Log #29e The Dardanelles and Gallipoli

May 18, 2003 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 29 Greek Aegean to Istanbul, The Logs

Canakkale, Dardanelles, Turkey

May 18, 2003

Hi Folks,

We are weathered in here for a third day of force 7 to 8 northeast winds. The weather forecasts are saying force 2 to 4, maybe 5 – HA! Fortunately the marina here has secure laid moorings, although it is relatively expensive at 20,000,000 TL a day with no amenities. The one (only) shower does not have hot water, and we would have to pay an extra 15,000,000 TL a day for water or for electricity. The attendants do not speak much English. However, it is secure.

We have toured the fort, minelayer and military museum here at Canakkale, the Turkish and French memorials and war graves at Anit Limani where we were anchored a few days ago, the Anzac battlefields and memorials on Gallipoli, and Troy. We have immersed ourselves in the Gallipoli campaign and the history and archeology of ancient Troy. In this log I have described the geography of the area and started an account of the memorials and battles of Gallipoli.

I hope you enjoy it. If any of you have additional information about this campaign, I would be interested in it or in other perspectives.

Whenever this wind lets up, we will be off up to Gelibolu (the town of Gallipoli after which the peninsula is known in English), located at the north end of the Dardanelles, just before entering the Sea of Marmara.

All the best,


Log #29e The Dardanelles and Gallipoli

Canakkale, Dardanelles, Turkey

May 16, 2003

The 16 mile motor trip from Bozcaada up to the entrance to the Dardanelles was into the wind of course, but otherwise uneventful. However, we had to keep a close eye out for all the traffic entering and leaving the entrance. As we cruised along the Turkish mainland a couple of miles off, we could see the undulating terrain in which the Homeric city of Troy is located and even saw a conical mound outside of Troy reputed to be the burial mound for Achilles and Patroclus. We are in awe at arriving at this juncture of a world trade route into the Dardanelles to Istanbul and the Bosporus going into the Black Sea, as well as its historic border between Asia and Europe, and of course the scene of the bloody wasteful Gallipoli campaign of WW I. However we had to watch the navigation carefully as there is a shoal shallowing to 1.8 metres extending half a mile out from the Aegean coastline in the approaches to Kumkale Burnu, the southern cape at the entrance to the Dardanelles, also known to the Turks as Canakkale Bogazi.

A bit of geography will help here, especially for those without a detailed atlas of the area. The Dardanelles is a 1 to 2 mile wide channel going from the northern Aegean coast of Turkey (Anatolia or Asia Minor), winding northeast for about 37 nautical miles (75 km) to enter into the Sea of Marmara. The southeast coast is the Asian side, and the northwest European side is formed by a long narrow peninsula called Gallipoli. It is a peninsula of high hills, about 80 km long, and from ½ to 5 kilometres wide. It is named after the city of Gallipoli (in Turkish Gelibolu) just at the entrance to the Sea of Marmara. The Turkish name for the Gallipoli Peninsula is Gelibolu Yarmadasi. The Sea of Marmara is a 150 mile long oblong shaped sea on which Istanbul is located at its northeastern extremity. From Istanbul the Bosporus, a more narrow winding strait about 15 miles in length, enters the southwest corner of the Black Sea. This waterway, from the Aegean through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus into the Black Sea is a major trade link for the countries of the Black Sea: Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria, to gain access to the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the world.

