Irish Stamps: Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign (2015)

This is the ‘decade of centenaries’ An Post have issued a set of stamps commemorating the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign where tens of thousands of Irish soldiers were killed, wounded or captured In an abortive attempt at opening up a new front against the Ottoman Empire and their allies.  It was also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale (by the victorious Turks).

  • It was fought between 25th April 1915 and 9th January 1916.

The peninsula forms the northern bank of the Dardanelles, a strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire, one of the Allied powers during the war. Intending to secure it, Russia’s allies Britain and France launched a naval attack followed by an amphibious landing on the peninsula, with the aim of capturing the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

  • The naval attack was repelled and after eight months of fighting
  • The British land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force was withdrawn to Egypt
Ireland 2015 €1 commemorative stamp - landings at Gallipoli, WW1

Ireland 2015 €1 commemorative stamp – naval bombardments and landings at Gallipoli, WW1

A naval bombardment preceded the landings and this was to prove the first hint of weakness in the British strategy. The Allied campaign was plagued by ill-defined goals, poor planning, insufficient artillery, inexperienced troops, inaccurate maps and intelligence, overconfidence, inadequate equipment and logistics, and tactical deficiencies at all levels.

19th February 1915

  • the first attack on the Dardanelles commenced when a strong Anglo-French task force began a long-range bombardment of Ottoman artillery along the coast.
  • By 25 February the outer forts had been reduced and the entrance cleared of mines.
  • After this, Royal Marines were landed to destroy guns at Kum Kale on the northern Asian coast and at Sedd el Bahr on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, while the naval bombardment shifted to batteries between Kum Kale and Kephez.
    • However, the mobility of the Ottoman batteries, which evaded the Allied bombardments, threatened the minesweepers sent to clear the Straits into Istanbul.
    • Churchill pressured the naval commander, Admiral Sackville Carden, to increase the fleet’s efforts

18th March 1915

  • A second attack was launched by a naval fleet, comprising 18 battleships with a supporting array of cruisers and destroyers, sought to target the narrowest point of the Dardanelles, where the straits are 1 mile (1.6 km) wide.
    • The French battleship Bouvet was sunk by a mine, causing it to capsize with her crew of over 600 still aboard.
    • Minesweepers manned by civilians, under the constant fire of Ottoman shells, retreated, leaving the minefields largely intact.
      • HMS Irresistible and HMS Inflexible were critically damaged by mines, although there was confusion during the battle about the cause of the damage—some blamed torpedoes.
      • HMS Ocean, sent to rescue the Irresistible, was also damaged by an explosion, and both ships eventually sank.
      • The French battleships Suffren and Gaulois were also damaged; the ships had sailed through a new line of mines placed secretly by the Ottoman minelayer Nusret ten days before
      • The losses forced de Robeck to sound the “general recall” to save what remained of his force
      • Naval losses had been anticipated and so it was mainly obsolete battleships, which were unfit to face the German fleet, that had been sent to Gallipoli
      • The defeat of the British fleet gave the Ottomans a huge morale boost

After the failure of the naval attacks, ground forces were assembled, tasked with eliminating the Ottoman mobile artillery so that minesweepers could clear the way for the larger vessels. The British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the 78,000-strong Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) that was to carry out the mission.

  • At this time, soldiers from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) were encamped in Egypt, undergoing training prior to being sent to France.

With only five divisions the operation would be complicated by the limited forces available, the rugged terrain of the peninsula and the small number of suitable landing beaches, as well as severe logistical difficulties.

  • As the campaign progressed, the troops of the MEF would eventually be supported by about 2,000 civilian labourers from the Egyptian and Maltese Labour Corps

The British and French had grossly underestimated the fighting capabilities of the Ottomans.  Even after the huge losses of the navy and failure to achieve any of their military objectives, the military leadership assumed a land victory was possible regardless of the odds against them.

  • As a landing under fire had not been foreseen, the force was not prepared for such an undertaking
  • The Allies initially discounted the fighting ability of the Ottoman soldiers
  • This opinion was based on the poor Ottoman performances in earlier conflicts including the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913
  • As a result, Allied intelligence failed to adequately prepare for the campaign
  • The delay of the landings by the British also allowed the Ottomans time to prepare their defences
Ireland 2015 68c commemorative stamp - trench warfare at Gallipoli, WW1

Ireland 2015 68c commemorative stamp – trench warfare at Gallipoli, WW1

25th April 1915

  • Scheduled for 23 April but postponed until 25 April due to bad weather, landings were to be made at six beaches on the peninsula
    • The 29th Division was to land at Helles on the tip of the peninsula and then advance upon the forts at Kilitbahir.
    • The Anzacs, with the 3rd Infantry Brigade spearheading the assault, were to land north of Gaba Tepe on the Aegean coast, from where they could advance across the peninsula, cutting off the Ottoman troops in Kilitbahir. The small cove in and around which they landed became known as “Anzac Cove”.
    • The French made a diversionary landing at Kum Kale on the Asian shore, before re-embarking to hold the eastern area of the Helles sector.
      • The Helles landing was made by the 29th Division, under the command of Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston. The division landed on five beaches in an arc about the tip of the peninsula, named from east to west as ‘S’, ‘V’, ‘W’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ Beaches

The military campaign proved to be even more disastrous than the naval one, with devastating losses and, after the landings, little was done by the Allies to exploit the situation, and apart from a few limited advances inland by small groups of men, most troops stayed on or close to the beaches.

