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The Gallipoli Campaign

By: Tanya McColgan

Published: 09 April 2024

SPECIAL FEATURE

For they stood beside their allied brothers with courage, endurance, resilience, patriotism, humour and showed their hand in mateship.

Each year, Australian and New Zealanders commemorate the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on the 25 April 1915 at what is now called Anzac Cove in Turkey. The anniversary is the most respected date for both Australians and New Zealanders and expressing national sentiment and the commemoration of military casualties and veterans.

 

At the start of the First World War (1914 -1918), both Australia and New Zealand were relatively young nations, and the global conflict not only brought each country to the world stage but also Gallipoli became a defining moment  for Australia and New Zealand and represents a combination of achievement and tragedy.

 

The landing of the ANZACs on Gallipoli Peninsula was Australia’s first major action in World War One (WWI) and the battles the ANZACs fought, established their great military reputation and are remembered for serving with distinction.

 

Although the last entry of Australian Gallipoli veterans was that of Alec William Campbell, who passed away on 16 May 2002, age 103 years, our ANZACs have left a legacy for future generations of Australians and New Zealanders. 

 

We commemorate all Anzacs, for they stood beside their allied brothers with courage, endurance, resilience, patriotism, humour and showed their hand in mateship.

Background of the Gallipoli campaign

In London on 5 September 1914, Russia, France and United Kingdom formalised their alliance, to be known as the Entente or the “Allies”, with a treaty specifying that no member of the partnership would make a separate peace with their mutual enemies “ the Central Powers” which consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria.

Men of the 11th battalion and 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, assembled on the forecastle of HMS London at sea off Lemnos, 24 April 1915. The next morning they would leave the London to land on North Beach, Gallipoli. Australian War Memorial A02468

Men of the 11th battalion and 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, assembled on the forecastle of HMS London at sea off Lemnos, 24 April 1915. The next morning they would leave the London to land on North Beach, Gallipoli. Australian War Memorial A02468

Anzac Beach, Gallipoli, 1915. The beach packed with Australian soldiers and supplies with more arriving in small boats. Australian War Memorial H03574

Anzac Beach, Gallipoli, 1915. The beach packed with Australian soldiers and supplies with more arriving in small boats. Australian War Memorial H03574

On 28 October 1914, hostilities began when the Ottoman fleet, including Goeben and Breslau (flying the Ottoman flag and renamed Yavûz Sultân Selîm and Midilli but still commanded by German officers and manned by German crews) conducted the Black Sea Raid in which they bombarded the Russian port of Odessa and sank several ships.

On 31 October, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers and began the Caucasus campaign against Russia. This changed the strategic situation, especially in the Middle East where Ottoman forces now posed a direct threat to the Suez Canal – an important British shipping lane between Europe and Asia.

 

In January 1915 the Commander of the Russian armies, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich appealed to Britain for assistance against the Ottoman Empire which had invaded the Caucasus and placed pressure on the Russian forces.  At the same time, the war on the Western Front where Allied forces fighting in Belgium and in France had fallen into a stalemate and was one of the largest and bloodiest battles of WWI.

 

The British government agreed to stage a demonstration against Turkey. The First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill sought the Allies to weaken the Ottoman Empire by taking control of the Dardanelles Straits, a 38 mile (61 km) long channel strategically located between the Mediterranean and Black Seas and connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara in northwestern Turkey.  If they were successful in their goal the Allies could link up supply routes with Russia and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war.  By taking control of the Dardanelles Strait this would expose the Turkish capital, Constantinople to be attacked by the Allied battleships which would lead to a defeated empire and the Suez Canal would be safe.

The First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill proposed that opening another front  would dilute the Germany forces as they supported the depleting Ottoman Turkish Army. Winston pushed for a naval attack on the Dardanelles with a bombardment of British and French battleships on the 19 February 1915, and resumed on the 25 February due to bad weather. The Ottoman’s had placed mines in the water, where mine sweepers had failed to detect. The British sent Royal Marines ashore to sabotage the Ottomans artillery and on 18 March 1915 the Allied battleships entered the strait. Fire from the Turks and the undetected sea mines, sank three Allied battleships and three others were severely damaged. The navy ships were mostly obsolete warships, too old for fleet action. After this naval assault failed, the approach was modified, to a full-scale beach assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula where the shores of the Dardanelles would have to be held for the Turkish guns to be silenced and so did the mine fields for the fleet to passed through. A large military force was required.

