Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Initial Allied Naval Attacks on the Dardenelles

In 1915, Turkey, as we know it today, existed as the central part of the Ottoman Empire. It consisted of a large area encompassing many countries around the Mediterranean and further afield. The generic term Ottoman Turk was used to describe the people who at that time were part of the Empire, without being more specific – i.e. Anatolian, Arab, Syrian, etc. Similar to how the name Australian is used to describe people from Tasmania, Victoria, etc. Generally in my book, when referencing the Turks, I have used Ottoman or Turk rather then using specific regional, or country names.
Constantinople was the centre of the Byzantine Empire when it was conquered by the Crusaders in 1203 AD
The Allied plan to eliminate the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) from the war was to sail through the Dardenelles to Constantinople (now Istanbul). Then, after shelling the city, accept the Sultan’s surrender and open Russia’s warm water supply line through the Black Sea. Further explanation of this plan is quite irrelevant, as the Allies didn’t get very far into it before things began to bog down.

It was to be a purely naval undertaking, so the British and French navies began their attempts to breach the Dardenelles defences on the 19 Feb 1915.
They soon found that the Ottoman defences were sturdier then expected.
Instead of making a large decisive thrust, they began with small attacks which were unsuccessful. Naturally after each attack the Turks improved their defences to meet the next attack. So eventually the “formidable” defences became impregnable.

After many frustrated attempts to silence the shore based artillery, the Allies switched their attention to the minefields in the Narrows. With converted North Sea fishing trawlers and civilian crews they set to the task. This was done at night under the cover of darkness, but the Ottoman’s had searchlights sweeping the waters and every attempt failed.
Thwarted again, the next step for the Allies was to launch an enormous all-out attack to silence the Turkish artillery which was preventing the mine sweepers from doing their task. Eighteen battleships were concentrated in the Mediterranean to achieve a decisive victory. This huge fleet must have been a daunting sight to the Turks as it sailed into the cramped confines of the Dardenelles.

The attack started well for the Allies but by the end of the day, the only people cheering were the Turks.

Turkey still celebrates the anniversary of this battle, on the 18th of March 1915, as "Victory Day".