Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered a bombardment of the Dardanelles in October 1914—a month before the Ottoman Empire formally entered the war.
The Dardanelles Strait bridges and divides Europe and Asia, as it controlled the passageway between the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara in Turkey.
The Turks immediately reinforced the peninsula, strengthened their defences, and laid mines in the straits as preparation against further Allied attacks.
Churchill sought an alternative as the Western Front was deadlocked in December 1914—over thousands of miles of trenches and fortifications between the English Channel and the Swiss border.
His plan was to take Turkey out of the war, capture Constantinople (Istanbul), encourage the Balkan nations to join the Allies and reopen the Russians’ warm-water supply route through the Black Sea. Turkey’s allies, Germany and Austria, blocked Russia’s land-routes from Europe.
Australian troops trained for four months near Cairo, Egypt, before they were sent to Gallipoli alongside troops from Britain, New Zealand and France. They were actually fighting for Tsar Nicholas II, as the British promised to hand Constantinople to the Russians to reclaim it for the Christian Church.
The campaign was originally planned for 23 April, but it was postponed due to strong gales.
An armada of battleships, converted liners, destroyers and other vessels gathered at Mudros. Ship-to-ship communication was impossible because the harbour was so crowded.
About 200 vessels headed towards the peninsular the night before, once the moon had gone down, to prepare for a pre-dawn landing.
The Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the wrong beach—later known as Anzac Cove, on 25 April. Many troops did not make it ashore. They faced fierce resistance from the Turkish Army, commanded by Mustafa Kemal Attatürk.
Like the Western Front, this campaign became a stalemate as it dragged on for eight months. Both sides endured severe hardships and suffered heavy casualties.
The British rejected a recommended to evacuate as Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood considered it “unsoldierly” to do so after just 17 hours!
Lord Kitchener visited Gallipoli in November 1915 and ordered an evacuation. (It was the best-planned and most successful part of the whole campaign.)
Churchill was initially held responsible for the disaster. He lost his position in the War Cabinet and excluded from government. He was returned to office as Minister for Munitions in 1917. He never appeared to have any remorse about Gallipoli. (He was to repeat the same mistake with Greece during World War II.)
Churchill’s defenders blamed the lack of support from War Office in London and poor leadership on the scene.
Attatürk became a national hero and founded the modern Turkish state. The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I.
Anzac Day is commemorated as a holiday in Australia and New Zealand to honour those who fought for their country.
Broadbent, Harvey, Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore, Viking (Penguin Group Australia), Camberwell, 2005
Carlyon, Les, Gallipoli, Pan McMillan Australia, Sydney, 2001
Carlyon, Les, The Great War, Pan McMillan Australia, Sydney, 2006
Freudenberg, Graham, Churchill and Australia, Pan MacMillan Australia, Sydney, 2008
Weir, Stephen, History’s Worst Decisions and the People Who Made Them, Winston Churchill and the Disaster at Gallipoli, Murdoch Books Australia, Sydney, 2005
© 2009 Carolyn M Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 1 May 2009.