  • The Allied attack lost momentum
  • The Ottomans had time to bring up reinforcements and rally the small number of defending troops

The 1st Battalion, Dublin Fusiliers landed at V Beach, Cape Helles on 25 April.

  • They were the first to land, landing via boats that were either towed or rowed, and suffered heavy casualties from a withering hail of machine-gun fire from the Turkish defenders, most not even getting out of their boats, while others drowned in the attempt, most due to the equipment they carried.
  • The 1st Royal Munsters and a company of the 1st Dublins, landed from the SS River Clydesoon afterwards and were also decimated by machine-gun fire
    • That day the Munsters lost 70% of their men and many of their longest serving veterans
    • After the landings, so few remained from the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers that they were amalgamated into “The Dubsters”.
      • Only one Dublin Fusiliers officer survived the landing
      • Of the 1,012 Dublin Fusiliers that landed, only 400 survived the first day
      • Only 11 survived the Gallipoli campaign unscathed

7th May 1915

On 5 May, the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division was dispatched from Egypt. Believing Anzac to be secure, Hamilton moved the Australian 2nd Infantry Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, along with 20 Australian field artillery pieces, to the Helles front as reserves for the Second Battle of Krithia.

  • After 30 minutes of artillery preparation, the assault began at mid-morning on 6 May
  • The attack continued on 7 May, but the success of the Ottoman defences continued
  • The attack was suspended and the Allies dug in, having failed to take Krithia or Achi Baba

19 May 1915

With the ANZAC attack twarted, 42,000 Turks launched an attack at Anzac in an effort to push 17,000 Australians and New Zealanders “back into the sea” but their preparations were seen on 18 May by a flight of British aircraft and the defenders forewarned.

  • The Turks had c. 13,000 casualties, of which 3,000 men were killed
  • Australian and New Zealand casualties were 160 killed and 468 wounded.

Ottoman losses were so severe that a truce was organised by Aubrey Herbert and others on 24 May, to bury the dead lying in no man’s land, which led to a camaraderie between the armies, much like the Christmas truce of 1914 on the Western Front.

  • The British advantage in ship-to-shore bombardment had diminished by the torpedoing of the battleship HMS Goliath on 13 May by the Ottoman destroyer Muâvenet-i Millîye.
  • A German submarine, U-21, sank HMS Triumph on 25 May and HMS Majestic on 27 May

June–July 1915

In the Helles sector, which had been extensively entrenched by both sides, the Allies attacked Krithia and Achi Baba again, in the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June, with the 29th Division, Royal Naval Division, 42nd Division and two French divisions. After its failure, the possibility of a decisive breakthrough was gone and trench warfare resumed, with objectives being measured in hundreds of yards.

  • Casualties were approximately 25 percent on both sides;
    • the British lost 4,500 from 20,000 men
    • the French 2,000 casualties from 10,000 troops.
    • the Ottoman losses were 9,000 casualties

The August 1915 Offensive

The failure of the Allies to capture Krithia, or make any progress on the Helles front, led Hamilton to pursue a new plan to secure the Sari Bair Range and capture high ground on Hill 971 and Chunuk Bair.

The landing at Suvla Bay took place on the night of 6 August against light opposition; but the British commander, Lieutenant General Frederick Stopford, had limited his early objectives and then failed to forcefully push his demands for an advance inland, and little more ground than the beach was seized.

  • The Ottomans were able to occupy the Anafarta Hills, preventing the British from penetrating inland, which reduced the Suvla front to static trench warfare

The Suvla landing was reinforced by the arrival of the 10th (Irish) Division on 7 August, the 53rd (Welsh) Division, which began landing on 8 August, the 54th (East Anglian) Division arriving late on 10 August, Kitchener’s New Army on 18 August, and the dismounted yeomanry of the British 2nd Mounted Division the same day.

  • A dysentery epidemic spread through the Allied trenches at Anzac and Helles

On 25 September Kitchener demanded three divisions—two British and one French—for service in Salonika in Greece, and this marked the beginning of the end of the Allied campaign at Gallipoli, and this effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Allied campaign at Gallipoli.

The situation at Gallipoli was complicated by the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central Powers. In early October 1915 the British and French opened a second Mediterranean front at Salonika, by moving three divisions from Gallipoli, and reducing the flow of reinforcements.

  • A land route between Germany and the Ottoman Empire through Bulgaria was opened, enabling Germany to supply heavy artillery to devastate the Allied trench network, especially on the confined front at Anzac, as well as modern aircraft and experienced crews

Evacuation

Ironically, the evacuation was the best-executed segment of the entire Allied campaign

  • Suvla and Anzac were to be evacuated in late December
  • The last troops left before dawn on 20 December 1915

Summary

Casualty figures for the campaign vary between sources, but it is believed that by the time the Gallipoli Campaign ended over 100,000 men were dead, including 56,000–68,000 Turkish and around 53,000 British and French soldiers.

In total there were nearly half a million casualties during the campaign, with the British Official History listing total losses, including sick, as 205,000 British, 47,000 French and 251,000 Turkish.

Gallipoli casualties (not including illness)
Dead Wounded Missing
&
Prisoners
Total
Ottoman Empire 56,643 107,007 11,178 174,828
United Kingdom 34,072   78,520   7,654 120,246
France   9,798   17,371      –   27,169
Australia   8,709   19,441      –   28,150
New Zealand   2,721     4,752      –     7,473
British India   1,358     3,421     –     4,779
Newfoundland        49          93      –        142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,959
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