from ‘the War Illustrated Deluxe’ volume IV page 1286
'The Difficulties of the Dardanelles Campaign'
by H. W. Wilson
Author of "With the Flag to Pretoria," Editor or "The Great War," etc.

The Great Adventure

an improvised encampment


Starting as obscurely as some subsidiary operation, only looming into mysterious greatness as the truth began to trickle through to the British public, our attack on the Dardanelles is now dimly understood to be one of the most gigantic efforts of the war. After some months of effort, Mr. Winston Churchill assured us that in the Dardanelles we were "within a few miles" of the first decisive victory of the war. People then began to ask daily when those few miles were likely to be traversed. In this article one of our foremost military and naval experts tells in calmly reasoned phrases the cold truth about "the Great Adventure," as it has been called, and reviews the position of affairs at the end of the period of the way covered by this volume.


The special difficulties and dangers which confronted our heroic troops at the Dardanelles were due to two main causes—the ample warning that was given to the Turks, thus enabling them to make every conceivable preparation, and the peculiar geographical conditions. Before even a shot was fired our British politicians began to talk of forcing the Dardanelles—a signal to the enemy that an attack was coming in this quarter. Next an allied squadron opened a bombardment of the outer forts on February 19th, 1915. The public looked for news of the landing of an expeditionary force forthwith. No such news came. The operations of the fleets and the armies were not co-ordinated.

Not until April 25th was the expeditionary force ready to begin its disembarkation. The Turks were given more than two whole months to get ready. They were able, in consequence, to concentrate a great force by recalling their army corps from the Egyptian frontier, from Mesopotamia, and from Armenia. The factor of surprise which sea-power placed in the Allies' hands was not utilised. The enemy was, as it were, told what to expect, and placed thoroughly on his guard, and this was an enemy who could assemble with little difficulty half a million fighting men. These men, moreover, would be organised and equipped with German thoroughness. We can only blame ourselves if the perils of the enterprise were inordinately increased by the manner in which it was planned and carried out.

An Arid and Waterless Land

The heavy loss which the Fleet suffered on March 18th, when three old battleships were sunk by mines or torpedoes, without any real impression being made upon the main Turkish forts, proved what seamen had known before the attack—that the Straits could never be forced by warships alone. The only remaining course was to assault the forts which guard the channel by land. The shore of the Gallipoli Peninsula dominates the Asiatic coast, and for this reason, apparently, the Gallipoli Peninsula was chosen as the point of attack. It is a most difficult country—a tangle of hills riven with deep gorges or nullahs, overgrown with a low thorny bush which is almost as effective an obstacle to the rapid movement of troops as a mass of barbed-wire, and which serves admirably to conceal hostile snipers. The land is arid and almost waterless in summer. Whereas there are good harbours on the Asiatic side, the Gallipoli Peninsula shows to the /Egean an iron-bound coast. From the moment an allied descent upon it was apprehended the Germans set their servants, the Turks, to work to cover it with barbed-wire, to dig entrenchments, to construct machine-gun and artillery emplacements, to measure every range, and to obstruct, with mines and underwater entanglements, every one of the few miserable beaches where troops might essay to land. The whole area became an immense fortress, crammed with Turkish troops, bristling with guns and machine-guns.

The idea of landing in the face of such preparations almost freezes the blood. That a landing should have been effected is proof of such superlative heroism, such divine courage and love on the part of our troops that we can only bow the head in admiration for their valour and praise of their indomitable spirit. Nothing in history is finer than their achievement, not even the deed of the immortal Six Hundred, or of the Athenians who died for freedom at Marathon with the gods fighting at their side. They have created new legends. Their position, however, after all this superhuman bravery was this. They were split up into two bodies. The main force was to the south under Achi Baba, that grim hill which rises about six miles from the extremity of the Peninsula. The Australians were eight miles to the north, with the Turks in between.

Every Inch Within Turkish Range

The British despatches show that the northern force held only a very narrow strip of ground. The southern force had advanced by the end of July rather more than four miles from the southernmost point of the Gallipoli Peninsula. As the range of the field-gun was mere than four miles, no point of the ground which the Allies held was safe from shrapnel or shell, and every foot could be searched by the big howitzers and heavy guns which the Turks, according to a neutral correspondent, Mr. Granville Fortescue, had available.

