The First Amphibious Mission: A New Way to Wage War the Battle of Gallipoli, 1916

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In World War I the Allies had suffered a huge defeat in a naval attack on the strategically significant Ottoman port of Istanbul. Control of the port was crucial as it is at the gateway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Allies suffered a crushing blow when almost one third of their deployed naval fleet of 85 ships was destroyed.

The Allies refused to accept this humiliating defeat and immediately another attack was ordered. The tactic was different this time. An amphibious attack was planned involving 75,000 Allied troops.

Amphibious attacks were an untested military concept. The mission was in many ways doomed from the start – the Allies were given only 5 weeks to plan and execute this new form of attack. This was not long enough to plan an operation of this complexity, but it gave the Ottoman forces a great deal of time to fortify their defenses.

Another problem was one of communication. The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force of some 75,000 men was comprised of troops from many different countries. The glaring issue was that many of them didn’t speak the same language.

The Allies had limited intelligence of Turkish positions and grossly underestimated the resolve of the defenders to maintain their position. The arrogant belief was that the Turks simply didn’t have the strength or motivation to defend their territory. The Allies lacked fundamental necessities and didn’t even have an accurate map of the beaches of the proposed landings. The campaign was one of the most spectacularly inept in the history of modern warfare.

The landings were a disaster for the Allies. Due to the strong winds many of the troops landed some distance from the intended landing zones. Those that did make it onto the beach from the landing craft found it an almost impossible task to scale the incredibly steep cliffs at the landing sites.

The Gallipoli attach was launched on 25 April, but the battle waged on until January 9 1917. Disease was a huge problem – more troops were victims of disease than were killed in combat. Finally, after many months of futile losses, the Allies were ordered to withdraw.

It is thought that 56,000 Allied troops died in battle in the Gallipoli campaign. Almost 200,000 were injured or shipped out of the battle field as a result of illness and disease. Losses on the Turkish side were also very heavy – 86,000 perished in the battle.

In between World War I and World War II the popular belief was that amphibious landings simply could not be successful. However, it soon became clear that in order for the Allies to make advances in World War II they had to consider an amphibious campaign. This was most successfully carried out in the D-Day landings on June 6 1944. The study of the Battle of Gallipoli was an integral part of the planning of the landings in Normandy. The failure of the Gallipoli amphibious landings taught the World a huge lesson.


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