Campaigns
   
 
Turkey in the First World War
 
 


Gallipoli

The Gallipoli Campaign – or "Çanakkale Savaşı" (Battle of Çanakkale) as it is known in Turkey – has a special place among all the battlefields Turks have fought during the First World War. It is not only the strategic importance of the Straits and the decisiveness of the campaign, which make it so important. It was an epic drama, where the human aspect of the war was much more significant. Soldiers fought on hills and valleys under a rain of fire. Trench fighting was tragic in Gallipoli, where the size of the no man’s land was no more than just a few meters in some cases. Visitors to the Gallipoli peninsula today cannot help losing themselves under the spell of the beautiful landscape. In 1915, the peninsula was synonymous with death and suffering.

“Çanakkale” has a very important meaning for Turks. It was the place where the army fought against a mighty multinational force supported by the strongest navy of the time and managed to stop the enemy and prevent them from invading the Turkish homeland. The size of the loss makes the importance of the campaign even bigger. Turks lost around 250,000 men in casualties, with more than 50,000 dead. The “Spirit of Çanakkale” has become a phrase commonly used phrase in Turkish language defining a spiritual power, which helps the human to "achieve the impossible."

The Dardanelles is 63 kilometers long, measured between the town of Gelibolu to Kumkale and Seddülbahir on both sides of the entrance of the straits. Its width varies between 1,400 and 7,800 meters. The Gallipoli peninsula is 90 kilometers long. The narrowest part of the peninsula is at Bolayır (Bulair) where the distance between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara is just 5,500 meters. The landmass gets wider to the south and between Akbaş and Kemikli it is 20 kilometers wide. From that point on, it gets narrower again. The terrain is not plain and there are several hills, valleys and ravines.

Preparing to Defend

As soon as the war began in Europe and the Ottoman Empire began to mobilize, the High Command began to prepare against a major Allied offensive against the Dardanelles that was expected to come if and when Turkey entered the war. From the viewpoint of the Ministry of War in Istanbul, the motivation of the Allied nations would be opening the route to Russia for supplies; cutting the Turkish route between Asia and Europe; preventing the Turks sending troops from Istanbul to other fronts; putting pressure on the Ottoman government for a ceasefire; and forcing the neutral Balkan states to join the Entente.


Çanakkale during war time

The general mobilization of the Turkish General Staff dated August 2, 1914, was received on the same day by the III Corps stationed in the town of Tekirdağ, just to the north of the peninsula, and the command of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone, both of which completed their mobilization by August 20. The III Corps, which was the Turkish army corps that ermeged intact from the Balkan Wars, was commanded by Maj.Gen. Esat Paşa and was composed of the 7th, 8th and 9th Divisions. After completing its mobilization, its strength was 28,945 men and 7,402 animals.


A view of Gelibolu harbour
Source: Natali Avazyan collection

A Turkish gun at Gallipoli
Source: "Gelibolu" (T.Örnek)

The command of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone was responsible for the defence of the Dardanelles. It was a corps-sized unit, commanded by Brig.Gen. Cevat Paşa, and it was composed of two infantry divisions (the 9th commanded by Col. Halil Sami Bey and the 11th commanded by Col. Refet Bey) as well as artillery and other supporting units.

The fortifications of the Dardanelles consisted of the outer, intermediate and inner defences. The outer defences were the two historical forts at the entrance of the straits: Kumkale and Seddülbahir. These forts were equipped with 13 heavy and 7 medium guns, which were obsolete. The intermediate defences were protecting the interior minefields and they were equipped with medium guns. The inner defences were the most powerful ones, but their guns were also antiquated and ammunition was scarce.

The forts protecting the shores of the Dardanelles were reinforced with guns dismantled from old warships. There were 230 artillery guns of different sizes (howitzers, mortars, etc), but most of them were around 25-30 years old and only 82 pieces were good enough to match the artillery of the Allied fleet. Guns brought from the defensive lines close to Istanbul (in Çatalca and Edirne) and the depots of the Ministry of War were in use as well. The German General Staff dispatched Vice Admiral von Usedom, who was an expert in coastal defences. He was accompanied by 500 German specialists.

After the passage of Goeben and Breslau on August 10, the existing two mine belts were strengthened with new ones and by the time of the major Allied offensive there were 11 mine belts in the Dardanelles.

The First Allied Attack


Diagram of the Allied naval attack on November 3, 1914
Reproduced from a German journal

On November 3, 1914, the Allied fleet gave its first warning signal to the Turks. At 6:00 am, four warships were sighted to the west of the straits, moving at a speed of 15 miles per hour. Two British cruisers, Indefatigable and Indomitable, bombarded the Seddülbahir and Ertuğrul batteries on the European shore, whereas the French Suffren and Verite shelled the Kumkale and Orhaniye batteries on the Asian shore. They fired for 11 minutes from a distance of 12-13,000 meters. Turkish losses were surprisingly large, because a shell hit the ammunition depot at Seddülbahir. 5 officers and 80 men were killed, another 20 were injured. They became the first casualties of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

This attack achieved no military objective, but proved the vulnerability of the straits to the Turks. The next day, the headquarters of the III Corps moved to Çanakkale and took defensive positions on both sides of the straits. Meanwhile the 9th Division was attached to the Command of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone. The 8th Division was alerted for service on the Sinai front and in its place the III Corps was given the new 19th Division, commanded by Lt.Col. Mustafa Kemal Bey. The 8th Artillery Regiment under the command of the German Col. Wehrle and equipped with 150 mm howitzers was also deployed.




Allied fleet off the entrance of Dardanelles

Meanwhile, on December 13, 1914, the Turks received a dire warning when the British submarine B11 entered the Turkish waters and torpedoed the warship Mesudiye which was anchored at the Bay of Sarısığlar. After this incident, new submarine nets were installed at the Dardanelles.

The Allied fleet, commanded by the British Vice Admiral Carden, was blockading the Dardanelles since the initial attacks of November 3. The fleet was composed of 49 British and 13 French ships of different kinds.

The “Carden Plan”, which was accepted on January 15, 1915 at the meeting of the War Council in London, had four main points regarding the Allied attack to force the Dardanelles: (a) Destroying the forts at the entrance of the straits; (b) Destroying the inner defences from the entrance of the straits until Kepez; (c) Silencing the batteries at the Narrows; (d) Cleaning the mines, destroying the defensive positions at the Narrows and entering the Sea of Marmara.

Gürsel Göncü and Şahin Aldoğan wrote that the plan of the Turkish defence had four main elements:
1. Two batteries on each side of the entrance of the Dardanelles (Kumkale and Orhaniye on the Asian side; Seddülbahir and Ertuğrul on the European side) were to prevent the Allied warships from entering the Straits.
2. If the enemy warships manage to enter the Dardanelles, howitzers in Erenköy and Tengerdere will open fire and prevent the warships from maneuvering inside the Bay of Erenköy.

Coastal artillery defence in theory
Source: Tasvir-i Efkar, 1915

3. Smaller batteries that consist of guns dismantled from old warships and mortars will protect the mine belts and prevent enemy minesweepers from operating in the area. The Dardanos battery at Kepez and the Baykuş battery (later renamed as the Mesudiye battery because guns salvaged from the same named warship were installed there) in Soğanlıdere will either support the howitzers in Erenköy and Tengerdere or provide fire support to the Çanakkale-Kilitbahir group.
4. The central batteries in Çanakkale and Kilitbahir will open fire when the enemy warships enter their firing range.

Admiral Carden tried to stage the first phase of the Allied plan on February 19. That day, at 9:51 am, six Allied warships opened fire on the forts at the entrance of the Dardanelles. They pounded the forts until 2:00 pm without receiving any return fire. They were firing from a distance of 10-12 km and hence out of range of the Turkish guns.

At 4:00 pm, Carden ordered the warships to get closer to the forts. When Vengeance was around 5 km off Seddülbahir, Turks opened fire from Orhaniye and Ertuğrul. Having realized that they could not inflict any damage to the Turkish forts, Admiral Carden called off the attack at 6:00 pm. This attempt to destroy the forts at the entrance had been a disappointment for the Allied fleet.


Turkish battery defending the strait
Source: Harp Mecmuası

Strong wind and bad weather conditions caused the Allied fleet to postpone their renewed attack to accomplish the first phase of Carden’s Plan. On February 25, the Allied fleet stroke back. At 10:13 am, Queen Elizabeth opened fire on Seddülbahir. She was followed by Irresistible, Agamemnon and Gaulois, which began to shell Orhaniye and Ertuğrul forts. Turkish batteries fired back and after receiving serious hits Agamemnon and Gaulois had to retire. Bombardment continued until 5:30 pm and at the end of the day the Turkish batteries at the entrance of the Dardanelles were silenced.

Allied troops also landed at the Kumkale and Seddülbahir ports, but they had to retreat after facing a serious counterattack. However they managed to destroy four cannons at Seddülbahir before their retreat.

March 1915 started with small scaled attacks of the Allied fleet. Nearly every day one or two warships entered the Dardanelles, shelled the Turkish coastal batteries and retreated. On the other hand, mine sweeping efforts of the Allied fleet did not prove to be successful due to Turkish artillery fire.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral Carden collapsed from the accumulation of strain and worry and left his post. He was replaced by Vice Admiral de Roebeck on March 16.


Turkish artillerists with a captured gun

The OttomanVictory of March 18

March 18, 1915 was a day with very fine weather and a calm sea. Early in the morning that day, German Capt. Serno and Capt. Schneider were flying above the peninsula for reconnaissance. At around 9:00 am, they sighted something unusual: “We were flying at an altitude of 1,600 meters. We counted 40 warships in front of Tenedos. We saw 19 dreadnoughts and heavy cruisers of which 15 were British and four were French. There were also three light cruisers and several cargo ships. Submarines could be hardly recognized… Six dreadnoughts were sailing towards the Straits… The French warship Bouvet opened fire on our airplane. We did not have time to lose and we returned to our base to give our report.”

After receiving the pilots’ report, all the Turkish units were alerted and they took their defensive positions. At command posts, binoculars were directed at the entrance of the Dardanelles. Turkish batteries were ready to defend the Straits with 74 shore guns (eight of them dismantled from older warships), 82 mortars and howitzers, 58 pieces of smaller cannons. They were to face a total of 250 guns directed at the Turkish soil from Allied warships.

