Tuesday, June 15, 2010


As in many operations before and after, the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was destined to become a failed attempt to end a war quickly. A success would easily led to an early end to the first world war, which would have resulted in unbelievable outcomes. For instance, the Bolshevik revolution may not have occurred had the war ended earlier. But, all these are just speculations. But, what can be said for certain is that the extremely amateur manner in which the campaign was conducted led to a disaster which could have been avoided.

On the first weeks of the war in the summer of 1914, Turkey remained neutral although the allies may have suspected a leaning towards the Central Powers. The seizure of two ships which were built for the Turkish navy in British shipyards would not have made a positive impression on the Turks. The Germans agreed to replace these ships with their own ships, Goeben and Breslau which may have served to justify the suspicion of the Allies. The ships were placed under the Turkish flag although Admiral Souchon and his German crew still manned the ships. However, what made the Allies declare war against Turkey was the bombing of Russian Black Sea ports by these ships in late October.

The Gallipoli peninsular, which is a strategic location on the entrance to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, became a focal point of attention in Allied war planning. The relative ease by which the Allies sank the Turkish ship Medusha in December 1914 gave a false impression about the vulnerability of the region. Clearing the way towards Istanbul and relieving the Russians from Turkish campaign in the Caucasus were the main Allied objectives of the attack on Gallipoli. The occupation of Gallipoli which would have meant the fall of Istanbul in due course, would have made possible for the Allies to threaten Austra-Hungary and would have prevented the entrance of Bulgaria to the war.

The fact that such an important campaign was carried out in a grossly unprofessional manner is highly disturbing. There was no real preparation for the campaign, partly because the Allies were deceived by their earlier successes in the vicinity. When General Ian Hamilton was handed over the command in March 1915, his knowledge of the operational area and the enemy was minimal. His sources of information were based on some tourist guides and maps and a handbook on the Turkish Army. Unfortunately, they were not preparing for a tour but a military expedition for which they were not prepared.

Furthermore, the communication between the Army and the Navy was such that the information available about the Turkish artillery and troop positions were not given to the Army. Also, preliminary forays in the vicinity gave ample warning to the Turks as to where the Allied war machine would strike. The fact that General Hamilton was found to be a less than capable commander added to the misery of the Allies.

On the contrary, the Turkish side was fortunate to have not one but two talented commanders in the form of Mustapha Kemal and the German General Otto Liman von Sanders to lead their defense of Gallipoli. The Turkish commander showed the early signs of the talents which he would use to transform the Turkish nation itself within a few years after the defeat of 1918. The German on the other hand was responsible for the modernization of the Turkish Armed forces which would have been decades backward from the standards of the Allied armies just a few years back.

The campaign in Gallipoli started badly with some Allied ships being damaged or even sunk by mines in the narrow straits. The troubles did not ease after the actual landings with more blunders leading to a catastrophe which could have been avoided.

Even after the initial setbacks the Allied commanders had high hopes of success in Gallipoli. In October General Charles Monroe replaced General Hamilton and it was supposed that sufficient reinforcements would tip the balance towards the Allied cause. In November however, when Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener visited Gallipoli he found the situation to be hopeless. Withdrawal was advised and carried upon. By January 8th 1916, all Allied troops had left the peninsular.

It is true that the campaign caused more casualties among Turks and pinned down a considerable force of their army. But the fact that a similar number of Allied divisions which could have been used elsewhere were also pinned down, negates this advantage. Had the campaign was carried out in a more professional manner or had the troops were used in a more useful manner, the outcome of the world war itself might have been decided earlier than November 1918.

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