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Gallipoli Campaign

Gallipoli is the name of both a city and a peninsula in the eastern Dardanelles, guardian of the approach to Constantinople (called Istanbul after 1930), the Bosporus and the Black Sea. In January 1915, the British War Cabinet authorized a direct strike against Turkey, one of the Central Powers in World War I. This idea had been pushed enthusiastically by First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. It was hoped that such a strike would knock Turkey out of the conflict before the nation was fully mobilized and allow Constantinople to fall into Allied hands. If that occurred, the British would control access to the Black Sea and be able to extend aid to their Russian allies. Unfortunately, while this project was approved in high circles, it never enjoyed the full support of the British command and may have been doomed from the start. It was hoped initially that the Allied aims would be accomplished by the British Navy. On February 19, bombardment of Turkish positions along the Dardanelles began. At the beginning, it appeared that the plan was succeeding as the British fleet moved several miles up the waterway, cleared mines and forced the evacuation of a number of Turkish forts. Fortunes turned drastically, however, when the British ships began to hit the mines. Three ships were sunk and three more badly damaged. These losses, coupled with the fact that the Turkish positions ahead were farther inland and out of artillery range, led to a decision to withdraw. Allied planners concluded that the objectives could not be met without an amphibious assault. A force of 70,000 was gathered, comprising primarily British, French and ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). The Gallipoli Campaign got under way on April 25, 1915 and met stiff resistance immediately. Allied soldiers were unable to move inland and expended all of their energies trying to retain their beach positions. In early August, another front was opened at Suvla Bay to the north. Allied losses were extremely high and conditions calamitous. Churchill lobbied for reinforcements, but his requests were denied. A decision was made by the theater commander to end the campaign; withdrawal was begun in December and completed in January 1916. Combined deaths for both sides in the nine-month campaign totaled approximately 100,000; more than a quarter million were wounded. The Turkish victory was due in large part to an inspired defense mounted by forces under Liman von Sanders' command. The Allies’ effort was weakened by frequently faulty intelligence and uninspiring leadership. The Russians also played a role in the outcome by failing to do their part to cause distractions on the Black Sea side of the Bosporus; they feared a British and French occupation of Constantinople more than they desired a Turkish defeat. The Central Powers’ offensive against Russia was temporarily weakened by the Gallipoli diversion, but the Allied failure to achieve their ends prompted the Bulgarians to enter the war on the side of Germany and Turkey. Winston Churchill’s reputation was badly, but not permanently, damaged by this event.