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Disaster at the Dardanelles

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 174th installment in the series.

March 18, 1915: Disaster at the Dardanelles

The Allied naval campaign to force the Turkish straits and conquer Constantinople received a huge setback on March 18, 1915, when the combined British and French fleet tried to destroy the forts guarding the southern straits, known as the Dardanelles. Things did not go as planned, to say the least: after a day of fierce artillery duels the Allies had lost three battleships to mines, and the main Turkish forts were still more or less intact.

The operation got off to a less than encouraging start with the resignation of Admiral Sackville Carden, the top British naval commander in the Mediterranean, who quit after repeated failures to reduce Turkish defenses, culminating in an unsuccessful attempt to clear Turkish minefields by night on March 13 (he supposedly resigned due to ill health). On March 16 Carden was replaced by Vice-Admiral John de Robeck, who immediately ordered a bold all-out assault at the urging of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

After destroying the forts guarding the outer entrance to the Dardanelles, the key to forcing the southern Turkish straits was elimination of the Turkish forts guarding “The Narrows,” where the channel shrinks to less than two kilometers wide. Along with numerous mobile and fixed artillery batteries, these forts guarded a series of minefields that had to be cleared by British and French minesweepers before the Allied fleet could proceed into the Sea of Marmara and onwards to Constantinople.

Unbeknownst to the Allies, however, these weren’t the only minefields they had to deal with: on the night of March 8, the Turkish minelayer Nusret (above) secretly laid 26 more mines in a new field slanting diagonally across the mouth of Erenkoy bay on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. These mines would prove to be the Allies’ undoing, making the Nusret arguably the most successful Turkish warship of the First World War.

The attack commenced at 10:45 am on March 18, 1915, led by four British battleships—de Robeck’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson, and Inflexible, flanked by two more battle ships, Prince George and Triumph, which would destroy several smaller forts any mobile artillery batteries encountered (see map below). This first wave proceeded to “A” line, about 14,000 yards from the main forts guarding the narrows, and subjected them to heavy bombardment.

George Schreiner, an American AP correspondent observing the battle from shore, recalled:

The first salvo from nineteen turrets hit various points along the Dardanelles like a tornado, as you might put it, though I am sure that a tornado is but a pitiful imitation of the effect produced by the forty-odd shells that crashed almost simultaneously. I thought that the earth would be torn asunder. A dozen of the shells went over our heads and mowed down the first row of houses… Whole floors, entire walls, doors, furniture, and several human bodies were hurled high in the air. The sight was sickening.

However the Allied bombardment was often inaccurate, due to the great distance and the fact that the Turkish forts, built from local stone, were well camouflaged and essentially blended in with the background. One British commander, Captain Bertram Smith aboard the Vengeance, described the problem:

The conditions were a contrast to the sea. There, to some extent at least, the ship is a ship, the sky is sky, and the sea is sea; in fact you either see your target or you do not. Here, when firing at long ranges, as in the Narrows attack, you might be looking at your target yet never distinguish it; it was part of the landscape’s background and in certain lights merged into it.

Nonetheless the initial bombardment scored some visible hits and around midday de Robeck, believing most of the Turkish guns had been destroyed, ordered the second wave composed of four French battleships to advance to their designated “B” firing line, about 8,000 yards from the forts guarding the Narrows. However many of the supposedly destroyed Turkish guns now began firing again, as it turned out they had merely ceased fire temporarily to conserve ammunition.

The French battleships—Gaulois, Charlemagne, Suffren, and Bouvet—proceeded up the European and Asiatic shores in two files and soon came under heavy from the Turkish forts, with several sustaining serious damage. However the French commander, Admiral Émile Guépratte, persevered and the French ships blasted away at the Turkish forts from this closer range for several hours, as the first wave of British ships also continued firing (not shown below) until the forts mostly fell silent again around 1:45 pm. By this time the unrelenting bombardment produced a chaotic, beautiful scene, according to Schreiner:

Earth geysers and water columns rose in and near every Turkish emplacement. The noise was ear-splitting. It resembled the effect of a dozen thunder-storms in a pocket in the mountains. The crashes were reverberated from hillside to mountainside... Over Erenkoi bay hung low a bank of smoke and powder fumes. The bright sunlight rested on the top of this, leaving the ships of the Allies in deep purple shadows. Out of this leaped the flames of the propelling charges. It was a glorious spectacle…”

The Allied attack appeared to finally be succeeding, albeit slowly and painfully, as the Gaulois and Suffren had received direct hits, while the Charlemagne and Bouvet sustained lighter damage. Meanwhile the third wave, composed of the British battleships Vengeance, Albion, Irresistible, and Ocean, were approaching to relieve the French ships and continue the bombardment without pause, with two more ships, Majestic and Swiftsure, accompanying them to guard their flanks (below, Albion firing). To make room in the crowded straits the damaged French ships would proceed out of the combat zone, again in two files, accompanied by Prince George and Triumph.

