Air Effort over
Gallipoli: A Brief Look at the Air Campaign over the Dardanelles
By: Raul Colon
On March 1915, with the cloud of an impending
invasion in the Dardanelles sector by the Western Allies looming over the
Ottoman Empire, the Turks began preparations to repel the invading force.
An Army Group was created for the sole purpose of opposing, and
eventually, repelling the expected Allied invasion force. On March 25th,
1915 the Turkish 5th Army was formed, it was to be lead by the
head of Germany’s military mission in Turkey, Field General der Kavalleri
Otto Limon von Sanders. The field headquarters’ for 5th Army
was placed in the small town of Gallipoli. At the time of its conception,
5th Army did not possess any air assets in its inventory.
Despite constant pleading by their leaders, no aircraft was allocated to
the 5th until mid July 1915. At the time, military aviation was
not completely comprehended by either Turkish leader. They failed to fully
embrace the promise the aircraft could deliver on the battlefield. As a
result, initial requirements for an air component to 5th Army
was rather sluggish.
When the land war officially commenced at the
Dardanelles Straits in April 25th, 1915 with the landing of
British and French forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula, the Ottoman air
situation was precarious at best. At the time of the landing, the 5th
possessed only three Albatross B.I and one Rumpler B.I aircraft. The
Albatross B.I was a reconnaissance aircraft that first entered front-line
service in late 1913. The B.I was one of the first aircraft to be built
with the position of the pilot and observer in a tandem configuration
(side-by-side). The idea behind such a radical design was to provide the
observer with the same observation environment as the pilot. The fuselage
was 28’ 1” in length with a height of 11’ 6”. The wingspan was 46’ 11” and
the complete wing of the Albatross B.I was an impressive 46’ 11”. Its
power plant was one Mercedes DI engine capable of producing up to 100hp.
The DI provided the Albatross with a top speed of only 60mph.
climb rate was estimated at 200’ per minute. Maximum take-off weight was
1,800lbs and the B.I had an operational range of 400 miles. On the other
hand, the Rumpler B.I was one of the first of what Germany called
‘battleship planes’. The Rumpler B.I used by the Ottomans over Gallipoli
was a Type 4A platform with a fuselage length of 27’ 6” and a height of
10’ 1”. Its wingspan covered an area of 42’ 6”. The Rumpler was powered by
a Mercedes DI-Krei engine capable of producing 104hp; this power propelled
the Rumpler at speeds of around 75-79mph. As it was the case with the
Albatross, the Rumpler was manned by a crew of two, but instead of being
seated side-by-side, in the Rumpler the pilot sat in the rear of the main
fuselage with the observer right behind the main propeller mechanism. The
Rumpler initially took to the skies in the summer of 1914 and promptly
went on to establish many endurance records for the Imperial German Army.
All of these aircraft were provided by Germany in an attempt to bolster
Turkish resolve and moral on the eve of the invasion.
By March 18th, the Allies had
assembled an impressive battle fleet near the entrance of the Bozcaada
Harbour. There were no less than twelve battleships, three to four battle
cruisers, a small number of repair ships, probably two; and twenty one
destroyers and submarines. They were lead into the harbour by a small
flotilla of ten fishing boats. Their sole mission was to sweep the harbour
of unexploded mines. There, on the morning of the 18th, was
where the first air mission of the campaign by the Ottomans took place.
The sole Rumpler example in possession of the Turks took to the air from a
recently completed airfield located almost 3km behind the Straits, on a
reconnaissance mission to scan the harbour and to monitor the movements of
the massive Allied armada. What the German pilots on the Rumpler reported
back to their Turkish leaders was to frighten them. The Allies were poised
to pass through the Dardanelles at full speed with a much larger fleet
than was estimated. Official Turkish records showed that the combined
British and French naval force on the Strait compromised of fourteen front
line battleships, four heavy cruisers, two repair ships, two hospital
vessels and other minor vessels such as destroyers and submarines (twenty
one in all). After the report was made to top Turkish Army commanders, the
full alarm was sounded at 3:35pm on the afternoon of the 18th.
Before the Allies decided to launch their
major naval offensive, scout planes were sent out looking for the
locations of mines in the Straits. At that time, sea mines were normally
placed at a depth of 26’-3”. They could be easy recognized from altitudes
up to 3,280’. Unfortunately for the Allies, during their aircraft recon.
missions, there were prevailing heavy seas in the operational area. Thus,
the aircrews reported back to their home ships that the area appeared to
be mine-clear, a tragic mistake that would lead to a massive loss of life
in the upcoming hours. The Irresistible, Bouvet, and
Ocean were sunk immediately after contact with mines, while the
Inflexible, Suffren and Gaulois were heavily damaged.
The ships that made it through began a massive naval artillery barrage
onto Turkish costal defences.
