An extract from
HISTORY OF THE WORLD WAR
An Authentic Narrative of
The World's Greatest War
By FRANCIS A. MARCH, Ph.D.
(The full text of this book can be obtained by email from Ex Libris www.ozebook.com)
If ever the true mettle and temper of a people were tried and exemplified in the crucible of battle, that battle was the naval and land engagement embracing Gallipoli and the Dardanelles and the people so tested, the British race. Separated in point of time but united in its general plan, the engagements present a picture of heroism founded upon strategic mistakes; of such perseverance and dogged determination against overwhelming natural and artificial odds as even the pages of supreme British bravery cannot parallel. The immortal charge of the Light Brigade was of a piece with Gallipoli, but it was merely a battle fragment and its glorious record was written in blood within the scope of a comparatively few inspired minutes. In the mine-strewn Dardanelles and upon the sun-baked, blood-drenched rocky slopes of Gallipoli, death always partnered every sailor and soldier. As at Balaklava, virtually everyone knew that some one had blundered, but the army and the navy as one man fought to the bitter end to make the best of a bad bargain, to tear triumph out of impossibilities.
France co-operated with the British in the naval engagement, but the greater sacrifice, the supreme charnel house of the war, the British race reserved for itself. There, the yeomanry of England, the unsung county regiments whose sacrifices and achievements have been neglected in England's generous desire to honor the men from "down under," the Australians and New Zealanders grouped under the imperishable title of the Anzacs—there the Scotch, Welsh and Irish knit in one devoted British Army with the great fighters from the self-governing colonies waged a battle so hopeless and so gallant that the word Gallipoli shall always remind the world how man may triumph over the fear of death; how with nothing but defeat and disaster before them, men may go to their deaths as unconcernedly as in other days they go to their nightly sleep.
On November 5, 1914, Great Britain declared war upon Turkey. Hostilities, however, had preceded the declaration. On November 3d the combined French and British squadrons had bombarded the entrance forts. This was merely intended to draw the fire of the forts and make an estimate of their power. From that time on a blockade was maintained, and on the 13th of December a submarine, commanded by Lieutenant Holbrook, entered the straits and torpedoed the Turkish warship Messoudieh, which was guarding the mine fields.
By the end of January the blockading fleet, through constant reinforcement, had become very strong, and had seized the Island of Tenedos and taken possession of Lemnos, which nominally belonged to Greece, as bases for naval operations. On the 19th of February began the great attack upon the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles, which attracted the attention of the world for nearly a year.
The expedition against the Dardanelles had been considered with the greatest care, and approved by the naval authorities. That their judgment was correct, however, is another question. The history of naval warfare seems to make very plain that a ship, however powerful, is at a tremendous disadvantage when attacking forts on land. The badly served cannon of Alexandria fell, indeed, before a British fleet, but Gallipoli had been fortified by German engineers, and its guns were the Krupp cannon. The British fleet found itself opposed by unsurmountable obstacles. Looking backward it seems possible, that if at the very start Lord Kitchener had permitted a detachment of troops to accompany the fleet, success might have been attained, but without the army the navy was powerless.
The Peninsula of Gallipoli is a tongue of land about fifty miles long, varying in width from twelve to two or three miles. It is a mass of rocky hills so steep that in many places it is a matter of difficulty to reach their tops. On it are a few villages, but there are no decent roads and little cultivated land. On the southern shore of the Dardanelles conditions are nearly the same. Here, the entrance is a flat and marshy plain, but east of this plain are hills three thousand feet high. The high ground overhangs the sea passage on both sides, and with the exception of narrow bits of beach at their base, presents almost no opportunity for landing.
A strong current continually sifts down the straits from the Sea of Marmora.
Forts were placed at the entrance on both the north and south side, but they were not heavily armed and were merely outposts. Fourteen miles from the mouth the straits become quite narrow, making a sharp turn directly north and then resuming their original direction. The channel thus makes a sharp double bend. At the entrance to the strait, known as the Narrows, were powerful fortresses, and the slopes were studded with batteries. Along both sides of the channel the low ground was lined with batteries. It was possible to attack the forts at fairly long range, but there was no room to bring any large number of ships into action at the same time.
At the time of the Gallipoli adventure there were probably nearly half a million of men available for a defense of the straits, men well armed and well trained under German leadership. The first step was comparatively easy. The operations against the other forts began at 8 A.M. on Friday, the 19th of February. The ships engaged were the Inflexible, the Agamemnon, the Cornwallis, the Vengeance and the Triumph from the British fleet, and the Bouvet, Suffren, and the Gaulois from the French, all under the command of Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden. The French squadron was under Rear-Admiral Gueprette. A flotilla of destroyers accompanied the fleet, and airplanes were sent up to guide the fire of the battleships.
At first the fleet was arranged in a semicircle some miles out to sea from the entrance to the strait. It afforded an inspiring spectacle as the ships came along and took up position, and the picture became most awe-inspiring when the guns began to boom. The bombardment at first was slow. Shells from the various ships screaming through the air at the rate of about one every two minutes.
