Thinking Aloud: Gallipoli Centennial

Apr. 22, 2015 by Darius 

This Saturday will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most infamous military disasters in Western military history: the Gallipoli Campaign.  Let’s revisit the stupidity that led to the deaths of thousands.

During World War I, the British wanted a campaign that would knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war.  Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill (yes, that Winston Churchill) came up with a plan to attack the Dardanelles Straits, heart of the Ottoman Empire.  Originally, the plan called for battleships too obsolete to fight Germany forcing the Straits and destroying Ottoman defenses.  However, mines and Ottoman artillery proved too much for the naval force.  Instead, plans were set in motion for a British and French force to land on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula (see map below).
gallipoli

In one of the worst military blunders of the modern era, the British decided to land at the southern tip of the peninsula and fight their way up it, despite the fact that, having complete control of the seas, they could have chosen to land anywhere and bypass Ottoman defenses.  Instead, by trying to roll up the peninsula, British troops fought and died in droves the entire way, as Ottoman defenders, forced from one trench, simply retreated to a parallel trench a few hundred feet behind it and resumed mowing down the British.  German general Liman von Sanders, commanding Ottoman troops, originally thought the site of the British landings was a ruse because nobody could possibly be that dumb.  True story.

Eventually, about nine bloody months later, the British called the whole thing off, having suffered approximately 250,000 casualties and inflicted a similar number on the Ottomans.  Today, though, Gallipoli is remembered very differently on the two sides.  Most of the British soldiers were actually colonial troops from Australia and New Zealand, called Anzacs.  In these countries, Anzac Day, celebrated in remembrance of Gallipoli, has grown to overshadow Armistice Day for WWI remembrance.

In Turkey, Gallipoli is considered a major victory and defense of homeland, the crucible in which the modern state of Turkey was forged.  Colonel Mustafa Kemal was a leading Turkish commander who rose to prominence at Gallipoli.  You might know him as Ataturk.

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