March 18 was a significant victory for the Turks in the Battle of Gallipoli.
Ten days earlier, on March 8, the minelayer Nusret had laid a line of mines in Eren Köy Bay, a wide bay along the Asian shore just inside the entrance to the straits.
The British and the French weren’t aware of this. The British plan for 18 March was to silence the defences guarding the first five minefields, they would be cleared overnight by the minesweepers. The next day the remaining defences around the Narrows would be defeated and the last five minefields would be cleared.
The battleships were arranged in three lines, two British and one French, with supporting ships on the flanks and two ships in reserve.
The day unfolded as follows:
- 11.00: The first British line opens fire from Eren Köy Bay.
- 12.00: The French line ordered to pass through and close on the Narrows forts.
- 13.25: With the Ottoman defences mostly silent, the French line is ordered to withdraw and bring forward the second British line as well as Swiftsure and Majestic.
- 13.54: Bouvet—having made a turn to starboard into Eren Köy Bay—struck a mine, capsized and sank within a couple of minutes, killing 639 crewmen. The initial British reaction was that a shell had struck her magazine or she had been torpedoed, and so decide to press with the attack.
- 16.00: Inflexible began to withdraw and struck a mine near where Bouvet went down, killing thirty crewmen. The battlecruiser remained afloat and eventually beached on the island of Bozcaada. Irresistible was the next to be mined.
- 18.05: Ocean strikes a mine which jams the steering gear leaving her likewise helpless. The abandoned battleships were still floating when the British withdrew.
A destroyer commanded by Commodore Roger Keyes returned later to attempt either to tow away or sink the stricken vessels but despite searching for four hours, there was no sign of them.
He later reported:
The fear of their fire was actually the deciding factor of the fortunes of the day. For five hours the [destroyer]Wear and picket boats had experienced, quite unperturbed and without any loss, a far more intense fire from them than the sweepers encountered… the latter could not be induced to face it, and sweep ahead of the ships in ‘B’ line….I had the almost indelible impression that we were in the presence of a beaten foe. I thought he was beaten at 2 pm. I knew he was beaten at 4 PM — and at midnight I knew with still greater clarity that he was absolutely beaten; and it only remained for us to organise a proper sweeping force and devise some means of dealing with drifting mines to reap the fruits of our efforts.
And with this, the Turks were the victors.
For just 118 casualties, they sank three battleships and damaged another with mines and inflicted seven hundred casualties on the British-French fleet.
With the failure of the naval assault, the idea that land forces could advance around the backs of the Dardanelles forts and capture Istanbul gained support as an alternative.
On 25 April, Gallipoli was invaded on foot.