The Allied fleet was coming in three groups. The first group consisted of De Roebeck’s flagship Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson and Inflexible. The second group consisted of French ships: the flagship of the French Admiral Quepratte, Gaulois, as well as Charlemagne, Bouvet and Suffren. The third group was composed of older British warships: Prince George, Majestic, Vengeance, Irresistible, Albion, Ocean, Triumph, Swiftsure, Cornwallis, Canopus.

At 10:05 am, the Allied fleet began to enter the Straits. There was absolute silence at the Dardanelles as the huge fleet was moving ahead. This silence was brought to an end when the Triumph opened fire on the Halileli hills. It was returned by artillery fire from the Intepe battery. By 11:30 am, with the entry of four French ships, the total number of warships inside the Dardanelles had risen to ten. The first wave of British warships reached the Tengerdere-Halileli line.

At 11:40 am, the four mighty warships of the first wave began to fire on Turkish forts. Queen Elizabeth’s 38 cm cannons were pounding the Anadolu Hamidiye battery, whereas the Inflexible was pouring a rain of fire on the Rumeli Mecidiye battery. Turkish guns were silent. They could not return fire because the ships were out of their range.


One of the Turkish guns defending the Dardanelles

At 11:45 am, a shell from Queen Elizabeth fell in the town of Çanakkale causing a big fire and panic. Meanwhile Agamemnon and Lord Nelson opened fire on the Rumeli Mecidiye battery and the cruiser Weymouth began to shell Yenişehir. Triumph was pounding the Dardanos battery. After 35 minutes of one-sided bombardment, Vice Admiral de Roebeck ordered the French group to move ahead.

At 12:20 pm, the ammunition depot at the fort of Çimenlik received a direct hit, causing a serious damage. In those early hours, Turkish commanders found it hard to maintain their optimism about the situation. Lt.Col. Selahattin Adil wrote about the situation at the Hamidiye battery in his memoirs: “We saw that our strongest battery, the Hamidiye, was under heavy enemy fire and there were water columns and dust clouds appearing due to the direct hits received by the battery. I phoned the battery commander and he said that trenches are receiving direct hits and some guns are covered with earth, however they are now being cleaned and there is no serious damage. He also told me that they were going to open fire as soon as the enemy ships enter their range. This answer made me relax a little, however I know that the situation was going against us.”

Meanwhile the French warships were getting closer and entering the effective range of Turkish guns and the tide began to change. Turkish guns began to return fire. Rumeli Mecidiye battery started first and then they were followed by Dardanos and Mesudiye batteries.


Turkish illustration depicting artillery fire against the Allied fleet
Source: Harb-i Umumi Panoraması

The first warship to be hit was the Inflexible. Turkish-German artillery fire was so intense that in a very short period of time Allied warships received several hits. At 1:20 pm, the Bouvet, which was trying to get closer to Dardanos, was damaged heavily by the shells of the Hamidiye battery. Gaulois and Charlemagne were damaged as well. Suffren received 14 direct hits within only 15 minutes.

By 1:30 pm, the battle had reached its zenith. Both sides were firing with their full potential. The Allied fleet had had a clear advantage in terms of the number of guns in action. The batteries on the European side (Mecidiye, Hamidiye and Namazgah) were suffering most from the Allied fire. Phone lines were broken and the cable connecting Çanakkale and Kilitbahir was cut. Dardanos and Mesudiye batteries were also under heavy fire.


Cartographical depiction of the Turkish victory on March 18, 1915
Source: Tasvir-i Efkar, April 29, 1915

At around 2:00 pm, Turkish artillery fire got slower. Some guns were damaged and the forts were pounded so badly that it was not possible to fire at full capacity. A German officer, Carl Mühlman, wrote in memoirs: “Turkish and German artillery were sending their greetings to the enemy. They were breaking into their armored walls and annihilating their bodies. Above this scene, there was a wonderful oriental spring day with a blue sky and a shining sun. The air was shaken with the explosions at the forts. At around 2 o’clock in the afternoon the hell noise calmed down. Firing from the defences got weaker and the enemy thought that he is getting closer to his aims hoping that the forts are destroyed. The French fleet, which had been under heavy wire, was called back. It was replaced by a third fleet of six old British ships, which commenced fire.”

De Roebeck’s plan was good. But something that happened ten days before the Allied attempt to force the Dardanelles changed the fate of the campaign. On the night of March 7/8, 1915, a small minelayer ship called Nusrat, commanded by Capt. Hakkı Bey, had sailed to Karanlık Harbour, where the Turkish mines laid before were already cleaned by De Roebeck’s minesweepers. Nusrat laid 26 new mines, but this time parallel to the shore.

On March 8, Capt. Nazmi Bey, the mine officer on Nusrat, wrote in his diary: “After receiving the orders, at 5:30 in the morning, Nusrat established a line of 26 carbonic mines starting from the Paleokastro point to the level of Erenköy and returned safely. The enemy did not see this operation. The distance between the mines is 100-150 meters and they are positioned at a depth of 4.5 meters.”


A Turkish illustration depicting the sinking of the Bouvet
Source: Harp Mecmuası


German postcard showing the sinking of the Ocean
Source: Necmettin Özçelik collection


Irresistible sinking
Source: The War Illustrated

At around 2:10 pm on March 18, Allied warships began to turn to starboard to allow the minesweepers access to the mine belts and return to the base. That was the moment when disaster struck the Allied force. The damaged French warship Bouvet hit the unanticipated mines, laid by Nusrat ten days ago, and sunk within three minutes.

Witnessing the sudden disappearance of Bouvet, Suffren stopped and other French warhips, Gaulois and Charlemagne sailed to the site in order to salvage the survivors of Bouvet. At that moment Gaulois received two direct hits and had to retreat due to serious damage.

Now both sides were firing at each other at full strength and Allied minesweepers were doing their best to clean the mines. At 3:15 pm, Irresistible struck a mine and so did Inflexible, at 4:10 pm. The wound of the Inflexible was eight meters long and four meters wide. The engine room was filling with water and the ship was paralyzed. However, it managed to leave the Straits and at around 5:45 pm it ran aground off Bozcaada (Tenedos). Meanwhile, the captain of another damaged warship, Gaulois, realized that they could not make it to Bozcaada. After leaving the range of Turkish guns, Gaulois ran aground at the Rabbit Island.

After this unexpected series of losses, Vice Admiral de Roebeck realized that it was impossible to reach the objectives. At 5:50 pm, he called off the attack and ordered the minesweepers and warships to leave the Dardanelles and return to their bases.

Meanwhile another warship, Ocean, was ordered to salvage Irresistible. She tried to pull the damaged ship out of the Straits, but it was impossible because of the strong currents. At 6:00 pm, Ocean left Irresistible and in five minutes she struck another mine laid by Nusrat. Under heavy Turkish fire, the crew had to evacuate the ship. Both Ocean and Irresistible were now left to their destinies. After floating for a while they both sank.

On that fateful day of March 18, Turkish batteries fired a total of 1,935 rounds. Long range shore guns at Hamidiye, Mecidiye and Namazgah batteries, as well as the long range medium sized guns at Baykuş and Dardanos batteries performed especially well. They did not stop firing although they were seriously hit and played a decisive role in the victory.

Total casualties of the day were 118 men for Turks. Four officers and 40 men were killed in action, 74 men were wounded. German casualties were three dead and 15 wounded.* The most tragic incident from the Turkish point of the view was the losses at the Dardanos battery. They received only one direct hit, but it fell on the small field hospital. Commander Capt. Hasan Bey, his surveillance officer Lt. Mevsuf Efendi and nine privates lost their lives. After this incident, this unit was renamed as “Hasan-Mevsuf Battery”.

Turks also lost nine cannons, and nearly all of the forts were heavily damaged. There were fires in the town of Çanakkale and the village of Kilitbahir. Around 35-40 houses in Çanakkale collapsed and many civilians were wounded.


Bombardment of Çanakkale

Losses of the Allied forces were much higher. Three warships were lost and another four were out of service. Human casualties were around 800. The loss of Bouvet was the biggest shock for the Allies.

This was the last attempt of the Allied fleet to force the Dardanelles. Allied commanders decided that the navy could not carry the Dardanelles alone. In the meantime, the Turks were prepared for a renewed naval attack but from their perspective the situation was not favourable. The ammunition they had left was enough for only another two days. Three artillery guns had no shells left at all and some guns had only 18-50 shells remaining. Eight mine belts were still intact but there were no replacements left. Turkish soldiers repaired the damaged fortifications as much as they could.

What would happen if the Allied fleet stroke back the next day? It is difficult to guess, but the fact is that the defenders of the Dardanelles were worried. Carl Mühlman wrote in his memoirs: “We could not sleep because of the anxiety of the March 19. With the first lights of the day our binoculars began to scan the horizon. Neither on March 19 nor on the following days could we see any ships except the regular patrol boats. Everyone was relieved.”

In the evening of March 18, as the sun was going down and the last few of the warships were disappearing on the horizon, Turkish commanders were on a hill observing the retreat of this mighty fleet. Cevat Paşa, commander of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone, said: “They are gone. They could not break through. They will not break through.”

The First Day on the Peninsula

After the failed attempt of the Allied fleet to break through the Dardanelles of March 18, 1915, the Turkish General Staff decided to widen and strengthen the defences of the Straits against renewed Allied operations that were to come sooner or later. The Allies were apparently preparing for a major amphibious invasion, and according to an intelligence report prepared by the headquarters of the III Corps, the most likely zone for Allied landings was the stretch between Kabatepe and Seddülbahir, whereas Bolayır and the Asian shores were deemed to be of secondary importance.

Enver Paşa had already issued a plan for the defence of the two Turkish straits, Bosphorus and Dardanelles, on February 20. Accordingly, the First Army was to defend the European sides of both straits, whereas the Second Army was responsible for the Asian sides, which meant that both armies had responsibilities in both straits, an approach contradictory to the principle of unity in command. The commander of the First Army, General Otto Liman von Sanders, protested but it was only after March 18, when this plan was revised. Eventually a new army headquarters, the Fifth, was established, incorporating the III and XV Corps as well as the 5th Division and a cavalry brigade. This force, a total of 80,935 men, brought the number of the defenders in this theatre to 93,512 (including the Çanakkale Fortified Zone Command). On 25 March, Gen. von Sanders assumed the command of this new army.


