This intriguing piece is a mimeographed map made in the field by Ottoman soldiers during the height of the Gallipoli Campaign (February 17, 1915 – January 9, 1916), one of the great events of World War I. During this 11-month long saga, a force of 325,000 Ottomans successfully defended their country from a British Imperial-French invasion force of over 500,000 men which made various landings upon the Gallipoli Peninsula which strategically guarded the mouth of the Dardanelles, the gateway to Istanbul. Specifically, the map focusses upon the theatre of the four Battles of Krithia, major actions of the campaign fought between April and August 1915.
All the toponomy on the map is written in Ottoman Turkish script; to better understand the map, please consult an English-language map of the same region:
The present map depicts the southern portion of the Gallipoli Peninsula (save its south-westernmost extremity, Cape Helles), with the Dardanelles to the south and the Aegean Sea to the northwest. The map gives a sophisticated topographical rendering of the landscape, with contour lines expressing elevation, plus the locations of major towns, villages, key farmsteads, roads and nullahs (rivers and dry ravines) – all the information necessary for planning military operations. The major town in the far lower-left, Sedd el Bahr, located near the extremity of the peninsula was a key immediate target of the British-French landing forces, while taking the highest point of land on the map, the 215-metre hill of Achi Baba (located in the far upper-right), and the town of Krithia (today Alçitepe) below, were key objectives of the operation. Control over Achi Baba was assumed to give the possessor an overwhelming advantage that could conceivably alter the course of the entire Gallipoli Campaign.
From the beginning of World War I, Ottoman military strategists knew that Britain would likely strike Turkey near the mouth of the Dardanelles. They were very well prepared (far more so than the British expected), and by the end of 1914 they had evacuated the civilian population of Krithia, which consisted of 450 ethnic Greek families, such that the town could be used as both a forward base to support defensive lines and to guard the approaches to Achi Baba.
Greater attention has traditionally been given to the British Imperial-French landings that occurred further to the north of the area portrayed on the present map (such as Anzac Cove); however, the actions that occurred in the Sedd el Bahr-Krithia corridor were major events that deserve to be remembered.
On April 25, 1915, British Imperial-French forces commanded by Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, totalling 13,500 men, landed at both Cape Helles (located just off the map), taking Sedd el Bahr, and at ‘Y’ Beach (marked on the map as ‘y’, upper-left). They naively planned upon easily moving up to capture Krithia and Achi Baba; however, they were stonewalled by an Ottoman force of half their size, commanded by Colonel Salil Ali Bey. On April 28, the two sides fought the fierce First Battle of Krithia in the countryside between Sedd el Bahr, Y Beach and Krithia, which resulted in the British-French forces retreating to near their original lines, having suffered very heavy casualties.
Over the next week, both sides drew in reinforcements, such that the British-French forces in the southern peninsula numbered 25,000, while the Ottomans counted 20,000 men. During the Second Battle of Krithia, which occurred May 6-8, 1915, the attackers made another run at the Turkish lines but were met with fierce resistance. While the British-French gained a modest amount of ground, almost half of their men became casualties. While nobody could fault the dedication of the invading troops, their side suffered from a lack of coordination which was brutally exploited by the highly driven and well-led Ottomans.
On June 4, 1915, during the Third Battle of Krithia, Hunter-Weston, in command of 30,000 men (against a slightly smaller Ottoman force) perused a more conservative approach, whereby he tried to merely gain some ground, as opposed to mounting a headlong rush towards Krithia and Achi Baba. This operation initially met with same success, until the Ottomans mounted a fearsome counterattack that pinned the British-French back into their trenches. The invaders barely gained any ground, while both sides suffered thousands of casualties.
As three times was not lucky, during the Fourth Battle of Kritiha, fought August 6-13, 1915, the British-French tried in vain to break the Ottoman lines, but after six brutal days of fighting were finally repulsed. By this point the invaders had run out of the energy and resources necessary to make another go at Krithia. Indeed, the Gallipoli Campaign had been one of the greatest fiascos in British military history, and the entire venture was abandoned at the beginning of 1916. While, as we all know, the Ottoman Empire inevitably lost World War I and disintegrated from 1918, the great bravery and skill of the Ottoman fighters in defending their country during the Gallipoli Campaign is still rightly hailed as one of the great modern achievements of the Turkish people.
As for the town of Kritihia, it was heavily damaged by British shelling during the battles. Its original Greek inhabitants were compelled to leave the area permanently due to the Turkish War of Independence (1919-23). They were eventually replaced with ethnic Turks from Romania.
The present map was made by Ottoman soldiers, likely members of the engineering corps, shortly after the First Battle of Krithia (April 28, 1915), owing to the identification of Y Beach, but before the conclusion of the Krithia operations in August 1915 (the map does not seem to show events of the latter battles). It was mimeographed somewhere near the front, having used part of a large, formal lithographed topographical survey as its template. This smaller map, which depicted only the relevant area of active operations, would have been far more convenient for troops to carry on the move than unwieldy charts of the larger region.
Such ephemeral Ottoman military maps made in the heat of an active warzone are today extremely rare survivors.