General Ian Hamilton, a semi-retired officer, became Commander in chief and was sent to Egypt to take command of what became known as the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). Hamilton had assembled 75 ships and a force of  75,000 men from the British Army, France, British-India, Australia and New Zealand as well as a Royal Navy division but lacked any specialised landing crafts.

The men known as the ANZACs

The ANZACs path to Gallipoli began with the outbreak of war between the United Kingdom and Germany in August 1914 and Australia pledged their support as part of the British Empire. Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF)  steamed in convoy expecting to join British forces fighting on the Western Front.

 

By November 1914 the forces of 20,000 Australian men had arrived in Egypt - ready to fight. Most of the fighting was taking place on the Western Front in France but months went past and neither side was winning. 

 

Most of the men recruited into the AIF and NZEF were sent for training and to bolster the British forces in Egypt and were intended to meet the threat which the Ottoman Empire posed to British interests. In February 1915, elements of the NZEF helped fight off an Ottoman raid on the Suez Canal.

 

In early 1915, during training, the Australians and New Zealanders were combined into one corps – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) which included approximately 20,000 Australians and 8,500 New Zealanders. These men were commanded by British-Indian Army officer, Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, these men were known as 'the Anzacs'. After four and a half months of training, the ANZACs departed by ships for Gallipoli Peninsula together with troops from Britain and France.

The Gallipoli Campaign

Before dawn on 25 April 1915, a fleet of ships assembled off the Gallipoli Peninsula and at dawn thousands of troops landed at three main points on the peninsula.  The British Army landed at Cape Helles on the southern tip of the peninsula, while French troops landed in a ruse at Kum Kale on the Dardanelles Asian shore before moving to the Helles sector on Gallipoli.

 

The Anzac forces had landed a little north at Ari Burnu of the intended landing site of Gaba Tepe.  The Gaba Tepe landing area what would become known as Anzac Cove in honour of the Australian and New Zealand troops who fought valiantly against the determined Ottoman Turkish defenders. After the landing, the Allies could not progress as trench warfare quickly formed.

 

Sixteen thousand, young Australians and New Zealanders men together with British, French and Indian troops stormed the beaches. Turkish shelling had begun within an hour of the initial landing and the Allies had suffered heavy casualties.

 

In the evening, Major-General William Bridges, Commander of the AIF and Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, Commander of ANZACs, both advised General Sir Ian Hamilton to withdraw the Allies from Gallipoli. Hamilton decided against their recommendation. He ordered the troops to begin digging trenches.

Gallipoli Campaign Map.jpg

The Gallipoli Campaign Map of the Gallipoli Peninsula and timeline of major events. ©Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 

The Anzacs held on for the crucial first night and of the 16,000 men who landed during the first day at Anzac Cove, more than 2,000 had been killed or injured by the next morning. For the vast majority of the ANZACs, it was their first experience of combat.

It was a shocking start to a terrible campaign, but extraordinary acts of bravery were demonstrated.  The Anzac Cove battlefield in comparison has been summed up as; that you couldn’t find a place less suited for a massive amphibious assault in an era of industrial warfare.  The Anzacs had to advance up an  extraordinary ravine up ridges and cliffs with Turkish forces shooting down on them with a result  that imposed spectacular casualties.

 

Due to the outstanding bravery of our ANZACs they did reach some high ground but were unable to push beyond the beach head and spent many months in confined environments and trenches that were full of terror and bursting fire.

 

For months the fighting continued and neither side could get an advantage over the other, although several attempts were made. Hamilton ordered an attack on Suvla Bay on the 6 August with the landing of 63,000 allied troops, they were to link up with the Anzacs at Anzac Cove and break the stalemate.

 

The Anzacs played a vital part in the Hamilton order of the 6 August and were to create a diversion by attacking Turkey’s frontlines, later to be known as the Battle of Lone Pine. The battle was part of a diversionary attack to draw Ottoman attention away from the main assaults being conducted by British, Indian and New Zealand troops around Sari Bair, Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, which became known as the August Offensive.

