The Gallipoli Campaign is one of the greatest failures by the Allied forces during the First World War. Despite the superiority of the Allied forces in the war, a sequence of events occasioned by systemic failures and missed opportunities led to the premature withdrawal of the invading armies on 9 January 1916, thus, granting the Ottoman Empire a surprising victory. The main aim of the Gallipoli invasion by France and Britain was to prevent Turkey, which was a Germany ally, from participating in the First World War.
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The Allied forces reasoned that if they captured Turkey’s capital, Istanbul, [known as Constantinople at the time], would destabilize the entire country, and cripple its attempts of helping Germany during the war. The campaign started by sending British battleships to invade Istanbul, but this movie failed miserably as the ships could not navigate the Dardanelles straits. On 18 March 1915, Britain lost a third of its battleships to the enemy (Cameron, 2011).
After this failure, the British army under the command of Sir Ian Hamilton was instructed to invade the Gallipoli peninsula where it would annihilate the Turkish land and shore war machinery. This annihilation would make Dardanelles accessible for the passage of the British navy. In the new plan of eliminating the Turkish forces, the British troops would invade and capture the peninsula’s tip on April 25, 1915, and head northwards (Cameron, 2011).
At the same time, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) would launch attacks from the western coast, which is located on the northern sides of Gaba Tepe. Unfortunately, the British and ANZACS troops succeeded marginally in their mission by securing a small and insignificant region on the peninsula. The Turkish troops were apparently strong, strategic, tactical, and prepared as opposed to the Allied forces’ assumptions. This paper explores some of the events and tactical decisions that led to the infamous Gallipoli failure.
The main players
Lord Fisher became the First Sea Lord in October 1914 after the controversial resignation of Prince Louis of Battenberg (Heathcote, 2002). Prince Louis’ resignation is termed as controversial because he was forced to step aside because he had a German name. Lord Fisher did not support the Gallipoli Campaign fully, which led to unnecessary arguments with Winston Churchill during the Gallipoli campaign.
General Sir Ian Hamilton
Became the commander of the Allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) in March 1915 (Heathcote, 2002). This force was tasked with the sole duty of conquering the Dardanelles straits to create a way for the capturing of Constantinople. Unfortunately, Hamilton was excluded from the decision-making process concerning the Gallipoli campaign, and thus, he only received instructions from Lord Kitchener.
Commodore Sir Roger Keyes
Was the “Naval Chief of Staff to Vice-Admiral Carden, who was the commander of the Royal Navy squadron off the Dardanelles” (Heathcote, 2002, p. 145). Keyes was one of the masterminds of the Dardanelles campaign. However, he rued Admiral Carden’s lack of foresight, which led to numerous casualties to the British troops after falling for the Turkish minefields. After the resignation of Admiral Carden, Keyes led the minesweeping exercise
Field Marshal Lord Kitchener
Was the Secretary of State for War during the Gallipoli campaign (Heathcote, 2002). Kitchener was an intelligent person and perhaps the only individual who could anticipate the Turkish moves in the war. Unfortunately, his decisions were opposed on many occasions. For instance, France was reluctant to accept Kitchener’s proposal of having additional troops to back the Western Front. Besides, Kitchener came up with the ANZAC idea. Despite his witticism and tactical advantage, the Gallipoli campaign failed perhaps due to the many centers of power and decision-making.
Reasons for failure
The first reason for failure during the Gallipoli campaign was the lack of proper and coordinated communication between the involved players. Signalers were used to giving orders to the frontline and deliver feedback to the headquarters. A Divisional Signal Company was tasked with the duty of providing timely communication platforms (Hart, 2011). The company decided to use signal lamps and heliographs, which were damaged or lost during the landing mission.
People carrying information to and from the front line died in the hands of the Turkish snippers, who had taken strategic places. In short, communication was a problem, and thus, different teams could not relay important information in time. For instance, upon landing, Hamilton thought that the navy would unleash unparalleled attacks as part of the strategy. However, Hamilton could not communicate this expectation, and thus, he ended up relying on assumptions.
On the other side, the navy had foreseen the likely losses from such attacks. Besides, the navy as opposed to the general feeling that any tactical loss of ships was bearable. Therefore, the navy did not launch attacks upon the landing of Hamilton, which led to a significant loss of British forces (Carlyon, 2002). In another example, after the soldiers involved in the first and second waves of attack were killed in Nek, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Brazier tried to stop the third wave of attack. However, he could not reach Colonel Hughes or convince Colonel John Antill to abort the attack. Sadly, Colonel Antill walked into an open trap and lost 80 of his men to the Ottoman forces (Carlyon, 2002).
