All About Turkey

Gallipoli campaign

The Gallipoli campaign took place between April and December 1915 in an effort to take the Dardanelles from the Turkish Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany and Austria) and thus force it out of the war. Some 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders were part of a larger British force. Some 26,000 Australians and 7,571 New Zealanders were wounded; and 7,594 Australians and 2,431 NZs were killed. In numerical terms Gallipoli was a minor campaign but it took on considerable national and personal importance to the Australians and New Zealanders who fought there.

The Gallipoli Campaign was Australia's and New Zealand's introduction to the Great War. Many Australians and New Zealanders fought on the Peninsula from the day of the landings (April 25, 1915) until the evacuation of 20 December 1915. The 25th April is the New Zealand equivalent of Armistice Day and is marked as the ANZAC day in both countries with Dawn Parades and other services in every city and town. Shops are closed in the morning. It is a very important day to Australians and New Zealanders for a variety of reasons that have changed and transmuted over the years.

World War I

Turkey (Ottoman Empire then) came into the war by the end of October 1914, which had not yet recovered from its wars of 1911 to 1913. Turkey's treasury was empty. Its leader, a thirty-three year-old military officer and national hero, Enver Pasha, saw the war in Europe as an opportunity for Turkey to take back lands that had been absorbed by the Russian Empire. Enver dreamed of reinvigorating Turkey's empire. And Enver feared that if Britain, France and Russia won against Germany and Austria-Hungary, they might deprive Turkey of more of its empire. So he decided to take Turkey into the war on the side of Germany.

Ottoman Government ordered two battleships to England just before the war broke out and paid for them. But close relationship between Turkey and Germany scared the Allies and thus Britain decided to not to deliver those battleships which have already been paid. This caused an uproar among the Turks against Britain and their friends. This would be a great opportunity for Enver Pasha to use it against the Allies. Turkey cooperated with two German warships in the bombardment of two Russian seaports: Odessa and Nikolayev. Russia responded three days later, on November 2, by declaring war on Turkey. France declared against Turkey on November 5, and so too did Britain. And Britain found this an opportune time to annex Cyprus and Egypt, lands that had been nominally a part of Turkey's empire while under British authority.

Turkey closed the straits (Bosphorus and Dardanelles) between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, preventing Russia from exporting her wheat or receiving shipments of materials from her allies. To protect its oil wells in the Middle East, Britain moved a military force up the Persian Gulf to Iraq, where it began engaging Turkish forces. And in December, Turkey began an assault into Russia's Caucasus Mountains.

Frustration came with Turkey's failed offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus Mountains. In a five-day battle ending January 3, the Russians smashed Turkey's offensive, and of the 95,000 men that Turkey sent on the offensive only 18,000 returned, about 50,000 of them having frozen to death. The shocked Turkish people wondered who to blame for this disaster.

Gallipoli Campaign

Meanwhile Winston Churchill, responsible of the navy at that time, planned an offensive against Gallipoli to capture Dardanelles, open a secure passage for the navy on their way to Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Government. Allies gathered their battleships in front of Dardanelles Straight under the command of Admiral De Robeck. The Allied fleet chasing the German warships blockaded the Dardanelles, began bombarding the Turkish batteries at the entrance to the Straits on 3rd November 1914. This bombardment continued intermittently until 12th March 1915.

Naval Battle

On 17th March they sent some boats into the straight and the military intelligence reports said that there were no sea-mines creating a risk for their attack. But the same night a small Turkish mine-layer Nusrat laid many sea-mines into the Dardanelles.

On 18th March 1915, at the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign, the commander of the Allied fleet, Admiral de Robeck divided the fleet into three sections. The first section entered the straits at 10.30 am. and penetrated as far as the row of mines. The Intepe batteries started a heavy fire.

The Intepe, Erenkoy and Tengertepe batteries intensified their fire and a fierce bombardment continued for three hours. In the afternoon Admiral de Robeck withdrew his ships in the third section and threw forward six warships waiting in the rear. During the withdrawal, one of the ships hit a mine and sunk after a terrible explosion.

