A great disaster of World War I - The New Indian Express

A great disaster of World War I

Published: 22nd November 2012 12:36 PM

Last Updated: 22nd November 2012 12:36 PM

The battle of Gallipoli turned out to be one of the great disasters of World War One. The Gallipoli campaign was conceived by Winston Churchill to end the war by creating a new front that would force the Germans to split their army since they would need to support the poorly trained Turkish army, leaving their lines weakened in the west or east.

Gallipoli is a popular name for the peninsula to the west of the Dardenelles Straits in Turkey. This region was the setting for the famous and bloody battle that took place between the British and French troops of the Allies against the Turkish troops between April 1915 and January 1916. This battle was also significant because it was here that the soldiers of the first ANZAC — the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps — went into action in the Great War. The First World War is also known as the Great War.

Every year, April 25 is commemorated as Anzac Day that New Zealanders and Australians mark as the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings of 1915. On that  day, thousands of young men stormed the beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula  of what is now modern Turkey. For nine gruelling months, New Zealanders, Australians and allies from France and the British Isles fought in harsh conditions against their Turkish opponents. The Turks put up a spirited fight in order to protect their homeland.

When the campaign drew to a close, the staggering human cost was laid bare. Over 1,20,000 men died including more than 80,000 Turkish and 44,000 British and French soldiers, and over 8,500 Australians. Also 2,721 young New Zealanders died, about a quarter of those who had landed on the peninsula.

In the history of the Great War, the Gallipoli campaign did not make any significant impact. Although the number of fatalities were horrific but when compared to the number of dead in France and Belgium, their number paled in comparison. But the Gallipolli campaign holds great significance for New Zealand, Australia and Turkey in fostering a sense of national identity.

Within a few months of the beginning of war in August 1914, a line of trenches stretched from Switzerland to the Belgian coast. The Germans and their Austro-Hungarian allies were on one side of the line, and their opponents on the other side  were the French and British forces and their allies. Things had reached a stalemate and the British were strategising ways to ways to break the German lines. Winston Churchill suggested several naval methods of attack  and one was an assault on Dardanelles.

British politicians now became obsessed with the idea of attacking Germany through this back door route. This idea was staunchly opposed by the military and naval top brass but the politicians were convinced that this was the easier route to defeat Germany. Eventually the politicians prevailed.

This 50-kilometre-long strait separates the Aegean Sea from the Sea of Marmara and its narrowest point was only two kms wide. The idea was to send a force into the Sea of Marmara and threaten Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) which was Germany’s ally. The city guarded the Bosphorus, a narrow waterway that leads into the Black Sea. So the city was vulnerable to attack from the ocean.

Churchill ordered a bombardment of the forts guarding the Narrows. This operation preceded Great Britain’s formal declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire. The Turks now realised that a threat to the Dardanelles was imminent and they quickly improved their defences, including the laying of minefields.

The Turks started advancing northwards in the Caucasus and Russia called for assistance and managed to drive the Turks back. The turn of events suggested the potential advantages of the suggested attack. The Balkan states could attack Austria-Hungary from the south-east, and a campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean might push Italy to enter the war on the Allied side.

After the attack, Allied progress was slow. An attempt to subdue the forts and guns guarding the intermediate defences was a disaster. Some of the ships struck the mines and the Turkish minefields remained a barrier. Churchill now sought military support and a landing was proposed. The landings were a disaster and the fighting bloody. Most of the Allied troops who descended on the beach were cut down by a hail of artillery before they could proceed further.

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