Enver Paşa and his staff inspecting the troops sent to Çanakkale

Gen. von Sanders believed that the coasts of the peninsula and the Asian shores were simply too long to establish a defensive wall and therefore the defence had to be established inland. Here, he disagreed with Turkish commanders, mainly with Esat Paşa, who thought that the defence should be established at the coast and the enemy had to be halted there at the beaches. At the end of the day, as Edward Erickson wrote: “The Fifth Army deployed a light infantry screen in outposts sited on the dominating terrain overlooking potential landing beaches. These forces were usually in platoon strength and were well dug in with wire and prepared trenches. The Turks did not intend to stop the Allies on the beaches with these troops. Instead, regiment-sized forces were positioned three to five kilometres behind the beaches in protected ground. As the outposts slowed the enemy landing and channelled their advance, these larger forces would counterattack the enemy. It was hoped that these counterattacks, conducted immediately or as soon as possible, would throw the unwary invaders back to the sea. At all levels the Turkish commanders rehearsed these counterattacks in detail. The Fifth Army was ready to receive the enemy.”

About the possible landing points, Gen. von Sanders disagreed with the report of the III Corps and judged that there were three areas of particular danger, which were the Beşike Bay on the Asian side, Bolayır in the north and the southern tip of the peninsula. The plans were prepared accordingly:

General Liman von Sanders and Esat Paşa inspecting a unit
Source: Necmettin Özçelik collection
Turkish troops waiting for the enemy landing
Source: "Gelibolu" (T. Örnek)

Fifth Army Headquarters and ancillary units: Located in the town of Gelibolu. The independent cavalry brigade responsible for the stretch west of Bolayır to Enez at the mouth of the Maritsa River.
III Corps: Commanded by Esat Paşa. Headquarters located in the town of Gelibolu. Responsible for the defence of the peninsula. 7th Division (19., 20., 21. Regiments and an artillery regiment to defend the area north of Bolayır. 9th Division (25., 26., 27. Regiments and an artillery regiment) and two gendarmerie battalions to stay in the peninsula itself. 19th Division (57., 72., 77. Regiments and an artillery regiment) to remain in reserve at Bigalı.
XV Corps: Commanded by Col. Weber. Headquarters located at the Calvert Farm on the Asian side. Responsible for the defence of the Asian side with the 3rd Division (31., 32., 39., 64. Regiments and an artillery regiment), 11th Division (33., 126., 127. Regiments and an artillery regiment) and a gendarmerie regiment.
5th Division: To remain in reserve north of the peninsula. Composed of 13., 14. and 15. Regiments and an artillery regiment.

Meanwhile, the Allies were preparing for the invasion. After the failure of the naval attack, it had become clear to them that ground troops were necessary to eliminate the Turkish defenders. The task was given to the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force commanded by Gen. Ian Hamilton. Australian and New Zealand volunteer soldiers, who were undergoing training in Egypt, were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and Gen. Hamilton also had the British 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division as well as the French Corps Expéditionnaire d'Orient under his command.

Turks were ready to face the invaders. They had taken their position, their equipment was inadequate but they were high in spirit. The only thing to do now was to wait for the Allied amphibious operations to begin. This waiting ended in the early hours April 25, 1915, when the Allied forces landed at six different locations on the peninsula as well as at Kumkale on the Asian shore.

The Landing Begins

The Allied ships that had left the port of Mudros the day before met at the assembly point, 9 km from the landing beaches, at 1:30 am on April 25. From there, a force of 1,500 soldiers, the Anzacs, sailed towards the peninsula. Faik Efendi, a company commander with the Turkish 27. Regiment was looking through his binoculars. He could see the ships coming: “After some time the moon went down, it was dark and the ships could not be seen anymore. The reserves were alarmed and they were ready for action. I was waiting for the outcome and watching the distance. Soon we heard the roaring of the guns.”


Troops going ashore during Gallipoli landings
Source: United Press International

The Arıburnu landing area (Anzac sector) was a broad, 6 km stretch of beach, from 1.5 km north of Kabatepe to a point near Fisherman's Hut, north of Anzac Cove. It was officially designated as Z Beach. The first troops to land there were two companies of the Australian 3. Brigade. This covering force began to go ashore shortly before dawn at 4:30 am on April 25. Its intended landing zone was a broad front centered about a mile north of Kabatepe, however for reasons that are still debated, the landing went awry and the boats concentrated about 2 km further north than intended in a shallow cove between Arıburnu to the north and Küçük Arıburnu (Hell Spit) to the south.

The Anzacs were confronted by a confusing tangle of ravines and spurs that descended from the heights of the Sarıbayır range to the sea. That part of the peninsula was defended by 80 Turkish soldiers, whose number soon doubled thanks to the reinforcements, however they were still outnumbered by one to ten. They managed to stop the advance of the invaders, however the Anzacs kept on coming in, they were also supported by naval gunfire, and managed to establish a beachhead of 1.8 km. By 5:30 am the number of the troops on the shore was 4,000. Commander of the Turkish 9th Division, Halil Sami Bey, gave his order: “The British are landing their troops at Arıburnu and Kabatepe. The 27. Regiment, together with the mountain battery at Çamburnu, will move towards Kabatepe to drive back the enemy to the sea.”

Fighting at the beach ended at 6:00 am when the Haintepe (Plugge's Plateau)-Yükseksırt (Russell's Top) line fell to the Anzacs. The total number of Turkish troops involved in fighting was no more than 600 and by that time it was already halved. Only three of the 80 Turkish soldiers from the 8. Company of the 27. Regiment, who had first encountered the enemy, survived.

The Anzacs were taking the ridges, though not as fast they originally planned. The Turkish defence was fiercer than they thought it would be and they had landed 2 km north of where they were supposed to land. Meanwhile the 27. Regiment was coming to the Turks’ rescue. Two battalions of 2,000 men and a machine gun detachment arrived in Kavaktepe at 7:00 am and the regiment commander Lt.Col. Mehmet Şefik Bey saw that Kanlısırt (400 Plateau) that had a superior position to that of the Turks, was taken by the Australians. He wrote in his memoirs: "Enemy soldiers were clearly visible at Kanlısırt and other ridges to the north. From the sounds of gunfire and the movements one could tell that some fighting was going on there. To the east, the terrain was more rugged and covered with bushes. Nothing much could be seen there. It was difficult to tell where the flanks and the advance units of the enemy were." Şefik Bey launched the counterattack at 8:00 am and managed to drive back the enemy to Edirnesırtı (Mortar Ridge)-Kanlısırt Plateau.


Mustafa Kemal Bey and his staff

Anzacs were halted and the Turks were holding their ground, but the situation was dangerous, because the total number of the enemy was by then as high as 10,000 and a new wave of enemy attack was just a matter of time. Commander of the 9th Division, Col. Halil Sami Bey ordered the 19th Division, commanded by Lt.Col. Mustafa Kemal Bey, to move to Kocaçimen, to encircle the enemy from the north and to support the 27. Regiment.

Australians were making for the high ground dominating the narrows, Kocaçimen and Conkbayırı (Chunuk Bair). Mustafa Kemal Bey, arriving with at Conkbayırı at 9:40 am and setting up his headquarters on the ridge at Kemal Yeri (Scrubby Knoll), made a decision that doomed the Anzac landing to failure. Without waiting for orders, he led the entire 57. Regiment forward to counter-attack and cabled the corps headquarters: "The strength of the enemy that has evidently landed between Kabatepe and Arıburnu is not clear yet. In order to prevent the enemy from occupying the ridges west of Kocadere, I am moving the 57. Regiment and a mountain battery to that direction. I leave the Chief of Staff of the division at the headquarters and proceed to that zone myself to see the position of the enemy and take the necessary measures. I inform you that I will be back in charge when there is a need to use a larger part of the division." The remaining regiments of the 19th Division, the 72. and 77. Regiments, would join the fighting in the evening.


Turkish map showing the landing beaches
Source: Tasvir-i Efkar, April 28, 1915

At 10:24 am, the 57. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. Hüseyin Avni Bey, attacked the enemy and it was at this moment when Mustafa Kemal issued his famous order: “I do not order you to attack, I order you to die! In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our place.” They successfully held the right flank of the Turkish defence. The 1. Battalion of the 57. Regiment attacked along Edirnesırtı towards Kılıçbayırı (Baby 700) from the inland side whereas the 2. Battalion had swung around behind Düztepe (Battleship Hill) and advanced down the range on the seaward side of Kılıçbayırı.

At the same time the 27. Regiment engaged the Australians on the left flank. Anzacs were repeatedly forced to withdraw. They resisted until 4:00 pm when a second major counterattack was launched by the 57. Regiment in the afternoon on Kılıçbayırı, simultaneously with the 27. Regiment’s attack to Kanlısırt-Merkeztepe-Kırmızısırt (Johnston's Jolly). With the aid of artillery fire, they broke through the Anzac line forcing them to abandon the hill. The survivors retreated to the southern slopes of Kanlısırt. Fighting went on until the sun went down. Supported from accurate and efficient artillery fire from mountain batteries, Turks managed to keep the Anzacs at their beachhead and the dominating hills remained under Turkish control.

The weakest link of the Turkish line on April 25 was the 77. Regiment. It had followed the 27. Regiment on the battlefield and launched a bayonet charge against the Anzacs. However, as the enemy opened fire, this regiment dissolved at once and soldiers panicked. Some of them randomly began to shoot, which killed friendly units of the 27. Regiment in the front. On that night, commander of the 77. Regiment, Lt.Col. Saip Bey, reported the situation to Mustafa Kemal Bey, who believed that it was not the soldiers' fault: "He (Saip Bey) reported that some soldiers have deserted but he did not confess that the real cause was his suspicious, irrelevant and impossible order to move the battalions to a rear position that he gave based on the news supplied to him by some weak hearted officers. He put the blame on the soldiers. I asked him to do whatever is necessary to reassemble the troops." 77. Regiment's failure disrupted the 19th Division's operational plans and made it impossible to give a final blow to the retreating enemy.

Landings at Seddülbahir

Meanwhile, as Turks were defending their land against the Australians and New Zealanders in the northern part of the peninsula, British troops had landed at five different points in the southern part. The landing at the Seddülbahir sector (Cape Helles) was made by the British 29th Division under the command of Gen. Aylmer Hunter-Weston. Landings began after 1.5 hours of naval gunfire starting at 4:30 am on April 25.

