Campaign?

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the costliest operations of World War I in terms of casualties. Both sides suffered heavily:

Allied Forces:

  • Total casualties (including wounded, missing, and captured): Approximately 240,000.
  • Deaths: Over 43,000, with specific breakdowns as follows:
    • British: Over 20,000 dead
    • French: Roughly 10,000 dead
    • Australians: Nearly 8,800 dead
    • New Zealanders: Around 2,650 dead
    • Indians: Over 1,250 dead
    • Newfoundland: 49 dead

Ottoman Empire (including Turks, Arabs, and others):

  • Total casualties: Estimates range between 245,000 to 400,000 (this includes wounded and dead).
  • Deaths: Approximately 86,000.

It’s important to note that exact figures can vary depending on sources, and these numbers don’t account for deaths due to disease, which were also substantial during the campaign.

Did the Gallipoli Campaign have any effect on Russia?

One of the primary goals of the Gallipoli campaign was to establish a sea route to provide aid and support to Russia, which was isolated and under severe pressure from Central Powers on the Eastern Front.

The failure to capture the Dardanelles Strait meant that this supply route remained closed. Russia continued to face enormous challenges without significant resupply or relief from the Western Allies.

While the failure of the Gallipoli campaign cannot be directly linked as a cause of the Russian Revolution, the inability to open a route to support Russia further strained the Tsarist regime. The continuous defeats, coupled with internal unrest and economic hardships, eventually led to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

What were some of the reasons why Allied troops suffered defeat at Gallipoli?

Firstly, the Allied leadership underestimated the challenges of the terrain and the resilience of the Ottoman defenders. Initial naval assaults failed to secure control of the Dardanelles Strait, and subsequent land invasions encountered unexpected resistance.

Secondly, the peninsula’s rugged terrain, combined with extreme weather conditions, posed severe challenges. Troops had to deal with steep cliffs, dense scrub, and ravines while facing summer heat and a lack of clean water. This environment was conducive to the spread of diseases like dysentery, further degrading the soldiers’ fighting capabilities.

Within the Allied forces—comprising troops from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and France—there were significant coordination problems. Commanders often received delayed, conflicting, or unclear orders, which hampered operations and caused unnecessary casualties.

Finally, the determination from Ottoman military commanders like Mustafa Kemal, Esat Pasha Janina, Ahmet Fevzi Bey, and Kâzım Bey proved vital in pinning Allied forces down on the shores. Kemal’s resolve was boosted by the fact that the Ottomans were fighting on home turf and were determined not to let Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, fall into enemy hands. Despite being seen as the “sick man of Europe,” the Ottoman military showcased its capability to repel a major invasion.

In essence, the Battle of Gallipoli epitomized the tragedies of modern warfare: ambitious objectives met with logistical nightmares, leading to heavy casualties without decisive results. It remains a poignant reminder of the costs of war and the importance of thorough strategic planning.

What were the major fallouts of the campaign on Britain in particular?

The Gallipoli Campaign had significant political repercussions back in Britain. Before the decision to evacuate was even made, the political landscape was shifting.

Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty and chief proponent of the campaign, tended his resignation. However, Churchill chose not to remain in the political wilderness. Demonstrating his commitment to the war effort, he took on a military role, commanding an infantry battalion on the Western Front in France.

The failures and challenges of the Gallipoli Campaign, coupled with other issues related to the war’s overall progress, weakened H.H. Asquith’s position as prime minister. By December 1916, he was compelled to resign, making way for David Lloyd George to take the helm. Lloyd George would become one of the key political figures in the latter stages of World War I.

As the campaign dragged on without significant progress and faced mounting criticism, Churchill’s position became untenable. Recognizing the weight of responsibility, he resigned from the government.

Why is the Gallipoli Battle a significant event in Turkish history?

The Ottoman Empire, with significant leadership from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (later the founder of modern Turkey), successfully repelled the invasion attempts of the British and French empires, as well as troops from Australia and New Zealand.

The battle was a defining moment in the military career of Atatürk. His leadership and strategies were crucial in the defense of the peninsula.

The victory at Çanakkale is seen as a foundational stone for the establishment of the Republic of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It instilled a sense of national pride and unity.

The battle is remembered not just for the victory but also for the immense sacrifice. The phrase “Çanakkale Geçilmez,” which means “Çanakkale is impassable,” became a popular slogan, emphasizing the resilience and determination of the Turkish defense.

Every year on March 18, Turkey commemorates the Çanakkale Sea Victory and the Martyrs’ Day to honor those who lost their lives defending the nation during this campaign.

The Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial at Gallipoli Peninsula Historical Site, commemorating the loss of Ottoman and Anzac soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula

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