The naval battle continued in all its intensity for seven hours. In the face of the dogged resistance of the Turkish Straits Defense, Admiral de Robeck decided that nothing further could be done that day. During this operation three ships from the Allied Fleet had been sunk and three badly damaged. It was under these circumstances that Admiral de Robeck, at 17.30 brought the days' operation to a close with the order, "All ships, general withdrawal.". The Allied assault stalled, and the British withdrew to Egypt to prepare for another, bigger assault.

On 18th March eighteen battleships entered the straits. The fleet included Queen Elizabeth, Lord Nelson, Agamemnon, Inflexible, Ocean, Irresistible, Prince George and Majestic from Britain and the Gaulois, Bouvet and Suffren from France. At first they made good progress until the Bouvet struck a mine, heeled over, capsized and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Soon afterwards two more ships, Irresistible and Ocean hit mines. Most of the men in these two ships were rescued but by the time the Allied fleet retreated, over 700 men had been killed. Overall, three ships had been sunk and three more had been severely damaged.

Land Battles

Turkish army trenches in GallipoliIn spite of all the efforts in the Dardanelles from 19th February to 18th March nothing had been gained by the Allied Forces. Now, alongside the Naval bombardments and amphibious operation was under consideration in order to capture the peninsula.

The Anzac Corps, the 29th British Territorial Infantry Division, the 1st Royal Naval Infantry Division, the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade and the French 1st Infantry Division were to take part in this action. These forces were to be split into two groups, the first group was to seize the Seddulbahir area and open the Straits whilst the second was to land in the Kabatepe region, seize the Conkbayir area and obstruct the Turkish Forces moving down from the north.

The Commander of the Ottoman 5th Army had evaluated the defense of the Gallipoli peninsula as of secondary importance. Thus out of six divisions he allocated two divisions and one cavalry brigade to the defense of the Gulf of Saros, two divisions to the defense of the area between Anafartalar and Seddulbahir and the remaining two divisions to the defense of the Asian coast.

Of the two divisions deployed on the Gallipoli peninsula one was the 19th division which served as the Chief of Command Reserve Force in Bigali. The commander of this brigade was Mustafa Kemal.

At the beginning of the 1st WW, Staff Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal was Military Attaché in Sofia. Preferring to participate personally in the struggle of his county against invading super powers of the time, rather than watching from the sidelines, he requested active military duty from the Chief of Staff. Upon his insistence, he was appointed to the 19th Divisional Command founded in Tekirdag on 1st February 1915.

In less than one month, Mustafa Kemal had the division prepared for war. On 25th February, his division was at Eceabat (across Çanakkale) and ready for combat.

The Seddulbahir Battles

At dawn on the 25th April, the Seddulbahir coast was seen to be surrounded by several ships and landing crafts.

At 5.30 am. a hellish fire was opened from the allied warships. Bombardment from the sea held the tip of the peninsula under fire from three sides. The 29th British Infantry Division attempted to move into the land.

The defending forces broke the first wave of the invading forces with success. Then, with the reinforcements which were later brought in, the operation was extended on the land without much success.

The 1st., 2nd., and 3rd Battles of Kirte and Kerevizdere continued from 25th April until the end of May when it turned into chronic local clashes.

In June 1915 the battle again intensified and after the bloody Zigindere Battles which began on the 28th June continued for eight days.

Ariburnu Battles

Gallipoli landings in 1915The area chosen by the Anzac Corps as a landing area was the coast to the north of Kabatepe. However, the Anzacs had landed in the steep, inaccessible area of Ariburnu (later it was called as Anzac Cove) due to their boats having been carried by the strong current. First landing group consisted of 1500 men with the same number again in a following wave. The first target to be captured after the landing was the "Karacimen Bloc".

One of the battalions of the 27th regiment of the 9th Turkish Division in Ariburnu was guarding the coasts of the area. One company of the battalion had spread from the Ariburnu hills to Agildere. This company consisted squads; one on the Ariburnu hilltops, one in Balikcidamlari and one other in reserve on Haintepe.

The Anzac attack began at 4.30 on 25th April. They landed at Ariburnu in the form of a surprise attack. The defending squad opened fire on the invading forces, but the Anzacs advanced. The Turkish company defending the coast immediately reported the situation to 27 regimental Command to the west of Eceabat.

