Disaster at the Dardanelles

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 174th installment in the series.

March 18, 1915: Disaster at the Dardanelles

The Allied naval campaign to force the Turkish straits and conquer Constantinople received a huge setback on March 18, 1915, when the combined British and French fleet tried to destroy the forts guarding the southern straits, known as the Dardanelles. Things did not go as planned, to say the least: after a day of fierce artillery duels the Allies had lost three battleships to mines, and the main Turkish forts were still more or less intact.

The operation got off to a less than encouraging start with the resignation of Admiral Sackville Carden, the top British naval commander in the Mediterranean, who quit after repeated failures to reduce Turkish defenses, culminating in an unsuccessful attempt to clear Turkish minefields by night on March 13 (he supposedly resigned due to ill health). On March 16 Carden was replaced by Vice-Admiral John de Robeck, who immediately ordered a bold all-out assault at the urging of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

After destroying the forts guarding the outer entrance to the Dardanelles, the key to forcing the southern Turkish straits was elimination of the Turkish forts guarding “The Narrows,” where the channel shrinks to less than two kilometers wide. Along with numerous mobile and fixed artillery batteries, these forts guarded a series of minefields that had to be cleared by British and French minesweepers before the Allied fleet could proceed into the Sea of Marmara and onwards to Constantinople.

Unbeknownst to the Allies, however, these weren’t the only minefields they had to deal with: on the night of March 8, the Turkish minelayer Nusret (above) secretly laid 26 more mines in a new field slanting diagonally across the mouth of Erenkoy bay on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. These mines would prove to be the Allies’ undoing, making the Nusret arguably the most successful Turkish warship of the First World War.

The attack commenced at 10:45 am on March 18, 1915, led by four British battleships—de Robeck’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson, and Inflexible, flanked by two more battle ships, Prince George and Triumph, which would destroy several smaller forts any mobile artillery batteries encountered (see map below). This first wave proceeded to “A” line, about 14,000 yards from the main forts guarding the narrows, and subjected them to heavy bombardment.

George Schreiner, an American AP correspondent observing the battle from shore, recalled:

The first salvo from nineteen turrets hit various points along the Dardanelles like a tornado, as you might put it, though I am sure that a tornado is but a pitiful imitation of the effect produced by the forty-odd shells that crashed almost simultaneously. I thought that the earth would be torn asunder. A dozen of the shells went over our heads and mowed down the first row of houses… Whole floors, entire walls, doors, furniture, and several human bodies were hurled high in the air. The sight was sickening.

However the Allied bombardment was often inaccurate, due to the great distance and the fact that the Turkish forts, built from local stone, were well camouflaged and essentially blended in with the background. One British commander, Captain Bertram Smith aboard the Vengeance, described the problem:

The conditions were a contrast to the sea. There, to some extent at least, the ship is a ship, the sky is sky, and the sea is sea; in fact you either see your target or you do not. Here, when firing at long ranges, as in the Narrows attack, you might be looking at your target yet never distinguish it; it was part of the landscape’s background and in certain lights merged into it.

Nonetheless the initial bombardment scored some visible hits and around midday de Robeck, believing most of the Turkish guns had been destroyed, ordered the second wave composed of four French battleships to advance to their designated “B” firing line, about 8,000 yards from the forts guarding the Narrows. However many of the supposedly destroyed Turkish guns now began firing again, as it turned out they had merely ceased fire temporarily to conserve ammunition.

The French battleships—Gaulois, Charlemagne, Suffren, and Bouvet—proceeded up the European and Asiatic shores in two files and soon came under heavy from the Turkish forts, with several sustaining serious damage. However the French commander, Admiral Émile Guépratte, persevered and the French ships blasted away at the Turkish forts from this closer range for several hours, as the first wave of British ships also continued firing (not shown below) until the forts mostly fell silent again around 1:45 pm. By this time the unrelenting bombardment produced a chaotic, beautiful scene, according to Schreiner:

Earth geysers and water columns rose in and near every Turkish emplacement. The noise was ear-splitting. It resembled the effect of a dozen thunder-storms in a pocket in the mountains. The crashes were reverberated from hillside to mountainside... Over Erenkoi bay hung low a bank of smoke and powder fumes. The bright sunlight rested on the top of this, leaving the ships of the Allies in deep purple shadows. Out of this leaped the flames of the propelling charges. It was a glorious spectacle…”

The Allied attack appeared to finally be succeeding, albeit slowly and painfully, as the Gaulois and Suffren had received direct hits, while the Charlemagne and Bouvet sustained lighter damage. Meanwhile the third wave, composed of the British battleships Vengeance, Albion, Irresistible, and Ocean, were approaching to relieve the French ships and continue the bombardment without pause, with two more ships, Majestic and Swiftsure, accompanying them to guard their flanks (below, Albion firing). To make room in the crowded straits the damaged French ships would proceed out of the combat zone, again in two files, accompanied by Prince George and Triumph.

