“Stop wayfarer! Unbeknownst to you this ground, You come and tread on, is where an epoch lies.”
18 March 1915 must have been an unforgettable day for a ship spotter.
A mighty Allied fleet consisting of HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Agamemnon, HMS Lord Nelson, HMS Inflexible, HMS Prince George, HMS Triump, HMS Ocean, HMS Majestic, HMS Swiftsure, HMS Vengeance, HMS Irresistible, HMS Albion from Royal Navy, Gaulois, Charlemange, Bouvet, Suffren from French Navy were ready to fight the forts protecting Dardanelles.
The Royal Navy and French warships tried to force their way through the Dardanelles to affect the capture of Istanbul then capital of Ottoman Empire. This, it was hoped, would take Turkey out of the war and enable the Allies to shore up the Russian war effort on the Eastern Front, so relieving pressure on the Western Front.
Most of the ships of the Allied Fleet were old or made nearly obsolete with the fast advance of the new ships of the Dreadnought area. The first class capital ships were kept at home to protect it.
Nevertheless it was a fine and powerful Fleet and an epoch changing fight.
Everything seem to be on the side of the Allied naval forces until at around 14.00 on March 18, when a small cloud of yellowish smoke, which turned black afterwards, came out of the starboard quarter of the French warship Bouvet. The old battleship had struck one of the mines laid ten days earlier by small Ottoman minelayer Nusret. Bouvet sank in a matter of minutes. After a very short time, HMS Inflexible and shortly later HMS Irresistible also struck mines planted by Nusret.
Of the 18 capital ships that sailed in the Dardanelles that morning HMS Ocean, HMS Irresistible and Bouvet never returned. HMS Inflexible and Gaulois had to be beached at the nearby island of Tenedos, in order for their men to be rescued. Suffren was heavily damaged by Turkish guns and later had to be docked at Malta for intensive repairs.
The failure of the naval forces forced the Allies to land troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula to capture it and so remove the lethal gun barriers. It led bloody trench warfare and many thousands of dead on both sides.
As it dissipated over the waters the words of a famous Turkish poem that honors then sacrifice of the Gallipoli Campaign and its role in establishing nationhood rang through the minds of many who were there. One verse in particular seems to perfectly express Remembrance and the epic nature of the events experience by all nations who fought at Gallipoli, but especially the Turkish people:
‘Stop wayfarer! Unbeknownst to you this ground
You come and tread on, is where an epoch lies;
Bend down and lend your ear, for this silent mound
Is the place where the heart of a nation sighs.’