World War One: Surface Fleet

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Dardanelles Campaign

The Dardanelles, through to the Sea of Marmara is a narrow, winding passage flanked on the north by the Gallipoli peninsula, to the south they are protected by the shore of Ottoman Asia. In addition, fortresses were well positioned on cliff-tops overlooking shipping lanes.

Churchill is widely credited as the man who committed British, French and - above all - untested Australian and New Zealand forces to the ill-fated campaign to seize control of the Dardanelles Straits and western Turkey. Control of the Straits would give ready access to the Turkish capital Constantinople as well as providing a lane to the Black Sea. In addition to this access to the Sea of Marmora would give Britain and France supply route access to their eastern ally, Russia.

There were initial suggestions early in the war that the Dardanelles should be attacked with land support however in 1915 Churchill put forward a plan to attempt a purely naval capture of the Straits. He received agreement from the War Cabinet. Lord Kitchener, the British war minister ordered the readiness of Britain's sole available infantry division and the Australian and New Zealand forces stationed in Egypt en route to France to assists if necessary.

The initial attack took place on 19th February 1915 by a combined British and French fleet including the new battleship Queen Elizabeth, led by Admiral Sir Sackville Carden. However this was unsuccessful, it was followed by further bombardment on 25th February 1915 that was equally unsuccessful. The outer forts were taken but it was not possible to reach the mobile batteries on the heights.

A G Class destroyer laden with troops for the initial Gallipoli landing, taken on 25th April 1915. (RNM)

There was an unsuccessful attempt to force through The Narrows on 18th March 1915 and this was followed by Carden being replaced by Sir John Robeck. It had become clear that ground support was needed. Prior to the attempt on The Narrows Lord Kitchener had ordered the 75,000 troops, predominately inexperienced Australian and New Zealand troops, be despatched to the area.

It was decided to make an invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula however during this time the area had been further fortified and more troops brought in to defend it. Two beachheads were established on 25th April 2005 at Helles on Gallipoli's southernmost tip and Gapa Tepe - later known as Anzec Cove in honour of the New Zealand and Australian troops who died there.

In attempt to strengthen the position there were three further unsuccessful attacks at Krithia between the 28th April and 4th June.

In Britain the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher resigned on 15th May 1915 over Churchill's handling of the campaign. This led to Churchills own resignation, Churchill had already admitted the failure of the purely naval bombardment to the War Cabinet and so denting his political credibility.

There followed a landing at Suvla Bay on the 6th August 1915 however this like Anzac Cove and Helles was overlooked by high ground commanded by Turkish Forces. Further re-enforcements were requested from both Britain and France but they were not forthcoming. After some mush debate about the possible evacuation of the troops Kitchener himself visited the area and recommended evacuation on the 15th November 1915.

The evacuation from Anzac Cove and Suvla bay between 10- 20th December and Helles from late December until 9th January. The evacuation was the most successful part of the whole campaign. British (including commonwealth) casualties amounted to 205,000, French 47,000 and Turkish 250,000.


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