Huge Storm Lashes Gallipoli

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 212th installment in the series.  

November 27-30, 1915: Huge Storm Lashes Gallipoli 

Following the failed landings at Suvla Bay in August 1915, regular trench warfare took a steady toll of casualties on the Gallipoli Peninsula throughout the autumn, with thousands of men on both sides killed or wounded by snipers, trench mortars, or more or less random shelling. However Allies and Turks both faced a third fierce adversary as well – the environment itself. 

Since ancient times the Aegean Sea has been famous for its unpredictable weather, immortalized in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and responsible for the destruction of Persian invasion fleets in 492 and 480 BCE. After the scorching summer months with their plagues of flies, in November 1915 the elements turned on the ill-prepared invaders yet again, as British and French troops suddenly found themselves confronting hurricane-strength winds, freezing rain, snow, and flash floods, in addition to their human foes in the opposing trenches. 

After weeks of dropping temperatures, the first major storm landed on November 17 and caused the most damage along the shore, smashing the piers built by the Allies to land food, ammunition and other supplies and evacuate sick and wounded. William Ewing, a Scottish chaplain, recalled the frightening scene as the storm pounded the beach near the landing sites: 

Later in the afternoon the sea rolled shoreward in tremendous, foaming billows that plunged in white cataracts over the hulks, sending jets and spray more than mast high… The timbers of the piers gave way, under the impact of the mighty waves; the structures crumpled up, and were hurled in wreckage on the beach. A stone jetty built by our enterprising Allies, the French, was dashed to ruins… The sun set over a scene of turmoil and fury. The darkness lent an element of dread to the voices of the tempest, and the crash of tumbling waters on the wreck-strewn beach. 

The storm continued through the night, with scenes that could have come directly from Homer: 

The night drew on with heavy rain, and loud rolling thunder. The lightning was beyond description splendid. The night was very dark, the light of the moon being quite obscured. The sea was roaring like a vast monster under the lash of the tempest. Then a  mighty sheet of flame would flash across the heavens, torn by gleaming, twisted, and broken lines, and for a moment the wide welter and turmoil of foaming waters, with the white hospital ships riding at anchor, leaped into view. 

However this was just a taste of the huge storm that would sweep the peninsula from November 27-30, with rain forming cataracts that swept away Allied encampments and drowned 200 unsuspecting troops. One British officer, F.W.D. Bendall, was chagrined to discover that his dugout lay directly in the path of a dry seasonal streambed running south through the middle of the peninsula (his experience also proves that the phrase “flash flood” doesn’t necessarily entail exaggeration): 

As I fished about underneath for gum-boots I heard a strange sound. I could have sworn it was the sea, washing on the beach! But the sea and the beach were four miles away. I stood in the doorway and listened. And as I listened in the flickering light there was a curious slapping noise in the slit outside, and a great snake of water came round the curve – breast high – and washed me backwards into the dugout. I was off my feet for a moment and then, sodden and gasping, I was in the doorway again… The water was at my throat, waves of it licked my face. I reached both hands to the top of the walls, but I could get no hold there. My fingers tore through the mud. Slowly I forced my way along the slit… I do not know how long it was before I turned the last corner… Thank God! there was the ledge. A great heave and I was on it. 

As temperatures fell over the following days rain gave way to freezing rain and snow, and floodwaters soon turned to ice. This was even more dangerous, as wet and hungry soldiers now faced the possibility of freezing to death as well; overall around 5,000 men died or had to be evacuated due to frostbite. Bendall recorded the pathetic sights he witnessed as he tried to round up his troops with a young junior officer following the flood: 

On our way back to Headquarters we saw a number of men who had obviously died of cold and exhaustion. Two brothers of “C” company had died together. The arm of one was round the other’s neck, the fingers held a piece of biscuit to the frozen mouth. It seemed a strange and inexplicable thing that these men who had come there to fight, and fought bravely, had been killed by the elements. 

