March 18 1915 Turkey – Allied attack on the Dardenelles

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Map of the Dardenelles

On March 18 1915 Turkey, sixteen battleships, including six English and four French, set sail for the Dardenelles intending to wrest control of this vital waterway. The stakes were high as the strait had been heavily mined, but if victorious, the rewards would be great. Just one kilometre wide at its narrowest, this strip of water connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Were they to be successful, the British would gain direct access to the Russian troops who were fighting with the other Allies to defeat the Turks. This would boost their cooperation, create a stronger opposition to the Turks, and could be used to persuade the neutral states of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania to join the Allies.

The British used trawlermen to sweep the waters for mines, but when the Turks opened fire on them they retreated. Three Allied battleships were sunk and three badly damaged. Consequently the campaign failed and it was decided ground troops should be brought in fight off the Turkish troops. This would allow the Allies to remove the mines, enabling them to bring in larger boats. Around 60,000 volunteer Australian and New Zealand troops were sent for this purpose but the Allied belief in their military superiority proved wrong. Eight short months later the troops were evacuated, having suffered 26,000 casualties, nearly 8,000 of them fatal.

Turkish artillerymen before the Great Offensive - 1922

The Great War raged on until 1918 and the grit and determination of the ANZACs who fought there has entered into the annals of Australian and New Zealand legend. However compared to the Turks, our losses were bearable. Some 85,000 Turkish soldiers were killed and thousands others wounded. These figures are almost unimaginable. Even so, when the Australian and New Zealand ‘Johnnies’ left Turkey, they had countries to return to. The ‘Mehmets’, the brave Turkish men who fought to protect their homeland, found themselves living in a land they no longer ruled. It wasn’t until another war, the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923), had been fought and won, that they could call Turkey their own again.

In 1934 in memory of the campaigns of World War One, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, battle leader and founder of the Turkish Republic, is believed to have said,

“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 to us where they lie side-by-side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

No war is a good war and even the winners lose.


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  1. A timely piece, Lisa, and well written. I wish though, you had managed to include some of the ‘higher-ups’ who must take the blame for this disastrous campaign. Kemal Ataturk has always been someone I admired greatly, I am only sad that his honour and fame is being eclipsed by the current Turkish government and that the freedoms he sought to give Turkey are being diluted and may eventually be taken away.

  2. A very nice piece Lisa. The campaign was a military disaster but it’s incredible how the Turks honour both their own dead and the dead of the Allies. Incidentally, I believe more Allied troops died from dysentery than from bombs or bullets, some actually falling into long communal latrines because they were so ill and dehydrated. It was a wonderful victory for Turkey and especially for a young courageous officer called Mustapha Kemal.

    1. What I take away from this particular war is the incredible camaraderie that existed between enemy sides. As I say at the end of this piece, I believe there are no winners in any war , not even the victors. I think it’s true more Allied troops died from dysentery (or being so weak from it they fell into the drop toilets and drowned). If it wasn’t so tragic it would be ironic.

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