Friday, 13 March 2015

Lead up to the Gallipoli Campaign

At this moment, one hundred years ago, Feb / March 1915 - the Allies were involved in a naval assault against Turkey at the Dardanelles. The intention was to force a passage through to the Sea of Marmora. Once there, they would sail to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and threaten the very heart of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The envisioned result was that the Turks would surrender and withdraw from the war.

This plan was the result of a number of factors which were to give birth to the Gallipoli Campaign:

-Russia was under immense pressure in their fighting against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians (Central Powers).

- In the Caucasus region, Turkey was also pressuring Russia, who appealed to Britain for help.

- Opening up the Dardanelles would allow Russia access to the rest of the world via their warm water ports in the Black Sea.

-The Allies considered the Ottoman Empire an easier opponent to fight than the other members of the Central Powers.

- Britain had the most powerful navy in the world, but it was restricted in its attempts to engage the Germans, who were avoiding contact. So the Royal Navy eagerly awaited an opportunity to be employed more fully.

- Greece, Bulgaria and Romania were at present sitting on the fence, so an Allied victory over Turkey had the highly possibility of enticing them to join the Allies to fight the Central Powers.

British First Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Jackie Fisher, was champing at the bit to get his ships into action. He had a plan for a direct naval attack on Germany, with Russian divisions being landed via the Baltic Sea
There was also a plan for the navy to aid a landing in Belgium to outflank the German trenches on the Western Front.

But then Winston Churchill (Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty) had the idea to attack the Dardanelles.
As early as 1906 the British General Staff had considered operational strategies to attack Turkey by means of a combined Army and Naval assault; but the plan was not recommended. 
Now in 1915, the idea of a combined assault was dismissed because of a lack of man-power. The majority of troops were needed for the fighting in Europe, and only garrison forces were available for the Mediterranean.

Churchill  was dead-set on using the Navy to carry out the task, and was convinced that his big ships with big guns could reduce the Turkish forts in the Dardanelles. Most Naval men abhorred the idea of an attack by sea alone, but eventually Churchill’s persistence and enthusiasm won a few followers. 

Eventually even Lord Kitchener thought it worth a go; especially as it meant not robbing any of his troops from the Western Front. If troops were required to fill any occupation role he considered General Birdwood’s Anzacs, who were already in Egypt.
Lord Fisher’s plan was shelved.

So on the 19th of February 1915, the combined British and French Navies commenced operations to penetrate the Dardanelles.

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