Britain, France and Russia have been discussing how to carve up the Ottoman Empire. The Allies are confident that Turkey is on its last legs and that one determined blow will knock it out of the war.
And now Britain and France launch the blow they hope will finish off the Ottoman Empire. British ships have been bombarding the forts guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles for nearly a month. Today a Franco-British naval force (in which Britain has provided most of the ships) attempts to force its way through the Straits, from there to sail through the Sea of Marmara to the Bosphorus and Constantinople, the Turkish capital. The Dardanelles are defended by minefields, gun batteries and forts, but the Allies expect that their minesweepers will be able to clear a way through while the battleships’ guns knock out the Turkish shore batteries.
But things do not go according to plan. The battleships are unable to silence the Turkish guns and the Allied minesweepers are unable to operate effectively under enemy fire. Bouvet, a French battleship, hits a mine and sinks in a couple of minutes, with the loss of some 660 of its crew of 710 men. The British battleships Irresistible and Ocean also hit mines and sink, though their crews are successfully evacuated.
The Allied naval force is commanded by Vice-Admiral John de Robeck. Rather than see the rest of his fleet destroyed, he orders a withdrawal.
Back in London, naval minister Winston Churchill wants de Robeck to resume the attack tomorrow. But Jacky Fisher, the commander of the British navy, thinks a purely naval assault on the Straits is doomed. Lord Kitchener, the war minister, and the Prime Minister, Henry Herbert Asquith, agree to halt naval operations.
The British do not abandon their plans to force passage through the Straits. The prospect of decapitating the Turkish Empire and reopening the trade routes to Russia is too enticing. Now, though, they realise that if the Straits are to be forced, they will need to land an army on the Gallipoli peninsula to seize and hold the Turkish positions there, to prevent the enemy from firing on minesweepers. Planning for this invasion now begins.
image source (Wikipedia)