Gallipoli Campaign - History

Gallipoli Campaign - History

Ottoman Troops

The Allies hoped to inflict a quick knock out blow to the Ottomans by capturing Constantinople. They were however unable to break through the Straits of Dardanelles with their naval force. They then attempted to capture coast with ground troops, but that campaign ended indecisively and they were forced to withdraw.

The Ottomans were the major allies of the Germans, and allied forces had attacked Ottoman holdings in the Middle East. However, the Ottomans controlled the Dardanelles straits, the entry point into the Black Sea from the Mediterranean and thus an important gateway to Russia. The Allies came up with an ambitious campaign to both secure the passage through the Dardanelles and possibly end the Ottoman involvement in the war. The British and French would sail through the Straits and capture Constantinople (now Istanbul). The allies hope was that with overwhelming naval strength they could break through the defenses of the Dardanelles and make it to Constantinople.

The Allies launched their first attack on February 19th,1915 when British battleships began the long range bombardment of the Ottoman forts along the coast. The initial bombardments were successful despite delays caused by bad weather and by February 25th Royal Marines landed to destroy the remnants of the batteries guarding the entrance to the straits. However many of the Ottoman guns were mobile and it became and more difficult to destroy them. Thus it was decided to launch an all out assault on the narrowest part of the straits. Eighteen British and French battleships together with supporting cruisers and destroyers launched their assault on March 18th, Unfortunately the job of removing the mines had been left to civilian boats and they were not prepared to work under fire from the remaining Ottoman batteries and thus the mines were not cleared. The result was the French battleship Bouvet hit a mine and sunk. The HMS Irressistible and HMS Inflexible were damaged as was the HMS Ocean. Two additional French battleships were also damaged. Some of the officers believed that the ship should keep going despite the losses but others believed that a withdrawal was in order and they prevailed.

With it seemingly impossible to break through with only naval forces it was decided to land forces and secure the Northern shore. On April 25th landings were made by British, Austrian and New Zealand forces at six beaches. The Allies forces faced harder than expected resistance from the Ottomans and although they were able to battle their way inland from the beached, Ottoman reinforcements arrived before they could win a decisive battle. Casualties were high. The Ottoman launched a major counteroffensive on May 19th hoping to dislodge the Allied forces. The Ottomans had hoped to carry the day thinks to the element of surprise, however their movements were spotted by British planes and the Allies decimated their advance with the Ottomans suffering 13,000 casualties. The Allies tried one more offensive campaign in August that failed to make any significant progress.

In early December it was decided to evacuate the area. The last allied forces let the peninsular on the night of January 9, 1916. Ironically in a campaign that nothing seemed to go right, one of the most difficult military maneuvers and withdrawal from a beach head was successfully implemented almost flawlessly.

The campaign had been a total and costly failure. The British lost 43,000 men killed or missing while the Ottomans lost 56,000.

Gallipoli Campaign

The Gallipoli campaign took place between April and December 1915 in an effort to take the Dardanelles from the Turkish Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany and Austria) and thus force it out of the war. Some 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders were part of a larger British force. Some 26,000 Australians and 7,571 New Zealanders were wounded and 7,594 Australians and 2,431 NZs were killed. In numerical terms Gallipoli was a minor campaign but it took on considerable national and personal importance to the Australians and New Zealanders who fought there.

The Gallipoli Campaign was Australia's and New Zealand's introduction to the Great War. Many Australians and New Zealanders fought on the Peninsula from the day of the landings (April 25th, 1915) until the evacuation of 20 December 1915. The 25th April is the New Zealand equivalent of Armistice Day and is marked as the ANZAC day in both countries with Dawn Parades and other services in every city and town. Shops are closed in the morning. It is a very important day to Australians and New Zealanders for a variety of reasons that have changed and transmuted over the years.


Charles Bean was born in Bathurst, New South Wales, the first of three sons of the Reverend Edwin Bean (1851-1922), then headmaster of All Saints' College, Bathurst, and Lucy Madeline Bean, née Butler, (1852 -1942). Bean’s parents’ preoccupation with truth, social justice and public service became his. [26] [27]

His family and his formal education fostered his values which were influenced by ‘The Arnold Tradition’, the model of moral values and education championed by Dr Arnold of Rugby School in England. This model emphasised individual self-worth and qualities associated with ‘good character’: trust and reliability, honesty, openness, self-discipline, self-reliance, independent thought and action, friendship, and concern for the common good over selfish or sectional interests. [28] Bean’s lifelong preoccupation with character was consistent with, if not a reflection of, the ‘Arnold Tradition. [29] [30]

