Today, 18 March is the anniversary of the opening volleys of the Gallipoli Campaign. The date is also marked locally as ‘Victory Day’. The Ottoman Turkish victory over the Allies at Gallipoli. In fact the naval battle on March 18 has nothing to do with Gallipoli at all……
Since the outbreak of war and Turkey’s entry into it in Nov 1914 the British and French had blockaded the straits. They had shelled and destroyed most of the outer forts and even up the coast as far as Bulair. The British Navy, who thought itself the supreme power on the seas, did not even consider using ground troops in conjunction with the operation. They naturally assumed that the Turks would simply drop their guns and run at the sheer sight of the fleet entering the Narrows. In fact in February, troops had indeed landed almost unhindered by Turkish defenders, so in the latter campaign, commonly known as the ‘What if’ campaign, this was yet another case where the Allies had totally underestimated the Turkish defenders.
Just prior to 18 March a little Minelayer the ‘Nusret’ had gathered it’s explosive cargo and deposited an 11th line mines. The Allies knew well about the lines that crossed the Narrows but knew nothing of the line of mines the Nusret had laid parallel to the coast in Erenkoy Bay. The Turks and Germans had noticed the Allied fleet using the bay to turn around in on previous occasions.
In the morning of the 18th the fleet sailed deep into the Narrows, hidden and open batteries pounded the fleet but still they continued. Their mission to move through the Narrows and converge on Istanbul and take Turkey out of the war.
The first ships to use Erenkoy Bay after their attack runs, ran smack dab into the line of mines laid by the Nusret, instantly the battle turned for the worse for the Allies with the British Irresistible and Ocean and the French Bou struck the line of mines. This tragedy and the battering the other 7 great ships were taking easily convinced the admirals to cease the attack, they favoured a withdrawal and another attempt the next day.
Well it didn’t happen the next day, or the day after and in fact the battle never resumed, instead plans for a land invasion came into play and resulted in the 25th April Gallipoli Campaign.
So, rightly or wrongly, Turks commemorate this day as the day of Victory! over the Allies in the Gallipoli Campaign (even though it had nothing to do with it)and was merely the opening shot in a costly and tragic war, that Turkey’s economy would not recover from until the 1980’s at least.
Sadly, history being taught in Turkish schools on the subject are bare of the facts, kids are taught that 18 March was the day Turks beat the Allies at Gallipoli, they even tell a story of a Turkish submarine crew sunk on the day and it’s captain’s final last words that urged his countrymen on to victory….. Well Turkey had no submarines in action on that day or for pretty much the whole war apart from a captured French sub that remained unscathed and was returned to the French in 1918…..
So to all my Turkish friends and family, Happy Victory Day! Thing is, with what’s going on south of Turkey these days it seems we have not learned our lessons about the tragedy and futility of war.
If you ever come to Gallipoli the proud little boat, the Nusret (reproduction) is proudly on display!
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