But now disaster struck, as the Suffren and Bouvet unwittingly entered the minefield laid by the Nusret ten days before. At 1:58 p.m. the Bouvet struck a mine and sank within minutes, taking all but 50 out of her crew of 710 to the bottom with her. A British officer, Commander Worsley Gibson, remembered seeing the French battleship’s rapid demise (below, the Bouvet capsizes):

I noticed the Bouvet was heeling to starboard… she was listing more & more & it was evident she was badly wounded. She was steaming quite fast & went over & over until she was on her beam ends & her masts went into the water, a lot of smoke & steam rolled out but no explosions took place & she turned bottom up for a few seconds. I saw a few figures on her bottom and then she disappeared. The whole thing didn't take two or three minutes at the most. I had no idea a ship could disappear so quick…

Needless to say, the experience was even more terrifying for the Bouvet’s crew. One of the few survivors, the French seaman Sauveur Payro, described being sucked down in the vortex formed by the sinking ship:

I couldn’t rise to the surface because of the tug of the water. I was in the water for some time, then, when the bottom of the ship touched the bottom of the sea, I came straight up… I couldn’t breathe; blood was coming out of my mouth, my ears. When I was on the surface again, if I hadn’t found this piece of wood I would have been finished… I saw another chap crying out to me to save him and I told him to come closer to me so that he could be on one end of the plank and me on the other. But when the English came to fish us out of the water I saw that both his legs had been cut off. He died three days later.

But Allied commanders still didn’t realize mines were responsible for the damage to the Bouvet, instead attributing the sinking to a torpedo tube hidden on shore.

By now the third wave of British ships had sailed up to the “B” firing line and begun shelling the Turkish forts, which remained mostly silent in the face of another punishing bombardment. Thinking the first phase of the mission largely accomplished, Robeck allowed the battlecruiser Inflexible, which had sustained some damage, to begin withdrawing—but at 4 p.m. the Inflexible also hit a mine, which killed 30 crewmembers although it failed to sink the ship. The Inflexible, too, barely limped out of the strait and had to be beached by its crew on the nearby island of Tenedos.

Realizing that there was a new minefield somewhere in the straits, de Robeck decided to break off the bombardment and withdraw before he lost any more ships. Worse was to come, however: the next victim was the Irresistible, which hit a mine at 4:16 p.m. and immediately began listing heavily (top, Irresistible sinking); although Allied destroyers and other support vessels were able to rescue most of her crew, around 150 were killed by the mine explosion or drowning. Afterwards the abandoned Irresistible drifted within range of Turkish artillery batteries, which opened a merciless fire and sank the stricken ship around 7:30 p.m.

The final victim was the Ocean, which struck a mine and lost control of her steering at 6:05 p.m. Despite heavy fire from the shore, Allied vessels were again able to rescue most of Ocean’s crew before the ship sank.

Unsurprisingly, the sudden loss of three battleships—even if they were old and obsolete—shook de Robeck’s confidence. Meanwhile British Secretary of War Lord Kitchener was already contemplating an expanded offensive including a land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, with the goal of taking the Turkish defenses from the rear. Towards that end he dispatched General Sir Ian Hamilton to make his own evaluation on the spot and recommend a course of action. Hamilton in turn prevailed on de Robeck, who telegraphed the Admiralty on March 26: “The check on the 18th is not, in my opinion, decisive, but on the 22d of March I met General Hamilton and heard his views, and I now think that, to obtain important results and to achieve the object of the campaign, a combined operation will be essential.”

An even bigger disaster was looming.

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Facts About Ken Miles, the Race Car Driver at the Center of Ford v Ferrari

Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a car enthusiast who doesn't know the name Carroll Shelby, it wasn't until recently—with the release of Ford v Ferrari—that Shelby's teammate, Ken Miles, has been allowed to share the spotlight. The movie, which centers around the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mansa race that’s been the center of more than a few heated debates—has finally given Miles his due.

Director James Mangold said that the first cut of Ford v Ferrari was close to four hours long, but that he eventually had to cut it down to its final two-and-a-half-hour running time. Naturally, a lot of great material didn’t make it into the final cut, including some of the most interesting facts about Miles's life. Here are 10 fascinating facts that you won’t find in Ford v Ferrari.

1. Ken Miles started racing when he was just 11 years old.

Ken Miles was born on November 1, 1918 in Sutton Coldfield, England, a town located less than 10 miles north of Birmingham. At the ripe old age of 11, Miles started motorcycle racing on a 350 cc Triumph bike. A crash broke his nose and cost him three teeth—which led to him purchasing a larger motorcycle.