The entrance to the Dardanelles, about two miles wide, has Kum Kale on the southern cape and Seddulbahir on the northern. The traffic separation scheme for shipping has the up-bound lanes on the southeast side, and the down-bound on the northwest side. We have paper and electronic charts of the area, as well as our Turkish Waters Pilot and GPS to help us. We hugged the Kum Kale side as we entered as we did not want to get in the way of any of the heavy shipping entering or exiting. We planned to cross the separation scheme in order to anchor in Anit Limani (also known as Morto Bay), beneath a large four-square-columned arch, the main Turkish memorial of the Gallipoli campaign of WW I. However to do so we had to proceed past Kum Kale a mile or so before altering over in order to cross the traffic lanes at a right angle. We had to compensate for the 2 knot current to “crab” across the channel. Waiting until an up-bound ship was off our port quarter, we then made a 90˚ turn to port to cross the separation zones immediately behind it. As we approached Anit Limani, we saw a fishing boat under way with a line aft, and a line forward. We did not want to foul either of his lines and were not sure exactly where they led. Initially we were going to go astern of him, then realized as we were swept down by the current that he was actually anchored and what we thought was his bow wave proceeding through the water was just the current passing under him while at anchor. We hadn’t seen boats anchored in such currents since we were in the Mississippi River. Forward of him and inside the bay we anchored (40 03.0N, 026 12.7E) in 20 feet of water beneath the Turkish memorial. Inside, the currents were lighter and circular in motions to the extent they cancelled themselves out, but we did drift at awkward angles to the wind at times.

We subsequently found out that this bay was the landing place for the French beachhead (Beach S) in the British/Anzac/French invasion of Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915. In addition to the Turkish memorial above us, inside the bay on a hillside was the French memorial, and around the opposite side past Seddulbahir was the British one. This area on the southwestern tip of the peninsula was the scene of the British/French landings. The Anzac landing was on the far side of the peninsula a few miles up at Brighton Beach and Anzac Cove. We were comfortably anchored by noon hour and went ashore to the Turkish memorial in the early afternoon.

It was most impressive. Scenes sculpted in the bases of the four massive square columns depicted the naval bombardment, the mine laying operations which defeated the British/French navies, the Turkish forces in combat, and the Anzacs in combat, as well as one or two murals wherein the opposing soldiers were helping care for enemy wounded. Anzac is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Behind a plaza was the military grave site with flat square marble tombstones for hundreds of Turkish soldiers giving their names, dates of birth and dates of death, and their age, with the crescent and star, symbol of Turkey, etched in each. There was also a memorial wall with thousands more numbered by their towns of origin, unknown soldiers, as Moslem beliefs require burial within 24 hours of death, and so many were buried unidentified, often along with their British or Anzac foes. We were impressed by the number of stories we heard and read on memorials and from books and guides about Turks helping Anzacs and vice versa, from delivering wounded foes to aid stations to burying with respect the enemy dead. There was a small treed area with flags of dedication from all the countries involved in the conflict.

The area was not depressing. It was well kept with bright flowers between the tombstones and around the walls. There was an atmosphere of regret and respect for all who perished in that conflict. One of the simple aspects that impressed me was a walk in the pine woods behind the memorial going up towards the trenches where the battle was stalemated for months. There were trench hollows, and stone ruins beneath the pine needle floor of the woods. However as I looked up into the trees, they were covered with pine cones, symbols of new life and of the souls delivered from this life. When we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, one of the most impressive memorials for me was that for the thousands of children killed. It was a simple, elegant walkway into a cave-like structure which opened up into a large darkened chamber with thousands of small, pin point, diamond white lights in expanding, unending blackness representing the souls of the sacrificed. I saw in the pine cones in that woods the same moving, natural symbolism for the lives of all the soldiers who perished in the conflict, but such a glorious symbol also involves hope and continuation of life.

The museum at the memorial was small, but very good. It contained some dramatic pictures of the more than 14 battleships involved in the bombardments of Kum Kale and Seddulbahir, and later, on that fatal day when they bombarded Canakkale and Kilitbahir at the narrows. It had pictures of the trench warfare, various battles and displays of the uniforms, rusted weapons, shells, bullets, eating utensils, and diaries of Turkish and Anzac soldiers.

After returning Judy to Veleda, I took Sprite over to the inner beach, and walked up to the French grave site. Inside the whitewashed walls were 2,500 iron crosses with inscriptions for each French soldier. At the front of the memorial stood a tall white spire with inscriptions about their deaths and sacrifices for the “Glory of France”. In addition there were four large rectangular garden memorials around the spire, each containing the remains of 3,000 unknown soldiers! The casualty toll for all the armies involved was 50%. There were over 500,000 allied soldiers with a casualty total of over 280,000, and a similar if not greater casualty toll for the 500,000 Turkish forces. I was favorably impressed at how well kept these memorials are maintained. The spring flowers are in full bloom, both the wild and the planted. On my way back to Sprite I plucked a couple of long, intricately petaled, purple wild irises for Judy. They look quite elegant in our tall Grecian vase. Again the impression left from the memorial is one of regret, respect, life and hope.

