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During World War II, the Allies sent supplies to the Soviet Union via Murmansk/Archangelsk in the north, via Persia and the Caspian Sea in the south, and via the Tran-Siberian railroad.

Why didn't the Allies use these routes in World War I, instead of trying to force a passage through the Turkish straits via the Dardenelles?

Conversely, if the Dardenelles was so key to the Allied war effort, why didn't they send enough troops and ships to do the job instead of making a half-baked effort that was likely to fail?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There were two Dardanelles campaigns during WWI. The first one, in 1914, was to try to secure them as fast as possible, but a German fleet as well as turkish guns made it too hard.

A second campaign, the so-called Gallipoli campaign, was a real fiasco, but it's primary objective was to "create a diversion", or a second front to help the Russians (that's why they stayed so long on Gallipoli). At this point of the war the Dardenelles were heavily defended and minefields were everywhere.

The naval part of this French-English operation was poorly conducted. The basical strategy was to go head first into the landmine, to get close enough to the cost guns to effectively target them and destroy them. The minefields as well as the turkish guns and the level of fortification had been totally underestimated, so the first stages took more time than expected, with minor results.

The land part of the operation was started before any minefields could be removed, and before the coast defences could be weakende enough. It was a fiasco, and soon a second plan was decided, a deployment on the "Gallipoli" peninsula, defended by a colonel later known as Mustapha Kemal Atatürk. The landing and the battles on the peninsula were a success. The further operations involved massive support from England and France, which never came, because of the ongoing slaughter in France. As the month passed, the Turks and the Allied dug in, and the Turks got heavy artillery support and massive reinforcements. So the evacuation was decided, and it was decided to try to push through the Balkans.

The Evacuation was perfectly carried out, which makes this operation a very good example for landing operations. Churchill considered the operation could have been a success if the reinforcements had arrived (as he wrote to Admiral Guépratte later). They never came.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you going. – Tom Au Sep 7 '12 at 13:06

Archangelsk: they did use this route to supply Russia. The main problems were that it was only open during the Summer and even in the Summer it is dangerous for ships.

Persia: This was not a viable route in 1916 due to a lack of railroads.

Trans-Siberian Railway: This very long route was used during the war, however, it was unreliable and the British did not have good access to Vladivostok, the port of entry. After the US entered the war, large amounts of American loaned equipment was sent to Vladivostok, but the Russian administration had serious organizational and financial problems that prevented them from utilizing the equipment effectively. Much of it piled up in warehouses and depots in Siberia.

The attack on the Dardanelles was not just about getting access to Russia, it was also an attempt to cut off Turkey from Austro-Hungry. Most British generals were focused on the war in France and did not want to divert resources from that fight which they considered more important.

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The Time lag between the initial naval operations in feb/march and the landings in april telegraphed a probable landing and gave the turks time to reinforce the area.

Why didn't the allies use over routes to Russia, I would say the poor state of Russian railways and their overloaded state was a factor (I doubt there was an effective Persian railway in ww1, for that route to be used in ww2 a major upgrade of the works was rehired)

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The Dardanelles campaign was as much about resupplying Russia as knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war by taking the capital, Istanbul. It's also easy to say in retrospect that not enough soldiers and ships were sent to that theatre, but at the time the commanders evidently thought they had enough. Calling the effort "half-baked" only makes sense with the luxury of hindsight. A better question could be why didn't the Allies land at the poorly defended beaches west of the Dardanelles and then take them from an established position?

To take up your suggestion that the Allies were undermanned, you should remember that they actually outnumbered the Ottoman troops sent to defend the Dardanelles. Although the ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) are most famous for having fought in the Dardanelles Campaign, there were actually more soldiers there from Great Britain, France and their colonies.

It is understood by historians that the Allied powers under-estimated the amount of resources the Ottoman Empire had put into the defence of the straits. The Allies also underestimated the quality of the Ottoman soldiers, even though many of these were veterans of the two Balkan Wars and the Ottoman-Italian war in Libya. In Australian and New Zealand histories, the commanding British officers were to blame for mismanaging the landings. In Turkish historiography, the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk), in tactics and in galvanising the Ottoman troops to defend their homeland, is emphasised. Moreover, the Ottoman Empire was basically battling for its very survival at Gallipoli, unlike their involvement on the other fronts.

Finally, the terrain surrounding the Dardanelles is very much conducive to a defensive position, with hills looking down on the beaches and effective points to place guns. The narrow straits also meant that Ottoman mines could effectively disrupt naval assaults through the passage.

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If knocking Turkey out of the war was so important, why not have a general invasion of Turkey (via, e.g. Smyrna, instead of just a "local" one at the Dardenelles? – Tom Au Sep 2 '12 at 18:12
@TomAu Same reason that capitals are usually targeted in war as a means of causing the capitulation of the entire country. A general invasion of Anatolia would have been extremely difficult for an army that was unable to even take the Dardanelles. The Greeks attempted exactly just what you are suggesting in the 1920s and didn't fare too well. – SigueSigueBen Sep 4 '12 at 1:11

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