Naval Assault

On 18 March the main attack was launched. The fleet, comprising 18 battleships as well as an array of cruisers and destroyers, sought to target the narrowest point of the Dardanelles where the straits are just a mile wide. Despite some damage sustained by ships engaging the Ottoman forts, minesweepers were ordered to proceed along the straits. According to an account by the Turkish General Staff, by 2pm "All telephone wires were cut, all communications with the forts were interrupted, some of the guns had been knocked out… in consequence the artillery fire of the defense had slackened considerably"10. The French ship Bouvet exploded in mysterious circumstances, causing it to capsize with its entire crew aboard. Minesweepers, manned by civilians and under constant fire of Ottoman shells, retreated leaving the minefields largely intact. HMS Irresistible and HMS Inflexible both sustained critical damage from mines, although there was confusion during the battle whether torpedoes were to blame. HMS Ocean, sent to rescue the Irresistible, was itself struck by an explosion and both ships eventually sank. The French battleships Suffren and Gaulois were also badly damaged. All the ships had sailed through a new line of mines placed secretly by the defenders 10 days before.

After the failure of the naval attacks, it was decided that ground forces were necessary to eliminate the Turkish mobile artillery. This would allow minesweepers to clear the waters for the larger vessels. The British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that was to carry out the mission.

There was a delay of over six weeks before many of the troops arrived from Britain, allowing Turkish forces time to prepare for a land assault. Ottoman commanders began to debate the best means of defending the peninsula. All agreed that the most effective form of defence was to hold the high ground on the ridges of peninsula, there was disagreement however as to where they believed the enemy would land, and hence where to concentrate their own forces. Mustafa Kemal, a 34 year old lieutenant colonel familiar with the Gallipoli peninsula from his operations against Bulgaria in the Balkan War, believed Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula, and Gaba Tepe would be the two most likely areas for landing. In the case of the former, Kemal perceived the British would use their navy to command the land from everyside which the tip of the peninsula would allow. In Gaba Tepe, the short distance to the eastern coast meant forces could easily reach the Narrows. The delay in landings by the British allowed Turkish officers to prepare defenses. Roads were constructed, small boats assembled to carry troops and equipment across the narrows, beaches were wired and makeshift mines constructed from torpedo-heads. Trenches and gun emplacements were dug along the beaches whilst troops were regularly taken on long marches to avoid lethargy. Mustafa Kemal, whose Nineteenth Division would become pivotal in the battle, observed the beaches and awaited signs of an invasion from his post at Boghali, near Maidos.

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