March 12, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The headlines from the end of February until January of the next year would report events on the Turkish front. The headlines give the appearance that France and Britain were driving the Ottoman Turks out of the Straits. The campaign was a disaster, as anyone who has seen the 1981 film Gallipoli will understand.

The Dardanelles were important strategically. Control of the Straits would give the Entente Powers a link from the Mediterranean Sea with the Sea of Marmora. This provided access to the Turkish capital Constantinople and also also provided a lane to the Black Sea.

Control of the straits would give Britain and France access to their eastern ally, Russia. It was reasonable to think that gaining control of the Straits would eliminate Turkey from the war.

Geography and heavily fortified defenses frustrated control of the Dardanelles. The allies were desperate for a significant victory and hoped this campaign would achieve it; it did not.

The Capital Journal editor writes glowingly of the campaign and commits journalistic hubris by writing of what will happen when “the fleets of the Allies . . . lie under the walls of Constantinople and their flags float from its parapets:”

The Dardanelles

In these passing hours the world’s gaze rests on the Dardanelles, where there is a swift climax of the war in the far east.

A slower but no less sure dawning comes of the new civilization which is destined to cast its lights from the Bosphorus on toward the far east.

The fortifications of the Dardanelles, supposed to have been next to Gibraltar in strength, have for centuries formed the sharp dividing line between the dealing civilization of the east and the developing civilization of the west.

Only the other day it was unthinkable that soon the outer gates of the Dardanelles should be swept away; yet now they are gone; the dreadnoughts of Britain and France are leagues within them; far up the straits they batter the fortresses which have mocked Russia for centuries, but which are now crumbling into sand.

Gallipoli peninsula, the tongue of land between the Dardanelles and the Gulf of Saros, is a geographical freak. It some places it is hardly five miles wide and it is more than fifty miles long. The Turkish fortifications are strengthened in an almost continuous line along its southern shore; the northern coast, along the Gulf of Saros, is practically unprotected. One of the most dramatic incidents of the war thus far is the raking of this peninsula by the fire of battleships from both sides. From the Gulf of Saros shells are fired clear across the peninsula into the Dardanelles forts, the range being found by airships. It is the best instance yet presented of mathematical accuracy of modern gunnery reaching far beyond the range of eyesight Before it, fortifications and methods even 10 years old, are helpless.

The time is not to be fixed with mathematical precision when the fleets of the Allies will lie under the walls of Constantinople and their flags float from its parapets; but as the sentinels of the Dardanelles vanish, the star beside the crescent turns very dim.

The Battle of the Bosphorus will loom large in history. The empire of the Turk will soon wing itself away into the mystery spaces of the orient like smoky vapor driven on fresh wings blowing out of the west.

Far from dissipating like a “smoky vapor driven on fresh wings blowing out of the west,” we continue to read, to follow and to attempt to live with the policy decisions that followed from the collapse of the Ottoman empire. To jump forward to late 2014, the New York Times reported a speech by Rycep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey in which he stated that “each conflict in this region has been designed a century ago” by events stemming from the actions of Britain and France during World War I.

In the Oregon Statesman, the editor answers a reader’s question, “What Is A Blockade?”

A reader wants to know precisely what is the difference between “real blockade” and a “paper blockade.”

There is a good deal of natural confusion about the matter as a result of recent war developments. Germany has declared a “war zone” around the British Isles without declaring a formal blockade, and Great Britain has declared that she will seize ships clearing for or from, Germany, but without announcing a blockade. Both belligerents are obviously trying to accomplish the purpose of a genuine blockade without assuming its responsibilities.

As set forth in the declaration of London, which is the standard expression of international law on the subject, a blockade, if it is expected to have any standing in the eyes of other nations, met fulfill these conditions:

It must not extend behind the ports and coasts of the enemy.
It must be applied impartially to the ships of all nations.
It must be backed up with a sufficient naval force to insure its effectiveness.

Neutral ships are then obliged to respect it, on pain of confiscation or destruction, even when patrolling warships are temporarily driven from their stations by stress of weather.

The natural objection of neutral nations to the trade restrictions imposed by Great Britain and Germany is that they are irregular and unprecedented; that they seek to accomplish by mere fiat, or by random acts of violence, what they cannot accomplish by the recognized means of a naval cordon drawn around the enemy in the sight of the whole world; that the conditions they impose are vague and variable, instead of the definite, simple conditions that neutrals have a right to expect.

In short, the neutral nations, in going about their business on the sea thoroughfares, want to know “where they are at”; they want no new and arbitrary prohibitions laid on their commerce, and no destruction of neutral property or life unless after just provocation, and according to due process of international law. They deny the right of either Great Britain or Germany to crete a new international law by its own unsupported fiat.

They stand pat on the declaration of London, and insist that any changes that may be needed to bring international law into harmony with new methods of warfare can be made only with the consent of interested nations.

Readers at the time would have been more familiar with the issues of blockades and embargoes than are readers today. The raw points of American diplomacy and our relations with other powers turned on how commerce on the high seas was regulated during times of war. Our own Civil War was fifty years in the past. The blockade of the ports of the seceded states was a sensitive issue diplomatically as it affected the status of the Confederacy and the relations of the North to Great Britain.

Bringing the war closer to home is this excerpt from a column by W. H. Alburn in the Oregon Statesman:

An American Food Shortage?

Germany, begirt by enemies, with her commercial gateways closed, is beginning to suffer for want of food. Can it be that our own rich country, at peace with all the world, after the most bountiful harvest of our history, is destined to suffer the same pinch? Is it conceivable that we, too, may have export embargoes and war-bread?

The rise in the price of bread, actual in many cities and threatened in all, has brought the problem into every home. Six-cent loaves or loaves lightened by two ounces, or both, are a serious matter to the poor and a cause of serious reflection to everybody. The wheat market, jumping nervously, fluctuating as much as ten points a day, with the “pit” in Chicago a continuous riot and thousands of low-salaried men and women in New York staking their savings on the continued rise of the cereal – these are rather ominous facts, to the ordinary non-speculating consumer who wants to be sure that, war or no war, his family is going to have enough to eat.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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