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  • Maria Ogborn

French Forces at Kum Kale - 25th April 1915


French machine gun crew (IWM)

In the first months of 1915, as the stalemate on the Western Front continued, the Allies launched a plan to attack the Ottoman Empire. As an ally of the Central Powers, the troops of the Ottoman Empire had been attacking Russian ports and supply routes. The Allies, with the aim of relieving pressure for their Russian ally, made the decision to attack Constantinople via the Dardanelles Strait and attempt to open a supply route to Russia through the Black Sea. This would allow the supply of arms and resources to Russia, which they were considerably lacking. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, made plans for a naval attack to seize the Dardanelles in February and March. What the Allies forces came up against was a heavily defended coast protected by fortifications, underwater minefields and gun placements on both the Gallipoli Peninsula to the north and the Asian coast to the south. The naval attacks failed to destroy the Turkish defences.


Gallipoli (Lincoln.ac.nz)

Undeterred, the Allies sent the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) to attack and capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, so that the naval forces could make their way to Constantinople. What the failed naval operation had done, was lose the Allies the element of surprise that was crucial to the capture of the Peninsula and the straits.


On 25 April, the British 29th Division landed at five beaches at Cape Helles on the southern tip of the peninsula at Morto Bay, with the aim of capturing Achi Baba. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) made a separate landing to the north at Ari Burnu , which would later become known as ANZAC Cove, with the aim of securing Sari Bair Range, and capturing Mal Tepe. There was a French and British Naval Diversion as well as French colonial division launching a diversionary attack at Kum Kale on the Asiatic side of the straits.

The French Corps Expeditionnaire d'Orient (CEO) was a French Expeditionary Force, newly force for the attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The force was a single division, made up of men from North Africa, Senegal and the Foreign Legion, totalling around 17,000 troops. The division had one gun battery. The Corps commander, General Albert d’Amade, who had previously commanders reserve divisions of the Western Front, was soon placed, along with the Corps, under British General Sir Ian Hamilton.


Above: General D'Amade- (Image: Museum of Brittany) Sir Ian Hamilton (Image: NAM)


D’Amade had made the initial suggestion, to Sir Hamilton, of taking Edremit Bay, further to the south of Kum Kale, with the intention of capturing a French- built railway that ran between Panderma and Smyrna, a sea port. His idea was that by taking the railway, the allies could get to Constantinople by land and use Smyrna as a port for supplies and resources. Sir Hamilton rejected his suggestion as Lord Kitchener had ordered that no operation take place on the Asiatic side of the straits.


French Troops en route to Gallipoli

The aim of the French landings was to ‘draw the fire of any enemy big guns which can range Morto Bay. Secondly, to prevent Turkish troops beings shipped across the narrows’[1] and to prevent more guns being put in place. Sir Hamilton noted that some considered the French attack to be asking them to ‘pull the hottest chestnut out of the fire’[2] but Hamilton disagreed. He believed that they were perfectly up to the task as they were only being used as a diversion and the naval bombardment from, the Jauréguiberry and Henri IV, French cruiser Jeanne d’Arc and Russian cruiser Askold, onto the Asiatic side, would be in full support. Landing at Kum Kale would be the 6th Colonial Regiment, two Senegalese companies (10th & 11th) and a third colonial battalion. Once the French force had successfully diverted attentions away from the British landings, they were to re-embark and be transferred to Cape Helles, with the rest of the French forces, and follow the 29th Division.


The naval bombardment had begun around 5.15 am and had taken out the gun placements at the fort. At 7.20 am, the troops began entering landing craft about a mile and a half from Kum Kale, but as they heading towards land, they were soon attacked by rifle fire. At 10am, the first French troops landed. The two Senegalese companies stormed the fort, dispersing the lone Ottoman platoon, allowing the rest of the troops to land.


(Image: Wiki)

At 11am, the fort had been captured and the village of Kum Kale had been taken ‘by bayonet charge.’[3] Their rapid progress was soon halted as Turkish troops took advantage of the higher ridgeline near the village of Yeni Shehr and the nearby cemetery. French troops were ‘met by heavy fire from well-concealed trenches, and were held up just south of Kum Kale.’[4] D’Amade had been ashore and reported back to Sir Hamilton, aboard the Queen Elizabeth;

‘violent fighting and, for the time being, victory. A very dashing landing, the village stormed; house to house struggles; failure to carry the cemetery; last evening defensive measures, loopholed walls, barbed wire fastened to corpses; at night savage counter attacks led by Germans; their repulse; a wall some hundred yards long' and several feet high of Turkish corpses; our own losses also very heavy.’[5] D’Amade wanted to get his men off the peninsula soon but the capture of Yeni Shehr ‘would be a major operation needing a disembarkation of at least the whole of his division.’[6] Soon after the French troops were ‘ordered to hold on for another twenty-four hours— even if for no longer.’[7]


The second wave of French troops landed in the early afternoon along with the gun battery, which was placed on the South-east corned of the village, to aide the advance on Yeni Shehr.

After Turkish reinforcements were spotted by air reconnaissance, the French troops were ordered to dig in. During the night the Turkish troops launched four attacks against the French, who were protected as much as possible by the single gun that was in the front line. The following morning, on the 26th April, the French were ordered to begin an attack with the support of the Navy. The attack was however, postponed due to the late arrival of naval bombardment. D’Amade ordered that French troops hold their positions. At Kum Kale, in the early afternoon,


‘artillery fire from shore and ships became too hot for the Turks entrenched in the cemetery and they put up the white flag and came in as prisoners, 500 of them. A hundred more had been taken during the night fighting, but there was treachery and some of those were killed.’[8]


This treachery included Turkish troops with flags, who then refused to down their arms. Two French officers were taken prisoner and a group of Turkish troops took two French machine guns.


The French soon began their advance on the village, with the aid of naval bombardment and there was a prospect of them having to hold on for another twenty-four hours. However, at 5pm, d’Amade gave the evacuation order. The wounded and the gun battery were the first to re-embark, followed by the rest of the infantry, which ‘was carried out without serious opposition.’[9] By sunrise on the 27th April, all of the French troops had left Kum Kale.


Convalescent French Infantry who were wounded in the attack on Kum-Kale (Image: AWM)

At Kum Kale, The French suffered 787 casualties, including that of 21 officers between the 25th and 26th April 1915. 170 men had been killed and 471 wounded, and the rest had presumably been taken prisoner. Sir Hamilton noted that the attack had ‘been a brilliant bit of work, though I fear we have lost nearly a quarter of our effectives.’[10] He noted that the attack ‘planned by me as a mere diversion to distract the attention of the enemy was transformed by the Commander of the Corps Expeditionnaire de T Orient into a brilliant operation, which secured some substantial results.’[11]


The French diversion had allowed the rest of the allied forces to land on the Peninsula and the evacuated French were transported to Cape Helles the same day. Sir Hamilton stated ‘now we stand on Turkish terra firma. The price has been paid for the first step and that is the step that counts.’[12]


[1] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Dairy, (1920). p.97 [2] Ibid., p.98 [3] Ibid., p.135 [4] Sir Ian Hamilton, Despatches from the Dardanelles, (1915), p.101 [5] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Dairy, (1920). p.150 [6] Ibid., p.151 [7] Ibid., p.151 [8] Ibid., p.157-158 [9] Sir Ian Hamilton, Despatches from the Dardanelles, (1915), p.101 [10] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Dairy, (1920). p.158 [11] Sir Ian Hamilton, Despatches from the Dardanelles, (1915), p.41 [12] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Dairy, (1920). p.158

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