Memories of the First World War lie beneath the waters of Gallipoli. After a long wait, divers can access the area from October 2, 2021 onwards.
Canakkale, a Turkish city in the Marmara Region, was the battleground of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I. During the campaign, the allied powers fought and lost against the Ottoman Empire, with several ships sinking into the Dardanelles, also known as the Strait of Gallipoli.
Until recently, the area was a no-go area guarded by the Turkish military as it was still littered with explosives left behind during the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915. In 2017, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism was given a mandate for managing the place. Since 2018, the ministry’s Directorate of Gallipoli Historic Site has been working to detect, document and remove the explosives to turn the area into a safe underwater park.
The area was once exclusive to divers with special permits such as military personnel or researchers. Now that the explosives which constituted a threat have been disabled and removed, divers will be welcomed at the Historic Gallipoli Underwater Park at Canakkale as of October 2, 2021.
Twelve submerged ships will be opened for diving activities, as well as the Bebek Rocks where divers can observe coral reefs and marine life.
There are currently 16 large ships and submarines in the Gallipoli underwater park area, two of which will be among the 12 ships opened for diving. These are the United Kingdom’s HMS Majestic (1895), the largest of the nine pre-dreadnought battleships of the Royal Navy which was sunk by a U-boat, and the HMS Louis (1913), an L class destroyer warship of the Royal Navy which was sunk by Ottoman artillery.
HMS Majestic, the ship that has drawn the most attention, lies at the bottom of the sea close to Cape Helles, or Seddulbahir. It had sunk with the loss of 49 marines. Efforts to have the sunken ship available for diving activities had started on September 1, 2019.
The other fourteen large ships include HMS Ocean (1898) and HMS Irresistible (1898) of the Royal Navy. The documentation process for the fourteen large ships, along with other smaller ships, continues. It is not yet known which additional ships will be available for diving activities. According to the Directorate of Gallipoli Historic Site, there are also several undetected submerged ships.
The 10 submerged ships that will welcome divers along with the HMS Majestic and HMS Louis include a minesweeper called Lundy that sank in the 1930s, a freighter carrying asphalt called Franco that sank in the 1960s, and several lighter ships.
The art history expert of the Directorate of Gallipoli Historic Site, Yusuf Kartal, was awestruck by the diving experience. “It’s a different world," he told TRT World. "You dive in and suddenly you are back in 1915. You see the submerged ship as they were 106 years ago and experience the chaos of war second-hand”.
“The ships bring you back to the moment they sank in. You witness the damage that took down colossal ships like the HMS Majestic.”
For this project that encompassed 150 square kilometers, the seafloor was mapped, anomalies on the seafloor as well as flora, fauna and geographical formations were detected, and information about the sea such as tides, salinity, temperature, and oxygen amount was collected. The submerged ships were identified by divers and three-dimensional models of each ship were prepared. The movable cultural properties were removed from the ships to be properly preserved.
The project was led by the Directorate of Gallipoli Historic Site and funded by the South Marmara Development Agency. The TUBITAK Marmara Research Center led the field research with scientific consultancy from Istanbul University.
The dives will take place under the leadership of professional guides certified by the Turkish Underwater Sports Federation. The Historic Gallipoli Underwater Park is suitable for divers of all levels and people will also have the opportunity to take diving training. There are diving spots at all levels, with submerged ships from 3 meters to 350 meters underwater. The park will cooperate with the coastguard for the safety of the divers.
“Canakkale’s Gallipoli area is a very valuable place in world history. Those that want to understand the Gallipoli Campaign will now have the chance to see the war from a new perspective,” said Kartal.
The Dardanelles has a story to tell that will complete our understanding of the war.