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New Gallipoli Underwater Museum Allows Divers to Explore Battle’s Shipwrecks

Gallipoli Shipwreck
A shipwreck from the Battle of Gallipoli off the coast of Turkey. A new underwater museum will allow diving to that and other shipwrecks at the site of the Battle, which was catastrophic for the Allies. Credit: Directorate of Gallipoli Historic Site

A new underwater museum at Gallipoli will allow divers to explore shipwrecks from the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I.

The new undersea park features ships that were sunk during the 1915–16 World War I campaign, which was one one of the deadliest of the entire war. The battle of Gallipoli resulted in the loss of so many Australian and New Zealand soldiers — ANZACs — that it has stood ever since as a byword for the waste and cruelty of war.

A total of fourteen warships, including the HMS Majestic and HMS Triumph, lie under the waters off Gallipoli, within easy diving range of recreational divers. They can now explore
their hulls and experience a bit of the horrors of the battle as Allied troops fought the Turks.

Gallipoli landing
“Landing at Gallipoli,” Credit: Archives New Zealand /CC BY-SA 2.0

The Gallipoli Historic Underwater Park opened near the Turkish seaport of Canakkale, next to the ancient Greek ruins of Troy, earlier in October. Scuba divers can now visit the wrecks of fourteen warships, including the HMS Majestic, the 421-foot British battleship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 27, 1915, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

“It’s like a time machine that takes you back to 1915 and World War I,” diver and documentary maker Savas Karakas told interviewers from Agence-France Presse (AFP).

The Gallipoli campaign took place on the Gallipoli peninsula (Gelibolu in modern Turkey), from February 17, 1915 to January 7, 1916. The Entente powers of Britain, France and Russia sought to weaken the Ottoman Empire by taking control of the Turkish straits.

This would expose the Ottoman capital at Constantinople to bombardment by Allied battleships and cut it off from the Asian part of the empire. With Turkey defeated, the Allies hoped that the Suez Canal would be safe, and a year-round Allied supply route could be opened through the Black Sea to warm water ports in Russia.

The attempt by the Allied fleet to force the Dardanelles in February 1915 failed and was followed by an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915.

It was a costly campaign for the Entente powers and ultimately, for the Ottoman Empire, as well as for the sponsors of the expedition, especially the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who served in that capacity from 1911–1915.

Related: How Greeks were ethnically cleansed from Gallipoli in 1915

The landing of French troops at Lemnos for the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI. Credit: Ernest Brooks, Admiralty photographer/ Public Domain

Gallipoli battle plan deeply flawed idea hatched by Winston Churchill

The battle plan at Gallipoli, conceived by Churchill, resulted in such bloody trench warfare that the effort was abandoned 11 months later, in January of 1916, after an astounding 250,000 casualties, causing the disgraced naval attache to retreat from the world of politics for nearly twenty years.

The battle for Gallipoli killed and maimed so many ANZACs that it ended up forging the national consciousness of Australia and New Zealand as peoples apart from Great Britain; the 25th of April, the anniversary of the landings, is known as Anzac Day. It is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in the two countries, surpassing Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) on November 11.

As can be seen in paintings and photographs of the time, some of the wrecks are in relatively shallow waters of less than 25 feet, just off the wide beach at Gallipoli. Others lie somewhat deeper at around 60 to 100 feet.

Gallipoli shipwrecks are maritime graveyards

The remains of one British ship, the HMS Triumph, sits on the seafloor 230 feet below the surface.

Yusuf Kartal, an official with Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, tells interviewers from TRT World that the experience of going to the underwater park is “a different world.”

He adds, “You see the submerged ship(s) as they were 106 years ago and experience the chaos of war secondhand.”

Like many former war zones, there is still a danger of unexploded ordnance at the site, however; Turkish authorities decided to open the area to divers regardless of the dangers posed.

In a New York Times interview, Kartal explains “In the whole Dardanelles we have many thousands” of live torpedoes; most, however, “require a serious jolt to detonate.” The Turkish government’s decision to allow divers to explore wartime shipwrecks at all has sparked criticism from many who consider sunken vessels to be graveyards, according to a report from the London Times.

Turkey hosted many international visitors at the centennial of the battle in 2016, leading to plans for the creation of the underwater park. It was slated to open in the Summer of 2021 but those plans were waylaid by the Covid pandemic.

Ismail Kasdemir, the head of the Canakkale Historical Site, tells AFP “There was history and treasure lying underwater for more than 100 years. The diving community was curious.”


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