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.

7 Things You Might Not Know About Mario Lopez

Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley
Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley

While several of the actors featured in the 1990s young-adult series Saved by the Bell have fared well following the show’s end in 1994, Mario Lopez is in a class by himself. The versatile actor-emcee can be seen regularly on Extra, as host of innumerable beauty pageants, and as the author of several best-selling books on fitness. For more on Lopez, check out some of the more compelling facts we’ve rounded up on the multi-talented performer.

1. A WITCH DOCTOR SAVED HIS LIFE.

Born on October 10, 1973, in San Diego, California to parents Mario and Elvia Lopez, young Mario was initially the picture of health. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. In his 2014 autobiography, Just Between Us, Lopez wrote that he began having digestive problems immediately after birth, shrinking to just four pounds. Though doctors administered IV hydration, they told his parents nothing more could be done. Desperate, his father reached out to a witch doctor near Rosarito, Mexico who had cured his spinal ailments years earlier. The healer mixed a drink made of Pedialyte, Carnation evaporated milk, goat’s milk, and other unknown substances. It worked: Lopez kept it down and began growing, so much so that his mother declared him “the fattest baby you had ever seen in your life.”

2. HE STARTED ACTING AT 10.

A highly active kid who got involved in both tap and jazz dancing and amateur wrestling, Lopez was spotted by a talent scout during a dance competition at age 10 and was later cast in a sitcom, a.k.a. Pablo, in 1984. That led to a role in the variety show Kids Incorporated and in the 1988 Sean Penn feature film Colors. In 1989, at the age of 16, he won the role of Albert Clifford “A.C.” Slater in Saved by the Bell. By 1992, Lopez was making public appearances at malls, where female fans would regularly toss their underthings in his direction.

3. HE COULD PROBABLY BEAT YOU UP.

Lopez wrestled as an amateur throughout high school. According to the Chula Vista High School Foundation, Lopez was a state placewinner at 189 pounds in 1990. (On Saved by the Bell, Slater was also a wrestler.) He later complemented his grappling ability with boxing, often sparring professionals like Jimmy Lange and Oscar De La Hoya in bouts for charity. In 2018, Lopez posted on Instagram that he received his blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Gracie Barra Glendale instructor Robert Hill.

4. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYGIRL.

Lopez’s active lifestyle has made for a trim physique, but he’s apparently unwilling to take off more than his shirt. In 2008, Lopez said he was approached to pose for Playgirl but declined. The magazine reportedly offered him $200,000.

5. HE WAS MARRIED FOR TWO WEEKS.

Lopez had a well-publicized marriage to actress Ali Landry, but not for all the right reasons. The two were married in April 2004 and split just two weeks later, with Landry alleging Lopez had not been faithful. Lopez later disclosed he had made a miscalculation during his bachelor party in Mexico, cheating on Landry just days before the ceremony.

6. HE APPEARED ON BROADWAY.

Lopez joined the cast of Broadway’s A Chorus Line in 2008, portraying Zach, the director who coaches the cast of aspiring dancers. (It was his first stage appearance since he participated in a grade school play, where he played a tree.) His run, which lasted five months, was perceived to be part of a rash of casting choices on Broadway revolving around hunky performers to attract audiences. The role was thought to be the start of a resurgence for Lopez, who had previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars and has been a co-host of the pop culture newsmagazine show Extra since 2007.

7. HE BELIEVES HIS DOG SUFFERED FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.

In 2010, Lopez and then-girlfriend (now wife) Courtney Mazza had their first child, Gia. According to Lopez, his French bulldog, Julio César Chavez Lopez, exhibited signs of depression following the new addition to the household. Lopez also said he used his extensive knowledge of dogs to better inform his voiceover work as a Labrador retriever in 2009’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas and 2010’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.

The Legend of Cry Baby Lane: The Lost Nickelodeon Movie That Was Too Scary for TV

Nickelodeon, Viacom
Nickelodeon, Viacom

Several years ago, rumors about a lost Nickelodeon movie branded too disturbing for children’s television began popping up around the internet. They all referenced the same plot: A father of conjoined twins was so ashamed of his sons that he hid them away throughout their childhood. (This being a made-for-TV horror movie, naturally one of the twins was evil.)

After one twin got sick the other soon followed, with both boys eventually succumbing to the illness. To keep the town from discovering his secret, the father separated their bodies with a rusty saw and buried the good one at the local cemetery and the evil one at the end of a desolate dirt road called Cry Baby Lane, which also happened to be the title of the rumored film. According to the local undertaker, anyone who ventured down Cry Baby Lane after dark could hear the evil brother crying from beyond the grave.

Cry Baby Lane then jumps to present day (well, present day in 2000), where a group of teens sneaks into the local graveyard in an effort to contact the spirit of the good twin. After holding a seance, they learn that the boys' father had made a mistake and mixed up the bodies of his children—burying the good son at the end of Cry Baby Lane and the evil one in the cemetery. Meaning those ghostly wails were actually the good twin crying out for help. But the teens realized the error too late: The evil twin had already been summoned and quickly began possessing the local townspeople.

