Like so many military catastrophes, the amphibious assault on the Ottoman Turks at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 by an Anglo-French force began with the best of intentions and a hefty dose of wishful thinking. On January 2, 1915, the British War Council met to entertain an urgent request from their ally, Grand Duke Nicholas, supreme commander of Russian forces in World War I. His army was heavily engaged against powerful Ottoman forces in the Caucasus Mountains, and in danger of encirclement and annihilation. Could the Allies mount a diversionary operation against the Turks to draw pressure off the Russian army?
“Yes,” replied Field Marshal Herbert Horatio Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War. After consulting with First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who was fairly chomping at the bit to get his navy into the thick of the fighting in what had been pretty much an army war, it was decided to launch a powerful fleet of warships to break through the antiquated defenses lining the Dardanelles straits, sail on into the Sea of Marmara, and threaten the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. Such an operation, Churchill opined, might well lead the Turks, whose military establishment was thought to be as antiquated as her infrastructure and civil administration, to throw in the towel.
Even if the Turks continued to fight on in other theaters, Allied control of the straights, which linked the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, would open a desperately needed warm-water shipping channel between Russia and her Western allies. In addition, a strong showing by the Allies at the Dardanelles was sure to encourage both Bulgaria and Italy to join the war on the Allied side. In the event the fleet couldn’t break through the straits alone, a landing force was to be made available to storm the beaches and wrest the Gallipoli peninsula from its defenders. The French readily agreed to participate in the campaign, as they wanted a prominent place at the table when it came time to dismember an Ottoman empire that had been slowly disintegrating for more than a century.