Map NK-34-35 showing Dardanelles and Gallipoli.

Gallipoli

Geography and Logistics

Gallipoli (or Gelibolu in Turkish) is a peninsula in European Turkey, forming the west of the Dardanelles strait. The Black Sea drains into the Aegean sea by passing through the Bosphorus, which divides İstanbul, and into the relatively small Sea of Marmara. From there, the water flows through the Dardanelles into the Aegean. Çanakkale is the largest town in the area, and where you will probably stay overnight, although there are some services across the strait in Eceabat. As for getting there by bus, Çanakkale is about 6 hours from İstanbul and 5 hours from İzmir.

CIA map of the Sea of Marmara and Dardanelles.

A portion of a US Government map showing the Gallipoli peninsula, north and west of the Dardanelles strait draining the Sea of Marmara into the Mediterranean.

The Battle of Gallipoli

It became a major encampment for British and French forces during the Crimean War in 1854. Then in 1915, World War I came to Gallipoli. The Allies were trying to reach and assist Russia via the Black Sea. Any fighting on the Eastern Front would relieve pressure on the Western Front.

Germany and Austria-Hungary blocked land routes from Europe to Russia. Sea routes were limited — the White Sea in the north, with the port of Murmansk, was often ice-bound. The Sea of Okhotsk was ice-bound a little less, but it was all the way across Siberia, about a third of the way around the world across the world's largest country. The Baltic was blocked by the German fleet.

Two books that can help you understand the historical background of the battle.

The Black Sea was the best alternative. However, both the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus were controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in October 1914.

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The military campaign is known by several names — the Battle of Gallipoli in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Newfoundland; the Dardanelles Campaign in the UK, and the Battle of Çanakkale in Turkey. ANZAC Day, 25 April, is the most significant commemoration of military casualities and veterans in Australia and New Zealand. The battle is also a defining moment in modern Turkish history, defense of the Turkish homeland as the old regime of the Ottoman Empire was in its final collapse.

By late 1914 the Western Front through France and Belgium had become static and a new front was needed. The Allies also hoped that if they attacked the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Bulgaria might be drawn into the war on the Allied side.

Winston Churchill was the First Lord of the Admirality, and he put forth plans for a naval attack based on two sets of assumptions. First, that the Royal Navy had a large number of obsolete battleships not useful against the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea, but they might be useful in another naval theatre. Second, that Turkish troop strength was low. The second assumption, which turned out to be very wrong, was based on erroneous reports from T.E. Lawrence.

Naval operations started on 19 February with a naval bombardment of Turkish artillery installations. Allied assumptions were incorrectly optimistic. Admiral Carden sent a cable to Churchill on 4 March stating that the fleet could expect to arrive in Constantinople (as İstanbul was still called) within fourteen days. The Allies also intercepted a German wireless message reporting that the Ottoman Dardanelles forts were about to run out of ammunition.

Plan your visit with a useful guidebook!

The main attack was launched on 18 March. A fleet of 18 battleships and many cruisers and destroyers targeted the narrowest point where the Dardannelles are just a mile wide. The Allies were unaware of the extent of the Ottoman naval mines, and several ships were lost or heavily damaged.

The intercepted German message had been correct. The Turkish artillery had almost run out of ammunition before the fleet retreated. The result was a change of strategy for the Allies and a huge morale boost for the Turks. The debate continues — what would have happened if the fleet had pushed on as Churchill had demanded? Maybe Gallipoli would not have been a defeat for the Allies, or maybe the entire fleet would have been lost after getting into the Sea of Marmara but then being unable to either take Constantinople or retreat through the mined Dardanelles.

See the map at left below for details of the Ottoman naval defenses.

Two maps of the Gallipoli campaign: the naval attack and the land assault

At left, the Ottoman naval defenses. At right, the Allied landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Maps from the U.S. Military Academy.

Allied command decided that ground forces would have to eliminate the Turkish mobile artillery. See the map at right above for the planned landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces comprised the Australian 1st Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division. The ANZACs would be used along with the British 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division (Royal Marines and naval recruits), and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps, including four Senegalese battalions.

The ANZACs were fairly close in Egypt, but there was a delay of six weeks while the forces were shipped from Britain, allowing Turkish forces time to prepare for the land assault. Roads were constructed, beaches were wired and mined, and trenches and gun emplacements were dug. The high ground was fortified.

The invasion began on 25 April 1915.

The British and French were to land at the tip of the peninsula, while the ANZAC forces were to land on the Aegean coast around what came to be known as Anzac Cove. two kilometers south of their target (Suvla Bay) at the western end of the Peninsula.

