Second Naval Assault on Dardanelles Abandoned.
Secret Plan with Russia to Carve up Ottoman Empire.
Special to The Great War Project
(19-20 March) The British bombardment a century ago of the Dardanelle Straits in western Turkey is a disaster. Three French and British battleships are sunk by mines in the straits. Three more are put out of action by shore artillery batteries.
One of the French warships, the Bouvet, suffers an explosion and quickly sinks, drowning all 600 sailors on board.
Initially it is believed the ship is sunk by a torpedo fired from Turkish batteries on shore. But later, according to war historian John Keegan, it is determined the Bouvet is the victim of one of hundreds of Turkish mines not discovered by the British.
It is a disastrous defeat, but the British leadership does not face up to it. The British commanding admiral urges a second quick naval attack on March 19th. He is supported by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the single British leader most responsible for the naval attack.
“Both men were confident,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “that if the warships could force their way past the Narrows and into the Sea of Marmara, the [Turkish] artillery batteries…would be outflanked.”
Churchill argues this would so demoralize the Turks, it would bring about their capitulation. But bad weather postpones another naval assault, giving members of the British War Council time to rethink their strategy. Churchill is unable to convince his own naval command of his plan, and reports Gilbert…
“from that moment Churchill is forced to take a back seat.”
Contrary to Churchill’s pleas, there is “a growing desire among the senior British in particular to see the army put on shore to attack the remaining forts from the rear.”
It is Lord Kitchener, the British Minister of War, who presents a plan to put a large British army on shore. Writes Gilbert,
“Any chance of a swift and spectacular naval triumph on the Dardanelles was over.”
The political repercussions of this defeat are enormous. “The prospect of a sudden disintegration of the Ottoman Empire was over.” So too is the British goal of striking Constantinople and taking the Ottoman capital.
So the new plan unfolds: put a substantial army ashore on the Gallipoli peninsula, the western side of the Dardanelles. The goal is still to bring down the Ottoman Empire.
So too is the British plan to reach Constantinople. These plans are secret, but it is now known that the British sign a secret agreement with Russia on March 20th a century ago, according to Martin Gilbert, “whereby in return for Russian benevolence towards British desires elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire and in the neutral zone in central Persia, Russia would annex Constantinople and the Bosphorus.”
“Britain would capture Gallipoli. Russia would rule it.”
So the planning for an assault on the Gallipoli peninsula is already underway.