2. Ken Miles met his wife when he was a teenager.

When he was just 15 years old, Miles met a young woman named Mollie, then turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” And he eventually did. The courtship was so all-consuming that at one point the headmaster of Miles's school called his parents and asked if there was something they could do about “this whole Mollie business.”

3. Ken Miles built his first car when he was 15 years old.

Miles was a busy teenager. When he was 15, he built an Austin 7 Special that he named “Nellie,” and some of the mechanical modifications he made on the car became signatures of his later vehicles. Mollie, who seemed to be a fan of the wooing, painted Nellie a British Racing Green. Miles sold Nellie during World War II, but continued to design cars after the war was over.

4. Ken Miles was a military man.

For seven years, Miles served in the British Territorial Army. His primary job was tank recovery, a job that required him to reclaim tanks and get them operational again. In 1944, he took part in the D-Day landings as part of a tank unit. Miles was also one of the first British soldiers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, an experience he rarely talked about even though he was frequently photographed wearing his military coat.

5. Ken Miles loved American engines.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles in 'Ford v Ferrari' (2019)
Christian Bale as Ken Miles in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari (2019).
Merrick Morton © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

During his military service, Miles found time to study and keep up with developments in engine technology. Separated from his racing friends, Miles had to work a little harder to share this love. In a letter to Motorsport Magazine, Miles went into the specifics about exactly what he loved about a new engine and how much potential he saw in it. He looked forward to designing his own supercharged version of the engine and installing it into a four-wheel drive vehicle.

6. Ken Miles understood how important physical fitness was for a driver before everyone else did.

Though physical fitness wasn’t as emphasized for drivers back then, Miles thought it was crucial, something we now know to be true. At five-foot-11-inches, Miles was a remarkably lean 147 pounds. Miles was an avid jogger who would carry two-pound weights in each hand.

7. Ken Miles once toilet-trained a cat—then was said to have done the same with a bobcat.

Miles once trained a cat to use the toilet. In addition to being a fun story he shared at parties, it was a fact that emphasized his stubbornness and his willingness to stick with a challenging assignment.

When Miles’s toilet-trained cat died, his friends sent him a wire telling him to go to the airport, where a new cat would be waiting for him. When he went to pick up the crate, Miles discovered that they’d sent him a bobcat. Carroll Shelby said in his biography that Miles was able to toilet train the bobcat as well (though Shelby was known for not letting the truth get in the way of a good story).

8. Ken Miles had a knack for sarcasm.

James T. Crow wrote an obituary for Ken Miles for Road & Track in which he wrote that Miles had "wit and charm like almost no one I’ve ever known. But if he could be elaborately polite, he also had a command of sarcasm that could make your teeth shrink." Crow’s obituary stands as one of the more complete reflections on who Miles was, and also observed that "It was said about [Miles] that he was his own worst enemy and this was undoubtedly true as he could have had almost anything he wanted if he could have been more tactful." Shelby at least was delighted by Miles’s total lack of tact.

9. Ken Miles saw himself as a mechanic first and a driver second.

Though he’s most remembered as a driver, Miles saw himself first and foremost as a mechanic. In A.J Baime’s book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, Miles is quoted as saying “I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a relaxation for me, like golfing is to others.” Miles was hired on as the test driver and competition director for Shelby-American, a position that allowed him to use his mechanical expertise as well as his uncanny driving capability.

10. Ken Miles’s death changed the racing world.

On August 17, 1966, Ken Miles died when the Ford J-car he had been testing for almost an entire day at California's Riverside International Raceway flipped, crashed, and caught on fire, then broke into pieces and ejected Miles, who was killed instantly. But the J-car had been specifically designed to avoid this type of accident, and the damage done to the vehicle made it impossible to determine an exact cause for the crash.

"We really don't know what caused it," Carroll Shelby said. "The car just disintegrated. We have nobody to take his place. Nobody. He was our baseline, our guiding point. He was the backbone of our program. There will never be another Ken Miles."

Though it wasn’t uncommon for race car drivers to die in the 1960s, what was uncommon was the reaction Miles’s friends and family had to his death. Shelby said that it broke his heart when they lost Ken, and Shelby-American withdrew from Le Mans racing after 1967.

If there was a silver lining to Miles's death, it was that additional safety precautions—including a steel tube rollover cage—were implemented into the J-car's design that saved the lives of multiple other drivers, including a young Mario Andretti when he was involved in a similar crash a year later.

Ken Miles's death was a tragedy, for his young son and wife, for his team, and for the entirety of racing. Thanks to Ford v Ferrari though, Ken Miles is finally receiving the attention and recognition that should have been his all along.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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