Memorable Event

Naval Assault on the Dardanelles

Open Fire!
The Allied Fleet Bombards the Straits

The naval assault on the Dardanelles begun in February 1915 was an allied attempt to open a supply line to Russia and knock the Ottomans out of the war. On October 29, 1914, the Ottoman Navy bombarded the Russian ports of Fedosia, Novorossik, Sebastopol, and Odessa. The bombardment accompanied the Ottoman advance into the Caucasus. By November 5, 1914, the Ottoman Empire was also at war with France and Great Britain, thus creating an entirely new theatre of the war. The Ottomans had signed a treaty of alliance with Germany against Russia on August 2, 1914. The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war posed a threat to the Allies. The Ottomans were geographically positioned to hamper the British routes to India and the Suez Canal. The Tsar appealed to London on January 2, 1915 for help against the Ottoman attack in the Caucasus through the mounting of a diversionary attack.

Minister for War Kitchener wrote to First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill that the only place a diversionary attack might have an effect was the Dardanelles. This captured Churchill's attention. He had ordered the British Aegean Fleet to bombard the forts of the Dardanelles in response to the Ottoman declaration of war. [1] This action convinced Churchill of the strategic effect of naval power in the region and a fleet was sent to the Dardanelles. The bombardment began on February 19, 1915 and had little physical effect. At the same time, the British repulsed an Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal, forcing a greater garrison to be kept in Egypt and thus unavailable for landings. A Royal Marine landing at the end of February was equally ineffective and resulted in British Admiral Carden renewing the bombardment on February 25.

On March 4, a Royal Marine assault on the fort of Kum Kale suffered heavy casualties and it was decided to send all available ships to "force the Narrows." On March 18, sixteen battleships preceded by numerous minesweepers advanced into the Narrows. After initial success, the fleet ran into a newly lain row of Turkish mines. Either through internal explosion or Turkish shells, three ships were sunk, four were put out of action, and four had suffered damage. Most of the mines were unswept and the Turkish shore batteries remained in place. On March 22, Admiral de Robeck met General Hamilton, the commander of the landing force composed of the 29th Division, ANZACs, and the Royal Naval Division.

Abandon Ship!
French Battleship Bouvet Sinking After Hitting a Mine

It was agreed that the only way for a resumption of the naval advance was with the assistance of strong landing parties. This decision led to the disastrous campaign of Gallipoli. Had the February bombardments accomplished their aim and forced their way through the Dardanelles, many lives would have been saved. However, their failure resulted in an extraordinary loss of life in the Dardanelles.

By Matt Church


[1] Keegan, p. 238.


Church, Matthew, "The Jugular Vein of Empire: Imperial Attachment to the Suez Canal from 1875 to 1956." Master's Thesis: University of Louisville, 2004

Keegan, John, The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

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