MOVIE OR MYTH?

Parents were appalled that such dark content ever made it onto the family-friendly network, or so the story goes, and after airing the film once the Saturday before Halloween in 2000, Nickelodeon promptly scrubbed it from existence. But with no video evidence of it online for years, some people questioned whether Cry Baby Lane had ever really existed in the first place.

“Okay, so this story sounds completely fake, Nick would NEVER air this on TV,” one Kongregate forum poster said in September 2011. “And why would this be made knowing it’s for kids? This story just sounds too fake …”

While the folklore surrounding the film may not be 100 percent factual, Nickelodeon quickly confirmed that the “lost” Halloween movie was very real, and that it did indeed contained all the rumored twisted elements that have made it into a legend.

Before Cry Baby Lane was a blip in Nick’s primetime schedule, it was nearly a $100 million theatrical release. Peter Lauer, who had previously directed episodes of the Nick shows The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Adventures of Pete & Pete, co-wrote the screenplay with KaBlam! co-creator Robert Mittenthal. Cry Baby Lane, which would eventually spawn urban legends of its own, was inspired by a local ghost story Lauer heard growing up in Ohio. “There was a haunted farmhouse, and if you went up there at midnight, you could hear a baby crying and it’d make your high school girlfriend scared,” he told The Daily.

BIG SCARES ON A SMALL BUDGET

Despite Nickelodeon’s well-meaning intentions, parent company Paramount wasn’t keen on the idea of turning the screenplay into a feature film. The script was forgotten for about a year, until Nick got in touch with Lauer about producing Cry Baby Lane—only this time as a $800,000 made-for-TV movie. The director gladly signed on.

Even with the now-meager budget, Cry Baby Lane maintained many of the same elements of a much larger picture. In a bid to generate more publicity around the project, Nickelodeon cast Oscar nominee Frank Langella as the local undertaker (a role Lauer had originally wanted Tom Waits to play). All the biggest set pieces from the screenplay were kept intact, and as a result, the crew had no money left to do any extra filming.

Only two scenes from the movie ended up getting cut—one that alluded to skinny dipping and another that depicted an old man’s head fused onto the body of a baby in a cemetery. The story of a father performing amateur surgery on the corpses of his sons, however, made it into the final film.

The truth of what happened after Cry Baby Lane premiered on October 28, 2000 has been muddied over the years. In most retellings, Nickelodeon received an "unprecedented number" of complaints about the film and responded by sealing it away in its vault and acting like the whole thing never happened. But if that version of events is true, Nick has never acknowledged it.

Even Lauer wasn’t aware of any backlash from parents concerned about the potentially scarring effects of the film until The Daily made him aware of the rumors years later. “All I know is that they aired it once,” he told the paper. “I just assumed they didn’t show it again because they didn’t like it! I did it, I thought it failed, and I moved on.”

But the idea that the movie was pulled from airwaves for being too scary for kids isn’t so far-fetched. Though Cry Baby Lane never shows the conjoined twins being sawed apart on screen, it does pair the already-unsettling story with creepy images of writhing worms, broken glass, and animal skulls. This opening sequence, combined with the spooky, empty-eyed victims of possession that appear later, and multiple scenes where a child gets swallowed by a grave, may have made the film slightly more intense than the average episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

IMPERFECT TIMING

Cry Baby Lane premiered at a strange time in internet history: Too early for pirated copies to immediately spring up online yet late enough for it to grow into a web-fueled folktale. The fervor surrounding the film peaked in 2011, when a viral Reddit thread about Cry Baby Lane caught the attention of one user claiming to have the so-called “lost” film recorded on VHS. He later uploaded the tape for the world to view and suddenly the lost movie was lost no longer.

News of the unearthed movie made waves across the web, and instead of staying quiet and waiting for the story to die down, Nickelodeon decided to get in on the hype. That Halloween, Nick aired Cry Baby Lane for the first time in over a decade. Regardless of whether the movie had previously been banned or merely forgotten, the network used the mystery surrounding its origins to their PR advantage.

“We tried to freak people out with it,” a Nick employee who worked at The 90s Are All That (now The Splat), the programming block that resurrected Cry Baby Lane (and who wished to remain anonymous) said of the promotional campaign for the event. “They were creepy and a little glitchy. We were like, ‘This never aired because it was too scary and we’re going to air it now.’”

Cry Baby Lane now makes regular appearances on Nickelodeon’s '90s block around Halloween, which likely means Nick hasn’t received enough complaints to warrant locking it back in the vault. And during less spooky times of the year, nostalgic horror fans can find the full movie on YouTube.

The mystery surrounding Cry Baby Lane’s existence may have been solved, but the urban legend of the movie that was “too scary for kids’ TV” persists—even at the network that produced it.

“People who were definitely working at Nickelodeon in 2000, but didn’t necessarily work on [Cry Baby Lane] were like, ‘Yeah I heard about it, I remember it being a thing,'" the Nick employee says. “It’s sort of like its own legend within the company.”

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