Lyn McDonald has described the Dardanelles and Gallipoli as the most tragic and most romantic of battlefields. Helen of Troy looked across its straits; Leander swam the Hellespont each night for a tryst with Hero, priestess of Aphrodite, who flung herself into its waters when she discovered he had drowned; in the sixth century BCE the Greeks founded Heliopolis, now Geli bolou, on its shore; Xerxes built a bridge of 300 boats over it in the fifth century BCE before marching on Thermopylae; and a century later Alexander the Great crossed it on his way to conquer India.
The Dardanelles campaign of the First World War, that took place between April 1915 and January 1916 and included the fighting at Gallipoli, was designed to spearhead an Allied invasion through southern Turkey to Istan? bul, to defeat Turkey and in this way release Allied men and resources from the Middle East to fight in Europe, thereby shortening the War and saving lives and money. In the shorter term, forcing Turkey to withdraw troops from its Russian border would ensure Russia a much-needed victory, raising the morale of its troops sufficiently to reduce the danger of mutiny and impending revolution and to ensure that their assault on Germany's eastern front would continue. The fighting in Gallipoli was bitter and, as the detailed histories of the battle show, on two occasions the Allies came close to com? plete victory. But the final failure sealed the fate of the Russian regime and led indirectly to seventy years of Soviet rule.
The War Cabinet in London at first hoped the Allied navies would break through the narrows separating the Gallipoli peninsula from the Asiatic shore (the Straits of the Dardanelles), enter the Sea of Marmara, shell Istanbul (Constantinople) and so break through the Bosphorous into the Black Sea. This would enable supplies to reach Russia and help her continue the war against Germany. Troop landings on the peninsula were intended only to support the naval push, but the naval effort failed owing to the presence of massive Turkish coastal guns which sank several Allied ships, leaving the army to bear the brunt of the Turkish defences. The land war was a disaster, for both sides fought with great courage, suffering about a quarter of a million casualties each, the Anzac troops suffering particularly.1 The Allies had finally to withdraw.
The campaign is of Jewish interest not only because of the number of individual Jewish servicemen who fought and died there, but the presence of the famous Zion Mule Corps.
The origins of the Corps
In March 1915 the Zion Mule Corps became the first regular Jewish fighting force - with a distinctively Jewish emblem and flag - to take active part in a war since the defeat of the Bar Kochba Revolt 2000 years ago. Some of its men later formed the core of what was to become the modern Israeli army. General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the Anglo-French Expeditionary Force in the Dardenelles, later wrote in his diary,