The Turkish batteries, however, were not to be drawn, and, seeing this, the British Admiral sent one British ship and one French ship close in shore toward the Sedd-el-Bahr forts. As they went in they sped right under the guns of the shore batteries, which could no longer resist the temptation to see what they could do. Puffs of white smoke dotted the landscape on the far shore, and dull booms echoed over the placid water. Around the ships fountains of water sprang up into the air. The enemy had been drawn, but his marksmanship was obviously very bad. Not a single shot directed against the ships went within a hundred yards of either.
At sundown on account of the failing light Admiral Carden withdrew the fleet. On account of the bad weather the attack was not renewed until February 25th. It appeared that the outer forts had not been seriously damaged on the 19th, and that what injury had been done had been repaired. In an hour and a half the Cape Helles fort was silenced. The Agamemnon was hit by a shell fired at a range of six miles, which killed three men and wounded five. Early in the afternoon Sedd-el-Bahr was attacked at close range, but not silenced till after 5 P.M. At this time British trawlers began sweeping the entrance for mines, and during the next day the mine field was cleared for a distance of four miles up the straits.
As soon as this clearance was made the Albion, Vengeance and Majestic steamed into the strait and attacked Fort Dardanos, a fortification some distance below the Narrows. The Turks replied vigorously, not only from Dardanos but from batteries scattered along the shore. Believing that the Turks had abandoned the forts at the entrance, landing parties of marines were sent to shore. In a short time, however, they met a detachment of the enemy and were compelled to retreat to their boats. The outer forts, however, were destroyed, and their destruction was extremely encouraging to the Allies.
For a time a series of minor operations was carried on, meeting with much success. Besides attacks on forts inside of the strait, Smyrna was bombarded on March the 5th, and on March the 6th the Queen Elizabeth, the Agamemnon and the Ocean bombarded the forts at Chanak on the Asiatic side of the Narrows, from a position in the gulf of Saros on the outer side of the Gallipoli Peninsula. To all of these attacks the Turks replied vigorously and the attacking ships were repeatedly struck, but with no loss of life. On the 7th of March Fort Dardanos was silenced, and Fort Chanak ceased firing, but, as it turned out, only temporarily.
Preparations were now being made for a serious effort against the Narrows. The date of the attack was fixed for March 17th, weather permitting. On the 16th Admiral Carden was stricken down with illness and was invalided by medical authority. Admiral de Roebeck, second in command, who had been very active in the operations, was appointed to succeed him. Admiral de Roebeck was in cordial sympathy with the purposes of the expedition and determined to attack on the 18th of March. At a quarter to eleven that morning, the Queen Elizabeth, Inflexible, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson, the Triumph and Prince George steamed up the straits towards the Narrows, and bombarded the forts of Chanak. At 12.22 the French squadron, consisting of the Suffren, Gaulois, Charlemagne, and Bouvet, advanced up the Dardanelles to aid their English associates.
Under the combined fire of the two squadrons the Turkish forts, which at first replied strongly, were finally silenced. All of the ships, however, were hit several times during this part of the action. A third squadron, including the Vengeance, Irresistible, Albion, Ocean, Swiftshore and Majestic, then advanced to relieve the six old battleships inside the strait.
The Irresistible sinks
As the French squadron, which had engaged the forts in a most brilliant fashion, was passing out the Bouvet was blown up by a drifting mine and sank in less than three minutes, carrying with her most of her crew. At 2.36 P.M. the relief battleships renewed the attack on the forts, which again opened fire. The Turks were now sending mines down with the current. At 4.09 the Irresistible quitted the line, listing heavily, and at 5.50 she sank, having probably struck a drifting mine. At 6.05 the Ocean, also having struck a mine, sank in deep water. Practically the whole of the crews were removed safely. The Gaulois was damaged by gunfire; the Inflexible had her forward control position hit by a heavy shell, which killed and wounded the majority of the men and officers at that station and set her on fire. At sunset the forts were still in action, and during the twilight the Allied fleet slipped out of the Dardanelles.
Meantime, an expeditionary force was being gathered. The largest portion of this force came from Great Britain, but France also provided a considerable number from her marines and from her Colonial army. Both nations avoided, as far as possible, drawing upon the armies destined for service in France.
In the English army there were divisions from Australia and New Zealand and there were a number of Indian troops and Territorials. The whole force was put under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton. The commander-in-chief on the Turkish side was the German General Liman von Sanders, the former chief of the military mission at Constantinople. The bulk of the expeditionary force, which numbered altogether about a hundred and twenty thousand men, were, therefore, men whose presence in the east did not weaken the Allied strength in the west.
The great difficulty of the new plan was that it was impossible to surprise the enemy. The whole Gallipoli Peninsula was so small that a landing at any point would be promptly observed, and the nature of the ground was of such a character that progress from any point must necessarily be slow. The problem was therefore a simple one.
