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The Gallipoli campaign

Mired in stalemate on the Western Front, the British war effort required new impetus in early 1915. An attack on the Glossary - opens new windowOttoman empire, which had entered the war on Germany's side on 29 October 1914, quickly emerged as the favoured option. Glossary - opens new windowWinston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, championed the idea of an Anglo-French military operation to force the Glossary - opens new windowDardanelles (the strait separating European Turkey from Asia Minor), seize control of Glossary - opens new windowGallipoli and advance on the Ottoman capital, Glossary - opens new windowConstantinople.

This proposed diversionary expedition had a number of possible benefits. It re-affirmed Britain's support for one of its chief allies, Russia, by diverting Turkish troops from fighting in the Glossary - opens new windowCaucasus - support that was further illustrated by a secret agreement, signed on 20 March 1915, offering Glossary - opens new windowTsar Nicholas II the glittering prize of Constantinople. If successful, the campaign would also bring the Ottoman empire to its knees and encourage Balkan states such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania to join the war on the Allied side.

Preparations for Dardanelles - opens new window
Churchill to Kitchener
on Gallipoli preparations (160k)

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No swift victory

The British government was so confident of success, and so contemptuous of Turkish fighting abilities, that it did not envisage having to send any troops ashore on the Gallipoli peninsula. Such arrogance quickly proved misplaced.

Although the naval attack on the Dardanelles on 18 March 1915 was almost successful, the Anglo-French forces ran into an unexpected line of 20 Turkish mines and three battleships were sunk, causing a temporary retreat. Bad weather, combined with the growing desire to land troops on the peninsula, then ended any hopes of a swift victory by naval force alone.

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Heavy fighting

After more than a month of preparations, British empire and French colonial troops under the overall command of Glossary - opens new windowSir Ian Hamilton landed on the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula at Glossary - opens new windowCape Helles and further north at Glossary - opens new windowGaba Tepe on 25 April 1915. Neither landing went to plan.

A navigational error meant that the Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops who undertook the Gaba Tepe landing were put ashore in the wrong place. Of the five separate landings at Cape Helles, three were largely unopposed. But the other two, at 'Glossary - opens new windowV Beach' and 'Glossary - opens new windowW Beach', witnessed heavy fighting. Of the 950 men from the Lancashire Fusiliers who landed at 'W Beach', 254 were killed and a further 283 wounded in securing a foothold on the peninsula.

Gallipoli war diary - opens new window
Landing at 'W Beach'

Listen to account of 'V Beach' landing:
R B Gillett
Loudspeaker - opens a new window

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Photos of Gallipoli campaign - opens new window
Gallipoli campaign: photographs
Far from providing a rapid military victory over inferior opposition, the Gallipoli campaign quickly turned into another war of attrition, with its own system of trenches and stubborn defensive lines. With German military support, and under the inspired leadership of Glossary - opens new windowMustafa Kemal, Turkish troops ensured that the Allies remained stranded on the two beachheads on which they had initially landed.

A new series of landings at Glossary - opens new windowSuvla Bay on 6 August occasioned further bloody fighting but no breakthrough. Four months later, Glossary - opens new windowWilliam Robertson, the new Glossary - opens new windowChief of the Imperial General Staff and an avowed 'Glossary - opens new windowWesterner', ordered the total evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula by Allied forces. The final troops departed in January 1916.

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The great cost

The Gallipoli campaign ensured that the Western Front was given precedence over all other theatres of military operation for the rest of the war. Its failure prompted Churchill's resignation (November 15) and the creation in July 1916 of a parliamentary committee of enquiry into the expedition. Its findings - published a year later - criticised many of the assumptions and actions that had underpinned the campaign.

Photo of Turkish sniper - opens new window
Captured Turkish sniper

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Report of Dardanelles Commission - opens new window
Dardanelles Commission report: conclusions (517k)
Today there are 33 Commonwealth war cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula. Two further memorials record the names of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died there with no known graves. In all, 28,000 Britons, 10,000 Frenchmen, 7,595 Australians, 2,431 New Zealanders and 1,500 Indians were killed in the Allied attempt to seize control of the peninsula.

The proud Turkish victory, which kept a vital line of communication between Russia and its Western allies closed, came at an even greater cost. A total of 66,000 Turks lost their lives in the defence of Gallipoli; many Turkish army divisions had to rebuilt from scratch in 1916.

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Further research

The following references give an idea of the sources held by The National Archives on the subject of this chapter. These documents can be seen on site at The National Archives.

CAB 19/1, 28-33: War Cabinet special commission on the Dardanelles campaign.
CAB 45/259: CID Historical Section: Indian army captain's war diary on Gallipoli landings, 1915.
PRO 30/57/61-64: Kitchener papers: correspondence with Churchill, Hamilton, etc. re Gallipoli campaign, Jan 1915-May 1916.
WO 32/4995: VC recommendations for soldiers at Gallipoli, 1915-17.
WO 301: Various maps from the Gallipoli campaign, 1914-18.
WO 317/1-14: Photographs from Gallipoli campaign, 1915-16.

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