In France and England, military leaders faced the depressing reality of a fortified battle line running from Nieuport, Belgium (in the coast of the English Channel) all the way down to Switzerland. Over and over again, certain sections of the line had been designated for a breakthrough, with fresh new troops allocated to new attacks in those areas. Little, more than mass slaughter, ever came of these attacks. G.J. Meye, in A World Undone, devotes an entire chapter to “The Search for Elsewhere:” the desperate attempt to find someplace, anyplace, where something new and more promising might be tried.
The result was the Gallipoli Campaign.
After the Germans had persuaded the Ottomans to join the war as allies (or painted them into a corner, depending upon one’s interpretation . . . see also my post of November 1), the Mediterranean route to Russia became effectively closed to the Allies, cutting off an important line of exchange between these allies. In “the search for elsewhere,” the allies found themselves drawn to the idea of re-opening this line.
They settled on a land-sea campaign in which the British navy would sail up the Dardanelles, blasting away all opposition in its path, while at the same time a contingent of troops would land in Galipoli and fight their way to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The idea proved attractive enough that the British 29th division, long the subject of intense debate for its future (it had not yet been allocated to any specific campaign or battle-front), found itself sailing for Galipoli.
They would not land until late April, but in the meantime, the navy began their part of the campaign . . . or rather, they pretended to. Again, I defer to the eloquence of Meyer:
“Naval commanders, however, are not easily persuaded to risk ships and their crews. On his first foray, commander [Vice Admiral Sackville] Carden never seriously tested the strength of the defenses. A cautious man with no experience commanding large forces, he made no effort to move his ships into or even near the two-and-a-half-mile-wide entry to the strait [of the Dardanelles]. Instead, he stood off in the distance, shelling the forts from three miles away, and at sunset he brought the attack to an end.”
~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone (New York: Delta, 2006), 268-269.
The campaign was off to an unpromising start.