Shipwrecks at Gallipoli

Numerous diving schools now operate along Turkey's coasts, particularly in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and during the summer months around a thousand people go diving each day.

In the North Aegean, however, mild temperatures for much of the year make it far easier for even fairly inexperienced divers to explore the large number of British, French and Italian ships sunk around Gallipoli and the Dardanelles in Canakkale during the World War I. Many Turkish and foreign divers are attracted to this area for the same reason. The Gallipoli campaign commenced on 18th of March 1915 when the British navy sought to attack Istanbul via the Çanakkale Strait, or ancient Dardanelles. When their attempt to get through the strait failed, a joint offensive by British, French and Italian fleets was launched on 25th of April 1915. As well as a bombardment from the sea, thousands of troops were landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. The unexpected Turkish resistance and military skills of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led to the failure of this campaign and the Allies withdrew from Gallipoli on 9th of January 1916. Over that period of nearly a year, several hundreds ships and boats sunk in the coastal waters between Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay on the western side of the peninsular. These included several war ships, landing craft, and lighters carrying troops and provisions.

Today the locations of 216 of these shipwrecks have been identified, the most important being the British warships Irresistible, Triumph, Ocean, Majestic and Goliath and the French Bouvet. Normally the boat ride takes just 20 minutes to an hour to reach the diving areas, so that two dives can be completed in a day. Accommodation can also be arranged in Çanakkale.

Of the ships which are at an accessible depth, one of the most important is the Lundi, which was sunk by torpedo fire on 15th of April 1915. This wreck lies on sand at 27 meters in Suvla Bey, between the Büyük Kemikli and Küçük Kemikli headlands. Despite the intervening 81 years, this cargo ship carrying supplies and ammunition is largely intact and is home to a wide variety of marine life. The spaces between the sandy bottom and the ship's bull are a favorite haunt for lobsters and other crustaceans. On the deck just in front of the bridge is a colony of conger eels up to one meter in length. The hatch covers have rotted away giving easy access to the hold towards the bow, and inside are shoals of bream and goby. The iron beams of the hold are covered with pink and yellow sponges. The enclosed spaces are inhabited by corb fish (Latin Corvina nigra or Turkish Eskina).

The British warship HMS Majestic sank at right angles to the shore in Morto Cove, so while its bow lies in 18 meters of water, its stern lies on sand at a depth of 29 meters. In the 1960s divers unfortunately dismantled the most interesting sections of the wreck, but the crow's nest can be seen lying 10 meters off. There is a cannon on the deck which is so encrusted with barnacles that it has grown into the structure. Large numbers of bream (Latin Sparus Auratus, or Çipura in Turkish), dentex (Turkish Sinarit) and other fish frolic happily in the interior sections which are inaccessible to divers. A knowledge of lighters is useful for anyone investigating the wrecks round Gallipoli. There were sheet iron boats about 20 meters in length used by the British fleet to carry provisions and landing troops between their base on Gökçeada (Imroz) and Gallipoli. Since they were open many of them were sunk by gunfire or storms, and several are to be seen at depths of 28 to 30 meters. A lighter lying off Anzac Cove west of Kocatepe harbor is one of those most often visited by divers, both because it is within easy reach and because of its proximity to the other wrecks in Suvla Bay.

Two other lighters at a depth of 30 meters and 15 meters apart lying parallel to the southern shore of Morto Cove provide interesting dives. One was carrying a wheeled steam boiler which now lies on its side in the sand on the port side of the bow. Shoals of leer (Latin Lichia Amia or Turkish Akya), a large, silver fish with a dark back often exceeding 1.5 meters in length, are one of the lighter wrecks. These curious and lovely fish swim to meet divers and circle around them. They are sensitive to sound, and if divers tap their diving knives on metal as they swim, the leer will rush out to investigate the intruders.

Another interesting wreck is a steam ship in Suvla Bay near Büyük Kemikli headland. Lying at 15 meters and largely buried under sand, the most notable feature of this wreck is its thickly armored steam boiler which exploded when the ship sunk and broke into three sections. The proximity of this wreck to the shore in shallow water means that even inexperienced divers are able to explore it. The experience of witnessing historical evidence which divers alone can reach combined with many varieties of marine creatures in their natural habitat is a fascinating one, and brings both amateurs and professionals back to this area time after time.