While the Regimental Commander was giving his report to the 9th Division, at the same time he informed the 19th Division. The 8th Company Commander brought up reinforcements to counter the first wave of attacks, however, the heavy losses caused by the intense cannon fire from the ships and the lack of ammunition led him to retreat.

Although Staff Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal had sent reports to the army and the Corps Command at Gallipoli, he received no reply. Using his initiative he attacked the Anzacs. Reinforcing the 57th Regiment with a hill-top cannon battery, he advanced towards Ariburnu via Kocacimen. In a critical moment Mustafa Kemal gave the order for a company to rapidly reach the area and for the forward battalion to immediately enter the fray. With their arrival, the Turkish forces attained the initiative. The 57th Regiment completed their battle preparations by noon and moved southwards from Conkbayiri to the Anzac forces. This strike could not advance any further than Duztepe because of the effective cannon fire from the ships. He arrived at Korucakoy and reported the situation to the Army Headquarters. He met the commander of the 3rd corps at Maltepe from whom he received permission to deploy the entire 19th Division after explaining to him the situation. He moved those forces forward. Mustafa Kemal's decision, on the night of 25-26th April was to take the command of the 27th Regiment and to attack the Anzacs with two regiments from the south and two regiments from the north and to drive them that night at whatever cost into the sea. Same night the attack was deployed. Since the majority of the 27th Regiment which arrived from Aleppo (Halep) was composed of aged soldiers, the action on the southern flank did not develop as hoped. The 57th and 72nd Regiments forced the Anzacs to retreat further south from the Cesarettepe hill-top. The Anzacs were in great difficulty to defend their positions with this latest assault. The allied commander decided to evacuate his forces into Hamilton.

Due to the lack of necessary vehicles, the evacuation move was suspended. Dig-in and defend order was given instead.

As time passed both sides were gradually reinforced. The 16th Division was rushed from Thrace and the 2nd Division from Istanbul. Fierce Anzac assaults on Ariburnu continued steadily and the fighting went on until the end of May. Finally, from the end of May onwards it turned into a French warfare.

The clashes of Seddulbahir and Ariburnu in June and July of 1915 were typical of stationary warfare. The opposing forces were extremely close to each other, indeed as close as eight meters (25 feet) on certain locations.

The Anafartalar Battles

Mustafa Kemal in GallipoliGeneral Hamilton, unable to achieve any success on the Seddulbahir and Ariburnu fronts in the past five months decided to open a third front in Anafartalar bay in order to encircle and destroy the Turkish Army from the rear. He assigned this task to the 9th British Corps.

The aim was to immediately seize the Conkbayiri and Kocacimen blocs, advance from there and take control of the Straits. During this landing limited action was to be taken in order to keep the Turkish forces in the Seddulbahir and Ariburnu regions pinned down.

British Army Corps began landing on the night of 6-7 August, to start the final attack against the Turkish troops approximately on the 9th of August. They landed to the south of the Buyukkemikli and Kucukkemikli headlands. Due to the hot weather and exhaustion of the British soldiers, 9th corps spend a day on the beach front instead of moving to the target hills immediately. During this time two Ottoman divisions were transferred to the front with Mustafa Kemal as commander. One of these divisions pushed the 9th corps into the sea while the other one prevented the Anzacs to reach to the battle front.

The 12th Division attacked the 9th Corps front lines. The most critical point was over for the Turks. The 9th Corps, under the fire of the Turkish Forces, fell in great numbers on the beaches and were left totally ineffective. Even though the 9th Corps, that was later reinforced, attempted more flank attacks from Ismailoglu Hill to Anafartalar and from Mt. Karakol to Ece Harbor and Tekke Hill, they could not succeed.

The pinning-down and encircling action against the Northern Group was halted but some sections did come within 25 meters of the crest-line. The 9th Turkish Division, which had counter-attacked for two days in order to alleviate this dangerous situation was not able to achieve a success. Then, Liman Von Sanders, Commander of the 5th Ottoman Army reinforced the 8th Division with two regiments and put it under Mustafa Kemal's orders.