All the landings went from bad to worse, and quickly settled into deadly static seiges.

The campaign was largely successful for the Turks and the Germans — it was a catastrophe for Russia. It was part of the reason for the civil war and Russian Revolution, overthrowing Imperial Russia and establishing the Soviet Union. And the Ottoman Empire collapsed with the end of World War I, and the modern Turkish Republic was established.

The ANZAC forces evacuated on 19 December 1915. There were many casualties — 180,000 Allied and 220,000 Turkish. It was a major turning point for Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey. It nearly ruined the career of Winston Churchill, who had designed the Dardanelles invasion plans as First Lord of the Admiralty.

A little-known army commander named Mustafa Kemal disregarded orders so as to halt and drive back the Allied advance. His famous speech from the battle was:

"I do not command you to fight, I command you to die. In the time it will take us to die we can be replenished by new forces."

Mustafa Kemal was promoted to Pasha, and he went on to lead the establishment of the Turkish Republic. Now, of course, he is known as Kemal Atatürk.

25 April is now observed as ANZAC Day, with some huge crowds gathering at Gallipoli.

There is much more on the battle at Wikipedia:
Battle of Gallipoli
Landing at Anzac_Cove
Landing at Cape Helles
Battle of Lone Pine
Landing at Suvla Bay
Battle of Sari Bair
Battle of Krithia Vineyard
Battle of Chunuk Bair
Battle of the Nek
Battle of Scimitar Hill
Battle of Hill 60 (Gallipoli)

The book Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War by historians Eliot Cohen and John Gooch presents the Gallipoli campaign as a textbook example of a military failure caused by overconfidence. It would start with a large-scale amphibious landing, a complex military operation with which the British had little experience. It would immediately involve combat against an opponent dug into a harsh and hilly landscape of rocky outcroppings and ravines, what they call "one of the finest natural fortresses in the world." The British military leaders had estimated that the Allied forces would need at least 150,000 troops with 300 artillery pieces to take Gallipoli.

However, the British leadership never drew up a formal plan of operations. They sent only 70,000 troops and 118 artillery guns, including almost no howitzers or trench mortars. Despite the anticipated trench warfare, almost no grenades were sent. Command of the crucial landing at Suvla Bay was assigned to Frederick Stoppard, a retired officer with mostly administrative experience.

The British commander Sir Ian Hamilton eventually stepped in to take command at Suvla Bay. Before the battle he had written in his diary, "Let me bring my lads face to face with Turks in the open field. We must beat them every time because British volunteer soldiers are superior individuals to Anatolians, Syrians or Arabs and are animated with a superior ideal and an equal joy in battle."


Gallipoli battlefield: looking down to the beaches from the high lands held by the Turks.  View from above Anzac Cove toward the Aegean shoreline.

Pictures

These pictures are thumbnails, click on them to see higher resolution versions.

This is a view looking down from the high ground, from above Anzac Cove down toward the Aegean shore. The Allies were forced to attempt to fight their way up high steep slopes.

Trenches in the Gallipoli battlefield.

The phrase "the horror of trench warfare" is often applied to the First World War. Many trenches are still in place across the Gallipoli battlefields. And they look pretty horrific...

The memorial marker above ANZAC Cove at Gallipoli.

This is the marker above Anzac Cove. The cove itself is surprisingly small.

Many of the guesthouses in Çanakkale show both a documentary on the battle and Mel Gibson's early movie "Gallipoli" every night. The movie is a good introduction to the history! But even after watching both of those, Anzac Cove is surprisingly small.

There was very little room between the waterline and the base of the steep slope. And, of course, an army at the top shooting down...

Gravestones and a tree in a cemetery at the Gallipoli battlefields.

One of the many cemeteries at Gallipoli.

Gravestones and a tree in a cemetery at the Gallipoli battlefields.

Another of the many cemeteries at Gallipoli.

The cemetery and large memorial or monument at Lone Pine, on the Gallipoli battlefields.  Marker with Atatürk's speech, 'Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.  There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.'

At left is the cemetery and large memorial at Lone Pine.

Atatürk's moving words at the dedication of the Gallipoli memorials are frequently quoted and displayed on memorials:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

And yes, Troy is just south of Çanakkale, and you might want to visit it. Be warned, though, it's the site of Troy, and if you are not well-informed about archaeology (or a real Troy fanatic!) you may be a little disappointed. Definitely start by seeing the Troy artifacts and the clear description of the site and its exploration in the archaeological museum in İstanbul.

If you're interested in Troy, you might want to check out Mycenae, over in Greece, the home of the other side of the Trojan War.