Bean’s formal education began in Australia at All Saints’ College, Bathurst. In 1889, when Bean was nine, the family moved to England, where he was educated at Brentwood School, Essex (1891-1894), of which his father was its newly appointed headmaster. Later, Bean entered Clifton College, Bristol - his father’s alma mater, the ethos of which was also in the tradition of Arnold. [31]

While at Clifton, Bean developed an interest in literature and in 1898 won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford taking a Masters of Arts in 1903 and a Bachelor of Civil Law in 1904. [32]

During his schooling Bean served in the volunteer corps both at Clifton College and at Oxford University. [33]

Bean returned to Australia in 1904 and taught briefly, including a stint at Sydney Grammar School, [34] then worked as a legal assistant on a country circuit from 1905 to 1907. He resigned his position as barrister assisting Mr. Justice Owen in May 1907, [35] and recounted his experiences in The Sydney Morning Herald in a series of articles. In June 1908, he joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a reporter. By mid-1909, he was working on commissioned articles the first was "The Wool Land", in three weekly instalments. [36] [37] [38]

It was during this period of travelling the outback of New South Wales that Bean took two journeys on the paddle steamer Jandra, [39] which he recounted in Dreadnought of the Darling, serialised in the Sydney Mail in 1910, then published in book form in 1911.

In 1911 and 1912, he was the Herald ' s correspondent in London. Again, he made good use of his opportunities, producing a series of articles which he fleshed out for his next book Flagships Three, which received favourable reviews. [40]

After the declaration of war by the British Empire upon the German Empire on 4 August 1914, Bean secured an appointment as the official war correspondent to the Australian Imperial Force in September, having been selected for the post by the executive council of the Australian Journalists' Association, narrowly beating Keith Murdoch. [41] [42] He was commissioned at the rank of captain in the A.I.F. and reported all of the major campaigns where Australian troops saw action in the conflict.

Egypt Edit

Bean arrived in Egypt on 3 December 1914. He was asked by Senior A.I.F. Command to write a booklet, 'What to Know in Egypt … A Guide for Australian Soldiers’ to help the troops better understand their new environment'. [43] Despite the advice contained in the guide ‘a handful of rowdies' was sent home from Egypt and Bean was asked to send a report covering the issue. The resulting newspaper coverage aroused concern with families in Australia and resentment towards him from among the troops in Egypt. [44]

Gallipoli Campaign Edit

Bean went ashore at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula at 10 a.m. on 25 April 1915, a few hours behind the seaborne landing of the first troops, and provided press reports of the experiences of the Australians there for most of the campaign.

As a war correspondent, Bean's copy was detailed and accurate, but lacked the exciting narrative style of the English war correspondents like Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, who produced the first eyewitness report from the peninsula theatre, which was published in Australian newspapers on 8 May 1915. As demand for reports on the events at Gallipoli increased in the Australian home audience, domestic newspapers such as The Age and The Argus stopped carrying Bean's copy due to its unappealing style. [ citation needed ]

In early May, Bean travelled to Cape Helles with the 2nd Infantry Brigade to cover the Second Battle of Krithia. When the brigade was called to advance late in the afternoon on 8 May 1915, Bean went with them from their reserve position to the starting line for the attack and found himself under enemy fire for the first time (in the form of artillery shrapnel shells). Here he was recommended for the Military Cross for gallantry under fire in rescuing a wounded soldier but was ineligible as his military rank was only honorary. [45] While under fire at this action Bean abandoned his observer status and involved himself in the proceedings by carrying messages between the brigade commander Brigadier General James M'Cay and elements of the formation he also traversed the battlefield delivering water to the men in the parched conditions and helping to carry the wounded, including the Commanding Officer of the 6th Battalion, A.I.F., Lieutenant Colonel Walter McNicoll. [ citation needed ]

On the night of 6 August 1915, Bean was hit in the leg by a Turkish bullet while following the column of Brigadier-General John Monash's 4th Infantry Brigade at the opening of the Battle of Sari Bair. Despite the wound, he refused to be medically evacuated, [46] and continued with his role reporting on the dying Gallipoli campaign's final phase of defeat and the abandonment and withdrawal from the Peninsula by the British Imperial Forces.

Bean left Gallipoli on the night of 17 December 1915, two nights before the final evacuation of Anzac Cove by the A.I.F. He returned to it after the war, in 1919, with the Australian Historical Mission. [47]

Western Front Edit

In 1916, Bean went with the Australian Imperial Force as it moved from the Mediterranean theatre of operations to France after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. [41] He reported from all but one of the engagements involving Australian troops, observing first hand the "fog of war", the problems in maintaining communication between the commanders in the rear and the front line troops, and between isolated units of front line troops, and the technological problems that existed midway through the war in co-ordinating activities of the infantry forces with other arms of the service such as artillery, and with separate forces on each flank of units engaged. His reporting detailed also how accounts given by front line troops, and captured German soldiers, could sometimes be misleading as to the actual course of events given their limited perspective on the battlefield, and also on the effects of the shell-shock from the devastating artillery fire.

