The Gallipoli campaign was a side bar in 1915, the second year of the First World War . Gallipoli is a peninsula in northwest Turkey on the west side of a waterway leading from the Black Sea past Istanbul (it was called Constantinople in 1915) to the Adriatic Sea. Because Russia was fighting on the side the Allies in the Great War, Turkey chose to side with the Central Powers and blocked Russia’s outlet through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles to the Adriatic Sea. To restore Russia’s outlet to the west, and to take the focus off the stalemate on the Western Front, the Allies planned an attack on the Gallipoli and the Dardanelles in the spring of 1915.
The chief advocate of this plan was Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty¹. At first, a fleet of obsolete British and French battle cruisers and battleships would attack the Turkish forts lining both sides of the Dardanelles, and with accompanying minesweepers would force their force way to the Turkish capital. But, with help their German allies, the Turkish army had strengthen the fortresses and laid mines in the waterway. As a result, the naval attack failed: three ships were sunk, one with over 600 men on board, and several more damaged.
The next step was to land troops on the Cape Hellos end of the peninsula and it’s western shore, where Churchill and his colleagues didn’t think there would be much opposition. But the Turks were dug in the high cliffs overlooking the beaches where the landings were taking place. The Allied force, including members of the French Foreign Legion, Anzac troops from Australia and New Zealand, as well as British forces from India and the Western Front, was pinned down as soon as it landed. The casualties were high at the outset and continued in this vein for the next eight months. The planning for this expedition was faulty, and the commanders chosen to lead it were not given the resources necessary to carry out the objectives of their mission. As a result, two offenses, one soon after the landings and one in August, failed with even heavier casualties. Eventually, like on the Western Front, Gallipoli devolved into a stalemate with both sides ensconced in their trenches, until February 1916, when all Allied personnel were withdrawn.
The British Government, looking for a scapegoat, after the initial attack, sacked Churchill from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty, but kept him in the government. The August failure toppled the government and Churchill, who was also out, was offered a command in the Western Front in Belgium. At end of the war, he was eventually was posted to the Colonial Office, where he presided over the founding of the modern Iraq. In writing about Churchill during World War II, Max Hastings said this, “Churchill believed himself exceptionally fitted for the direction of armies, navies, and air forces. He perceived no barrier to such a role in the fact that he possessed neither military staff training nor experience of higher field command.”² In this context, he evidently didn’t learn his lesson after Gallipoli. More on Churchill in my next blog.
¹The political head of the Royal Navy. The person holding this office was a Member of Parliament, part of cabinet and served under the Prime Minister.
²Max Hastings, Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, p. 102.
John Keegan, The First World War, Pages 234 -249
Martin Gilbert, The First World War, Pages 105-06, 140-41, 146-153, 161-171, 180-85, 188-91, 207-11.
Carlo D’Este, Warlord, Pages 237-262
William Manchester, The Last Lion, Pages 511-576
The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I: 3: 716-732, 761-777 4: 1130-1141
Line of Fire: Gallipoli (Video)