The old Ottoman fort of Kumkale lies 5 kilometres from the ruins of ancient Troy and 45 kilometres south of Çanakkale. The fort dates from the 17th century and was built as part of the outer defences of the Straits. From the Kumkale area there are fine views to Gallipoli, and throughout the campaign Turkish batteries hereabouts bombarded Allied positions at Helles. One gun in particular, known as ‘Asiatic Annie’, caused many casualties among the French, whose positions stretched from Morto Bay down to Seddülbahir. The French commander, General Henri Gouraud, was himself blown over a wall at Seddülbahir and severely injured by a shell literally fired from Asia.
- Artist’s impression of Lieutenant Commander Eric Robinson placing charges to demolish the Turkish guns at Kumkale, 26 February 1915. [From Stephen Snelling, VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli, Stroud, 1999]
- Old Turkish gun at Kumkale. The gun points across the mouth of the Straits of the Dardanelles (Çanakkale Boğazi) towards Cape Helles and the village and fort of Seddülbahir.
The British began their interest in Kumkale with an unsucessful bombardment on 19 February 1915. They followed this up on 25 February with a bit more success, their warships staying out of range as they pounded the area. To complete the destruction of the guns, a party of Royal Marines was landed on 26 February, along with a naval demolition group led by Lieutenant Eric Robinson. It was not all plain sailing for the British: Turkish resistance mounted and Robinson could legitimately have abandoned the expedition. Then a solitary figure in white uniform was seen ‘strolling around by himself’ up what was known as Achilles Mound, the supposed tomb of the Greek hero of the Trojan war. It was Robinson, who, under heavy fire, proceeded to calmly blow up two guns there. For this, and later acts of courage, Robinson received the Victoria Cross, the first such award of the Gallipoli campaign. One Royal marine, Sergeant Ernest Turnbull, was killed, making him perhaps the first Allied soldier to die in the struggle for the Dardanelles.
Kumkale saw considerable action on 25 April 1915 when a French force landed as a diversion from the main landings on Gallipoli. Later Kumkale was visited by an American journalist, Granville Fortescue, who wrote that the Turkish soldiers he saw there were a ‘grim impressive lot’. ‘Watching the serious earnestness with which ... [they] go through their drill’, Fortescue concluded, ‘leaves an impression boding no good for the Allies they may fight’.