Supply issues, not enough trained soldiers
By the time Britain embarked on the Gallipoli campaign, it had suffered a huge loss of trained soldiers, ammunition, and weaponry following the five-month confrontation in 1914. By the start of 1915, the British Army had lost close to 40% of its pre-war strength (Hart, 2011). Unfortunately, the New Armies needed time to train and muster the art of war. Besides, there was a shortage of artillery for all soldiers.
The combination of these factors led to the derailment of the campaign by giving the Ottoman forces time to reorganize and strategize. Prior (2010posits, “….substandard weaponry, finding itself short of machine guns, deploying artillery of Boer War vintage, and equipping its soldiers with a bewildering variety of inadequate hand grenades… these material weaknesses were compounded by the near-universal inexperience of officers and men” (p. 102).
For instance, when the MEF landed in March 1915, it had 70,000 soldiers, which was the same number fighting them from the Ottoman side. In most cases, the attacking side needs the superiority of numbers to be in a position to conquer the enemy especially in amphibious attacks (Laffin, 1980). The British strategists understood this proposition, but they assumed that the Fifth Ottoman Army would be weak, albeit the same in numbers. The Allied forces incurred many casualties and by August the same year, the Ottoman side had 250,000 men in the war as opposed to the MEF’s 190,000 (Laffin, 1980).
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The MEF and the ANZAC were unfamiliar with the local terrain, and thus, they relied on maps for directions. However, the provided maps were faulty, which misled the forces into landing on the wrong spots. For instance, instead of landing at Cape Tepe on 25 April 1915, the ANZAC forces ended up in the Anzac Cove (Doyle & Bennett, 1999). Navigating the cove in the dark became an impediment for the invading soldiers, and thus, they resorted to remain in silence for over 1 hour without any attack. Later on, the Ottoman forces came to inspect the cove, and the ANZAC forces opened fire killing over 70 rival soldiers (Fewster, Basarin, & Basarin, 2003).
However, even though the Allied forces did not suffer any loss of soldiers during this attack, the Ottoman counterparts seized huge amounts of supplies and stores. Besides, the failure by the ANZAC to land successfully compromised the Allied force’s initial plan, which required regrouping and fresh strategizing. By abandoning the initial plan, the entire ANZAC camp was thrown into confusion compounded by the issuance of mixed orders.
In the ensuing melee, some soldiers navigated to their designated areas, while others ended up in different locations. The divisional commanders wanted evacuation, but the Royal Navy advised otherwise due to the impracticability of such a venture. Ultimately, the ANZAC failed to achieve the set objectives, due to faulty maps.
The Battle of Nek
The battle at Nek was planned to start at 0430hrs on August 7, 1915. However, timing instructions were not followed; hence, the preparation of artillery stopped at 0423hrs, while the battle started 7 minutes later (Laffin, 1980). The 7-minutes lapse before starting the attack gave the Ottoman side time to prepare sufficiently. The time-lapse between the ceasing of artillery preparation and the launch of the attack eliminated the element of surprise, which disadvantaged the Allied forces’ side.
The Ottoman force knew that an attack was coming, and thus it prepared adequately. Therefore, when Colonel White launched the first wave of attack, he was killed together with his 150 men from the 8th Light Horse Regiment (Burness, 1990). The second and the third waves of attack suffered the same fate leaving hundreds of Australian soldiers dead.
Overconfidence in British abilities
One of the greatest blunders that the Allied forces did was to underestimate the fighting capabilities of the enemy, the Turkish forces. The British troops were overconfident of their abilities having won other challenging battles before (Fewster et al., 2003). Therefore, even when tactical and logical examination pointed out that the Allied forces needed to withdraw, leaders from London, and especially Winston Churchill, pushed harder to win the war (Gariepy, 2014).
For instance, after the failed landing at the Anzac Cove, the commanding officers wanted to evacuate, but the Royal Navy declined the request. Similarly, after losing the August offensive at Nek, which led to the death of many soldiers, evacuation would have worked, but the pride in the British mightiness overruled logic and the war continued. Ultimately, the Allied forces lost 130,000 soldiers with close to 300,000 being invalidated due to sickness from dysentery and typhoid (Gariepy, 2014).
The Gallipoli Campaign failed miserably and granted the Ottoman forces unprecedented victory during the First World War. Some of the contributing factors to the failure included the assumption that British troops were superior to their Turkish counterparts, and thus, the battle would be a walkover. Additionally, poor communication impeded the progress of the attacks coupled with faulty maps and substandard artillery.
Besides, coordination glitches at the battle of Nek allowed the Ottoman forces time to prepare and inflict massive casualties on the Allied forces. Ultimately, the Allied forces were evacuated on 9 January 1916, having lost over 130,000 men.
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