Gallipoli

Part V : Evacuation and the End of the Campaign

 

After the battles of August 1915, fighting in Gallipoli took the form of static trench warfare, where neither side could gain territory anymore. The war on the peninsula was practically over, since the outcome was apparently not to change and the Allies were not going to be able to open the way to Istanbul for their navy. In the autumn of 1915, the only thing the soldiers could do was to try to inflict as much casualties as possible on each other.

 

By the end of September 1915, the total number of Turkish forces in Gallipoli was 5,287 officers and 255,728 soldiers of which 158,363 were combatants, supported by 230 pieces of artillery. The number of the Allied combatants was nearly 120,000.

 

The next month, in October 1915, there have been significant changes in the positions of the units linked to the Fifth Army, of which the total strength had gone up to 315,000 men by then. Meanwhile, Esat Paşa was appointed as the commander of the First Army and Colonel Ali Rıza Bey became the commander of the Northern Group.

 

An important event that took place in September that year was Bulgaria’s entry to the war on the side of the Central Powers. It meant that the Berlin-Istanbul route was now open and supplies could be transferred from Germany to Turkey and this was a great relief since the Turkish efforts in Gallipoli have been suffering from serious shortages in artillery and ammunition. An Austrian 240 mm mortar battery and a German battery of 150 mm howitzers, a total of 8 guns, were brought to Turkey, with the former being positioned at Kocaçimen and the latter at Seddülbahir. Along with these batteries, several German and Austrian technical specialists arrived as well.

 

Turkish soldiers in the assembly area

Although the bloodshed had slowed down, the Turkish General Staff was cautious. Enver Paşa had received the intelligence that substantial Italian forces were massing to reinforce the Allies in Gallipoli. Liman Paşa was again thinking of the Saros Bay. He believed that a simultaneous amphibious operation there and at the Asian side could be fatal for the Turks.

 

27. Regiment receiving its medal with a ceremoty

Neither the Italians nor the renewed landings came. The weather changed dramatically on 26 November and for four days, heavy rain followed by snow and frost spelled disaster on both sides. It was as if the Mother Nature was taking revenge from the human beings who had turned that piece of heaven into a bloody hell. Rain water filled in the trenches and then snow made everything worse. Soldiers drowned in their trenches or got frozen to death. Those in the open were the ones that were worst hit. Allied casualties during these 4 disastrous days were 15,000 men including 2,000 dead. 556 Turkish soldiers died and several thousands of them fell seriously ill. (Source for casualties: Göncü and Aldoğan)

 

Evacuation in Great Secrecy

 

In early November 1915, the Allied headquarters saw that further attempts would be futile and decided to leave the peninsula. The campaign was a failure and according to the plan the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector was to be evacuated completely, whereas British troops would remain in Seddülbahir. The evacuation started in great secrecy and in what is definitely their best performance in the whole campaign, the Allies managed to prevent the Turks from realizing that they were going. During the day, routine operations continued, artillery fire resumed; whereas during the night, soldiers, armaments and ammunition were loaded in ships.

 

The evacuation of the Suvla Bay and the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector was completed on 20 December and thanks to both a great deal luck and a well planned deception operation, not even a single Allied soldier has lost its life. Allied soldiers tried to destroy whatever they could not take with themselves, so that they could not be used by the Turks. 

 

The Turkish command was unaware of what was going on under their noses. In his memoirs, General Liman von Sanders wrote: “Whatever the reason for that was, we could not be aware of this evacuation attempt which was well kept secret until the last second. Such as possibility was actually thought of the Fifth Army and it was communicated to all of the commanders. However the evacuation was executed so perfectly that even in the Turkish front lines it has not been realized.”

 

After a few minor battles during November, Allies decided to leave Seddülbahir as well. The French were already evacuating by then and on the first day of the New Year, there were no more French troops left in Gallipoli.

