Gallipoli Campaign Falters

Allied attacks and invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula proved unsuccessful and, instead of cutting off Turkish lines of communication and knocking the Ottoman Turks out of the Great War, devolved into devastating trench warfare. Casualties were enormous, and the action did not advance the Allied cause.

Summary of Event

In early 1915, one year into World War I, the western front was basically gridlocked: Attacks from French and Belgian soil were no longer effective against the entrenched German forces. This caused Allied strategy to shift to a direct attack on Germany, either along the Baltic Coast or through the Mediterranean and Balkan countries. At the same time, the Russians were being blockaded by the German navy on the Baltic Sea and attacked by Turkish forces in the Caucasus. The Black Sea was Russia’s only other warm-water port in the west, but the entrance was through the strait of Dardanelles, which were controlled by the Ottoman Turks for the Central Powers. Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916)
World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];Gallipoli Campaign
Dardanelles Campaign (1915-1916)
[kw]Gallipoli Campaign Falters (Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916)
Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916)
World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];Gallipoli Campaign
Dardanelles Campaign (1915-1916)
[g]Ottoman Empire;Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916: Gallipoli Campaign Falters[03720]
[g]Turkey;Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916: Gallipoli Campaign Falters[03720]
[c]World War I;Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916: Gallipoli Campaign Falters[03720]
[c]Military history;Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916: Gallipoli Campaign Falters[03720]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 19, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916: Gallipoli Campaign Falters[03720]
Churchill, Winston
[p]Churchill, Winston;Gallipoli Campaign
Robeck, Sir John de
Fisher, Sir John
Hamilton, Sir Ian
Sanders, Otto Liman von

Russia called on the Allies for help, and the British War Cabinet decided to mount a naval attack along the Gallipoli Peninsula, on the western coast of Turkey in the Dardanelles. The British planned to move from Gallipoli to Constantinople, where they would connect with Russian forces, knock the Ottoman Turks out of the war, and persuade the Balkan counties, especially Bulgaria, to join the Allies. By doing this, the British planned to create a new front, break the stalemate, and answer Russia’s plea for help. The actual attack on the Ottoman Turks was proposed by Winston Churchill, first lord of the British Admiralty.

The Allies underestimated the power of Turkish forces in Gallipoli. The Turkish troops were led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) under the German adviser of the Ottoman army, General Otto Liman von Sanders, and they were both excellent field commanders. The area was fortified with twenty reinforced fortresses and lined with mobile artillery batteries and searchlights. The waters hid many lines of underwater mines, and the Turks lay new mines wherever they could.

The first naval attack began on February 19, 1915. The British moved against Cape Helles, on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, but they were turned back by strong resistance from the Turkish forces. There were subsequent attacks on February 25 and March 10, in which Turkish mobile artillery units decimated the British minesweeper fleet. On March 18, Rear Admiral Sir John de Robeck took command of the British fleet and attacked. The Turks had managed to lay a whole new line of mines without being detected, and between the mines and the mobile artillery fire, the Turks sank three British battleships and severely damaged three others. Amid the ensuing chaos, de Robeck pulled back and requested assistance. This catastrophe further delayed the planned landings, which gave the Turks valuable time to mobilize troops and material and move into the area.

The British had retreated at the very moment that the Turks had reached their breaking point: Turkish troops and munitions were exhausted. Had the British persevered, the outcome of the Gallipoli Campaign would have been entirely different. As it was, the Turks managed to increase their troop presence sixfold from February 19 to April 25, 1915, when the Allied British forces finally began to land at Gallipoli. The Allied forces were delayed because, after the naval failure in the Dardanelles, the Allies were forced to restructure their plan of attack. In late April, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) units established a bridgehead at ANZAC Cove, on the Aegean side of the peninsula. This was not the broad beach at which the Allies had initially planned on landing; instead, it was a labyrinth of arroyos and ridges that made it impossible for the troops to gain the uplands of the Sari Bair Hills. The Turks pushed the ANZAC units back to the narrow beach and stranded them there under machine-gun fire. After the first day, this site slipped into bloody trench warfare that lasted until August, 1915.