The relative short range of the Ottoman’s
costal batteries meant that the Allied barrages were almost un-contested.
At around 4:00pm, the Turks launched another scout mission over the
Straits. A second sortie, by the Rumpler, took part two and half hours
later. Both of these missions were intended to locate Allied ships west of
Limni. During the first sortie, it was observed that the Allied armada
stationed there was commencing retreating maneuvers from that specific
area of operations, a fact confirmed by the second patrol aircraft. The
next four days saw the grounding of the Turkish aircraft due to bad
weather. Activity picked up in the morning hours of the 22nd,
when a Turkish artillery shell hit a Royal Navy scout plane, forcing it to
crash land at the Bay of Saroz. Another Turkish patrol mission was
performed in the early morning hours of the 26th, again to
Limni, and again the scout plane reported the Allied pull-out of the area.
On this same day, the Turkish air forces on the Gallipoli area received
two additional B1. Albatross courtesy of the German government.
While the Ottoman’s crude air arm was
primarily used in a reconnaissance roll, it provided to the Turks with
valuable information to the whereabouts of the Allied armada, the French
and British air effort was more offensive in its profile. At the beginning
of hostilities in Gallipoli, the French stationed a squadron or Escadrille
consisting of eight Farman HF.20 aircraft stationed at Bozcaada.
HF.20 was a remarkably simple aircraft to operate and maintain but was
terribly under powered. They were designed and manufactured by Henri Farman. The HF.20 had a wooden fuselage of 28’-9” with a height of
10’-0”. The wing structure, covered with canvas as was the practice in
those days, was 51’-0”sq. The aircraft was powered by a Gnome 7A 7
cylinder, air cooled rotary engine capable of generating 80hp. With this
engine, the HF.20 reached speeds of up to 65mph. Service ceiling was a
pedestrian 9,000’. But while the aircraft lacked sufficient speed to
operate against the newest German pursuit planes, the HF.20 had the
ability to be airborne for 3hrs and 20mins, and important advantage in
their mission profile which was primarily scouting duties. In case an
enemy aircraft got to close, the 20 was armed with a rudimentary 0.30in
machine gun. The plane was operated by a crew of two and its maximum
take-off weight was 1,565lb.
The allies were more flexible than the Turks
in the use of aircraft. While Turkish commanders halted air operations in
case of rain or extensive clouds, Allied aircraft took-off for operations
in most weather. The Allies also were more inclined to let its aircraft
patrol longer distances that their adversaries, thus increasing their
reconnaissance field area. In addition to these differences, the Allies
were more receptive to the use of new technology, especially aerial
cameras. Those factors tilted the air campaign in favour of the well
prepared French and British pilots. At the beginning of the Expedition,
the Allied main aircraft was the Sopwith Tabloid seaplane. The Tabloid was
built to compete in the seaplane races spurring all around the British
Iles on those days. The Tabloid airframe height was 10’-0” with a length
of 23’-0”. The biplane wingspan covered an area of 25’-6”sq. A single
Gnome Monosoupape 9 cylinder rotary engine capable of producing 100hp was
the power plant. This engine gave the Tabloid a maximum speed capability
of 92mph. Operational range was 315 miles while its ceiling was 15,000’.
The aircraft was manned by only one individual and fully loaded weight at
Early versions of the Tabloid were unarmed, but as the type was
entered service, a 0.303” Lewis machine gun was fitted. The Sopwiths were
ferried to the Gallipoli area by the newest acquisition of the Royal Navy,
HMS Ark Royal. The world’s first true aircraft carrier. Beside the
Ark Royal, the cruisers Dories and Minerva, as well as the
seaplane tenders Hector (a converted balloon tender) and Manica;
operated the Tabloid in the area. Seaplane operations were still in its
infancy and many accidents were reported in handling these seaplanes, most
of them occurred while the plane was lowered into the sea or being
retrieved. The first Tabloids, a contingent of four, were ferried to
Bozcaada aboard the Ark Royal in the early days of February. After a brief
period in the area, the Ark Royal headed back to the Mediterranean Sea
because of the ship’s captain’s fear of a German U-boat attack.
As the land battle intensified, the air
component was just staring. As stated before, in those early days of the
Gallipoli campaign, both sides utilized the aircraft as means to gather
information on the enemy’s position and possible movements. But as the
battles moved forward, the aircraft evolved with it. As early as April 29th,
German pilots were dropping hand-held bombs on British positions inland.
Although they caused minor, if any, damage, the effect on the troops
fighting on the ground was profound. Another Turkish coup occurred when an
Albatross flew over HMS Euryalus and dropped three grenade-type
bombs. All of them missed the cruiser, but the aircraft was able to relay
the location of the ship to its headquarters. Within a few hours, Turkish
costal guns were zeroing in on the Euryalus. As the land battle
grew, the air effort did the same.
