Gallipoli Climate

 

An important factor that is often underestimated by people interested in what happened in 1915, is the climate on the peninsula, which is very varied to say the least. During summer the temperatures can be very high, and a prolonged stay on the slopes of the parched hillsides does have its effects on visitors who leave the beaten tracks to explore the old battlefields. In winter life is harsh as well : furious gales are not uncommon and thick packs of snow cover the entire region. So much so even,  that every now and then wolves that come from farther north may still be spotted in the deserted hills. In fact the best season to visit Gallipoli is late spring, exactly that period of the year when the Allied forces made their landings in 1915. During the months of April and May, the peninsula shows itself to the visitor in its most attractive fashion : although nights may still be cold, temperatures during daytime are very moderate. The whole place is greener than during any other period of the year and the lower hillsides are covered in an abundance of multicoloured small flowers. Flies and other insects still recover from winter and their insignificant numbers do not bother the occasional visitor.

 

When in April 1915 the Allied landings took place, a factor that was certainly overlooked by their high command, was the degree to which troops of the different countries that took place in the operation would react to these climatical conditions.

 

For the Turkish soldiers, there was hardly a problem, as a majority of them had been recruited in Anatolia, where they were accustomed to comparable weather condi-tions. Apart from that, a very high percentage came from rural surroundings and was accustomed to spending long days in the field. Although their uniforms were often rather poor and in many cases very incomplete, they were sufficiently well adapted to the variable climate. Another factor that must not be forgotten is that because of the positions they occupied, they could be supplied from inland with fresh vegetables and other farm products, a luxury their adversaries, who were put on a diet of hard biscuits and bully beef, did not have. Even the simple Turkish diet consisting mainly of bread and olives, gave them a better resistance against the poor living conditions they had to endure in the trenches.

 

In the Allied camp, the situation was more complex, although initially there were not so many difficulties for the different forces in general : most men were in a good physical condition and had not taken part in other serious fighting before they were shipped to Egypt and Turkey. When in summer the temperatures started to rise however, the differences between the different nationalities began to show more clearly every day.

 

For the French, the heat was no major problem, as an important part of their troops consisted of Senegalese soldiers who were accustomed to much harder conditions in their native country. Although the officers, who were French, suffered far more from the hot summer climate, they had the advantage to find themselves in the southern and relative flat part of the peninsula, from three sides enclosed by the sea, in a landscape that was not unlike some regions in the south of France.

 

The Australians and New-Zealanders farther up north on the steep hill flanks and in the tangle of gullies at Anzac, could not benefit from the same relatively mild conditions. On the other hand, an important number of them had in civil life been working on farms and did not consider the temperatures to be extreme in comparison with their own country. When in November however, they were subjected to a blizzard, followed by some days of frost, they suffered all the more from weather conditions so far unknown to them.

 

Those Allied troops who were least prepared for the climate of Gallipoli were without any doubt the English. When one does not consider the individual officers and some units who had seen service in the colonies, a majority of the troops had been recruited in towns and cities. Especially the new army units that landed at Suvla in August, suffered from this lack of experience, at a moment when temperatures were highest in the area. Their situation was made worse by a constantly insufficient water supply : a number of wells remained in Turkish hands and the barges that shipped water from overseas, were unable to make up for the shortage.

 

When in November first a gale and then a blizzard raged over the peninsula, the lower positions of the English at Suvla were flooded by water rushing down the hill slopes through the gullies. To make matters worse, immediately afterwards the temperatures dropped even further and the entire muddy area froze to a solid mess. Sentries were discovered in the morning, frozen to death at their post. Hundreds of men, often in poor health already, due to their prolonged stay on the battlefield, fell victim to the extreme cold and many times that number had to be invalided home with frostbite.

 

For the Turkish troops, who had suffered less from the climate during the summer months, the sudden change to harsh winter weather also came as a surprise, not so much because it was unforeseen, but mainly because it was so extreme. British diaries of the time mention how a number of Turkish bodies that were being washed downhill through the gullies, finally landed in their trenches.

 

Bad as their living conditions were, in fact the Turks were more fortunate than their opponents in at least one respect : because all along the front, their army had the advantage to occupy higher positions than the enemy, they were at least not forced to try and survive in flooded trenches.

 

One final role played by the weather during the Gallipoli campaign must not be forgotten : when the Allied commanders eventually decided to evacuate the peninsula, this decision was certainly influenced by the consideration that hibernating in the positions they occupied was out of the question. Although here and there preparations were made to dig deeper and better dugouts that could serve as winter quarters, most of the troops were not in the possession of winter uniforms. Apart from that, the intermittent gales that had already wrecked some of the piers at the different beaches, might well disturb the regular shipment of provisions and ammunition to such an extent, that shortage of both could not be avoided.

 

When one considers all these different influences of the weather on the development of the 1915 Campaign, one might feel inclined to claim that it was a decisive factor that inevitably led to the final outcome. It was certainly not the only one, as so many other elements played an equally substantial part. That the climate and the weather played were important all the same, is something that can not be denied either.

 

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