Sir Winston Churchill’s Strategy for the Dardanelles

Sir Winston Churchill was responsible for the initial concept to attack the Ottoman Empire to free the Dardanelles Strait, which at the time was essential for export to and resupply of Britain’s ally, Russia. Securing the straight would allow the Allied Powers to threaten the Ottoman Empire’s capital, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), which would likely result in the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from the war. This action would also encourage countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Italy to enter the war by joining the Allies, making an attack on Austria-Hungary possible from the south.

The German naval fleet was heavily engaged in the North Sea between the United Kingdom and the European continent, and the Allies held considerable naval superiority. A naval attack was determined to be the swiftest way to achieve breakthrough of Ottoman defences over Dardanelles Strait and allow access to the Sea of Marmara on the way to Constantinople.

It is important to note that until this point, the intended purpose of the ANZACs was to seize Constantinople following the naval penetration of the Dardanelles Strait. Lieutenant General Birdwood was less confident of the Navy’s prospects of success than Field Marshal Kitchener when Lieutenant General Birdwood himself was taken into the strait in early March to reconnoitre the damage done to the Turkish Forts to date.

He stated that “the forts taken so far had been very visible and easy”. After being fired upon from an unidentifiable fort, he knew that there was considerably more to the defensive position than was visible to the naked eye. It was his opinion that it would take his entire contingent, in cooperation with the Navy, to successfully seize and retain control of the Strait. Birdwood was right in that the Navy would be unable to force capitulation on its own; however, his force would not be enough to seize the fortified and difficult terrain that the Turks were to defend so ferociously.

After the failed naval attack on the Strait, the ground force was tasked with the invasion.


01 April 1915 – The ANZACs are ordered to the front line. Gallipoli Peninsula will be their destination, and for some, their final resting place.

12 April 1915 – The ANZACs begin military build-up on Lemnos, around 100kms from Gallipoli Peninsula.

13 to 14 April 1915 – Reconnaissance over the Gallipoli Peninsula occurs on HMS Queen Elizabeth. Landing sites are selected by senior ANZAC officers and plans for the amphibious landings are finalised.

20 April 1915 – Military build-up at Lemnos is complete. Naval ships are prepared for amphibious invasion of the Ottoman Empire.

Pre-Invasion Report

The pre-invasion report released by British General Headquarters on Lemnos acknowledged that the fight ahead would be a difficult, and likely bloody, battle. The Turks were expected to offer a firm and swift response to the landings in the form of heavy weight of direct fire and massed offensive fires. It did however note that this resistance was expected to wane following the establishment of the beachhead for the Allied forces. This would not be the case.

On the Eve of ANZAC Day

The ANZACs had done all they could to prepare for the fateful landings at Gallipoli. It is difficult to imagine what must have run through their minds in the final hours prior to the landings. As Colonel Sinclair-MacLagan, the British commander of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, boarded his ship to Gallipoli, he said goodbye to Major General William Bridges and said “I do thank you for the great honour of having this job to do with my Brigade. But if we find the Turks holding these ridges in any strength, I honestly don’t think you’ll ever see the 3rd Brigade again.” Colonel Sinclair-MacLagan and the 3rd Brigade were tasked with the first landings at Gallipoli Peninsula to cover the landings of the main force.

His writings that evening prior to the landings gives us further insight:

"The commander of the destroyer Colne gave me his bunk, but I simply could not sleep. Although I knew that all the orders for the operations had been clear and most carefully thought out, had we, the Brigade Staff, provided for any and every eventuality? How was Brigade Headquarters to keep in touch with the units of the Brigade scattered over a 4,000 to 5,000 yard front and on foot? If opposition was even only moderately serious, could units keep touch with one another? Was the reserve battalion placed in the right position? Were the 'poor' maps issued to us accurate enough to be depended on, especially for the naval covering fire? If that was wire-entanglement in the water [on the] north shore of Gaba Tepe, could the men get through it, or would they be drowned and so leave my right flank open? How could I replace them from the reserve? These and many other thoughts of a similar nature kept me wide awake until we got into the boats for the last few yards to shore."

His foreboding thoughts were to be realised in just a few hours. His foresight into what lay ahead of he and his men show not only the fears of the unknowns of warfare, but also the recognition of the significance of the task ahead. His assessment was correct.