Maj. Mahmut Sabri Bey, commander of the 3. Battalion of the 26. Regiment, was observing: "A number of warships had approached our coast between Teke Bay and Eski Hisarlık; they were continuously firing. Ridges at Seddülbahir were boiling with countless explosions. Enemy fire was concentrated on our frontline trenches. It was not possible to tell which units we had there and what the damage was because of black, white and green smoke clouds caused by explosions... The 3.7 cm light artillery that was at the disposal of our battalion was hit during the shelling and had lost two guns. Unfortunately we could not make any use of this battery, which was the only heavy gun of the battalion and had a vital improtance for the beach battles. The heavy naval gunfire destroyed our trenches at Teke Bay and Ertuğrul Bay. Half completed communication trenches were completely wiped away and obstacles established by our frontline units were damaged."


Turkish artillerists
Source: Harp Mecmuası

The landing at Pınariçi Bay (Y Beach) started simultaneously with the opening of the naval gunfire. Turks were caught off guard there since they were not expecting landings at this bay and their attention was directed to the Ertuğrul and Teke Bays (V Beach and W Beach) anyway. Facing no opposition, the British brigade established a beachhead, took a narrow gully that went up to Sarıtepe (Gurkha Bluff) and proceeded to the village of Kirte (Krithia - modern day Alçıtepe). It was 9:30 am when information about this landing began to arrive at the headquarters of the 26. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. Hafız Kadri Bey. Some minor units engaged the British around Sarıtepe. In the afternoon, a battalion, a field battery and two machine guns from the 25. Regiment, which was commanded by Lt.Col. İrfan Bey, were deployed to this area to support the Turkish defence and fighting went on until the early hours of the next day. Both sides suffered heavy losses and the British forces evacuated Pınariçi Bay at 11 am the next morning. Göncü and Aldoğan point out that the Turkish side was too slow to realise the scale of the enemy operation in this area, however the British failed to take advantage of this weakness.

Another landing beach that was intended to support the two main landings (at Ertuğrul and Teke Bays) was the İkiz Bay (X Beach) located 2 km northwest to the village of Seddülbahir. It was weakly defended by the Turks, who suffered badly from the naval gunfire. By 7:30 am, around 1,000 British troops managed to establish a beachhead and began to proceed inland. Two small groups of Turkish of around 40 troops each arrived in this area from Zığındere and Teke Bay and opened fire on the British. The Turkish defence was soon supported by a company arriving from Kirte. Turks were owerwhelmingly outnumbered, but they managed to slow down the enemy, which was proceeding to the ridge overlooking Teke Bay. The decision made by the headquarters of the 9th Division to move the reserves to this area proved to be an appropriate one. When the sun set down on April 25, the British had landed around 3,000 troops at İkiz Bay and managed to capture Karacaoğlan Hill (Hill 114) but they failed to break through the Turkish defence and remained stuck at their beachhead. Turks stopped them from reaching the Ertuğrul Bay and moving towards Kirte.


Firing from the trenches

Landing at Morto Bay on the southern tip of the peninsula took place at the shore next to the Eski Hisarlık Burnu (S Beach), which was defended by a Turkish squad. As soon as the boats landed at the shore, the Turks opened fire and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. The Turkish commander decided to pull his forces back after having realised the attempts of the British to outflank them. Turkish troops went back to the ridges and it was a wise decision which prevented a possible threat against the Seddülbahir-Kirte supply line. Reinforcements came in time and the British were pinned down to the ruins in Eski Hisarlık (De Tott's Battery).

On the first day of the land battles in Gallipoli, April 25, two major landings took place at the Seddülbahir sector. One of them took part at Teke Bay (W Beach) which was one of the coastal points where the Turkish defence was the strongest. A company from the 3. Battalion of the 26. Regiment was in charge here, around 240 men, against more than 1,000 Britons who started to land at 6:15 am.

Turks were positioned at the northern side of the bay; they watched the invaders coming and as the boats hit the shore, all hell broke loose. Intensive Turkish fire, combined with extensive barbed wire entanglements caused severe damage to the British. Additionally they realised that their wire cutters were not good enough to cut the thick Turkish barbed wire, for which they paid dearly. Turkish defence was effective, but their numbers were too low. At 7:30 am, British forces managed to established a beachhead. Karacaoğlan Hill fell at 11:00 am and Aytepe (Hill 138) was captured in the evening. Although they were suffering from heavy casualties, Turkish defenders did not retreat. They insisted on keeping their positions, continued to fight, continued to die and at the end of the day managed to stop the British advance.


Turkish soldiers facing the enemy

Inside the trenches

The largest contingent of British troops landed at Ertuğrul Bay (V Beach), near the village of Seddülbahir, a short distance to the east on the other side of Teke Bay. 6,000 men were intended for this landing site and the first wave of 3,000 began to arrive at 6:00 am after an initial pounding of the Turkish positions by Allied naval gunfire. The covering force of around 2,000 men was landed from a converted collier, River Clyde, which was run aground beneath the Seddülbahir Fort so that the troops could disembark directly via ramps to the shore. An Irish battalion landed from open boats. This area was defended by another company from the 3. Battalion of the 26. Regiment, which opened fire from the heights overlooking the bay and from inside the fort. The result was immediate slaughtering the men in the boats. A few made it ashore and sought shelter under a sand bank at the edge of the beach where they remained, pinned down. The faith of those inside the River Clyde was no different. The troops emerging one by one from the sally ports on the collier presented perfect targets to the Turkish gunfire. Only 200 men made it onto the beach.

Landing at Ertuğrul Bay was completed by 9:30 am. In the afternoon, the British attempted to capture Gözcübaba Hill (Hill 159) overlooking the bay. A small contingent led by Sgt. Yahya from the 10. Company of the 2. Battalion of the 26. Regiment heroically defended the hill and drove the enemy out with a bayonet charge. Meanwhile, the 1,000 men remaining aboard the River Clyde waited until nightfall before making another attempt to land.

It has to be noted, that although most British sources claim the opposite, during the landings of the first day, Turkish defenders had no machine guns at their disposal. Both at Arıburnu and Seddülbahir, Turks opened fire on the invasion forces with infantry rifles. As Göncü and Aldoğan wrote, it was only on the night of April 26 when the first machine guns were taken to the defensive lines at the beaches.

Diversions at Bolayır and Kumkale

The main objective of the first day for the allies was to reach the Kilitbahir Plateau, which was not achieved. Simultaneously with the landings at Arıburnu and Seddülbahir, there were two more operations that aimed to divert the Turks' attention and manpower. A diversion took place at the Gulf of Saros, to the north of the peninsula, where Gen. Liman von Sanders was actually expecting the Allied landings. The town of Bolayır was bombarded and a British officer swam ashore where he began lighting flares so as to distract the defending Turkish forces. This attempt was successful. Turkish 5th and 7th Divisions, a total of 20,000 men were kept at this region at a time when the real landings were met by a handful of Turkish defenders.

It was by late afternoon on April 25 when General von Sanders was convinced that the Allied presence at Bolayır was a diversion. He responded to the calls of Esat Paşa for reinforcements but it was not earlier than the next evening when these Turkish forces could arrive the actual war zones.

Another diversion took place at the Asian shore, which was defended by the Turkish XV Corps. The Allies wanted to prevent the Turkish troops stationed there from moving to the peninsula and to silence the Turkish guns that could shell the landing units. After 3.5 hours of naval gunfire that commenced at 5:00 am, French units began to land at Kumkale. This area was under the responsibility of the 31. Regiment commanded by Lt.Col. İsmail Hakkı Bey.


A Turkish camp

The Turkish headquarters was informed about the French landing on time and although they were outnumbered the defenders managed to stop the French advance. By afternoon, around 3,000 troops had landed at Kumkale, whereas the Turkish side was reinforced by the 39. Regiment commanded by Lt.Col. Nurettin Bey. After the sunset, Turks launched three night attacks, however they failed to draw the enemy back to the sea. Soon the fighting went into stalemate.

The Turks soon realised that it was only a diversion at Kumkale. Capt. Celaleddin Bey wrote later in his memoirs: “By the afternoon of April 25, the situation had become clear. The real landings were taking place on the European side. It was obvious that the forces landing in Kumkale were no more than one to three battalions.” The French kept their beachhead for one more day and evacauted the Asian shore on the night of April 26. They had already achieved their objective and prevented the Turkish 3rd and 11th Divisions from supporting the defence of the peninsula.


Turkish soldiers firing from their trenches

On April 25, 1915, a total of 16,700 Turkish troops defended their land against an invasion army of 31,750. Turkish casualties of the day were 6,000, whereas this number was 5,000 for the Allies. At Seddülbahir, 4,700 Turks faced 14,000 Allied troops and the number of casualties were 1,700 and 2,200 respectively. At Arıburnu, 8,500 Turks faced 14,500 Allied troops and the casualties were 2,500 to 2,000. Turkish casualty rate was highest in Kumkale; 3,500 troops saw action and the casualties were 1,735. For the French, this rate was 778 out of 3,250.

Trenches in Arıburnu

In the morning of April 26, 1915, the total Turkish strength at the northern part of the peninsula, the Arıburnu sector, was around 10 thousand men supported by 16 machine guns and 28 pieces of artillery. They were to face 20 thousand Anzacs, but they began the day significantly disadvantaged, because the 77. Regiment had left its position at Kanlısırt (400 Plateau). Fortunately, Anzacs had only been digging during the night, instead of taking advantage of this weakness. Mustafa Kemal’s immediate response was to move two battalions of the 72. Regiment to the left wing in order to fill the gap.

The Anzac offensive commenced in the early hours of the day, aimed at the Turks’ right wing and supported by heavy naval gunfire focusing on Kabaksırtı (Sniper’s Nest). This attack was successfully stopped by the Turks, however Anzacs managed to take Kılıçbayırı (Baby 700) with a renewed attack. In the afternoon, they forced the left wing, at Kanlısırt, only to be thrown back by the 27. Regiment.


Turkish officers with the regiment imam

Mustafa Kemal was planning an large scaled counterattack, which he launched at 7:30 am on April 27. Turkish forces attacked from the centre and their left wing. In around one hour, units from 27., 72. and 77. Regiments forced the enemy to retreat to the seaward side of Kanlısırt-Kırmızısırt Plateau.