When the British landed to attack Sebastopol, in the Crimean War, they very speedily secured a tolerable harbour at Balaclava, and without it they would Have been in very hard case. When the Japanese opened the Siege of Port Arthur they secured Dalny, which was a magnificent base. The unique and extraordinary feature in the Dardanelles campaign was that the Allies had no harbour, no base, nothing but open beaches on which to land the innumerable articles required by a great army engaged in siege operations. This distinguished the Dardanelles war from all others, and aggravated its difficulties and dangers. For days and, occasionally, for weeks, at certain seasons of the year, the weather in the Aegean is such that the landing of heavy stores and supplies on an open coast is impracticable. Thus between February 19th and 25th a veritable hurricane blew, and the British naval operations thereafter were constantly interrupted by storms and squalls.

No Harbour of Refuge for Our Ships

The situation was further complicated by the presence of enemy submarines. The German reports were to be treated with great suspicion, but doubtless contained same truth, and according to them there were seven of the largest German boats in the neighbourhood of the Dardanelles. One had been seen, according to French sources of information, bearing the number 51, which meant that she was a very recent and powerful vessel. Now it is possible to protect surface ships against submarines under two conditions: The first that there are plenty of destroyers or small fast craft to guard them on passage, and the second, that secure ports are available for them to ship and discharge cargo. The second condition was wanting at the Dardanelles. The enemy submarines had excellent bases at hand in Turkish waters. The British transports and supply ships had no point on the Gallipoli coast where they could lie secure from the weather and from the enemy.

The allied force ashore, according to Mr. Granville Fortescue, who was our chief neutral source, was outnumbered in the proportion of at least two to one. Its immediate objective was the ridge of Achi Baba, a hill which figures on the maps as 700 or 730 feet high, but appears really to be only 600 feet high. This ridge was held by the Turks. It could not be turned or outflanked because it runs from sea to sea. Its total length is only a fraction over three miles, so that it can be held by a comparatively small force. It overlooked the entire British position, and from it all that passed in the allied lines could be discerned, and fire could be directed on any point within those lines. It is, to quote Reuter's correspondent, "a series of smooth slopes, terraced at intervals, an ideal defensive position." It was fortified with every art known to man,’ and abounded with "those inventions of the devil—machine-guns and barbed-wire." The barbed-wire, according to Sir Ian Hamilton, was of a special type, very thick and strong.

After Achi Baba—Others to Follow!

A French official report stated that the entanglements of wire were so formidable that the Turkish works could not be rushed. The only practicable manoeuvre was to take the trenches line after line with the bayonet, after the wire had been smashed by a terrific bombardment. This necessarily involved a prodigal expenditure of that very ammunition the lack of which in Flanders had been the theme of Mr. Lloyd George's speeches.

When Achi Baba was taken there were, according to Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett, who wrote from the battlefield, "other positions at least as formidable behind it. And these must be taken hill by hill, trench by trench, before the army can open a gate to the fleet." A slow trench warfare had to be conducted by the Allies as in Flanders. To reach the Narrows, where the main forts dominating the channel are situated, a distance of seven and a half miles had to be covered by the southern force of Allies. In Flanders the allied armies in nine months had nowhere gained more than one and a half miles.

While the Allies had no base, no secure communications, no ground in their occupation which was free from the peril of hostile shell fire, and no space in which to deploy larger forces, should these be landed, the Turks had ample space behind their front and could, without the slightest difficulty, find cover against everything except the largest naval shells, which were not likely to be employed in random firing. They could maintain their supplies. British submarines had rendered the Sea of Marmora altogether unsafe for Turkish transports and supply ships, but, according to neutral correspondents, they could not work in the Narrows, and it was a comparatively simple matter to ferry stores and men over the water there when the British light craft were not at hand. There was also a tolerable road which, from the map, would not appear to be under the fire of the allied warships.

The One Hope of Turkish Failure

It was known that, when the Gallipoli Peninsula had been cleared of Turks, the operations against the forts on the Narrows, which were the real aim of the war, would have to begin. The reduction of these forts was certain to be a slow and laborious business, for—again to quote Mr. Fortescue—in the preceding three months "every position that offered a field of fire in the least suitable has been turned into a battery. The banks of the Straits bristle with guns." An enormous siege train would be wanted, with an unlimited supply of ammunition. The Turkish forts had been carefully modernised by the German engineers and prepared for the attack that was to be expected.

We had, therefore, to look forward to no swift and easy success, but to months of campaigning. The one favourable element in the situation, apart from the incredible valour of our men, was the possibility that the Turkish supplies of ammunition might fail.


Back to Index
Back to Dardanelles