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Speaker Mike Mannix: The Battle of Gallipoli

Mike Mannix graduated from Sheffield University in 1977 with a degree in Pre-history. Since then he has been a comic script writer, the property editor of the Evening Gazette and the editor of the Battlefield magazine. He has lived in Stokesley for 30 years. He gave a detailed and sobering account based on an article he wrote for Battlefield to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli. He enjoys visiting and reconnoitring battlefields and, in his words, being a dogsbody for the leading battlefield guide, Major Baldwin. He remarked that some battlefields are really interesting, such as Towton near Tadcaster and Flodden, but others such as Northallerton much less so.

Mike noted that conflict in the area has history. Alexander the Great went to Troy in the 4th century BC. This is believed to be at Gallipoli. Later Xerxes built a pontoon bridge there for his forces and Julius Caesar also visited the area. In 1915, a marine climbed a hill and blew up Turkish positions and was awarded the VC.

Turkey is now on the edge of Europe, but in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was larger than Europe. Although the Turks failed to take Vienna in 1683, they had already conquered Greece and Yugoslavia. At this time, the Ottoman Empire was more developed than Western Europe in many fields including education and sanitation. However, they started to fall behind in the 18th century, in part because they could not obtain tin from Cornwall for making guns. In the 19th century, signs of the collapse of the Empire were becoming clear. By the 1880s, Britain controlled Egypt and the Turks had been fighting everybody for years.

Mike posed the question 'Why did Britain fight the Turks in 1914?' The government of Turkey had been taken over by the army led by Enver Pasha. It was not clear whether the Turks would side with Britain or Germany. Although the Germans were looking for allies, it was not clear that the Turks would join them. 500 Turkish soldiers were in Newcastle upon Tyne to join 2 warships which were being completed there. In August 1914, Churchill ordered these ships to be seized in order to keep a lead over the Germans. The Turks were outraged, not least because they had been financed by public subscription. They had been seen as salvation for the Empire. The Greeks had a new armoured cruiser, the Averof, which they were using against the Turkish navy. The Germans provided 2 ships to the Turks which were sailed through the Dardanelles, sealing the alliance.

In late 1914, there was a major clash on the Suez Canal. Both attempts by the Turkish Army failed. At that time, Asquith's war cabinet was only about 5 men. The plan for Gallipoli was not all Churchill's fault. It had existed for many years - in the Napoleonic Wars, the British Navy had sailed up to the Sea of Marmara, but had not bombarded Istanbul. Churchill was guilty of over optimism in thinking that he could sail through the Dardanelles and attack the capital. Not unreasonably, he hoped to keep the Russians and the Balkan states onside, if he could have achieved this.

The Royal Navy was twice the size of the 2nd and 3rd largest navies combined, but the arrival of Dreadnoughts had rendered all other warships obsolescent.

 There was constant conflict between the Easterners, those who thought that the war could be won by defeating the Turks, thereby aiding the Russians, and the Westerners who believed that forces should be concentrated on the Western Front. Churchill was convinced that the Turks would capitulate without offering serious resistance. In February 1915, the attack started with the Royal Navy bombarding the outer forts which fell quickly. However, a catastrophic mistake was then made in thinking that all the mines had been swept. The minelayer Nusret had laid mines which resulted in the sinking of two British and one French battleships.

Plan B had been to use army troops from Australia and India. They were short of shells and armour piercing shells were useless against non-armoured targets. The navy tried to use the few newly developed planes, but these could only fly high enough in good weather. Their crews were inexperienced and they had no cameras. General Sir Ian Hamilton had been sent out to command the troop invasion. He was given 24 hours to prepare and having no radio communication, had no means of controlling his troops. Mike remarked that he was truly in command but not in control.

The bombardment in February 1915 had alerted the Turks and they were prepared. The British landed on 5 beaches and Anzac troops further north and in the wrong place. The army had insisted on going ashore at night. They landed in rowing boats and had to cope with enemy fire and barbed wire. Irish troops on the River Clyde had to use lighters to get ashore and were mown down. The Turkish infantry had hidden in the ruins of the forts destroyed in the February bombardment. The Lancashire Regiment suffered major casualties.

Overall, the British made little progress and the Australians did no better. Kemal Ataturk famously ordered his troops not to fight but to die. Trench warfare continued for months. All sides were hemmed in. In August 1915, another surprise attack was launched to try to cut the Turks off. Troops for the New Army were sent from England including Green Howards from Guisborough. This too was a disaster. Stopford, the Commanding Officer, was asleep during the Suvla Bay landing. Following the sacking of Stopford, one last attack was made by the Allies at Scimitar Hill. This too was a failure.

The following winter was very severe and the troops starved in addition to being short of water. Hamilton agreed with Kitchener to withdraw. Further ignominy was inflicted on the navies with the sinking of two British and one French battleships by the German submarine U21. By January 1916, the troops had been evacuated.

The casualties on all sides were horrific. Of the 400,000 Allied troops, there were approximately 200,000 killed, wounded or sick. The Turkish and German total was approximately 250,000

There has been a lot of debate over the 'what ifs'. Mike said that the current view is that none of these could realistically lead one to believe that the Allies could have won the battle. The Turks had seen enemy ships sailing through the Dardanelles before. They had practised forced marches and their defensive positions were well prepared. The Allies had assumed that they would win easily and had no done any detailed planning. Fortunately, we did learn lessons. In 1944, they had planned meticulously and were very well prepared for D Day