Meanwhile reinforcements were also coming in. 33. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. Ahmet Şevki Bey, supported the Kanlısırt-Kırmızısırt (Johnston's Jolly) line whereas the 64. Regiment, commanded by Maj. Servet Bey, joined the 57. Regiment in an attack from the right wing. This part of the front witnessed fierce fighting throughout the day and some key positions repeatedly changed hands. Finally, Anzacs were repulsed to the south side of Cesarettepe (The Nek) and Bombasırtı (Hill 60).

After a failed attack by the Turks on the night of April 27/28, positions in this sector almost stabilized. During the following days, Turkish reinforcements continued to arrive. Regiments from the 5th and 11th Divisions were brought to this sector and as the situation on the Asian side of the Dardanelles had already stabilized, units from the 3rd Division were also deployed there. Turkish commanders were determined to hit a decisive blow to the enemy and a major offensive was scheduled for May 1.


Inside the Turkish trenches
Source: Harp Mecmuası

The Turkish strength at Arıburnu was now 15,500 men supported by six mountain batteries and two field batteries totalling 34 guns, as well as 28 machine guns. Anzacs had 24 battalions with more than 100 machine guns located at critical positions. Mustafa Kemal’s plan was to attack from the centre towards Merkeztepe (MacLaurin’s Hill).

At 5:00 am on May 1, 1915, Turkish guns began to shell the entire area between the ridges of Yükseksırt (Russell’s Top) and Kanlısırt. 14. Regiment was the first to attack the enemy and it managed to approach the Anzac trenches by 200 meters. At 10:30 am, the 125. Regiment joined the attack, however the flanks were not able to support the centre. Anzacs had dug in well and Turkish efforts to break through their lines produced no results. A Turkish night attack failed as well. As Göncü and Aldoğan wrote, Turks could not move forward but neither could they retreat. At the end of the day, Turkish casualties were no less than 6,000.

Eight Meters Between the Trenches

Following this failed attempt, Turks began to dig deep trenches just as the Anzacs did. In some parts of this sector, Turkish and Anzac trenches were extremely close to each other. Both sides could get very close to each other’s lines and over the following two weeks there have been several night attacks from both Turks and Anzacs, especially at Bombasırtı (Quinn’s Post), Korkuderesi (Monash Valley) and Kanlısırt. During the Anzac night attacks of May 9/10 and May 13/14, there have been extraordinary human efforts. As Mustafa Kemal later wrote in his memoirs: “The distance between the trenches is eight meters, which means that death is inevitable. Those in the first trenches, they all fall without any survivors, but they are rapidly replaced by those in the second. Can you imagine what a distinguished determination and faith this is? He sees the fallen, he knows that he will die within three minutes, but he does not hesitate at all. There is no trembling whatsoever. Those who are literate have the Koran in their hands, preparing to get into the paradise; those who are not are saying prayers. This is an example showing the spiritual power of the Turkish soldier. You can be sure that this spirit is what brought the victory in Çanakkale.”


Observing the enemy
Source: "Gelibolu" (T.Örnek)

On May 5, 1915, Gen. von Sanders created the corps level group headquarters in an attempt to weld together the disparate formations on the peninsula into coherent combat groups. The Northern Group that combined all the Turkish forces at Arıburnu and Anafartalar was given under the command of Esat Paşa, commander of III Corps. This group’s backbone consisted of three divisions: Mustafa Kemal’s 19th Division on the right, Lt.Col. Hasan Sabri’s 5th Division in the centre and Colonel Rüştü’s 16th Division on the left.

As trenches were being dug at Arıburnu, the southern part of the peninsula was also witnessing a heating up of the battle. After the heavy losses of the landing day, British forces recovered fast and in the early hours on the next day, units at Ertuğrul Bay (V Beach), began to advance to the village of Seddülbahir. Units of the 3. Battalion of the 26. Regiment, continued to defend the village bravely, as it did on the landing day, but they were dramatically outnumbered and running out of ammunition.

Maj. Mahmut Sabri Bey ordered a retreat and by 1:30 pm, the village as well as the outlying coastal stretch was in the hands of the British. Turks withdrew disorganised, but fortunately they were not chased by the British forces who occupied Harapkale Hill instead and began to dig trenches.

Worried about a strong Allied advance, commander of the 9th Division, Col. Halil Sami Bey, reported to the headquarters of III Corps that a second defensive line had to be established further north to the village of Kirte (Krithia - modern day Alçıtepe). The headquarters rejected this proposal that would leave Kirte as well as Zığındere (Gully Ravine) and Kerevizdere to the enemy. The new defensive line was to be formed to the front, so that Kirte would remain within Turkish territory. 20. Regiment would keep the right wing and the 19. Regiment would stay on the left whereas the 25. and 26. Regiments would remain in reserve. The total strength of this defensive formation was nearly 8,000 men supported by three field batteries and 3 howitzer batteries, a total of 24 guns.

The primary objective of the British was to take the village of Kirte. They strengthened their beachhead for three days and although they were suffering from severe casualties, mainly inflicted on the landing day, they were planning a major breakthrough attempt that would take them to Kirte. Their total strength, including the French forces transferred across the Narrows, was nearly 17,500.


A Turkish communication post
Source: Harp Mecmuası

The Allied offensive, that would later came to be known as the First Battle of Kirte, began with heavy artillery fire in the early hours of April 28, 1915. At 9:00 am, Allied forces began to advance to north. Those units who attacked the right wing of the Turkish defence could approach the Pınariçi Bay (Y Beach), but they were stopped by the 20. Regiment’s intensive fire. However, at the centre and the left wing, the situation was not favourable for the Turks. Units of the 25. and 26. Regiments could not hold their lines and they began to withdraw. Meanwhile the 19. Regiment, that was supposed to be the main force here, was still behind and could not approach the frontline because of the Allied naval gunfire. Col. Halil Sami Bey ordered all units to retreat, but regiment commanders did not obey this order, because the enemy advance was already slowing down. Maj. Mahmut Sabri and his battalion halted the retreat and launched a successful counterattack. 20. Regiment repeated this success on the right wing and the Allied forces were driven to their starting points. The arrival of the 19. Regiment was a final blow for the Allies. At the end of the day, they had gained nothing, but suffered nearly 3,000 casualties. Turkish casualties were 2,378 men.


Breakfast at the front line
Source: Harp Mecmuası

Gen. von Sanders could see that a reorganization was needed in this sector. The Southern Region Command was established under the command of German Col. von Sodenstern. Von Sanders also asked for reinforcements, a request which was accepted by the Turkish General Staff that deployed the 15th Division to this front. This area command had two flanks: Halil Sami’s 9th Division on the right flank and the 7th Division commanded by Col. Remzi Bey on the left flank.

At 3:30 pm on May 1, Col. von Sodenstern issued an order for a two-division night attack on Allied lines that would commence at 10:00 pm the same day, which meant that there was only a brief time for the units to prepare. The attack began and on the right wing, the 20. Regiment commanded by Maj. Halit Bey was repulsed by British machine gun fire. On the left, Col. Halil’s 21. Regiment, 19. Regiment commanded by Lt.Col. Sabri Bey and the Bursa Gendarmerie Battalion commanded by Maj. Tahsin Bey engaged in fierce fighting and bayonet charges against the British. These attacks failed as well and suffering severe casualties, Turks returned to their initial lines. 6,000 men were lost in one night. Allied casualties were 3,000 men.

A renewed attack on the night of May 3, this time with the support of the 15th Division that has just arrived from Istanbul, resulted in a failure of a similar scale. There was total disorder and chaos among the Turkish units and in one night, the 15th Division, which had to engage in battle without familiarising with the territory, lost half of its men. In one week, Turkish casualties had gone up to 10,000 at the Seddülbahir sector. On the next day, the Southern Group Command was established and German General Weber, commander of the XV Corps, assumed its command. The strength of the Turkish forces in this sector was down to 13,000 men in total, supported by 57 pieces of artillery and 24 machine guns.


Caring for the wounded in Gallipoli
Source: Harp Mecmuası

Göncü and Aldoğan state the following about the disastrous night attacks on the early days of May 1915: “In these attacks, a large number of Turkish soldiers lost their lives, not because of the Allies, but mainly due to the wrong decisions and practices of the Army and Region Commands.” The authors also point to a fatal mistake: “The 15th Division that came as reinforcement in the evening of May 3 had arrived the battlefield after marching 25 km and the exhausted soldiers were sent to the frontline in smaller units. It was not clear which zone the division was responsible for, to which direction it would proceed, where and how it would engage in battle. There was no written order, only the divisional commander and the battalions were informed in word of mouth.”

A similar point was made by Selahattin Adil Paşa in his memoirs: “What we were supposed to do was to ensure our defence by entrenching until the reservers arrived and prepare for offensives to be launched then. Unfortunately, the Army Command sticked to their own opinion, pushed all the fresh units to the front as soon as they arrived and started a period of consecutive night attacks that caused several valuable and well trained army units to perish and numerous valuable young officers to lose their lives in vain."

Hoping to take advantage of the weakened position of the Turks, Allies launched a new offensive on May 6, which started with naval gunfire at 10:30 am. The Second Battle of Kirte began with British units pressing forward towards the right wing of the Turkish defence and French forces attacking the left wing. At both sides, Turkish fire managed to stop the enemy which could not advance more than 400 meters. The Allied attack was renewed on the next day, but it was only a repetition of the first, they could move only a few hundred meters and take some front trenches.

For the Allies, this breakthrough attempt was doomed to failure. They pushed again on May 8, but it did not change the outcome. With the exception of the fighting at Turks’ left flank, Allied forced did only proceed through the no-man’s-land and most of them died without even seeing a Turk. After three days of fighting, Allies were still 3 km from the village of Kirte, but they had lost 6,500 men. Their only gain of any significance was the capture of Hill 83 by the French.

Burying the Dead

The Turkish General Staff was insisting on a major offensive at the Arıburnu sector that would finish off the enemy and clean the peninsula, although both sides had by then dug in deep, trenches had been established and it was obvious that the end of the campaign was nowhere in sight. Enver Paşa came to Çanakkale on May 11 and held meetings with Gen. von Sanders and Esat Paşa. Col. Kazım Bey, chief of staff of the Fifth Army, had sent a cable to Enver Paşa, which went unnoticed. In this cable, Kazım Bey was pointing to the intentions of the Allies: “The enemy wants to weaken us by forcing us to attack. If we get weaker by repeatedly attacking them, they will counter this with larger and fresh forces and they will catch us tired and weak. The army must not get deceived by this.”


