Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Allied Attacks on the Dardanelles Begin

As I mentioned in my last post - on the 19th of February 1915, the combined British and French Navies commenced operations to penetrate the Dardanelles.

This was carried out in a number of phases, devised by the Allied commander, Vice Admiral Cardin (Royal Navy).

First - battleships would knock out the Turkish guns of the outer forts by direct bombardment.

Second - the Turkish minefields in the Narrows would be cleared.

Third - the Navy would destroy the inner forts and defences at The Narrows.

The way would then be clear to sail to Constantinople and force the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire, forcing it out of the Great War.

Note: "The Narrows" is the narrow area of the Straits where the minefields are situated.

All this sounded easy enough to certain people in high places; especially as the Ottoman Army up to this time hadn’t really put up a good show. They were defeated soundly in Egypt at the Suez Canal; and although they had made advances in the Caucasus, against the Russians, now they were experiencing reversals. So an attack on the Dardanelles was considered to be a bit of a cake walk.

The Australian troops used to meet members from other units at the Furphy water cart for a drink and a yarn, Henceforth the name "Furphy" became synonymous with the spread of rumours, or "Furphies" as they became known. (my Dad's great-aunt married into the Furphy family back in 1898, My only claim to fame - DD)

Well, as it turned out, things didn’t exactly go to plan. (Who would have guessed that?)
The old Ottoman forts were extremely robust and could take an enormous pounding before any sort of damage was done. 
To help with the task of reducing the outer forts Marines of the Royal Navy landed and entered a few of them destroying the guns. These operations proved successful at Sed el Bahr and Kum Kale, which were the fortified areas at the mouth of the Dardanelles. The marines re-embarked and the Turks returned to reoccupy and bolster the defences of the forts; making them more difficult to assault.
Bad weather blew in and further attacks by the Allied Navies were put on hold. When they resumed and re-attacked the outer forts it was found that the Ottoman defences were now more prepared; and the Marines landing by sea, were repulsed.

It was decided to move on to the next phase – Clearing the minefields.
The British brought fishing trawlers down from the North Sea and fitted them out to act as minesweepers. These set out at night to clear the mines under cover of darkness; however the Turks had powerful searchlights set up illuminating the Narrows, which made the task very dangerous for the civilian crews.

These civilians jacked-up (understandably) and refused to carry on, so the Royal Navy crewed the trawlers and tried again. After a few nights it was decided to call it off, as they were not achieving their goals.

It had been nearly a month since the offensive began and pressure from London caused Cardin to rush onto the next Phase – an all-out assault by a large number of Allied battleships. This attack would be unstoppable and a tremendous show of French and British power to the enemy. It would commence at the next break in the weather.

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