The Gallipoli Campaign
As the war in Europe settled into the trenches, each of the major powers began to look for an opportunity to break the stalemate. The then British Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, thought that he saw just such an opportunity in the Ottoman Empire, which had joined the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary in October 1914. Churchill believed that if he could take the Turkish Straights and the Ottoman capital at Constantinople that he could open a new supply route to relieve an embattled Russia and force the Germans and Austrians to move troops to aid the Ottomans, thus weakening the western front.
Churchill’s plan was to amass an armada of obsolete British warships, along with a handful of modern battleships, and force the straights. He expected that even these older ships would be more than a match for the Ottomans, and that once they reached Constantinople they could bombard the city into submission. When the fleet arrived at the Dardanelles in April 1915, though, things began to go wrong right from the start.
The approaches to the Dardanelles are dominated by the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the Ottomans had deployed batteries of artillery all along the peninsula. When the British fleet appeared, Ottoman artillery opened fire. The British minesweepers, which were particularly vulnerable, withdrew but the remainder of the force pressed on. In short order one of the battleships struck a mine and sunk, several more were damaged by mines, and the fleet was forced to pull back.
Having failed in its first attempt, the British decided to attempt a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to clear it. The British would task Indian colonial troops for the mission, as well as ANZAC soldiers from Australian and New Zealand. The Ottomans were prepared for the landing, though, and proved themselves to be quite capable soldiers under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, the future leader of Turkey. The ANZAC forces never got far off the beaches, and like the western front the Gallipoli Campaign soon degraded into trench warfare. By the end of 1915 the British recognized that the effort to take the straights had failed, and they pulled their forces off of the Gallipoli Peninsula.