Reserve troops resting before the offensive
Source: Harp Mecmuası

Enver Paşa wanted to attack and annihilate the enemy, as soon as possible, and decided to dispatch the 2nd Division, which was then based in Istanbul and was under the command of Lt.Col. Hasan Askeri Bey, to Gallipoli. The date for the major offensive was set as May 19, 1915.

According to the plan, Turks would attack the Anzac beachhead with 42,000 troops and Esat Paşa was extremely confident of a victory because of the Turks’ numerical superiority against the Anzacs, which numbered around 17,000. 19th Division was to attack to the north, 5th Division to the centre, 2nd Division through Kırmızısırt-Kanlısırt to the centre and south and 16th Division to Kanlısırt and south.

The Turkish offensive commenced at 3:30 am, however it was not a surprise for the Anzacs as Turkish commanders thought it would be, because they were alerted by aerial reconnaissance and by observing the preparations in Turkish front line trenches. Additionally, prior to the attack, Turkish lines could not maintain silence, which meant that the Anzacs were already awake and waiting for them. The attack was a definitive failure for the Turks and it was concluded already by dawn. Most of the Turkish troops were taken down by machine gun fire as they were running towards the trenches. Only a few troops could reach the Anzac trenches, but their bayonets could not change anything.

Maj. Burhaneddin Bey, who took part in the offensive on May 19, later wrote in his memoirs: “The enemy fire caused several casualties while we were still inside th trenches and when we were leaving trenches. This was because our trenches were not constructed in a way that would allow us to quickly jump out of them to launch an attack. Moreover, the connection trenches were overcrowded and under enemy fire. Despite all these difficulties the division attacked the enemy positions with great determination and sacrifice. However, the enemy fire did not allow this devoted mass to reach their positions alive. The space between the two trenches was filled with the bodies of martyrs.”


Dead bodies in the no-man's-land

As the sun was going up that morning, half of the 2nd Division’s men were lying on the no-man’-land. The 19th Division could only advance 15-20 meters. The 5th Division struggled to reach Merkeztepe until 10:00 am but without any result. Some units tried to renew their attack during the day, but all hopes were killed by Anzac machine guns. In only four and a half hours, 3,855 Turkish soldiers died and 5,967 wounded. Anzac losses were 160 dead and 468 wounded. Turks had attack with a force two and a half times the size of the Anzacs, but at the end of the day their losses were 16 times greater. A poorly planned attack had resulted in a disaster.

After the May 19 attack, hundreds of corpses, mainly those of fallen Turkish soldiers, were lying in the no-man’s-land under the sun, out of the reach of either side and beginning to decompose. Commander of the Anzac forces, General Birdwood, asked for a supervised truce to bury the dead and Gen. von Sanders agreed. As Esat Paşa later wrote in his memoirs: “The British were eagerly waiting for this. They were in a very difficult situation, because the wind of the Gallipoli peninsula, which usually blows from north to south, was taking the stench from the dead bodies directly to them.” The truce took place on May 24, when soldiers from both sides buried the bodies in large mass graves under the supervision of Maj. Aubrey Herbert from the Allied side and Maj. Ohrili Kemal Bey from the Turkish side.


Meanwhile the Turks began to employ a new technique, which was later also used by the Allies. Tunnels were dug from friendly territory to enemy lines and when the tunnel reached a point under the enemy trenches, explosives were installed there. It was very effective in damaging the enemy trenches and creating havoc there. The first such incident took place on May 29 at Bombasırtı.

After some minor attacks by both sides in late May, the Turkish 5th Division left the Arıburnu sector on June 3. The area was now under the responsibility of the 19th Division commanded by Mustafa Kemal, who had been recently promoted to a Colonel. Anzacs attacked the next day in an attempt to prevent the Turks from supporting the defence of the village of Kirte in the southern part of the peninsula where British forces were trying to break through the Turkish lines and occupy this village which had a strategic position. New Zealanders managed to capture two trenches of the 57. Regiment, and the situation was worsening.

Lt.Col. Mehmet Şefik Bey, commander of the 27. Regiment, wrote in his report what happened next: “I asked the commander of the 3. Battalion to provide three courageous bombers. Three soldiers, Cpl. Hasan, Cpl. Süleyman and Cpl. Mustafa came to me. We filled their hands and pockets with grenades. I showed them what the situation of the enemy was and that they were firing from the captured trenches without showing their heads. I pointed to the location where the machine gun fire from the trenches and from Yükseksırt would not be effective and asked them to crouch there. I said that after reaching that location, they should throw their grenades to the trenches and they would be awarded for this. These three soldiers did exactly what I have asked them to do.” These trenches were taken back from the New Zealanders, however one of the three bombers was killed in action.

Bloodshed at Zığındere

On the same day, when trenches were changing hands at Arıburnu, British forces at Seddülbahir launched their third attempt to capture the village of Kirte. On June 4, 1915 at 8:00 am, Allied naval gunfire began to pound the Turkish defensive lines. After hours of shelling, Turkish lines were heavily damaged, but Turks had already established a wide network of deep trenches, so the damage did not reduce their defensive capability. After the shelling Turkish units took their positions and waited for the enemy to come.

The Allied attack commenced around 12:00 noon. At the left wing of the Turkish defence, the 34. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. Mehmet Ali Bey, successfully repulsed the French. At the centre left, 36. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. Cemil Bey and 22. Regiment, commanded by Lt.Col. İbrahim Bey stopped the British as did the units of 9th Division at the very centre of the line. The defence at the right wing held well too. At the end of the day, the farthest penetration of the Allied attack was no more than 1 km and these units had to retreat because they could not receive any support. By 8:00 pm, this front had stabilized.


An artillery observation post

It was now time for the Turks to stage a counter attack. Allied units were successfully thrown back with consecutive Turkish charges, including a bayonet charge from the units of the 2nd Division, which had a tragic experience at Arıburnu a few weeks ago, but performed brilliantly at Kirte. After three days of fighting Allies had only minor territorial gains in the centre and at the flanks they were back where they had started. The cost of the Third Battle of Kirte was 7,500 casualties for the Allies and nearly 10,000 casualties (including 3,000 dead) for the Turks.

The Allies had realized that it was no more possible for them to take Kirte and to reach the Kilitbahir Plateau. They decided to focus on smaller targets with limited scope. On June 21, French forces attacked the western ridges of Kerevizdere. Although they were substantially weakened and not sufficiently reinforced, regiments of the 2nd Division defended the area. Fighting went on for two days and at the end the French had penetrated some 200 meters but failed to capture their objectives. Their casualties were 3,200 men, against a loss of 6,000 men for the Turks. The French stroke back on June 30 and this time managed to capture a key position on the western ridges of Kerevizdere, a point they called Quadrilatere.

The Seddülbahir sector was burning in flames. On June 28, 15,000 British troops attacked at both sides of Zığındere, after two hours of naval gunfire. Those who were at the seaward side of Zığındere managed to capture some trenches while those on the other side were stopped by the Turks, who launched a counterattack in the afternoon. This battle went on until the early hours of June 30. Although a retreat was under consideration by the Turks, the arrival of the 16. Regiment and the 1st Division, commanded by Lt.Col. Cafer Tayyar Bey changed the situation.

There were also changes in the command structure. Upon the request of Enver Paşa, the Second Army began to send replacements to Gallipoli. Commander of the II Corps, Faik Paşa assumed the responsibility of the right wing and commander of the I Corps, Mehmet Ali Paşa undertook the command of the left wing. 3rd and 5th Divisions also came in as reinforcements and a major counterattack was planned.


A lone officer at the wreckage of a gun
Source: Australian War Memorial

A Turkish force of 13,000 men began to attack from both sides of Zığındere at 3:45 am on July 5. This attack was called off soon, in the face of heavy machine gun fire from the Allies. This was the end of the battles at Zığındere, which cost the Turks 16,000 men in just one week.

After Zığındere, Vehip Paşa, chief of staff of the Second Army, replaced Gen. Weber as the commander of the Southern Group. He was planning a major structural change in the defensive formation, but he had no opportunity to realize this plan, because of a renewed Allied attack that commenced on June 12. This offensive achieved it objectives and the British captured Turkish trenches, whereas the French took Yassıtepe (Rognon). In two days, Turks suffered 9,575 casualties and the Allied losses were 4,000.

By late July, fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula had gone into stalemate. Both sides had strong and deep entrenchments and both sides had realized that infantry charges against these trenches, which were defended by machine gun fire, were too costly. As a result, neither side had made any significant progress.

The main problem for the Turkish side was not the lack of manpower but that of artillery ammunition, as Gen. von Sanders repeatedly reported to Enver Paşa. Turks had enough ammunition for artillery guns with low or flat trajectories, but these were not useful in trench warfare. Howitzers and mortars, which are the kinds of guns with high trajectories, were used against enemy trenches and there was a serious shortage in ammunition for these kinds of artillery.

Turkish casualties over the three months following the landings of 25 April was 115,000 (75,000 in south and 40,000 in north) including 35,000 dead. On the other hand, Allied casualties were 75,000 with 29,000 of them being dead. Many of the Turkish Fifth Army’s infantry divisions were depleted by continuous combat to regimental strength, but reinforcements, mainly from the Second Army, could prevent a further weakening of the Turkish defence. As of July 28, 1915, the Fifth Army had a total of 250,818 men under its command and although it had originally six divisions, this number had gone up to 17.

Defending the Heights

As of late July, the Allied decision makers found themselves at a critical point. The Gallipoli campaign had gone into stalemate and they were not able to break through the Turkish lines. After months of bloody trench warfare, they were still confined two small beachheads, which meant that they were either to pull out from the peninsula or bring new forces that would break the stalemate. They chose the latter. The plan was to launch a second amphibious operation, this time at Suvla Bay, northwest to Anafartalar, in order to outflank the Turks. In this way, they were hoping to be able to eliminate the Turkish Northern Group, which in turn would mean an isolation of the Southern Group, to reach the Kilitbahir Plateau, to silence the Dardanelles batteries and to open the way to Istanbul for the Allied navy.


Esat Paşa and his staff

As the plans were drawn by the Allies, the defenders of the peninsula were aware of what would come next, although they were not sure about where it will happen. Most of the commanders, including Liman von Sanders and Esat Paşa were thinking that the next Allied invasion would come from further north at the Gulf of Saros, where the 6th, 7th and 12th Divisions (35,000 men in total) and a cavalry brigade were stationed. The Anafartalar Region Command, of which the responsibility covered the Suvla Bay had a strength of only 3,000 troops, commanded by the German Lt.Col. Wilhelm Willmer.

