AE2 and war in the Dardanelles

I do not hold check on the 18th being decisive, but having met General Hamilton on the 22nd and heard his proposals, I now consider a combined operation essential to obtain great results and object of the campaign…To attack Narrows now with the fleet would be a mistake, as it would jeopardize the execution of a better and bigger scheme.[1]

Vice Admiral de Robeck, RN

The historian, Victor Rudenno, [2] outlines the strategic considerations that led to the unsuccessful Allied Dardanelles campaign between 25 April, 1915 and 9 January 1916. When the Ottoman Empire allied with Germany and Austria in October 1914, Russia, which was allied with France and Great Britain, lost its remaining maritime trading route to Europe. By early 1915, with the war already bogged down in stalemate on the Western Front, supplying and nurturing the Russian front had become a strategic priority for the Allies. To prosecute a war against the Central powers on two fronts, First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, concluded that a successful naval attack on German and Turkish forces at the Dardanelles, could re-open the Bosporus to supply Russia and force the Turks out of the War. Churchill also considered the Dardanelles a ‘decisive point’ in putting pressure on Turkey and defending Egypt.[3] It might also draw Bulgaria and Greece into the war on the Allied side.

According to Rudenno, the idea that naval power alone could be used to ‘force the Dardanelles’ was contested by naval High Command at a meeting of the War Council on 5 January 1915.[4] Churchill persisted securing the support of the War Council for a naval campaign on 13 January, 1915.[5] Reflecting earlier misgivings about the sufficiency of sea power, Lord Kitchener put to the War Council on 24 February, that if naval power was not successful, an Allied land campaign would be inevitable.[6]

During February and March of 1915, British and French naval forces fought unsuccessfully for supremacy in the Dardanelles Straits, suffering significant losses to Turkish forts and mines.[7] On March 18, a decisive battle was fought in which the French lost the battleship Bouvet with two others, the Suffren and Gaulois, severely damaged. The Royal Navy lost the battleships Irresistible and Ocean, with the Inflexible severely damaged.[8]It was clear that naval power alone could not wrest control of the Dardanelles from the Turks. Consequently, preparations for a land campaign proceeded at pace, climaxing in the Gallipoli landings of 25th April, which included ANZAC forces.

Picture of AE2 in the Aegean January-April, 1915
AE2 in the Aegean January-April, 1915
[NAA: MP472/1, 16/15/4192]

The beginning of the land campaign on 25th April, 1915, marked a shift in the nature and role of sea power in the Allied campaign. From this point onwards, it would be used to supply land forces, shell Turkish positions and harass Turkish maritime lines of supply. By the time AE2 arrived on station at Tenedos on 23 April 1915, the possibilities of submarine warfare in the Dardanelles had begun to exercise the minds of naval high command. A pressing need existed to harass Turkish sea lanes in the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara used to re-supply and reinforce Turkish forces fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The early success of the British B Class submarine B11 in sinking the Turkish Battleship Messudieh off Chanak in December 1914, encouraged this thinking.[9]

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  1. ^ a Keyes, R. (1934). The Naval Memoirs of an Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Roger Keyes. London, Butterworth.
  2. ^ a Rudenno, V. (2008). Gallipoli: Attack from the Sea. Sydney. University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
  3. ^ a Ibid., p.14.
  4. ^ a Ibid., p.15.
  5. ^ a Ibid., p.16.
  6. ^ a Ibid., p.18.
  7. ^ a Ibid., pp49-52.
  8. ^ a Ibid.
  9. ^ a Brenchley, F. and Brenchley, E. (2001). Stoker’s Submarine. Sydney. Harper Collins. p.47.