The expeditionary force gathered in Egypt during the first half of April, and about the middle of the month was being sent to Lemnos. Germany was well aware of the English plans, and was doing all that it could to provide a defense.
On April 28d the movement began, and about five o'clock in the afternoon the first of the transports slowly made its way through the maze of shipping toward the entrance of Mudros Bay.
Immediately the patent apathy, which had gradually overwhelmed everyone, changed to the utmost enthusiasm, and as the liners steamed through the fleet, their decks yellow with khaki, the crews of the warships cheered them on to victory while the bands played them out with an unending variety of popular airs. The soldiers in the transports answered this last salutation from the navy with deafening cheers, and no more inspiring spectacle has ever been seen than this great expedition.
The River CLyde at Sedd-el-Bahr
The whole of the fleet from the transports had been divided up into five divisions and there were three main landings. The 29th Division disembarked off the point of the Gallipoli Peninsula near Sedd-el-Bahr, where its operations were covered both from the gulf of Saros and from the Dardanelles by the fire of the covering warships. The Australian and New Zealand contingent disembarked north of Gaba Tepe. Further north a naval division made a demonstration.
Awaiting the Australians was a party of Turks who had been intrenched almost on the shore and had opened up a terrific fusillade. The Australian volunteers rose, as a man, to the occasion. They waited neither for orders nor for the boats to reach the beach, but springing out into the sea they went in to the shore, and forming some sort of a rough line rushed straight on the flashes of the enemy's rifles. In less than a quarter of an hour the Turks were in full flight.
While the Australians and New Zealanders, or Anzacs as they are now generally known from the initials of the words Australian-New Zealand Army Corps, were fighting so gallantly at Gaba Tepe, the British troops were landing at the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The advance was slow and difficult. The Turk was pushed back, little by little, and the ground gained organized. The details of this progress, though full of incidents of the greatest courage and daring, need not be recounted.
On June the 4th a general attack was made, preceded by heavy bombardments by all guns, but after terrific fighting, in which many prisoners were captured and great losses suffered, the net result was an advance of about five hundred yards. As time went on the general impression throughout the Allied countries was that the expedition had failed. On June 30th the losses of the Turks were estimated at not less than seventy thousand, and the British naval and military losses up to June 1st, aggregated 38,635 officers and men. At that time the British and French allies held but a small corner of the area to be conquered. In all of these attacks the part played by the Australian and New Zealand army corps was especially notable. Reinforcements were repeatedly sent to the Allies, who worked more and more feverishly as time went on with the hope of aiding Russia, which was then desperately struggling against the great German advance.
On August 17th it was reported that a landing had been made at Suvla Bay, the extreme western point of the Peninsula. From this point it was hoped to threaten the Turkish communications with their troops at the lower end of the Peninsula. This new enterprise, however, failed to make any impression, and in the first part of September, vigorous Turkish counter, offensives gained territory from the Franco-British troops. According to the English reports the Turks paid a terrible price for their success.
It had now become evident that the expedition was a failure. The Germans were already gloating over what they called the "failure of British sea power," and English publicists were attempting to show that, though the enterprise had failed, the very presence of a strong Allied force at Saloniki had been an enormous gain. The first official announcement of failure was made December 20, 1916, when it was announced that the British forces at Anzac and Suvla Bay had been withdrawn, and that only the minor positions near Sedd-el-Bahr were occupied. Great Britain's loss of officers and men at the Dardanelles up to December 11th was 112,921, according to an announcement made in the House of Commons by the Parliamentary Under Secretary for War. Besides these casualties the number of sick admitted to hospitals was 96,688. The decision to evacuate Gallipoli was made in the course of November by the British Government as the result of the early expressed opinion of General Monro, who had succeeded General Hamilton on October 28, 1915.
General Monro found himself confronted with a serious problem in the attempt to withdraw an army of such a size from positions not more than three hundred yards from the enemy's trenches, and to embark on open beaches every part of which was within effective range of Turkish guns. Moreover, the evacuation must be done gradually, as it was impossible to move the whole army at once with such means of transportation as existed. The plan was to remove the munitions, supplies and heavy guns by instalments, working only at night, carrying off at the same time a large portion of the troops, but leaving certain picked battalions to guard the trenches. Every endeavor had to be made for concealment. The plan was splendidly successful, and the Turks apparently completely deceived. On December 20th the embarkation of the last troops at Suvla was accomplished. The operations at Anzac were conducted in the same way. Only picked battalions were left to the end, and these were carried safely off.
The success of the Suvla and Anzac evacuation made the position at Cape Helles more dangerous. The Turks were on the lookout, and it seemed almost impossible that they could be again deceived. On January 7th an attack was made by the Turks upon the trenches, which was beaten back. That night more than half the troops had left the Peninsula. The next day there was a heavy storm which made embarkation difficult, but it was nevertheless accomplished. The whole evacuation was a clever and successful bit of work.
[Ed. overall a ludicrously optimistic account of this campaign, a product of its time]