During much of May and June, both sides
tried, unsuccessfully, to use the aircraft as a stable bombing platform
against their opponent troop concentrations. The situation on the ground
was beginning to turn against the invading allies. In late June, the Turks
stopped an Allied advance up to the peninsula. The situation in the air
also appeared to be in favour of the Ottomans. On July 5th, they
received from Germany, the first two samples of the vaunted Gotha
Airplane. The aircraft were assigned to Canakkale Fortress Command instead
of the Turkish 5th Army Command. The 5th retained
the small number of Rumpler and Albatross already assigned to them by
Istanbul officials. The arrival of the Gotha created a sense of victory in
the part of the Turks and anxiety in the part of the French and British.
The Gotha was truly a remarkable piece of hardware. It ranks among the
best aircraft ever developed. This group was named the German Navy Special
Detachment Naval Aircraft Group. The group’s first commander was
Lieutenant Ludwing Preussner, he was soon replaced by Captain Tahsin. On
July 13th, the group was reinforced by four new aircraft.
Meanwhile on the ground, both the allies and
the Turks and Germans were preparing for the next phase of the campaign.
The allied intention now was the cutting off of the link between Istanbul
and the Ottoman Army. To achieve this, in the late hours of August 6th,
the allies landed at Anafartalar and on the northern part of Ariburn. To
assist the allied invasion, four Bristol, six B.E. 2cs, and six Morones
aircraft joined the 2nd R.N.A.S. squadron. At the same time,
the Turks were having air problems. The main situation for them was the
allocation of their planes. The Ottomans planned to solve the problem by
transferring all air assets from the Germans to the Turks. New German
planes would come directly to Turkish formation instead of being allocated
to the German military in Turkey. While the Ottoman air force’s
administrative situation was being handling.
The Turks ground forces faced
a three front assault in the Gallipoli peninsula. The first front was at
the entrance of the strait in the Rumelian area, the second was at
Ariburnu and the third one was at Anafartalar. Thousands of soldiers from
both sides were fighting in these narrow areas. On the morning of August
10th, the Anafartalar Front Group, commanded by the famous
Mustafa Kemal, opened one of the bloodiest battles in the whole Great War.
The ground effort was joined by Fliegerabteilung 1 squadron, which also
continued to give close air support to the 5th Army. The
squadron, which was composed of a mixture of German and Turkish pilots,
made on September 18th, one of the most astonishing discoveries
of the campaign. The squadron commander, Captain Korner, reported on that
morning that he saw for the first time a decrease in the number of enemy
forces at Gallipoli.
On the European Continent, the series of
quick German victories on the Easter Front pushed Bulgaria to join the
Central Power in September 1916. With Bulgaria in their pocket, and the
collapse of the Serb resistance a month later, the Germans were now able
to re-supply the Ottomans with aircraft, parts and ammunition from the
vast railroad system now available to them. A fact not lost on the Allied
high command. As the flow of aircraft began to increase, so did the Turk’s
air force capabilities. By late September, the Ottomans had setup another
seaplane base near Canakkale. From there, the five assigned Gothas WD2
seaplanes began to harass the allied-held airfields of Imbros and Teredos.
By August 10th, the allies knew
the situation on the peninsula had deteriorated to a point that they could
not sustain reliable combat operations on the Conkbayiri line. On the
other front, Anafartalar, the allies attacked once more on the morning of
August 13th, but the assault was turned back with relative
ease. By the 17th, the third and last great battle for
Anafartalar was over. Despite the fact that all the allied vessels in the
area bombarded the Turkish defensive positions, the Ottomans held. A
series of bloody battles continued until Lord Kitchener visited the
Gallipoli beachhead on November 14th.
A month later, the French
and British high commands decided to abandon the campaign. Now they would
retreat to the sea as fast as possible. During the retreat operation, the R.N.A.S. Number 2 squadron, augmented by kite balloons from
balloon-carrying ships; gave cover to the ground and naval forces. They
were able to keep the rapidly expanded Ottoman air force in check during
most of the retreat. What the Turks could not do in aerial combat, they
did on reconnaissance operations. Observation reports from the abandoned
allied positions revealed to them the scope of their enemy’s retreat.
Occasionally, Turkish seaplanes were deployed in bombing missions over the
allied camps and artillery positions. In all, Turkish seaplanes dropped
more than thirty three free-fall bombs hitting seventeen different
When the allies finally evacuated the
peninsula in January 1916, the aerial defence of the entire Dardanelles
sector of operations were assigned to the newly formed Dardanelles
Squadron. Meanwhile, Fliegerabteilung Number 1 remained in constant combat
readiness at Galata in case the allies decided to re-assault the
peninsula. A feat no invader has attempted since.
Power, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
The Churchill War Papers, Martin Gilbert,
Air Power and War Rights, JM Spaight,