Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 6, 2015

100 Years Ago: Third Failure at Gallipoli

By June 1915 everyone knew the land assault at Gallipoli had failed as dismally as the great battleship attack of 18 March. A breakout plan had been advanced earlier, based on expanding the Anzac sector, by landing additional divisions just to the north at the beaches around Suvla Bay. Suvla, however, had some interesting physical features. Just behind the beaches is a huge salt lake that initially prevented the new units from deploying shoulder to shoulder. Five to eight kilometers inland, a horseshoe of low hills isolates the area. The new troops were expected to land north and south of the lake, get organized, and immediately seize the ring of hills as a launch pad to attack the higher Chunuk Bair from multiple directions. In any case, the Dardanelles Committee of the British government approved this scheme in June.

The Suvla Plain in the Distance from Sari Bair
Landing Beaches, Salt Lake, Low Hills Are All Visible

There was also to be a concurrent attack out of the Anzac sector against Chunuk Bair, as well as assaults on the south end of Anzac to tie down Turkish forces and a diversionary operation out of the now almost irrelevant Helles sector. Once atop Chunuk Bair the unified Allied force was then expected to march overland to the straits, seize the forts, and allow the passage of the battleships. But the Suvla operation never got to that point to see if the straits could be reached.

All indications going into the operation, scheduled to start 6 August, were that the mistakes of April were not going to be repeated. Sufficient forces — IX Corps with two divisions landing on day one and two more available for quick reinforcement — were available. Even better, the intelligence branch had determined the surrounding ring of hills were lightly held. They just had to be captured before the Turks could send reinforcements to occupy them. That eventuality, of course, would replicate the situation at Helles and Anzac. It was the one thing the British commanders could not allow.

Lt. General Stopford
Simply One of the Worst Appointments of the War

The greatest problem for the British came at the command level.  On the day of the landing and for most of the next day, IX Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford allowed his soldiers to sit. There were big problems with the water supply and organizing the artillery, and probably a host of other difficulties. Stopford's caution, however, had undermined the basic assumptions behind the Suvla expedition; his troops did not beat the Turkish reinforcements to the hills. The Turks got their first, however,  and — bad luck for the Allies — were placed under the command of that man of destiny, Mustafa Kemal. There was still some possibility of success for the British divisions, but not after Kemal on consecutive days personally directed  actions above Suvla Bay and on Chunuk Bair that drove the enemy almost back to the invasion beach. Stopford was fired after a week, and a major effort to break out was made on 21 August, but it was too late. The August Offensive had failed, and with that failure the whole Gallipoli campaign had failed. It would take the rest of the year to liquidate the operation. In what was a great historical irony the most successful (arguably only) achievement of the Allies at Gallipoli was their withdrawal from the battlefield. It proceeded flawlessly.


  1. The Penmaenmawr "Quarry Boys" of the 6th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, landed at C Beach, Suvla Bay on the 9th August 1915. They went into action the following day. By the 13th August, 7 men from our small quarry town had been killed in action or died of their wounds. More would follow in the ensuing months - including two brothers, Dick and Bob Williams and the youngest name on our memorial - Edward Oswald Dowell and the oldest casualty - Major Gus Wheeler. We have remembered our boys this weekend and on the 10th August. The lie a long way from their beautiful mountain home.