Turkey’s control of the entrance into the Black Sea has cut Russia’s main trade route with its western Allies. This is a problem because Russia’s weak industrial base is unable to keep the army sufficiently supplied with the materiel it needs to fight this terrible war. Seizing control of the straits leading into the Black Sea would allow British industry to equip Russian armies. And a well equipped Russian army should be able to overwhelm the Germans and bring the war to a swift end, or so the optimistic thinking goes.
A combined Franco-British naval force attempted to push through the Dardanelles and on to Constantinople on the 18th of March. That attack failed because of Turkish minefields, with fire from shore batteries preventing British minesweepers from clearing a safe path.
Once the naval attack failed the Allies realised that they would have to invade the Gallipoli peninsula to seize the Turkish forts and allow their minesweepers to clear a way through the minefields. The Allies began to prepare a ground force to land on the peninsula. The Turks also realised that an invasion was likely and began to strengthen their defences.
Now at last the Allies are ready to attack. General Ian Hamilton commands a multinational force of British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops. The plan is simple enough. British forces are to land at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula and march to destroy the Turkish positions on the western shore of the Hellespont. Australian and New Zealand units (grouped together as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, known as ANZAC) will land further north and march across the peninsula to cut off the Turks in the south. The smaller French contingent will carry out diversionary operations.
Things do not go according to plan. Barbed wire and determined Turkish resistance mean that the Allies suffer terrible casualties and struggle to get off the beaches.
The Turkish forces in Gallipoli are commanded by the German general Otto Liman Von Sanders. His steady manner calms nerves and prevents a panic at the top. Further south, Colonel Mustafa Kemal commands the 19th Division near where the landings are taking place. When a Turkish regiment facing the Australians and New Zealanders reports that it is running low on ammunition and in danger of being overwhelmed, Kemal orders them forward. “I do not order you to fight,” he apparently says. “I order you to die.” The Turks fix bayonets and attack; they are wiped out almost to a man, but they succeed in delaying the enemy advance long enough for other Turkish troops to occupy the high ground and contain the enemy in what will become known as Anzac Cove.
By the end of the day both sides have suffered terrible casualties but the Allies have clearly failed in their objectives. They have two separated narrow beachheads from which they will only be able to advance with the greatest difficulty. It seems they have merely replicated the the stalemate of the Western Front here in Gallipoli. The situation is so desperate that some of Hamilton’s subordinate commanders petition him to order an evacuation. But the commander is confident that the worst part of the operation is over and that perseverance will lead to victory.
Gallipoli and western Turkey (“Anzac landings in Gallipoli”, from Australian genealogy website FindMyPast)
invasion map (New Zealand History)