The conditions were especially grueling for Australian troops who were used to rough conditions in the outback but had little experience of cold weather so far. However there was a silver lining, according to Ewing, who note that the Turks seemed happy to observe an informal truce during this period: 

The Australian Corps, indeed, suffered heavily. Many of the men, accustomed from infancy to do battle with heat and dust, now saw snow for the first time… As the rain gathered on the hills, it poured down in cataracts, turning the dugouts into swirling pools and the trenches into raging torrents… Friday evening brought sleet and frost… If the Turks had cared to attack they might have had the position for the asking. But probably they also were suffering, and may have been thankful to be left unmolested. 

On the other side of No Man’s Land the Turkish soldiers were also approaching the limits of their endurance, according to Mehmed Fasih, an officer in the Ottoman Army, who wrote in his diary on November 27, 1915: “10.30 hrs. We find Agati [a fellow officer] distraught. Even though he prodded his men with bayonets, some of them refused to leave the trench and started crying like women. Those who did go suffered heavy casualties from the enemy fire and shells. The entire unit is demoralized.” 

Now the inclement conditions, lice, bad food, and lack of clean water contributed to the other great scourge of the troops at Gallipoli – disease, especially typhus and dysentery. W.H. Lench, a British soldier who arrived with fresh reinforcements in November, described the epidemics that raged over the peninsula, inflicting casualties even when the Turkish guns were silent:

Everyone was demoralized; everyone was sick, waiting, waiting for the stretcher bearers who never came… There was not much sudden death, but there was slow death everywhere. The body was slowly dying from the inside. We talked to each other; we laughed occasionally, but always the thought of death in our minds – our insides were dying slowly. The water was death; the bully beef was death; everything was death. It terrified me; it made me feel dead. A man would pass me holding his stomach, groaning in agony, and a few minutes later I would take him off the latrine, dead. The men contracted dysentery and fever every day. The bullets did not take a big toll. It was the death of germs. 

Another British soldier, Edward Roe, wrote in his diary on December 10, 1915: 

I am personally aware that at least a dozen of the men in my company sleep every night in the latrine; when the reach the last stages they are sent to hospital by night. The hospital is 3 miles from our position. Some may reach hospital and some may fall into a trench of water – where they remain. We are all aware that if every man were sent to hospital that is sick, it would be impossible to carry on. 

And an Australian soldier, Frank Parker, remembered: “The sickness was just as bad as the casualties, the wounded and the killed. I was pretty crook myself, I had the greatest quadrille you ever saw in your life. I had yellow jaundice, dysentery, hives and lice. I was lousy. Anyone that wasn’t lousy was never on Gallipoli.” 

As it happened the storms came just a week after Secretary of State for War Kitchener had visited Gallipoli (since October under the command of a new general, Sir Charles Monro) to see if there was any hope for the failed campaign. The news of the worsening weather would help make up his mind and those of the Allied commanders: it was time to throw in the towel and evacuate the peninsula.

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Aretha Franklin With Week-Long Exhibition

Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA
Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA

With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world has lost one of its most distinctive voices—and personalities. As celebrities and fans share their memories of the Queen of Soul and what her music meant to them, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will pay tribute to the legendary songstress's life with a week-long exhibition of her portrait.

Throughout her career, Franklin earned some of the music industry's highest accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly 30 years later, in 2015, the National Portrait Gallery fêted Franklin with the Portrait of a Nation Prize, which recognizes "the accomplishments of notable contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery collection." (Madeline Albright, Spike Lee, and Rita Moreno are among some of its recent recipients.)

Milton Glaser's lithograph of Aretha Franklin, which is displayed at The National Portrait Gallery
© Milton Glaser

Franklin's portrait was the creation of noted graphic designer Milton Glaser, who employed "his characteristic kaleidoscope palette and innovative geometric forms to convey the creative energy of Franklin's performances," according to the Gallery. The colorful lithographic was created in 1968, the very same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened.

Glaser's image will be installed in the "In Memoriam" section of the museum, which is located on the first floor, on Friday, August 17 and will remain on display to the public through August 22, 2018. The Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and admission is free.

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