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Significance of Türkiye’s 108th Canakkale victory commemoration

Türkiye will commemorate the 108th anniversary of Canakkale Victory and Martyrs’ Day on March 18.

On that day in 1915, the months-long violence of the Gallipoli Campaign, in which Ottoman forces suffered huge losses defending Turkish shores in the northern Canakkale province from the invading Allies in WWI, came to an end with the Turks emerging victorious

Canakkale serves as the entrance to the Istanbul Strait. If the Allies had succeeded in capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula, it would have likely given them an opportunity, a much-needed opening, to advance straight through and capture Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The defence of Gallipoli 

The British War Council decided to invade and occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula on January 13, 1915. 

The main target was Istanbul.

Britain wanted to cross the Gallipoli Strait and occupy Istanbul before Russia, thus, ending the war.

Britain and France, two allied states, suffered an unexpected defeat on March 18, although they thought they would cross the Gallipoli Strait easily with battleships.

Realising that they could not pass, the allies started a military operation on April 2.

READ MORE: The significance of Türkiye’s new ‘1915 Canakkale Bridge’

Land defences

The 5th Army Commander Liman von Sanders left forces in the narrowest part of the Gallipoli Peninsula, expecting allied forces would land on the shores of the Saros Bay. Sanders was planning to attack during the military operations while keeping the troops behind.

As Britain and France failed on March 18, they planned to take troops to Ariburnu, Seddulbahir, and Kumkale shores on April 25 to open the Gallipoli Strait with a military operation.

The allied army consisted of British and French soldiers, as well as soldiers brought from colonies in Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal and Senegal.

READ MORE: Türkiye remembers the legacy of Gallipoli battle 

Military operations

The second period started at the Gallipoli Front with allied soldiers landing troops in Ariburnu, Seddulbahir, and Kumkale.

British General Sir Ian Hamilton faced unexpected resistance on April 25 at his first target, Alcitepe district. 

Australians and New Zealanders, referred together as Anzac troops, suffered a major loss in Ariburnu, where they landed on the same day.

The Entente Navy landed at Chunuk Bair and Hisarlik districts and was repelled shortly thereafter.

Under the command of Sergeant Yahya, the soldiers in Ertugrul Bay repelled outnumbered British forces.

19th Division Commander Lieut Col Mustafa Kemal, who would later become the founder of the Turkish Republic, sent an additional regiment to Ariburnu.

The regiment repelled eight full battalions with the support of additional troops.

‘I am ordering you to die’

Mustafa Kemal commanded the 57th Regiment and additional troops, “I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”

On April 26, he dispatched the 72nd Regiment and the 8th Mountain Battery to the southern wing in the face of the enemy’s intense attacks. The corps reported any additional troop could not be sent. Col Kemal said that day was “the most critical day against the enemy.”

The first Battle of Kirte took place April 28-30. Allied forces of two British and one French brigade failed to occupy Alcitepe against the defence of the Ottoman soldiers.

The Entente States went to the Second Battle of Kirte on May 6-8 to take over Alcitepe, asking for new reinforcements.

Despite the great losses, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was ordered to continue the operations.

Churchill resigns

Churchill resigned on May 17 from the British Cabinet. On the same day, the British government requested Russia send troops to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Esat Pasha, who was appointed as the commander of the North Group, ordered an attack for Ariburnu on May 18, but four divisions of the Ottoman forces failed.

A ceasefire was reached between the Ottomans and the Entente powers on May 23. The ceasefire was effective between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm for the parties to collect dead and injured soldiers.

The warring sides would return to their trenches at 4 pm and the war would start again.

Mustafa Kemal promoted to colonel 

Lieut Colonel Kemal had great successes in the Gallipoli Peninsula. He halted the advance of the Anzac troops landing in Ariburnu into the peninsula in Chunuk Bair. Thereupon, Kemal was promoted to colonel on June 1.

General Hamilton decided to attack the Yassitepe-Alcitepe on May 19, considering the great losses. Ottoman reserve troops suppressed the attack of enemy troops June 4-6.

At the First Battle of Kerevizderesi, French Corps attacked to occupy the Kerevizderesi district but was suppressed by the Ottoman defence June 21-22.

The Entente States, who wanted to take over Zigindere district, also failed in the Battle of Zigindere, which lasted from June 28 to July 5.

 As allied forces failed in the landing on April 25, they started a new attack at Suvla Bay on August 6.

Under the command of Col Kemal, Ottoman forces defeated the Anzacs and Indian troops.

End of war

The British government decided to withdraw some of its soldiers from the Gallipoli Peninsula on December 9, Suvla Bay and Ariburnu were evacuated immediately, but a small number of soldiers were kept in the Seddulbahir until December 20.

The Entente forces evacuated Seddulbahir on January 9, the last point they occupied. As they completely withdrew from the Gallipoli Peninsula, the Turkish nation won the victory.

March 18 is considered one of the most significant victories in Turkish history and is commemorated with Turks honouring their fallen and war veterans.

The March 18, 1915 victory gave the country a massive morale boost that enabled it to wage a war of independence and eventually, in 1923, form a republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

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