March 18: Victory that changed a nation's fate

Turkey commemorates those killed during the fate-changing Battle of Gallipoli on March 18, 1915

Turkey commemorates those killed during the fate-changing Battle of Gallipoli on March 18, 1915

ANKARA - Can a single victory, on just one front in a vast and eventually-lost war inspire a whole nation from that moment on?

Ninety-nine years ago today, three battleships sinking in a narrow strait answered with a 'yes' that echoed throughout a long-suffering, demoralized country.

Dismissed by the world as "the Sick Man of Europe," the once mighty Ottoman Empire was showing every sign of reaching its end when it unavoidably entered the First World War in November 1914, siding with Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria against the 'Allied Powers' of Britain, France, Italy and Russia.

Although it was obvious from the onset that the empire could not seriously compete with its technically superior opponents, its participation was still troubling for them because it meant fighting on additional fronts in remote and challenging regions such as the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai.

In order to checkmate the Ottoman sultan as quickly as possible, Britain and France opened the Gallipoli front with the aim of capturing the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, through the shortest possible route by passing the Dardanelles, a narrow strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. They also hoped they could relieve pressure on Russian forces on the Caucasus front.

The event that forced the allies to step up their efforts took place on March 8 when Ottoman minelayer Nusret laid several dozens of mines in unpredictable positions in Eren Koy Bay, a wide bay along the Asian shore, just inside the entrance to the Dardanelles.

The British plan for March 18 was to eradicate the defenses guarding the minefields but the British and French were unaware of the recent additions to the Ottoman minefields.

The attack opened on March 18, 1915, with six British and four French battleships heading towards the Narrows.

Several Turkish forts near the entrance to the strait were heavily bombarded and destroyed, but the waters were filled with a network of mines, which sank the HMS Irresistible, HMS Ocean and the French battleship Bouvet.

The allies withdrew the remaining ships, marking one of the most critical victories for the destiny of the Turks.

The victory gave the nation, which had been stagnating since the 18th century, a sudden and significant morale boost that carried through into the following land operation, where the allies were met by an uncompromising Turkish defense.

The struggle in Dardanelles formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.

Every March 18 marks an emotional day for Turks, who commemorate those killed during the battle.

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