Gallipoli, Turkey (1915 AD)
The Gallipoli Campaign was the largest and longest battle to occur in the Ottoman theater during World War I. Outside of the Western Front, it was also the largest disaster of the war for the Entente powers. Over eight hundred thousand men fought on both sides, with a total of nearly half a million casualties. Although devised and organized by future great leader Winston Churchill, the Galliopli campaign represented a catastrophic failure of leadership that left the Ottoman Empire and the Central Powers in a stronger position than ever in southeastern Europe. The battle has since become synonymous with bad military planning.
In November 1914, World War I spilled out of continental Europe and into the Middle East, which at the time was largely under the control of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman entrance into the war on the side of Germany and Austria tipped the balance of power in the Balkans and posed a serious threat to Russia’s southern flank. Recognizing that a contained Russia would almost certainly spell doom for the Entente, Great Britain and France immediately began to plan a massive campaign against the Ottomans with the objective of knocking the Turks out of the war quickly.
Undertaken as a joint Anglo-French operation, the Gallipoli campaign was organized by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and future Prime Minister. Thankfully, history went on to show him as a much greater statesman than military strategist. The natural strategic objective of the campaign was the city of Istanbul, which was both the seat of the Ottoman government and which controlled the vital sea link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. This would have effectively knocked the Turks out of the war, at least in Europe, and greatly threatened the Austrians.
After a brief series of naval maneuvers in the Dardanelles which failed to open a route to Istanbul, the British decided to focus their efforts on a land-based campaign. The main efforts of the offensive were directed against the Gallipoli Peninsula. However, the arrival of sufficient troops to mount the assault were delayed for some weeks, giving the Ottomans the opportunity to dig in. The landings took place on April 25, 1915, at which time the allies established the Helles and Anzac beachheads. The Ottomans under future leader Ataturk fought furiously, preventing the beachheads from linking up or the allies from making their way up the peninsula.
What followed was a stalemate, with massive attacks and counterattacks resulting in horrendous casualties for both sides but little gain for either. The most famous action of the campaign took place on August 7, when Australian and New Zealand forces tried in vain to break the stalemate at the Battle of Nek. Casualties from this action ran to nearly 100%. After the failure of the August offenses, the campaign was effectively halted. By the end of the year the Entente forces had effectively abandoned the peninsula and the campaign to take Istanbul.
The Gallipoli Battlefield is actually a series of sites spread out along the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula between the Dardanelles and the Aegean Sea. Most of the sites of interest are gathered around the Anzac beach head along the Aegean coast. Most popular is the area known as the Nek on a high ridge overlooking the beach. This scenic place is where much of the bloodiest fighting took place in August.
The Gallipoli Battlefield is located close to the tip of the peninsula across the Dardanelles from the city of Canakkale approximately 180 miles southwest of Istanbul. It is an open site, but difficult to access (many visitors come by ferry from Canakkale). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.tourismturkey.org (official tourism website of Turkey).