This was a very small force for such a critical area and Mustafa Kemal Bey was worried. He could foresee the Allied attack focusing on Anafartalar, the right wing of the Turkish defence, but he could not persuade his superiors. They would simply not listen to him, which would prove to be a big mistake. Göncü and Aldoğan write about the situation: “The General Staff and the Fifth Army Command, which were still not able to empathise with the enemy, continued to fail to understand the importance of the Kilitbahir Plateau when it was already August. Even though it was clearly apparent that the Allies would execute a new landing, they completely ignored the shores of Anafartalar, the surrounding hills and the Kocaçimen mountain range and left them with extremely weak units. This was a mistake, which could only be compensated by equally serious mistakes done by the Allies in later phases.”

The Hell that they Called Suvla Bay

On the evening of August 6, 1915, at around 5:30 pm, after one hour of combined gunfire from the Allied warships and artillery guns in Arıburnu, British troops landed at Suvla Bay, to the north of the peninsula. They could come ashore in force very quickly, since the units of the 47. Regiment of the Turkish 16th Division, could not resist much, since they were already under-strength and weakened by the bombardment. Still, the Turks managed to make the enemy lose a substantial amount of time. Over the next two days, British forces remained within only one kilometer of the landing beaches. They could capture Mestantepe (Chocolate Hill) and Karakol Dağı, but failed to take the heights surrounding the Anafartalar plain.

Meanwhile, on the same day as the Britons were landing at Suvla, the Australians launched a bayonet charge and got into the first line of Turkish trenches. Heavy fighting went on for the whole day in a very small area and when the sun set down, the Turks had not only lost 1,000 men but also the Kanlısırt Plateau (400 Plateau). Two regiments of the 57. Regiment tried to recapture the trenches, but this attempt failed.

Turks launched consequent counterattacks at Kanlısırt (Lone Pine) for three days without any outcome. However, reinforcements were coming in quickly and soon 15,000 fresh troops had arrived the area of combat. Kanlısırt could be taken back on August 11 at a cost of 7,164 casualties for the Turks, including 2,280 dead. The Anzacs, who could penetrate only 150 m, lost 2,000 men.2 Meanwhile, two diversion attacks in the southern sector launched by the British and French, on August 6 and 7 respectively, failed against the defence of the well positioned Turkish units.

The main element of the Allied plan was the strategy to attack north of the Arıburnu front, to encircle the Turks and to take Conkbayırı (Chunuk Bair) and Kocaçimen (Sari Bair). In the late hours of August 6, they managed to capture the Halit ve Rıza Tepesi (Old No.3 Post) and advanced to Ağıldere and Damakçılık Bayırı (first ridge north of Ağıldere). The Turkish 14. Regiment was helpless against this surprise attack. The next morning, Anzacs had approached 500 meters to Conkbayırı and they were going forward. However, that night there had been remarkable changes made in the Turkish defence line. New units had arrived and the 9th Division, commanded by the German Colonel Hans Kannengiesser was given the task to keep the Conkbayırı-Kocaçimen line. Turks managed to stop the Anzacs and repulse them to Şahinsırtı (Rhododendron Spur). Units from the 4th Division arrived this front as reinforcements, but the Anzacs managed to stay at Şahinsırtı. During the battle, in the morning, Col. Kannengiesser was wounded. It was now Lt.Col. Cemil Bey, commander of the 4th Division, who was in charge.

Following a heavy Allied bombardment of the Conkbayırı-Düztepe (warship Hill) line, the New Zealanders launched a charge and captured the southern parts of Conkbayırı in the early hours of August 8. Colonel Servet’s 64. Regiment inflicted casualties on the enemy, but failed to take the positions back. The rest of the day witnessed heavy fighting in which Turks managed to approach 30 meters to enemy lines.

Fighting for the Hills

While there was slaughter going on at Conkbayırı, there have been some changes in the command of the Turkish forces. German Lt.Col. Pötrich was the new commander of the 9th Division whereas all the units in the area, including the reinforcements, were given to the newly established Anafartalar Group Command, commanded by Col. Ahmet Feyzi Bey. There were now nearly 10,000 Turkish troops on the Kocaçimen-Conkbayırı line, the Allied advance had been stopped but Conkbayırı was still in enemy hands.


Mustafa Kemal at Anafartalar

The situation was critical for the Turks, as the Allied pressure was growing every hour. General Liman von Sanders ordered a counter-attack in Anafartalar to be launched in the evening of August 8. Ahmet Feyzi Bey objected. Göncü and Aldoğan point out to his reasons and the consequences: “Units of the 7th and 12th Divisions have not completely arrived in this area, they were exhausted because they came from Saros on foot and this attack could not be supported by the 4th Division which was at the Kocaçimen-Abdurrahman Bayırı line, hence Feyzi Bey insisted that the attack could not be launched earlier than the morning of 9 August. Liman Paşa dismissed him.”

Ahmet Feyzi’s successor was Col. Mustafa Kemal, in whom Liman Paşa had great confidence. In his memoirs Fahrettin Altay wrote that Esat Paşa knew that the situation was dangerous and an efficient commander was needed, however he had doubts that Liman Paşa would accept to give Mustafa Kemal this task. On the phone, the latter told Liman’s chief of staff, Kazım Bey, the following: “Success is only possible if all the forces are commanded from one single point. I can only accept this task if all the forces arriving in Anafartalar would be given under my command as well.” Liman Paşa accepted this and Mustafa Kemal immediately assumed the group command. Şefik Bey, former commander of the 27. Regiment replaced him as the commander of the 19th Division.

August 9 began with Allied bombardment followed by an attack, which was stopped by the Turks later during the day. Conkbayırı-Besimtepe (Hill Q)-Kocaçimen line was held by the Turks but the problem was still there: Conkbayırı could not be captured.

On the same day, 34. and 35. Regiments repulsed the British forces that were advancing from Mestantepe and the Gelibolu Gendarmerie Battalion stopped the British at Kireçtepe (range of hills parallel to the sea and overlooking the Anafartalar plain). Another Turkish attack launched by the 7. Division to the south of the area was stopped by machine gun fire.

Mustafa Kemal knew that Conkbayırı had to be taken at once and if no reinforcements would arrive the Turkish defence was likely to collapse. He planned his counter-offensive during the night. It was going to be a raid supported by bayonet charge, in which the 23. and 24. Regiments would attack towards Conkbayırı, 28. Regiment to Şahinsırtı and the 9th Division to the ridges that were connecting Kocaçimen with the sea.

The Turkish offensive began before the sun went up in the morning of August 10. Mustafa Kemal later wrote in his memoirs: “All the soldiers and all the officers had left everything else aside, with their eyes and hearts focused solely on the signal that would be given. When I lowered my whip, soldiers with one foot and the bayonet ahead, officers with their pistols and swords, they all leaped forward as a mass in a fierce attack. In only one second, nothing else could be heard inside the enemy trenches but the heavenly uproar of ‘Allah, Allah’”

The attack proceeded well despite the Allied naval gunfire, land artillery support and the heavy machine gun fire from the top of Şahinsırtı. As the offensive was called off at noon, Conkbayırı was captured and the whole range of hills between Hill 261 and Kocaçimen, with the exception of the western slopes of Şahinsırtı, was in Turkish hands again.

During the battles of August 10, when Allied casualties included generals, Mustafa Kemal was shot too. Fortunately, the bullet was stopped by his clock, saving him from possible death. The commander of the 64. Regiment, Lt.Col. Servet Bey, later wrote: “During the bayonet charge, I was at Conkbayırı with Mustafa Kemal. Right after the enemy’s heavy artillery fire began, I saw him rapidly moving his hand to his chest. He saw that I was panicked and raising his eyebrows he asked me to remain calm.”Later on, Mustafa Kemal gave the broken clock as a gift to Liman von Sanders.

Battles of Anafartalar

The fateful day of August 10 also saw action between Turks and the British, who attacked towards Küçük Anafartalar. In what came to be known as the First Battle of Anafartalar, repeated attacks were stopped at Yusufçuktepe by 34. and 35. Regiments and also in the south by the 17. Division and the Gelibolu Gendarmerie Battalion.


Turkish trenches

The next day, 10,000 fresh British troops landed at Suvla and advanced to Tekketepe (Hill 882) as reinforcements. Their attack on August 12 at the Kavaktepe (Hill 900)-Tekketepe was successfully repulsed by the Turks. The British headquarters had to cancel its major offensive scheduled for August 13.

The battle of Anafartalar that took place between the Turkish defenders and the British forces over the period of August 7-13, parallel to the battles around Conkbayırı between the Turks and Anzacs, caused 4,000 casualties for the Turkish side. Allied casualties were twice as much.

Having failed to establish hegemony on the Anafartalar plain, the British decided to focus on the right wing of the Turkish defence, Kireçtepe. Fighting commenced on August 14 with the British forces advancing from Sivritepe (Jephson’s Post) to be faced by Gelibolu Gendarmerie Battalion supported by units of the 19. and 39. Regiments. The British first captured Aslantepe and Projektörtepe (both hills on Kireçtepe range), forcing the Turks to retreat back to Kanlıtepe. Thanks to the reinforcements from 1., 17., 19, and 127. Regiments, Aslantepe could be recaptured, only to be taken back by the British. After two days of fighting, the British retreated back to Sivritepe. Turkish casualties were 1,700, including the commander of the Gelibolu Gendarmerie Regiment, Cpt. Kadri Bey, who was killed in action, whereas the British lost 2,000 men.

After Kireçtepe, the peninsula was relatively calm for a few days. There was a major restructuring in the Turkish defensive formation. The 5th Division was re-established under the command of Lt.Col. Willmer and positioned at the right flank in Kireçtepe. Then from right to left, the units to establish the Turkish defensive line were the 12th Division in İsmailoğlutepe, 7th Division at Bombatepe (Hill 60), 4th Division at Abdurrahman Bayırı, 8th Division at Kocaçimen-Conkbayırı-Hill 261 line. Two regiments from each of the 6th and 9th Divisions were in reserve and the whole force was supported by 97 pieces of artillery. Gulf of Saros was excluded from the responsibility of the Fifth Army.