But now disaster struck, as the Suffren and Bouvet unwittingly entered the minefield laid by the Nusret ten days before. At 1:58 p.m. the Bouvet struck a mine and sank within minutes, taking all but 50 out of her crew of 710 to the bottom with her. A British officer, Commander Worsley Gibson, remembered seeing the French battleship’s rapid demise (below, the Bouvet capsizes):

I noticed the Bouvet was heeling to starboard… she was listing more & more & it was evident she was badly wounded. She was steaming quite fast & went over & over until she was on her beam ends & her masts went into the water, a lot of smoke & steam rolled out but no explosions took place & she turned bottom up for a few seconds. I saw a few figures on her bottom and then she disappeared. The whole thing didn't take two or three minutes at the most. I had no idea a ship could disappear so quick…

Needless to say, the experience was even more terrifying for the Bouvet’s crew. One of the few survivors, the French seaman Sauveur Payro, described being sucked down in the vortex formed by the sinking ship:

I couldn’t rise to the surface because of the tug of the water. I was in the water for some time, then, when the bottom of the ship touched the bottom of the sea, I came straight up… I couldn’t breathe; blood was coming out of my mouth, my ears. When I was on the surface again, if I hadn’t found this piece of wood I would have been finished… I saw another chap crying out to me to save him and I told him to come closer to me so that he could be on one end of the plank and me on the other. But when the English came to fish us out of the water I saw that both his legs had been cut off. He died three days later.

But Allied commanders still didn’t realize mines were responsible for the damage to the Bouvet, instead attributing the sinking to a torpedo tube hidden on shore.

By now the third wave of British ships had sailed up to the “B” firing line and begun shelling the Turkish forts, which remained mostly silent in the face of another punishing bombardment. Thinking the first phase of the mission largely accomplished, Robeck allowed the battlecruiser Inflexible, which had sustained some damage, to begin withdrawing—but at 4 p.m. the Inflexible also hit a mine, which killed 30 crewmembers although it failed to sink the ship. The Inflexible, too, barely limped out of the strait and had to be beached by its crew on the nearby island of Tenedos.

Realizing that there was a new minefield somewhere in the straits, de Robeck decided to break off the bombardment and withdraw before he lost any more ships. Worse was to come, however: the next victim was the Irresistible, which hit a mine at 4:16 p.m. and immediately began listing heavily (top, Irresistible sinking); although Allied destroyers and other support vessels were able to rescue most of her crew, around 150 were killed by the mine explosion or drowning. Afterwards the abandoned Irresistible drifted within range of Turkish artillery batteries, which opened a merciless fire and sank the stricken ship around 7:30 p.m.

The final victim was the Ocean, which struck a mine and lost control of her steering at 6:05 p.m. Despite heavy fire from the shore, Allied vessels were again able to rescue most of Ocean’s crew before the ship sank.

Unsurprisingly, the sudden loss of three battleships—even if they were old and obsolete—shook de Robeck’s confidence. Meanwhile British Secretary of War Lord Kitchener was already contemplating an expanded offensive including a land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, with the goal of taking the Turkish defenses from the rear. Towards that end he dispatched General Sir Ian Hamilton to make his own evaluation on the spot and recommend a course of action. Hamilton in turn prevailed on de Robeck, who telegraphed the Admiralty on March 26: “The check on the 18th is not, in my opinion, decisive, but on the 22d of March I met General Hamilton and heard his views, and I now think that, to obtain important results and to achieve the object of the campaign, a combined operation will be essential.”

An even bigger disaster was looming.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Scarface is Returning to Theaters for Its 35th Anniversary
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures

Pop culture history was forever altered on December 9, 1983, when Scarface arrived in movie theaters across America. A loose remake of Howard Hawks's classic 1932 gangster film, Brian De Palma's F-bomb-laden story of a Cuban immigrant who becomes the king of Miami's drug scene by murdering anyone in his path is still being endlessly dissected, and quoted, today. To celebrate the film's place in cinema history, the Tribeca Film Festival is teaming up with Screenvision Media and Universal Pictures to bring the film back into theaters next month.

Just last month, Scarface screened at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival as part of a 35th anniversary celebration. The film's main cast and crew—including De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer—were on hand to discuss the making of the film and why it has endured as a contemporary classic. (Yes, that's the same conversation that left the panel momentarily speechless when moderator Jesse Kornbluth asked Pfeiffer how much she weighed during filming.) That post-screening Q&A will be part of the upcoming screenings.

"Scarface is a timeless film that has influenced pop culture in so many ways over the last 35 years. We're thrilled to partner with Universal Pictures and Tribeca Film Festival to bring it back to the big screen in celebration of its anniversary," Darryl Schaffer, executive vice president of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision Media, said in a press statement. "The Tribeca Film Festival talk was an important commemoration of the film. We're excited to extend it to the big screen and provide fans a behind-the-scenes insight into what production was like in the 1980s."

Scarface will screen at select theaters nationwide on June 10, June 11, and June 13, 2018. Visit Scarface35.com to find out if Tony Montana and his little friend will be coming back to a cinema near you.

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