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ANZAC Centenary

While the Australian troops were training at Alexandria, Egypt, the Navies of the British and French were in the process of becoming involved in conflict off the Dardanelles.

The Gallipoli campaign was conceived by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and approved by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher. They elaborated a strategy in the face of failure on the Western Front.

The British Empire and its Allies needed a win. The war on the Western Front, even by late 1914, was a costly stalemate where the movement of troops and the gaining of territory from the enemy was virtually impossible. Russia needed support and supplies as much as their Allies needed a victory.

To approach Russia from behind Germany’s back, through the Black Sea, made strategic sense.

The way to the Black Sea was through the Dardanelles, through the Sea of Marmara and beyond Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

The problem was that late 1914,Turkey had declared itself on the side of the Germans. Turkish forts guarded the waterway of the Dardanelles and powerful guns could be used against any ships seeking passage through those waters.

British strategic thinkers had a low regard for Turkey’s military capacity, underestimating the possibility of Turkish resistance. From late 1914 onwards, British warships began shelling the Turkish forts from a considerable distance offshore. This bombardment  achieved notable success and gave the British an unrealistic sense of the ease of their mission. Eventually the British realised they could not knock the forts out at great distance. It was decided to send the warships into the Dardanelles for direct action against the forts.

18th March 1914 the British and French assembled a mighty armada. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher was reluctant to use his modern and powerful warships but he was overruled, the armada was thought to be an irresistible force.

The Turkish forces along with the forts guns employed mobile artillery, and a crucial tactic to mine the sea lanes added a third line of defence. The British believed that the mines were stretched across the Dardanelles - this was true, but the Turks had also laid a stretch of mines parallel to the eastern (Asian) shoreline. British reconnaissance failed to detect this and though British minesweepers removed many of the mines the parallel mines remained undisturbed. The armada sailed in and created havoc among the forts the British Vice Admiral John de Robeck had his ships in three lines and as the first line withdrew they turned seawards along the Asiatic coast when suddenly the French ship Bouvet struck a mine and sank within minutes with only a small number of survivors, two other ships struck mines and were heavily damaged De Robeck decided the Turkishs forces were floating mines on the current placing his ships in great danger. He withdrew his ships and declined to engage the forts the following day. Churchill now believed it would be necessary to have troops assault the forts from behind across country if ever the warships were to reach the Black Sea. The Stage was set now for the Gallipoli Landing.

Source—Victorian Government ANZAC Centenary 2014-2018 Education pack (their story our journey)