Colonel Mustafa Kemal arrived at the headquarters of the 8th Division, the night of 9-10th August and ordered his soldiers to attack using only bayonets at dawn on the 10th of August. The attack succeeded and even the British Brigade Commander was among the dead. Upon the seizure of the land that would guarantee the security of the defense line, the order to dig-in and defend was given. The British operation that had been carried out with strong attack groups in high hopes on Ariburnu and the landings at Anafartalar were paralyzed and as in the other regions were brought to a standstill.

Thus the allied forces clearly saw that no possibility remained either of breaking the Turkish defense in the Dardanelles or of achieving any result in the Gallipoli Campaign, above all of achieving their ambition of taking Istanbul. On 20th December 1915 they ordered the evacuation of Ariburnu - Anafartalar and on the 9th January 1916 Seddulbahir. Mustafa Kemal was stationed at Edirne and Diyarbakir after the Çanakkale wars and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on 1 April 1916.

Over 33.000 allied and 86.000 Turkish troops died in the eight month Gallipoli campaign which achieved none of its objectives. A British royal commission later concluded that the operation had been ill-conceived. Gallipoli cost 8700 Australian dead and 19000 wounded. Large numbers of the dead have no known grave. The story of Anzac has had an enduring effect on the way Australians see themselves.

Turkish nation who lost about 253.000 men at battle, had managed to emerge in honor against the Allied forces. Actually the fate at trenches changed when Mustafa Kemal addressed his soldiers with the words "I am not giving you an order to attack, I am ordering you to die!".

This was the biggest failure of Churchill and of the Allies of course, they underestimated the military skills of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his brave soldiers. Both sides suffered heavy loss of lives.

Today Gallipoli (Gelibolu) peninsula is a national park nearby Canakkale and there are many war memorials and cemeteries belonging to Turks, Australians, New Zealanders, British and French. Every 25th April war veterans (few left today) from both sides and their children meet here to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign. It is also possible to dive at the shipwrecks along the shores. Many tours also passes from this area.

Some Words about the War

Kemal Ataturk; (Inscription on Gallipoli Memorial put up by Turkey in 1934, also on Ataturk Memorial at Tarakina Bay, Wellington.)

"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well."

Russell Weir; (Tolerton, In the shadow of war p. 202)

"We landed, I suppose, somewhere about nine or half past nine in the morning. On the Sunday morning, Sunday the 25th of April. And through a mistake made by the navy, we played into the Turk's hands beautifully. Because you can imagine a narrow strip of beach, nothing but stones, no sand, and from that narrow stretch of beach straight up were high cliffs composed of clay and rock. And the Turks had the machine guns and the rifle fire and the full view of the beach, and the only protection we could get when we advanced was to get in close to the cliff and hug it."

Alexander Aitken; (Aitken, Gallipoli to the Somme p. 33-34)

"... I slid the rifle-sight to '450', aimed and fired.[...] The Turk plunged into the trench in a swirl of dust ... This, of course, was what I was there for, but it seemed no light matter, and kept me awake for some time. I would come to no conclusion except that individual guilt in an act of this kind is not absolved by collective duty nor lessened when pooled in collective responsibility. I further found that I bore the Turk no trace of enmity - nor for that matter did any of us; he was to us "Johnny Turk" or "Joe Burke", almost a fellow sufferer. We were not indoctrinated against him, as we had been against the Germans by propaganda, the cartoons of Louis Raemakers, and tales of atrocity. But I saw, still further, that this Turk, at the moment of shooting, had not even been a person; he might have been big game. It was a single step to the thought that certain 'colonial' campaigns, not infrequent in our annals, might have been conducted in almost this game-hunting spirit. Here I balked; to become analytical might lead to doubt of the cause for which we were fighting; for this had been called, in those early years, the 'war to end war'. I was far from such doubt then, and would have repudiated pacifism."

Major General Godley; (in a letter to the NZ Minster of Interior, Ronald Graham, July 1915, Boyack p. 59)

"I hear that Winston [Churchill] has arrived, and suppose we shall see him within the next few days. He certainly is a plucky fellow, and I think he ought to be given a V.C. and then taken out and shot. I wonder what sort of reception he will get if he comes among the troops, whether they will cheer, or shoot him. I think the former."

All About Turkey © Burak Sansal 1996–2014, a certified professional tour guide in Turkey. Contact Burak at buraksan@superonline.com for all kinds of regular and/or private travel services throughout the country.