The other Allied troops (British, Canadian, and French) tried to land at five separate spots around Cape Helles, but they only succeeded in landing at three before they were forced to request reinforcements. The Turks, taking advantage of the faltering invasion, flooded troops into the area. This beachhead invasion also ground to a standstill.

Back in London, first Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill came to verbal blows with first Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Fisher. Fisher demanded that the Gallipoli Campaign be abandoned, but he was overruled. Outraged, he resigned his post. His resignation caused the Liberal government to teeter, and it was soon replaced by a coalition government. In the aftermath of Gallipoli, Churchill was blamed and demoted. He resigned altogether and went to fight in the western front.

Initially, five Allied divisions landed on the Gallipoli beaches, where they faced the six Turkish divisions who held the uplands. In the end, fourteen Allied divisions lay stalled on the Gallipoli beaches, trapped by fourteen divisions of Turkish troops entrenched on the upland. By May 8, 1915, all the Gallipoli beachheads were scarred by trenches, the hallmark of World War I’s stalemated battles. As the year advanced, the climate began to play havoc with the Gallipoli Peninsula. Stranded under machine-gun fire from the cliffs above, the Allied troops suffered as the heat and humidity worsened, and troops began to become infected with various kinds of diseases.

In July of 1915, the British finally sent reinforcements to ANZAC Cove to relieve the New Zealand and Australian troops still doggedly holding the bridgehead there. In August, the British also landed more troops at Suvla Bay in an attempt to take the Sari Bair Heights and cut Turkish communications. General Ian Hamilton, famous for his lack of concern over the lives of his troops, ordered the ANZAC units to advance through the arroyos and over the ridges toward the Sari Bair Heights. Disoriented by the dark, moonless night, the troops failed to gain ground and brought on more deadly Turkish counterattacks. After the late-summer actions on Gallipoli failed, the area once again became locked in the bloody stalemate of trench warfare. The Allies did not decide to cut their losses until November, when they evacuated the divisions stranded on the peninsula.

Even after the British war council voted to evacuate troops, evacuation plans were delayed by heavy rains and blizzards, and the troops in Gallipoli were decimated even further. Finally, beginning December 7, the ANZAC Cove troops were pulled out a little at a time. The evacuation was complete by December 20, 1915. The Helles region was maintained a little longer, and the last troops there were pulled out on January 9, 1916. Amazingly, no troops were lost during the evacuation from Gallipoli.


The idea of the Gallipoli Campaign was to capture Constantinople, capital of Ottoman Turkey, and knock the Turks out of World War I. The real outcome was that the Turks lost 300,000 troops, while the Allies lost 214,000, and the Turks still maintained control of the Dardanelles for the Central Powers. Mustafa Kemal emerged as a daring and skillful leader who assured the Turkish victory and was promoted to general. Although the Allies diverted the Turks from direct attack on Russia, Russia remained cut off from the other Allied countries until the end of the war. Bulgaria joined Germany and the Central Powers against the Allies, and this alliance, coupled with Russia’s isolation, forced the Allies to refocus on the western front.

The Gallipoli Campaign was a complete failure for the Allied forces because of bad planning, poor leadership decisions, and shortages of war matériel and equipment. The stalled trench warfare was reactivated into the bloody battles that would eventually lead to Allied victory after the United States entered the war in 1917 and rejuvenated the Allied garrisons with fresh troops and matériel. Because of its heavy casualties and meager results, the Gallipoli Campaign has become known as one of the great disasters in military history. Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916)
World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];Gallipoli Campaign
Dardanelles Campaign (1915-1916)

Further Reading

  • Blair, Dale. Dinkum Diggers: An Australian Battalion at War. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2001. A firsthand account of the experiences of one battalion at Gallipoli.
  • Erickson, Edward J. Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2001. Chronicles the Turkish army in World War I, including the battle at Gallipoli.
  • Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Random House, 1998. Narrative history includes an extensive section on the battle and significance of the Gallipoli disaster.
  • Macleod, Jenny. Reconsidering Gallipoli. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Presents a detailed cultural history of the Gallipoli Campaign.
  • Moorehead, Alan. Gallipoli. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956. This book is considered the classic account of the Gallipoli Campaign.

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Greco-Turkish War

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