 

Turkish resistance was fierce and the Ottoman’s reinforced their position. By 10 August an attack under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal recaptured Suvla Bay.  For eight long months the ANZACs advanced very little from their positions they had taken on the 25 April 1915 and casualties had increased significantly. Alongside their allied brothers they battled harsh conditions and Ottoman forces desperately fought to protect their homeland. 

The Allied forces at Gallipoli suffered months of stalemate and all attempts to break through the Turkish lines, failed with approximately 250,000 casualties on each side sustained.

On 11 October, the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener asked Hamilton to estimate the losses he expected if the MEF were to withdraw from Gallipoli. Hamilton's response was less than favourable, as well as estimating significant losses.

Hamilton heard on 16 October that he was being recalled to London. He was replaced by Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Monro, who had recently commanded the Third Army in France. Hamilton left Gallipoli on 17 October.

Until Monro’s arrival, Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood took temporary command of the MEF, when Monro arrived, serious discussions were undertaken to evacuate troops from Gallipoli. By the end of October Monro had convinced British government that the real war to defeat Germany was being fought on the Western Front. To him, Gallipoli was a sideshow capable of drawing off much-needed men and supplies.

By November 1915, it was clear that the stalemate was not likely to be broken. Lord Kitchener, the British chief of staff, recommended an evacuation. The order to evacuate Allied troops was given on the 7 December and the troops from Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove left before dawn on the 20 December. The last troops left Cape Helles on 9 January 1916 and the evacuation was a success with no casualties.

The Casualties

Of all the varied parts of the world where British and Commonwealth forces were deployed during the WWI, Gallipoli was remembered by its veterans as one of the worst places to serve and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Trench at Lone Pine after the battle, showing Australian and Turkish dead on the parapet, August 1915. Standing (right) is Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Leslie Morshead. Photo: Phillip Schuler. Australian War Memorial PS1515

Trench at Lone Pine after the battle, showing Australian and Turkish dead on the parapet, August 1915. Standing (right) is Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Leslie Morshead. Photo: Phillip Schuler. Australian War Memorial PS1515

Australian water carriers from the 6th Battery at Gallipoli. Photo: Phillip Schuler. Australian War Memorial PS1576

Australian water carriers from the 6th Battery at Gallipoli. Photo: Phillip Schuler. Australian War Memorial PS1576

There were heavy casualties, not only from the fighting, but from the extremely unsanitary conditions. In all it is estimated that half a million casualties were suffered combined. Of the estimated 213,000 British casualties, 145,000 were from illness. Surviving combatants also recalled the terrible problems with intense heat, swarms of flies, body lice, severe lack of water and insufficient supplies.

Over 50,000 Australians served on Gallipoli during the eight month campaign and over 8,700 lost their lives, while some 18,000 were wounded. Although figures have varied slightly through different sources, according to the Australian War Memorial, a revised estimate dated January 26, 1919, states the total number of Australians killed is 8,709 and 2,779 New Zealanders.
 

In all 61,522 Australians lost their lives in WWI. As well as an estimated total of 664 Australian officers and 17,260 men were wounded. According to the official history, 70 Australians were captured on Gallipoli.

World War One

World War one was an international conflict, 1914–18 and embroiled most of the nations of Europe along with Russia, the United States, the Middle East and other regions. The war pitted the Central Powers, mainly Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey against the Allies Forces, France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and from 1917, the United States.

 

In 1916, Australian and New Zealand infantry divisions were sent to France. They took part in some of the bloodiest actions of the war and established reputations as elite shock troops, at the price of heavy casualties.

 

The Australians reached a strength of five divisions but faced difficulty replacing losses as Australia twice rejected enlistment. Grouped into a single corps commanded by General Sir John Monash who complemented the panache and the tactical skill of his soldiers with comprehensive and careful planning, the Australians nevertheless were central to defeating the German offensive of March 1918 and to the “hundred days” from August 8 to November 11 that ended the Great War. The New Zealand Division, sustained by conscription was second to none in combat, planning and administration.

 

WWI ended with the defeat of the Central Powers. The war was virtually unprecedented in the slaughter, carnage, and destruction it caused. It led to the fall of four great imperial dynasties (in Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey), resulted in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and in its destabilisation of European society and laid the groundwork for World War II.

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