Thursday, 19 March 2015

Battle for the Dardanelles 18 Mar 1915

100 years ago : following on from the last post

Photo taken from Fort No 1 on the tip of Cape Helles; showing the mouth of the Dardenelles.
This a model of Killid Bahr Fort (a typical example of the forts guarding the Narrows). You can see
how strongly built they are by comparing the thickness of the walls with the width of the road. 

Just before the battle began Vice Admiral Carden became ill, so Vice Admiral J. de Robeck took command.

The forecast for 18 March was for fine weather, so orders were given for the armada of French and British battleships to form and commence the attack at 11 o’clock that morning.

During the earlier operations at the beginning of March, the Turks had observed that the Allied ships had a tendency to sail towards the Narrows and then turn to starboard into Erin Keui Bay, on completion of their runs.

The Turks decided to lay some mines there on the chance the Allies may continue this tactic in future assaults. It proved to be a wise move.

From Kilid Bahr Fort looking out from a gun position. There is only one ship in view here, imagine how it would have looked  with 16 huge battleships blazing away with their guns.

What a sight it must have been to see the Dardanelles crammed full of huge battleships. It is only a narrow area and once the battle commenced it would have been an awe inspiring and frightening sight.

The Allies attacked in three lines. The first and third lines each consisted of four British Royal Navy ships, and the second line consisted of four French Naval ships. These three lines were supported by another two British battleships on each flank.

I’ll let my pictures tell the rest of the story….

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Allied Attacks on the Dardanelles Begin

As I mentioned in my last post - on the 19th of February 1915, the combined British and French Navies commenced operations to penetrate the Dardanelles.

This was carried out in a number of phases, devised by the Allied commander, Vice Admiral Cardin (Royal Navy).

First - battleships would knock out the Turkish guns of the outer forts by direct bombardment.

Second - the Turkish minefields in the Narrows would be cleared.

Third - the Navy would destroy the inner forts and defences at The Narrows.

The way would then be clear to sail to Constantinople and force the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire, forcing it out of the Great War.

Note: "The Narrows" is the narrow area of the Straits where the minefields are situated.

All this sounded easy enough to certain people in high places; especially as the Ottoman Army up to this time hadn’t really put up a good show. They were defeated soundly in Egypt at the Suez Canal; and although they had made advances in the Caucasus, against the Russians, now they were experiencing reversals. So an attack on the Dardanelles was considered to be a bit of a cake walk.

The Australian troops used to meet members from other units at the Furphy water cart for a drink and a yarn, Henceforth the name "Furphy" became synonymous with the spread of rumours, or "Furphies" as they became known. (my Dad's great-aunt married into the Furphy family back in 1898, My only claim to fame - DD)

Well, as it turned out, things didn’t exactly go to plan. (Who would have guessed that?)
The old Ottoman forts were extremely robust and could take an enormous pounding before any sort of damage was done. 
To help with the task of reducing the outer forts Marines of the Royal Navy landed and entered a few of them destroying the guns. These operations proved successful at Sed el Bahr and Kum Kale, which were the fortified areas at the mouth of the Dardanelles. The marines re-embarked and the Turks returned to reoccupy and bolster the defences of the forts; making them more difficult to assault.
Bad weather blew in and further attacks by the Allied Navies were put on hold. When they resumed and re-attacked the outer forts it was found that the Ottoman defences were now more prepared; and the Marines landing by sea, were repulsed.

It was decided to move on to the next phase – Clearing the minefields.
The British brought fishing trawlers down from the North Sea and fitted them out to act as minesweepers. These set out at night to clear the mines under cover of darkness; however the Turks had powerful searchlights set up illuminating the Narrows, which made the task very dangerous for the civilian crews.

These civilians jacked-up (understandably) and refused to carry on, so the Royal Navy crewed the trawlers and tried again. After a few nights it was decided to call it off, as they were not achieving their goals.

It had been nearly a month since the offensive began and pressure from London caused Cardin to rush onto the next Phase – an all-out assault by a large number of Allied battleships. This attack would be unstoppable and a tremendous show of French and British power to the enemy. It would commence at the next break in the weather.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Lead up to the Gallipoli Campaign

At this moment, one hundred years ago, Feb / March 1915 - the Allies were involved in a naval assault against Turkey at the Dardanelles. The intention was to force a passage through to the Sea of Marmora. Once there, they would sail to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and threaten the very heart of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The envisioned result was that the Turks would surrender and withdraw from the war.

This plan was the result of a number of factors which were to give birth to the Gallipoli Campaign:

-Russia was under immense pressure in their fighting against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians (Central Powers).

- In the Caucasus region, Turkey was also pressuring Russia, who appealed to Britain for help.

- Opening up the Dardanelles would allow Russia access to the rest of the world via their warm water ports in the Black Sea.

-The Allies considered the Ottoman Empire an easier opponent to fight than the other members of the Central Powers.

- Britain had the most powerful navy in the world, but it was restricted in its attempts to engage the Germans, who were avoiding contact. So the Royal Navy eagerly awaited an opportunity to be employed more fully.

- Greece, Bulgaria and Romania were at present sitting on the fence, so an Allied victory over Turkey had the highly possibility of enticing them to join the Allies to fight the Central Powers.

British First Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Jackie Fisher, was champing at the bit to get his ships into action. He had a plan for a direct naval attack on Germany, with Russian divisions being landed via the Baltic Sea
There was also a plan for the navy to aid a landing in Belgium to outflank the German trenches on the Western Front.

But then Winston Churchill (Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty) had the idea to attack the Dardanelles.
As early as 1906 the British General Staff had considered operational strategies to attack Turkey by means of a combined Army and Naval assault; but the plan was not recommended. 
Now in 1915, the idea of a combined assault was dismissed because of a lack of man-power. The majority of troops were needed for the fighting in Europe, and only garrison forces were available for the Mediterranean.

Churchill  was dead-set on using the Navy to carry out the task, and was convinced that his big ships with big guns could reduce the Turkish forts in the Dardanelles. Most Naval men abhorred the idea of an attack by sea alone, but eventually Churchill’s persistence and enthusiasm won a few followers. 

Eventually even Lord Kitchener thought it worth a go; especially as it meant not robbing any of his troops from the Western Front. If troops were required to fill any occupation role he considered General Birdwood’s Anzacs, who were already in Egypt.
Lord Fisher’s plan was shelved.

So on the 19th of February 1915, the combined British and French Navies commenced operations to penetrate the Dardanelles.