Last Efforts of the Allies

At the same time, the Allies were planning a large scaled operation. Their number had reached 30,000 with the troops moved from Seddülbahir (Cape Helles) and they had 85 pieces of artillery. Mustafa Kemal could foresee what they were planning to do and he moved the reserves closer to the frontline. The Allied attack began in the afternoon of August 21, to the direction of Yusufçuktepe (Scimitar Hill) and its south. They managed to capture the front trenches but had to retreat because of the effective Turkish fire.


Turkish artillery in action

Later in the evening Allied forces attacked to Bombatepe and captured a few trenches from the 7th Division. Fighting went on during the night and trenches changed hands several times. This battle later came to be known as the Second Battle of Anafartalar in which the Allies lost 8,000 men in one day. Turkish casualties were 2,000. Bloodshed in this part of the peninsula ceased with the Allied attempt on August 27 to capture Bombatepe, which succeeded partially.

In their well researched account of the Gallipoli campaign, Göncü and Aldoğan provide also a list of the regimental level Turkish commanders, who were killed in action during the battles in Arıburnu and Anafartalar over the three week period between August 6-28 : Maj. Ahmet Tevfik Bey (47. Regiment), Lt.Col. İbrahim Şükrü Bey (15. Regiment), Lt.Col. Recai Bey (23. Regiment), Lt.Col. Nail Bey (25. Regiment), Maj. İsmail Hakkı Bey (14. Regiment), Lt.Col. Ziya Bey (21. Regiment), Lt.Col. Hakkı Bey (16. Regiment), Lt.Col. Halit Bey (20. Regiment) and Lt.Col. Hüseyin Avni Bey (57. Regiment).

Both sides were now exhausted and there was a stalemate with no end in sight, although the corpses were piling up very fast. There were 20 Turkish infantry divisions on the peninsula, occupying the key terrain in every sector. All the hope was gone for the Allies.

Conkbayırı and Anafartalar marked a decisive victory for the Turks. They were not well prepared, there were deficiencies in plans, however the abilities and determination of Mustafa Kemal and commanders of units linked to him as well as the extraordinary resistance and efforts of the Turkish soldiers brought this result for the Turks.

Göncü and Aldoğan also point to the operational shortcomings of the Allies: “On August 8, when the Turkish reserves were still far from the frontline, the Allies remained static, with the exception of Conkbayırı and doomed themselves to failure. It would not be a speculation to say that the destiny of the campaign would change if the British gathered all of their forces and launched a major attack in Anafartalar on August 8."


Empty shells on the battlefield

And what if the Allied would have managed to keep Conkbayırı, strengthen their positions and resume their offensive? There is clearly a consensus now among historians that in such a case it would be inevitable for the Turkish defence to break down.

After the battles of August 1915, fighting in Gallipoli took the form of static trench warfare, where neither side could gain territory anymore. The war on the peninsula was practically over, since the outcome was apparently not to change and the Allies were not going to be able to open the way to Istanbul for their navy. In the autumn of 1915, the only thing the soldiers could do was to try to inflict as much casualties as possible on each other.

By the end of September 1915, the total number of Turkish forces in Gallipoli was 5,287 officers and 255,728 soldiers of which 158,363 were combatants, supported by 230 pieces of artillery. The number of the Allied combatants was nearly 120,000.

The next month, in October 1915, there have been significant changes in the positions of the units linked to the Fifth Army, of which the total strength had gone up to 315,000 men by then. Meanwhile, Esat Paşa was appointed as the commander of the First Army and Col. Ali Rıza Bey assumed the command of the Northern Group.


Turkish soldiers during a break

An important event that took place in September that year was Bulgaria’s entry to the war on the side of the Central Powers. It meant that the Berlin-Istanbul route was now open and supplies could be transferred from Germany to Turkey and this was a great relief since the Turkish efforts in Gallipoli have been suffering from serious shortages in artillery and ammunition. An Austrian 240 mm mortar battery and a German battery of 150 mm howitzers, a total of eight guns, were brought to Turkey, with the former being positioned at Kocaçimen and the latter at Seddülbahir. Along with these batteries, several German and Austrian technical specialists arrived as well.

Although the bloodshed had slowed down, the Turkish General Staff was cautious. Enver Paşa had received the intelligence that substantial Italian forces were massing to reinforce the Allies in Gallipoli. Liman Paşa was again thinking of the Saros Bay. He believed that a simultaneous amphibious operation there and at the Asian side could be fatal for the Turks.

Neither the Italians nor the renewed landings came. The weather changed dramatically on November 26 and for four days, heavy rain followed by snow and frost spelled disaster on both sides. It was as if the Mother Nature was taking revenge from the human beings who had turned that piece of heaven into a bloody hell. Rain water filled in the trenches and then snow made everything worse. Soldiers drowned in their trenches or got frozen to death. Those in the open were the ones that were worst hit. Allied casualties during these four disastrous days were 15,000 men including 2,000 dead. 556 Turkish soldiers died and several thousands of them fell seriously ill.

Evacuation in Great Secrecy

In early November 1915, the Allied headquarters saw that further attempts would be futile and decided to leave the peninsula. The campaign was a failure and according to the plan the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector was to be evacuated completely, whereas British troops would remain in Seddülbahir. The evacuation started in great secrecy and in what is definitely their best performance in the whole campaign, the Allies managed to prevent the Turks from realizing that they were going. During the day, routine operations continued, artillery fire resumed; whereas during the night, soldiers, armaments and ammunition were loaded in ships.


27. Regiment honoured with a medal

The evacuation of the Suvla Bay and the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector was completed on December 20 and thanks to both a great deal luck and a well planned deception operation, not even a single Allied soldier has lost its life. Allied soldiers tried to destroy whatever they could not take with themselves, so that they could not be used by the Turks.

The Turkish command was unaware of what was going on under their noses. In his memoirs, Gen. Liman von Sanders wrote: “Whatever the reason for that was, we could not be aware of this evacuation attempt which was well kept secret until the last second. Such a possibility was actually thought of by the Fifth Army and it was communicated to all of the commanders. However the evacuation was executed so perfectly that even in the Turkish front lines it has not been realized.”


After a few minor battles during November, Allies decided to leave Seddülbahir as well. The French were already evacuating by then and on the first day of the New Year, there were no more French troops left in Gallipoli.

Another person to leave the peninsula was Mustafa Kemal. He had left for Istanbul a few days before the evacuation in Arıburnu-Anafartalar and he was replaced by the commander of the V Corps, Fevzi Paşa. Meanwhile Vehip Paşa left the command of the Southern Group and Cevat Paşa, commander of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone was in charge.

Gen. Liman von Sanders ordered a last attack on the British that was executed on January 7, 1916. Following a heavy bombardment of the Zığındere line, the 34. Regiment attacked, but it was repulsed by the British. This was the last act of hostilities in Gallipoli. Allied evacuation resumed after this final battle and in the early hours of January 9, 1916 there were no Allied troops left on Gallipoli peninsula.

Conclusion

Despite the shortcomings in logistics and supplies as well as the problems in the command chain, the Turkish defence performed remarkably well in Gallipoli. It was the common soldier, Mehmetçik, who won in Gallipoli. They knew the terrain and their physical resistance was much higher, they were used to hardship, they knew it was their homeland they were protecting and their officers never left them. Turkish officers preferred to be on the line of fire with their men and to give them courage, instead of giving directions and orders from command posts.

Turks gained a victory in Gallipoli, although it came at a very high cost. This victory renewed the confidence of Turkish leaders and commanders in the ultimate victory of Turkey and the Central Powers in the World War. However, as Erickson notes, the most significant result for the Turkish Army was “the emergence of a combat-tested commanders with proven abilities.” These commanders, Mustafa Kemal and his comrades-in-arms, are the ones who later fought the Turkish Liberation War.

The Gallipoli campaign, which went on for 259 days, is unique in the sense that such a large number of soldiers fought on such a narrow place. A total of more than one million combatants from both sides fought in Gallipoli, where the total length of the front line was just 20 kilometres (5 km in Seddülbahir and 15 km in Arıburnu-Anafartalar). The distance between trenches was in some cases no more than a few meters and the no-man’s-land was extremely narrow. The enemy was always very close, there were always shrapnel falling on one’s head, the soldiers had to be alerted and ready for bayonet charge at all times. The weather was never kind, neither in summer nor in winter. In 1915, Gallipoli was a hell.

On the other hand, the Gallipoli campaign is also called as the “Last Gentlemen’s War”. Especially in the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector, there have been times when both sides, also benefiting from the proximity of the trenches, threw food and cigarette to each other, with notes attached. In Gallipoli, one respected his enemies and there were neither atrocities committed on civilians nor “dirty warfare” such as the use chemical weapons.


"Glorious Victory in Çanakkale!"
Source: Tasvir-i Efkar, September 2, 1915

There are still disputes about the number of casualties, especially the Turkish ones. Liman von Sanders estimated 218,000 Turkish casualties (66,000 dead), whereas according to official British accounts Turkish casualties were 251,000 men. Göncü and Aldoğan use the official Turkish accounts and calculate the individual battles, arriving at these initial numbers: 66,262 dead, 97,916 wounded, 2,000 taken prisoner. The same work points out to the fact that more than 200,000 Turkish soldiers had to leave the battlefield due to wounds or illness and 35,000 of them died later. Considering this fact, Göncü and Aldoğan conclude that the most rational casualty figures are given by the work of General Kemal Özbay, who states that Turkish casualties were 250,000, with 101,279 of them dead, “şehit” (martyr) as they are called in Turkish. According to Göncü and Aldoğan, Allied casualties were 182,038 men, 62,086 of them dead, to which 90,000 men that had to leave the battlefield due to wounds or illness have to be added.

Gallipoli did not change only the fate of the World War. It changed the fate of a nation. It marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one that would led to the founding of the Republic of Turkey from the ashes of a once mighty empire.

* There are serious disputes about the number of Turkish casualties during the campaign of Gallipoli, and different sources cite different numbers for the casualties suffered by the Turkish army. Turkey in the First World War web site believes that the most credible figures are those given by Gürsel Göncü and Şahin Aldoğan in their book Siperin Ardı Vatan. In the text above, all casualty numbers are taken from the work of Göncü and Aldoğan unless stated otherwise.

 
 
 
Turkeyswar.com / © Altay Atlı / this page is last updated on January 6, 2015