The Gallipoli Campaign: 25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916
The Gallipoli Campaign was enacted by the Allied forces of the Triple Entente, in an attempted to breach the defences of the Dardanelles Strait, and thus gain a critical strategic advantage in the campaign against the Ottoman Empire of Turkey.
The Dardanelles Strait was a 50-kilometre passage between the Asiatic coast of the Ottoman Empire and the Gallipoli Peninsula, connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and then leading into the Black Sea.
Due to its almost complete encirclement by the coastlines of Europe and Asia, the Sea of Marmara was only accessible route through the Dardanelles, also rendering it the only passage to the Ottoman capital of Istanbul (also know as Constantinople) for the Allied navy.
The assault on the Dardanelles was conducted as an attempt to weaken or outright defeat the Ottoman Empire through an assault on their capital, thus potentially removing them from the conflict on the Western Front, which was currently at a stalemate between the Allies and the Central Powers.
Planning for the campaign was carried out by Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Horatio Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, from 25 November 1914 to 19 February 1915. Ultimately, after numerous discussions with the War Council, a joint naval and military attack was decided upon. Initially, the Allies’ naval forces would push down the Dardanelles Strait and towards the Sea of Marmara, with a military reserve force ready to make landings at the Turkish defences in the event of complications.
Despite initial enthusiasm, the naval operation ultimately proved unsuccessful. Despite antiquated defences, the ships bombardment of the Ottoman emplacements along the coast had little effect, and landing parties by the Royal Marines were pushed back with heavy casualties. This resulted in an attempt to push past the enemy’s defences and down the mine-laden Dardanelles with a flotilla of sixteen British and French battleships, including the newly constructed Dreadnought, the Queen Elizabeth. However, this too would prove futile; all attempts to clear the minefield were repelled by enemy gun emplacements and a lack of intelligence on all the minefield placements saw several ships sunk.
Following the unsuccessful naval assault, it was decided by Admiral John de Robeck and Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Hamilton, on 22 March 1915, that a land-based attack was required to disable the enemy defences along the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Asiatic shore, thus allowing safer passage for the navy and unhindered disposal of the minefields.
The planning for the invasion was conducted by Hamilton, and would be carried out by the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), of which Hamilton was commander, consisting of:
- 29th Division (Britain)
- Royal Naval Division (Britain)
- Royal Marines (Britain)
- Corps expeditionnaire d’Orient (France)
- Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) (Australia and New Zealand).
Overall, Hamilton assembled around 75,000 men of the MEF for the operation, against the over 80,000 Ottoman defenders at Gallipoli.
Landings and offensives
The invasion of Gallipoli began on 25 April 1915, with the 29th Division and the ANZACs assaulting six beaches near Cape Helles (referred to as S, V, W, X, Y and Z), along the Gallipoli coastline of Bulair, with the French forces landing at Kum Kale, on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles, and the British forces providing a naval division of Ottoman reinforcements before re-joining the landing parties on Gallipoli.
However, the ANZAC forces would land a mile north of their intended zone at Z Beach, landing in a narrow bay later known as ANZAC Cove, with steep ridges and uneven terrain slowing their initial advance and damaging their organisation, resulting in them only gaining a mile and a half before the Turks arrived to counter attack from the high ground. Despite the French success at Kum Kale, and footholds being established at S Beach and Y Beach, the remaining landings saw heavy losses sustained by the 29th Division across X, W and V Beaches. Even the French advance at Kum Kale would ultimately be withdrawn to assist at Gallipoli.
The difficulties in landing were caused by both the steep, uneven terrain of the beaches themselves, as well as the face that, due to the previous naval assault, the Turks were already aware of the threat and were thus well entrenched, with the ridges around the coast providing excellent high ground. As a result, casualties numbered in their hundreds on the first day of the invasion, numbering at around 4000 out of the 30, 000 men who had been the first to land.
It would not be until 29 April 1915 that the landing operation was finally complete, but any advance for the ANZAC and British had been pushed back, due to strong resistance and reinforcements on the part of the Ottomans. However, as per Hamilton’s instructions, the ANZACs had dug in and secured their beachheads, thus preventing a full-scale retreat.
The ANZAC and British forces would launch attacks in an attempted to break the stalemate, including two assaults upon the village of Krithia on 28 April and 6 May respectively, commanded by Hamilton, both of which were ultimately repelled. The First Battle of Krithia ended with around 3000 casualties, and the second with 6500, covering very little distance in either case and ultimately achieving nothing. Even with reinforcements arriving on 12 May, they were still unable to advance.
The Allies and Ottoman Empire would continue to endure a summer-long deadlock, with casualties mounting higher and higher on either side, to the point that, on 24 May 1915, a temporary truce was called in order for both sides to bury their dead, due to the unbearable stench of rotting corpses.
On 6 August 1915, an assault was carried out on the high points of the Sari Bair Range, a series of ridges overlooking ANZAC Cove. The operation, conducted by Hamilton, would consist of two advancements to capture three key points along the Range, before joining together in an attack on the remaining enemy positions, thus capturing the whole of Sari Bair. Command of the assault fell to Major-General Alexander Godley, who would lead the New Zealand and Australian Division, the British 13th Division, 29th Indian Brigade and 10th Division.
While the advance initially went as planned, with several enemy encampments being captured, difficulties in terrain and darkness resulted in both branches failing to properly rendezvous with each other, delaying the next stage until the morning of 7 August 1915, allowing the Ottomans time to reinforce their defences at the high point of Chunuk Bair, resulting in heavy casualties for the ANZAC their attack. Though Chunuk Bair was ultimately taken on 8 August, the isolated position saw the men cut off from their allies and bombarded by enemy fire. Another offensive on the Anafarta Ridge over 21-29 August, proved to be even more costly (with casualties numbering over 2000) and ultimately unsuccessful, due to strong Ottoman defences. This would be the Allies last major offensive of the Gallipoli Campaign.
Unable to advance any further into enemy territory, despite repeated efforts, and with no more reinforcements available, the invasion of Gallipoli was lost to the Allies. With the Ottoman forces gradually outnumbering the landing parties, due to open supply lies and increasing reinforcements, and with conditions deteriorating rapidly for Allied forces, the order came through to evacuate on 22 November 1915,
The evacuation of ANZAC Cove began on 15 December 1915. No official statement was given to the troops regarding the retreat, in order to preserve secrecy from the Ottomans, and the men themselves were evacuated by sea in large groups over the course of several days. The final group of ANZACs was shipped out on 20th December, with British and French forces departing on 8-9 January 1916, thus ending the Gallipoli campaign.
The Gallipoli Campaign, over the course of 25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916, had left almost 400,000 men dead or wounded.
* Ottoman: 251,309
* Allied forces: 141,537
Allied forces casualties are estimated as:
* Australian: 28, 150
* New Zealand: 7, 991
* British: 73, 485
* French: 27, 000
* Indian: 4, 779
Sources of research
Keegan, J., (2014) ‘Gallipoli’, The First World War, London: The Bodley Head, pp. 253-269
New Zealand History, (2014) Gallipoli casualties by country,
Available at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/interactive/gallipoli-casualties-country
New Zealand History, (2014) The Gallipoli campaign, Page 3 – Invasion
Available at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/landing-plans
New Zealand History, (2014) The Gallipoli campaign, Page 4 – Stalemate
Available at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/early-battles
New Zealand History, (2014) The Gallipoli campaign, Page 5 – The Sari Bair offensive
Available at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/the-august-offensive
New Zealand History, (2014) The Gallipoli campaign, Page 6 – Evacuation
Available at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/the-end-of-the-campaign