- Smythe, D.H.D., AO, Commodore, RAN
- History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Nothing much happened after this until January 3, 1915, when Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, received an appeal from the Russians to start a movement against the Turks which would compel them to relax their pressure on the Russian army in the Caucasus. Kitchener thought the only plan likely to meet with success was to sweep through the Dardanelles and capture Constantinople.
The famous British admiral, Lord Fisher, who had been brought out of retirement to become First Sea Lord, agreed with Kitchener’s proposal but added the reservation that the action must be immediate. Churchill and Kitchener agreed that whatever the action was, it must be carried out by Royal Navy ships.
The Commander-in-Chief of the R.N. forces which were stationed outside the Dardanelles, Vice-Admiral Sackville-Carden, was asked his advice and replied that he did not consider the Dardanelles could be rushed. He recommended extended operations with a large number of ships. Admiral Carden sent a plan which involved the use of no less than 12 battleships, 3 battle-cruisers, 3 light cruisers, 17 destroyers, 6 submarines, 12 minesweepers and a score of other craft of all kinds. Further assistance was to be obtained from a French squadron of four battleships and auxiliaries.
At a meeting of the War Council on 28th January Lord Fisher changed his attitude once again and became opposed to the Dardanelles scheme, which he said could only be justified on naval grounds by military co-operation. Fisher in fact tried to resign as a protest, but was persuaded by Kitchener not to do so and to support Royal Navy action against the Dardanelles.
By the middle of February Kitchener, however, was himself coming round to the idea of sending an army to the Dardanelles, and on 16th he announced that the 29th Division could sail for the Aegean. It would assist the marines already on the spot in mopping up the Gallipoli peninsula, and later in occupying Constantinople. This brought so sharp a protest from the generals in France (who wanted the 29th Division there) that on February 18th, the day before the naval bombardment began, Kitchener revoked his decision and said that the Australian and New Zealand divisions then in Egypt should go instead. At this the ships which the Admiralty had assembled for the transport of the 29th Division were dispersed.
Later, Kitchener changed his mind yet again, and decided that the 29th Division would be sent as well. Meanwhile, the Navy was still on the scene at the Dardanelles.
A bombardment which had begun on February 19 was resumed on 25th when all guns were destroyed on each of the two outer forts on the European and Asiatic shores. Landing parties were disembarked, mines were swept and as a result the Fleet sailed six miles inside the straits. Bad weather then intervened and the Fleet withdrew, but plans were made to renew the naval operations on March 18.
General Ian Hamilton was appointed to command the military force and left London on March 13 with his staff, with an inaccurate map of the Gallipoli area, with a 3-years-old handbook on the Turkish army and with a lot of other doubtful information. They arrived on March 18 in time for Hamilton to board the cruiser PHAETON to watch an assault by the British and French warships. At that stage Hamilton was a Commander-in-Chief without an army or a plan.
The naval battle with the shore guns was not a success this time. It had been preceded by a test bombardment to find out if the Turks had 15-inch guns. The Turks had these – as it was discovered later – but cunningly did not use them, and the Allied fleet was thoroughly deceived.
Between March 18 and 22 the Allied fleet lost the IRRESISTIBLE, the OCEAN and the BOUVET, sunk by mines floated down the Dardanelles on the four-knot current. H.M.S. INFLEXIBLE was saved only by the skill of her commanding officer, Captain Phillimore.
On March 22 Vice-Admiral de Robeck, who had succeeded Admiral Carden, (who had been sent home) decided to withdraw and do no more until the army – now scattered along the Mediterranean – was assembled and ready to land. De Robeck described the result of the bombardment as a disaster and, as he had lost three battleships in the March 18 attack, he apparently felt he should not try any more.