3.2 The Second Naval Attack, 18th March
the decisive attack on the Dardanelles defences, De Robeck split up his
fleet in three parts :
The four most powerful English battleships Queen Elisabeth, Agamemnon,
Lord Nelson and Inflexible, with Prince George and Triumph on their
The four French battleships Gaulois, Charlemagne, Bouvet and Suffren with
the English ships Majestic and Swiftsure as escorts
The remaining six battleships, the destroyers and the minesweepers which
had to wait outside the Dardanelles.
idea was that during the day the two first lines of ships would cause so
much damage to the Turkish forts, that in the evening the minesweepers
could be called for to create a safe pathway through the Narrows. The
battleships would then steam into the Sea of Marmara in the morning.
18th March the weather was perfect.
10.30 h, after the morning mist had cleared, the battleships entered the Dardanelles.
Although they were continuously fired at by the light Turkish guns that were hidden
on the coast, they did not pay too much attention to this inefficient
bombardment and kept steaming on at a
11.00 h the first line of ships reached its planned position at 8 miles
from the actual Narrows and at 11.25 h the bombardment of Kilid Bahr,
Chanak and some smaller fortifications began. The German and Turkish
batteries that had been positioned there were unable to retaliate because
of the distance. The different forts were hit several times and at 11.50 h
there was a huge explosion at Chanak.
the same time the English ships were continually being shot at by the
small, mobile Turkish howitzers. Although there was no serious threat to
their safety, this ongoing bombardment could well damage the
superstructure of the big battleships and a number of installations on
after 12.00 h De Robeck ordered the French line of ships under Admiral
Guepratte forward. The old French battle cruisers passed the line of their
English colleagues and penetrated half a mile further towards the Narrows,
so they could assist in subduing the fire of the annoying Turkish
move however, had brought the ships within the reach of the forts. This
fact, combined with the unrelenting fire coming in from the coast, soon
made itself felt. Before long, Gaulois was hit under her waterline and was
forced to withdraw, to beach herself on a small island near the coast
outside the Dardanelles. Inflexible's foremast was on fire and her hull
showed a gaping hole at starboard. Agamemnon was hit no less than 12 times
in less than half an hour. Nevertheless, at this point the allied fleet
had suffered less than ten casualties among the crews and apart from
Gaulois, all ships had retained their full battle-strength.
the Turkish side, the situation was rapidly growing worse : an important
percentage of their guns had been put out of action. A number had been
buried under collapsing stonework, other guns suffered from mechanical
failure. In different forts there had been massive explosions and all
communication lines had been cut. Where the shooting went on, the
ammunition supply was rapidly dwindling. At 13.45 h, after the fighting
had been going on for two hours and a half, the last guns fell silent.
about the same time, De Robeck decided to recall the French line, to
deploy his remaining six ships. With Suffren leading, they veered to the
right to make a turn close to the Asiatic coast. At 13.45 h disaster
struck for the first time : Bouvet, on her way back in Eren Keui Bay as
second ship of the line, was suddenly shaken by a huge explosion while
steaming at full speed. Within two minutes she disappeared beneath the
waves, taking 650 crew members with her.
only the Allied commanders, but also the Turks thought that a heavy shell
had pierced the ship's ammunition storage room, and the shooting from the
forts in the Narrows resumed, as if this occurrence had given the gunners
new courage. On the Allied side, the morning scenario was repeated : in
turn, the English and French warships advanced and kept bombarding the
Turkish positions until, at 16.00 h, all resistance had again been broken.
De Robeck's opinion, the moment had come to call the minesweepers forward.
At first, things went according to plan : some mines were indeed swept,
but once the small boats approached the second line of mines, the fire
coming in from the mobile guns on the coast grew stronger . Soon a panic
started to spread among the crews and they fled.
the attack was not progressing well became even more apparent when at
16.11 h Inflexible suddenly started to tilt, and that not so far from the
spot where also Bouvet had been hit. Heavily damaged, the ship tried to
struggle back to the entrance of the Dardanelles.
more than three minutes later, Irresistible signalled that she had been
hit by a torpedo, again in that same bay of the Asiatic coast. Other ships
had to come to her assistance to get the crew away from the crippled ship
that helplessly drifted out of the Dardanelles.
was now 17.00 h and three warships had been lost in mysterious
circumstances. The area where all the damage had been done had several
times been searched for mines before the attack, also through aerial
observation. The only explanation that De Robeck could find was, that the
Turks had started to let mines drift on the current, which would take them
inevitably towards the Allied fleet. The only choice he had, was to break
off the action.
While Keyes remained in the area to tow a badly crippled Irresistible away from the coast, also Ocean hit a mine. The ship began to tilt badly and started steaming around in circles, as also her rudder had been damaged by the explosion. The crew were taken off the ship that sank four hours later. Also Irresistible had vanished from sight.