 

Another person to leave the peninsula was Mustafa Kemal. He had left for Istanbul a few days before the evacuation in Arıburnu-Anafartalar and he was replaced by the commander of the V Corps, Fevzi Paşa. Meanwhile Vehip Paşa left the command of the Southern Group and Cevat Paşa, commander of the Çanakkale Fortified Zone was in charge.

 

General Liman von Sanders ordered a last attack on the British that was executed on 7 January 1916. Following a heavy bombardment of the Zığındere line, the 34. Regiment attacked, but it was repulsed by the British. This was the last act of hostilities in Gallipoli. Allied evacuation resumed after this final battle and in the early hours of 9 January 1916 there were no Allied troops left on Gallipoli peninsula.

 

Turkish commanders inspecting the batteries

Conclusion

 

Despite the shortcomings in logistics and supplies as well as the problems in the command chain, the Turkish defence performed remarkably well in Gallipoli. It was the common soldiers, Mehmetçik, who won in Gallipoli. They knew the terrain and their physical resistance was much higher, they were used to hardships, they knew it was their homeland they were protecting and their officers never left them. Turkish officers preferred to be on the line of fire with their men and to give them courage, instead of giving directions and orders from safe command posts. At the end of the day, it was them who wrote this epic with their own blood.

 

Turks gained a victory in Gallipoli, although it came at a very high cost. This victory renewed the confidence of Turkish leaders and commanders in the ultimate victory of Turkey and the Central Powers in the World War. However, as Erickson (2001) notes, the most significant result for the Turkish Army was “the emergence of a combat-tested commanders with proven abilities.” These commanders, Mustafa Kemal and his comrades-in-arms, are the ones who later fought the War of Independence.

 

Turkish soldiers at Kanlısırt during the evacuation

Source: Harp Mecmuası

The Gallipoli campaign, which went on for 259 days, is unique in the sense that such a large number of soldiers fought on such a narrow place.

 

A total of more than 1 million combatants from both sides fought in Gallipoli, where the total length of the front line was just 20 kilometres (5 km in Seddülbahir and 15 km in Arıburnu-Anafartalar). The distance between trenches was in some cases no more than a few meters and the no-man’s-land has never been narrower in other campaigns of the World War. The enemy was always very close, there were always shrapnel falling on one’s head, the soldiers had to be always alerted and ready for bayonet charge and the weather was never kind, neither in summer nor in winter. In 1915, Gallipoli was a hell.

 

On the other hand, the Gallipoli campaign is also called as the “Last Gentlemen’s War”. Especially in the Arıburnu-Anafartalar sector, there have been times when both sides, also benefiting of the proximity of the trenches, threw food and cigarette to each other, with notes attached. They respected their enemies and there were neither atrocities on civilians nor “dirty warfare” such as chemical weapons in Gallipoli.

 

There are still disputes about the number of casualties, especially the Turkish ones. Liman von Sanders estimated 218,000 Turkish casualties (66,000 dead), whereas according to official British accounts Turkish casualties were 251,000 men. Göncü and Aldoğan (2006) uses the official Turkish accounts and calculates the individual battles, arriving at these initial numbers: 66,262 dead, 97,916 wounded, 2,000 taken prisoner. The same work points out to the fact that more than 200,000 Turkish soldiers had to leave the battlefield due to wounds or illness and 35,000 of them died later. Considering this fact, Göncü and Aldoğan (2006) conclude that the most rational casualty figures are given by the work of General Kemal Özbay, who states that Turkish casualties were 250,000, with 101,279 of them dead, “şehit” (martyr) as they are called in Turkish. According to Göncü and Aldoğan (2006), Allied casualties were 182,038 men, 62,086 of them dead, to which 90,000 men that had to leave the battlefield due to wounds or illness have to be added.

 

Gallipoli did not change only the fate of the World War. It changed the fate of a nation. It marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one that would led to the founding of the Republic of Turkey from the ashes of a once mighty Empire.

 


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