The Gallipoli campaign had all the horrible hallmarks of the slaughters of WW I in the trench warfare of Verdun, the Somme and Ypres, including the bad leadership, and arrogant wasting of life with repeated charges into withering machine gun fire. It represented a military and national recognition and presence on the world stage for Australia and New Zealand, not unlike that earned by Canada in its sacrifices and bravery in that horrible war. However, Gallipoli was more than just a land battle; it started out with a naval defeat. Let me give a bit of summary of this eventful campaign which had a profound influence on the outcome of WW I in many ways.

This may have a Turkish bias as I am getting it from the material available in this area.

The Gallipoli campaign began at the end of January 1915, when Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, advocated a plan to force open the Dardanelles to re-supply and assist Britain’s ally Russia. (For my American readers, you will remember that for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and the European powers WW I started in 1914, not 1917 when the U.S. entered it.) The plan was, after forcing the Dardanelles to take the battle fleet to Istanbul, destroy it by a naval barrage and the resulting conflagration of the wooden structures, then sink the two German battleships in the Black Sea (the Goeben and Breslau), and probably to allow Russia to then conquer and occupy Istanbul and Turkey.

The Royal Navy with several French battleships headed for the Aegean in January of 1915. On Feb. 19th the fleet of 18 battleships opened fire on the forts at Kum Kale and Seddulbahir at the entrance (which we had just passed), pulverizing these with impunity with their 12 and 15 inch guns. These guns had a range in excess of 11 miles whereas the Turkish guns had a range of only 9 miles. With these entrance forts subdued the fleet then started on the other gun emplacements inside the large bay at the entrance. The Turks had sewn mine fields across the narrows here at Canakkale and had two strong forts, one at Canakkale and the other across the channel at Kilitbahir (a ten minute ferry trip costing only 75 cents now). Then on March 18th the 14 British battleships and 4 French battleships preceded by numerous destroyers and minesweepers forced their way into the entrance bay to start a merciless barrage on Canakkale and Kilitbahir to silence their guns before clearing the minefields at the narrows and driving through into the Sea of Marmara and on to Istanbul. However, unknown to the allies, the Turkish minelayer “Nusrat” had the night before sewn a string of 26 mines in the southeastern portion of the bay. The French battleships were to withdraw to make room for the larger British battleships. When manouevering to exit, the first French battleship Bouvet struck a mine, exploded and went down with most of her crew in less than two minutes. Shortly after, two British battleships, the Ocean and the Irresistable, went down. Within a few hours that afternoon six battleships had sunk and the fleet withdrew, harassed only by smaller caliber shore howitzers. Churchill resigned and a land campaign was developed to secure the narrows from the Gallipoli peninsula before forcing the fleet through again.

A two prong attack was planned with British forces landing at Cape Helles at 5 landing sites around Seddulbahir on the southern part and Anzacs at Brighton Beach half way up the western shore of Gallipoli, with a French diversionary thrust on the Asian side at the entrance at Kum Kale. These attacks took place on April 25th, 1915, a date commemorated especially by the Australians, New Zealanders and Turks today. It was initially thought that it would take only a few weeks to secure the peninsula and then the fleet could proceed to Istanbul. Such was not to be the case.

There is still some dispute about this issue, but it appears that Anzacs were landed in the wrong place, north of the intended site at Brighton Beach. (This stretch was called Brighton Beach by the Royal Navy officers who were evaluating landing sites as it looked like Brighton Beach in England. Incidentally, the famous pier at Brighton was swept away in a storm last winter.) Rather than landing on a wide sandy beach sloping gently up a wide valley (as the Turkish forces anticipated), the Anzacs were landed a mile north at a shallow cove now called Anzac Cove, an inhospitable narrow stretch of beach at the foot of some exceedingly steep hills. Although initially not heavily defended, the landforms and the small Turkish company of only 160 men slowed the advance of the 1500 Anzacs that first day until Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk, the father of the new Turkey after the war) brought, without having higher authority’s permission, the last reserves in the area to launch a counteroffensive. The fighting on that first day was fierce, with the Anzacs only getting about a mile inland on the first couple of ridges.

