Ever wanted to tour a real WWI-era shipwreck? You can now. Tourism efforts in Turkey have turned the shipwrecks off the coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula into an underwater museum. The British and French shipwrecks have been in the Dardanelles Strait since 1915 when they sank during the Gallipoli Campaign.
The Gallipoli Historic Underwater Park opened earlier in October, in a seaport near the ancient ruins of Troy. There are 14 warships divers can visit. This includes the 421-foot HMS Majestic and the HMS Triumph, which sits 230-feet under the water.
“There was history and treasure lying underwater for more than 100 years,” said Ismail Kasdemir, head of the Canakkale Historical Site. “The diving community was curious.”
Diver and documentary maker Savas Karakas told Reuters of the memories associated with the shipwrecks. Specifically, memories of his grandfather who fought at Gallipoli. He said, “I was always scared of them [the shipwrecks]. But when I come to Gallipoli and dive, the rusted metal and steel of the wrecks reminds me of my grandfather’s hands and I hold his hand under the water.”
What Happened at Gallipoli to Cause Those Shipwrecks?
From February 1915 to January 1916, Entente Forces–Britain, France, and Russia–aimed to weaken the Ottoman Empire by taking the Turkish Straits. The goal was to defeat Turkey and protect the Suez Canal, leading to Allied supply routes to Russia.
The amphibious attack launched on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 and was ultimately a failure. The fighting went on for 8 months, with 250,000 casualties. It became a defining moment for the Ottoman Empire. Essentially it led to the Turkish War of Independence and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as president 8 years later.
Additionally, Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, retired from the service and politics for nearly 20 years after the disgrace at Gallipoli. He of course returned in 1940 as Prime Minister, and led the British victory in WWII.
The Ottoman Empire used the land to their advantage, taking the high ground and isolating Allied troops on narrow beaches. The Allies, in comparison, had inaccurate maps, poor intelligence, and disjointed goals. These factors essentially led to an Ottoman victory at Gallipoli.
In addition, Gallipoli did much to create the Australian and New Zealand national identities. Fighting under the name ANZAC, which stood for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the armies developed an attitude called the Anzac Spirit. This embodied the qualities the soldiers possessed at the time and became the Australian identity for a time.