On 19th February, 1915, the British attacked the Turkish forts at the Dardanelles. The assault started with a long range bombardment followed by heavy fire at closer range. As a result of the bombardment the outer forts were abandoned by the Turks. The minesweepers were brought forward and managed to penetrate six miles inside the straits and clear the area of mines.
Further advance up into the straits was now impossible. The Turkish forts were too far away to be silenced by the Allied ships. The minesweepers were sent forward to clear the next section but they were forced to retreat when they came under heavy fire from the Turkish batteries.
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, became impatient about the slow progress that Admiral Sackville Carden was making and demanded to know when the third stage of the plan was to begin. Admiral Carden found the strain of making this decision extremely stressful and began to have difficulty sleeping. On 15th March, Carden's doctor reported that the commander was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Carden was sent home and replaced by Vice-Admiral Sir John de Robeck, who immediately ordered the Allied fleet to advance up the Dardanelles Straits.
On 18th March eighteen battleships entered the straits. The fleet included Queen Elizabeth, Lord Nelson, Agamemmon, Inflexible, Ocean, Irresistible, Prince George and Majestic from Britain and the Gaulois, Bouvet and Suffren from France. At first they made good progress until the Bouvet struck a mine, heeled over, capsized and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Soon afterwards two more ships, Irresistible and Ocean hit mines. Most of the men in these two ships were rescued but by the time the Allied fleet retreated, over 700 men had been killed. Overall, three ships had been sunk and three more had been severely damaged.
Vice-Admiral Sir John de Robeck now informed Winston Churchill that he could not capture the Gallipoli peninsula without the help of the army. General Ian Hamilton, commander of the troops on the Greek island of Lemnos, who had watched the failed navy operation, agreed and plans were now made for full-scale landings at Gallipoli.
Leaders of the Greek Army informed Kitchener that he would need 150,000 men to take Gallipoli. Lord Kitchener concluded that only half that number was needed. Kitchener sent the experienced British 29th Division to join the troops from Australia, New Zealand and French colonial troops on Lemnos. Information soon reached the Turkish commander, Liman von Sanders, about the arrival of the 70,000 troops on the island. Sanders knew an attack was imminent and he began positioning his 84,000 troops along the coast where he expected the landings to take place.
The attack that began on the 25th April, 1915 established two beachheads at Helles and Gaba Tepe. Another major landing took place at Sulva Bay on 6th August. However, attempts to sweep across the peninsula ended in failure. By the end of August the Allies had lost over 40,000 men. General Ian Hamilton asked for 95,000 more men, but although supported by Winston Churchill, Kitchener was unwilling to send more troops to the area.
On 14th October, Hamilton was replaced by General Munro. After touring all three fronts Munro recommended withdrawal. Lord Kitchener, who arrived two weeks later, agreed that the 105,000 men should be evacuated. The operation began at Sulva Bay on 7th December. The last of the men left Helles on 9th January, 1916.
About 480,000 Allied troops took part in the Gallipoli campaign. The British had 205,000 casualties (43,000 killed). There were more than 33,600 ANZAC losses (over one-third killed) and 47,000 French casualties (5,000 killed). Turkish casualties are estimated at 250,000 (65,000 killed).
We had been expected to be sent to France, but in the late spring we got orders to equip with tropical kit. I realised that our destination was either Gallipoli or Mesopotamia. In June, 1915, we sailed from Avonmouth for the East and had an uneventful voyage through the Mediterranean to Alexandria.
I had three or four weeks at Helles experiencing the heat and smells and flies. Like many others, I got dysentery. Eventually I fainted and was carried down to the beach and embarked for Malta. I thus missed the big attack at Anzac where our Division had six or seven thousand casualties, including many of my friends of the South Lancashires.
The great venture has at last been launched, and the entire fleet of warships and transports is now steaming slowly towards the shores of Gallipoli. As the huge liners steamed through the fleet, their decks yellow with khaki, the crews of the warships cheered them on to victory, while the bands played them out with an unending variety of popular airs. The soldiers in the transports answered the last salutation from the Navy with deafening cheers, and no more inspiring spectacle has ever been seen than this, of the last crusade setting forth for better or worse.
No such gathering of fine ships has ever been seen upon this earth, and the beauty and the exultation of the youth upon them made them seem like sacred things as they moved away. All that they felt was a gladness of exultation that their young courage was to be used. They went like Kings in a pageant to their imminent death.
The campaign came, more than once, very near to triumph, achieved the impossible many times, and failed, in the end from something which had nothing to do with arms nor with the men who bore them.
The Gallipoli campaign will always remain a vivid memory. I have always held that the strategic conception was sound. The trouble was that it was never adequately supported. Unfortunately, the military authorities were Western Front minded. Reinforcements were always sent too late. For an enterprise such as this the right leaders were not chosen. Elderly and hidebound generals were not the men to push through an adventure of this kind. Had we had at Sulva generals like Maude, who came out later, we should, I think, have pushed through to victory.
We have spent four days in the fire trench. We had only a few casualties. We were put there just after a big attack which had partially failed and the ground between our trench and the Turks were strewn with bodies. It strikes me that they will be there for a long time. In this heat the body and face turn quite black in less than 24 hours and the smell is terrific. The flies - which are myriad - also add to the general discomfort.
The enemy's machine-guns were too scientifically posted. Generally speaking the coast is precipitous, and good landing-places are few. In most of these landing-places the trenches and lines of wire entanglements are plainly visible from on board ship.
Throughout the afternoon and all through the night the Turks made assault after assault upon the British line. They threw bombs into the trenches. The British repeatedly counter-charged with the bayonet and always drove off the enemy for the moment, but the Turks were in a vast superiority and fresh troops took the place of those who temporary fell back. By 7 a.m. on the first day after the landing, only about half remained to man the entrenchment made for four times their number.
Up to the very last moment it appeared as if the landing was to be unopposed. But a tornado of fire swept over the beach, the incoming boats, and the collier. The Dublin Fusiliers and the naval boats' crews suffered exceedingly heavy losses while still in the boats. About 1,000 men left the collier, and of these nearly half had been killed or wounded before they could reach the cover afforded by the steep, sandy bank at the top of the beach.
After the strain of carefully organised preparations, the excitement of the final hours was extreme, but no signs of anxiety were shown. Would the sea remain calm? Would the moon remain veiled in a thin cloud? Would the brigades keep time and place? Our own guns continued firing duly till the moment for withdrawal came. Our rifles kept up an intermittent fire, and sometimes came sudden outbursts from the Turks.
Mules neighed, chains rattled, steamers hooted low, and sailor men shouted into megaphones language strong enough to carry a hundred miles. Still the enemy showed no sign of life or hearing, though he lay almost visible in the moonlight across the familiar scene of bay and plain and hills to which British soldiers have given such unaccustomed names.
So the critical hours went by slowly, and yet giving so little time for all to be done. At last the final bands of silent defenders began to come in from the nearest lines. Sappers began to come in, cutting all telephone wires and signals on their way.