After that the Turkish and Anzac forces slugged it out in classic trench warfare with attacks and counterattacks consuming a horrible death toll and gaining only a few yards here or there until the next major offensive in August. That offensive was marked by another landing a few miles north at Suvla Bay where another 40,000 British, Indian and Gurkha troops landed, with confusion and heavy Turkish resistance, taking a heavy toll on both sides.

This offensive was the one featured in the movie “Gallipoli” with a young Mel Gibson. His unit, the Australian Light Horse, in trenches on the ridges above Anzac Cove, was to mount an offensive from Walker’s Ridge across a killing ground called The Nek to secure a ridge called Baby 700. This attack was to coincide with the landings at Suvla Bay. There was a preparatory bombardment by naval forces that ended seven minutes before the arranged time. The Anzacs did not dare attack for fear the bombardment would resume within that time span. However, it gave the Turkish forces that seven minutes to get into position to repel the coming attack. At the end of that fateful seven minutes the Light Horsemen went over the trenches to their deaths. The first two waves were totally wiped out. The third got to within a few metres of the Turkish lines before being cut down completely. The fourth was brought back after more withering fire. In the space of about an hour over 1000 Light Horsemen were dead.  This August offensive extended the trenches less than 1½ miles inland.

Down at Cape Helles the initial landings on April 25th were met with mixed results. Some were relatively unopposed, but poor communications did not allow those units to take full advantage of their success. Other units ran into intense machine gun fire on jumping out of their boats and had to wade 50 yards to the shore through barbed wire entanglements on the bottom and over the bodies and blood of their downed comrades. The French forces that made the diversionary attack across the entrance at Kum Kale were brought over for reinforcements to land at Morto Bay (Anit Limani where we were anchored), and they too became bogged down. In all, these British and French forces only took the lower two miles of the peninsula before being forced into static defensive trench warfare.

On May 24th there was a brief ceasefire for both side to bury the thousands of dead piled up in “no man’s land”. During this sojourn the Anzacs, who had thought of the Turks as barbaric hordes, saw them in a new light. The opposing soldiers clearing and burying the dead from the battlefield talked to their foes, carried enemy wounded to aid stations, exchanged cigarettes and souvenirs, and came to see each other in more human terms. After this a strange battlefield friendship and respect developed as they faced each other from opposing trench lines. The trenches were close, in some areas only 15 to 20 metres apart. The Turks occasionally lobbed cans of tobacco to the Aussies, who lobbed tins of milk, bully beef or cigarettes back. These friendly exchanges sometimes had additional humour as when the Turks sent a message with one of their gifts saying “Forget the bully beef, send milk”. Another incident reported was of a Turkish soldier who while delivering water to his troops with a donkey accidentally found himself behind Anzac lines. When captured, the quick witted Turk explained, “My commander sends you some water.” The soldier was then sent back to his lines with the donkey laden with saddle bags full of food. These anecdotes abound in books, pamphlets, guided talks, and on some memorials. It is a theme and attitude of mutual respect and friendship that still exists today here on Gallipoli between the New Zealanders, the Aussies and the Turks. Every April 25th thousands of New Zealand and Australian descendants come to Canakkale to commemorate this campaign in a spirit of friendship with Turkey. Gallipoli represented a “coming of age” for Australians and New Zealanders for their bravery and sacrifices. It also was for the Turks a much needed victory, not only to defend their homeland, but to give them a pride and confidence to create a new Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, with their new leader, Ataturk.

Ataturk contributed one of the most moving, impressive, sensitive memorials to the fallen since the poem In Flanders Fields, in a dedication on one of the battlefields in 1934.

Those heroes that shed their blood

And lost their lives…

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace,

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours…

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons from far away countries,

Wipe away your tears;

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land

They have become our sons as well.