ANZAC / Gallipoli 25 Apr 1915 - 19 Dec 1915
The Gallipoli Campaign was mounted by the British and French largely at the instigation of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Winston Churchill. By seizing the Dardanelles and threatening Istanbul / Constantinople, it was intended that Russia (an ally of Britain's) would gain access to the Mediterranean for its Black Sea fleet. Turkey was an ally of Germany's and numbers of military advisers and significant quantities of arms and ammunition had been provided to Turkey by Germany, including two modern Dreadnought warships. The latter occurred after Britain had cancelled an order placed by Turkey with British shipyards.
Because of the emphasis on the Dardanelles, the campaign is also known by that name. The Turks refer to it as the Battle of Çanakkale after the nearby town on the Asian side of the Dardanelles.
A joint British and French naval operation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul) and secure a sea route to Russia. Turkish fortifications and sea mines stopped the attempt at forcing the Dardanelles by sea power alone with the British and French losing a number of capital warships. When that failed, a rather timid Naval commander Vice Admiral John de Roebeck agreed to an offer by the land commander Sir Ian Hamilton to put a land force ashore to take the Narrows. That attempt, which involved the ANZAC Corps, a British Corps and large number of French troops, lasted nine months but it too ultimately failed, with heavy casualties on both sides.
The landing took place in three key areas; ANZAC near Ari Burnu, the British near Cape Helles and the French on the southern side of the Dardanelles at a place called Kum Kale. A feint was staged by the Royal Naval Division further north at an obvious and therefore well defended point near Bulair.
The force landed successfully but was never able to break out of their disconnected beach-head positions. After successfully getting ashore the ANZACs captured and consolidated to the Second Ridge, and subsequently defended their beach head but were unable to penetrate further inland.
The Australian commander, General Bridges, was mortally wounded by a snipers bullet on the 9th May and on the 19th, the Turks mounted a major counter attack, which the ANZACs successfully repelled, inflicting heavy casualties.
The British at Helles suffered appalling casualties on a much greater scale than the ANZACs, and the French suffered similarly on the Asian side of the Dardanelles.
Thereafter it settled into a siege with both sides occupying trenches sometimes a mere 30m apart.
A lack of effective Allied artillery was a telling factor throughout the campaign.
Although the Allies had naval gunfire support, control and coordination was rudimentary and the flat shooting guns could not reach into the dead ground (ie below line of sight) behind the ridge lines. Secondly, high explosive / armour piercing shells while effective against defensive positions on the forward slopes of hills, was not as effective against troops, particularly if they were in dead ground.
The ubiquitous airburst shrapnel fired by Howitzers and field guns could reach into dead ground. Shrapnel shells burst in the air above enemy troops and unleashed a hail of lead ball projectiles which inflicted wounds very similar to gunshot wounds in effect. So much so that the wound classification 'GSW" could alternatively mean 'Gun Shot Wound' or 'General Shrapnel Wound'. The Ottoman forces were far better equipped with howitzers, whereas the Allies had very few.
In close combat, hand thrown 'bombs' became a critical factor. The Turks had hand grenades, the Allies did not. Instead they had to manufacture crude 'jam tin' bombs.
Perhaps most tellingly, throughout the campaign the Allies never achieved the 3:1 ratio of troops necessary to succeed in a sustained attack let alone a broader offensive.
The August Offensive (described in detail in a related feature)
By late summer the Allies attempted a breakout from their beach-head positions; the so-called August Offensive. An entire British Corps of three Divisions landed at Suvla Bay to the north of ANZAC, and a major British attack was mounted at Cape Helles to the south.
In the centre, on the northern fringe of ANZAC, the real objective was to be sought - control of the Sari Bair range. The attack on the 'vital ground' was to be carried out by the ANZAC Division which included the Australian 4th Brigade, the 1st Light Horse Brigade, the NZ Brigade the NZ Mounted Brigade along with an Indian Brigade and attached British troops.
On the eastern edge of ANZAC, the Australian 1st Division conducted a 'major demonstration' at a place called Lone Pine, during the course of which seven Victoria Crosses were won. Lone Pine was intended to draw the Turkish defenders away from the main effort - the capture of the high ground on the Sari Bair range.
The British attack at Helles on 6th August was a costly fiasco. On the evening of the 6th August it was the Australians’ turn when the 1st Division attacked at Lone Pine as a diversionary attack while the British landed at Suvla Bay. The Australians had to break their way in to a heavily fortified position suffering hundreds of casualties in the process but after ferocious close quarter fighting and bombing, they captured and held the position.
The Suvla landing stalled mainly through command failure.
The attack on the Sari Bair Range failed because the plan was compromised by the terrain and a subsequent breakdown in coordination and timetable, exacerbated by the failure of the Suvla attacks to outflank the Ottoman forces.
Another costly failure took place late in August when an attack on Hill 60 near the juntion between the Suvla forces and the ANZAC Division was ordered. The 9th Light Horse (the only effective unit left in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade after the Nek), suffered heavily losing their Commanding Officer as well (their second CO killed in less than three weeks).
By this time, disease and casualties had taken their toll and the disembarked Force's offensive capacity had been bled out. From late August, the Second Division began arriving. The campaign played out towards winter when it was decided to evacuate the force. This was ironically the most technically difficult but successful part of the campaign. To conduct a withdrawal from a beach head in contact with the enemy is fraught with danger. Such an operation can easily turn into a rout. Good planning and execution saw the withdrawal conducted at night under the very noses of the Turks who didn't realise what had happened until the following morning.
The Australians suffered over 8,000 killed and more than 13,000 wounded. It was a victory for the Turks and a defeat for the Allies.
The Gallipoli campaign resonated profoundly among all nations involved. In Turkey, the battle is perceived as a defining moment in the history of the Turkish nation—a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the aging Ottoman Empire was crumbling. The campaign was considered one of the greatest victories of the Turks and was reflected on as a major failure by the Allies. The struggle laid the grounds for the Turkish War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the successful Turkish commander at Gallipoli.
The campaign was the first major battle undertaken in the war by Australia and New Zealand, and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both countries. The term ANZAC was derived from the title bestwoed on these Dominion forces - the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The ANZACs forged a reputation of sometimes reckless courage, reflecting the fact that they were far from a professional Army at the outset, but peopled by men who adapted easily to the privations and danger of 20th century soldiering, beginning their evolution into a modern highly skilled, technically proficient and well led professional Army by the War's end.
ANZAC Day, 25 April, remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing Armistice Day/Remembrance Day.
Steve Larkins July 2013
See this link to the Department of Veterans Affairs Page on Gallipoli (www.anzacsite.gov.au)