It was during his time with the A.I.F. on the Western Front that Bean began thinking about the historical preservation of the Australian experiences of the conflict with the establishment of a permanent museum and national war memorial, and collection of a record of the events. (Concurrent with Bean's thoughts along these lines, on 16 May 1917 the Australian War Records Section was established under the command of Captain John Treloar to manage the collection of documents relating to the conflict and important physical artefacts. Attached with the Section's work were members of the Australian Salvage Corps who were charged with locating items judged to be of historical interest from the wreckage they were processing from the battlefields for scrap or repair.)

Bean had a £15 clothing allowance [48] from the Australian Government, expending it upon what would become his 'distinctive outfit'. He was also equipped with a horse and saddlery. Private Arthur Bazley was assigned as Bean's batman, and the two became friends.

Bean's influence amid the Australian war effort grew as the war progressed, and he used it to argue within Australian Government circles unsuccessfully against the appointment of General John Monash to the command of the Australian Corps in 1918. He expressed anti-semitic views about Monash and his perceived favouritism in the way that he dispensed promotions. [ citation needed ] [49] (Monash was Jewish) and Bean described him as a "pushy Jew". [50] Bean had earned Monash's wrath in return for failing to give his command the publicity that Monash thought it deserved during the Gallipoli campaign. Bean distrusted what he felt was Monash's penchant for self-promotion, writing in his diary: "We do not want Australia represented by men mainly because of the ability, natural and inborn in Jews, to push themselves forward". Bean favoured the appointment of the Australian Chief of General Staff, Brudenell White, the meticulous planner behind the withdrawal from Gallipoli or General William Birdwood, the English Commander of the Australian forces at Gallipoli. Despite his opposition to the appointment of Monash, Bean later acknowledged his success in the role, noting that he had made a better corps commander than a brigadier, admitting that his role in trying to influence the decision had been improper.

Bean's brother was an anaesthetist and served as a Major in the Medical Corps on the Western Front.

In 1916, the British War Cabinet had agreed to grant Dominion official historians access to the war diaries of all British Army units fighting on either side of a Dominion unit, as well as all headquarters that issued orders to Dominion units, including the GHQ of the British Expeditionary Force. By the end of the war, the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) were less than willing to divulge this information, possibly fearing it would be used to criticise the conduct of the war. It took six years of persistence before Bean was allowed access and a further three years for a clerk to make copies of the enormous quantity of documents. Bean therefore had available to him resources that were denied to all British historians who were not associated with the Historical Section of the CID.

Bean was unwilling to compromise his values for personal gain or political expediency. He was not influenced by suggestions and criticism from British official historian, Sir James Edmonds about the direction of his work. Edmonds reported to the CID that, "The general tone of Bean's narrative is deplorable from the Imperial standpoint." For his maverick stance, it is likely that Bean was denied decorations from King George V, despite being recommended on two occasions during the war by the commander of the Australian Corps. Bean was not motivated by personal glory many years later when he was offered a knighthood, he declined. [8]

In 1919, Bean led the Australian Historical Mission back to the Gallipoli peninsula to revisit the battlefield of 1915. For the first time he was able to walk over ground where some of the famous battles were fought such as Lone Pine and at the Nek, where he found the bones of the light horsemen still lying where they fell on the morning of 7 August 1915. He also instructed the Australian Flying Corps, one of the few Australian units involved in the occupation forces in Germany, to collect German aircraft to be returned to Australia they obtained a Pfalz D.XII and an Albatros D.Va.

Upon his return to Australia in 1919, Bean commenced work with a team of researchers on the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18 and the first volume, covering the formation of the AIF and the landing at Anzac Cove, was published in 1921. It would be 21 years before the last of the 12 volumes (Volume VI) was published. Bean personally wrote the first 6 volumes covering the Army involvement. In 1946 he published Anzac to Amiens, a condensed version of the Official History – this was the only book to which he owned the copyright and received royalties.

Bean's style of war history was different from anything that had gone before. Partly reflecting his background as a journalist, he concentrated on both the 'little people' and the big themes of the First World War. The smaller size of the Australian Army contingent (240,000) allowed him to describe the action in many cases down to the level of individuals, which suited Bean's theme that the achievement of the Australian Army was the story of those individuals as much as it was of generals or politicians. Bean was also fascinated by the Australian character, and used the history to describe, and in some way create, a somewhat idealised view of an Australian character that looked back at its British origins but had also broken free from the limitations of that society. "It was character", he wrote, "which rushed the hills at Gallipoli and held on there during the long afternoon and night, when everything seemed to have gone wrong." [51]

Bean's approach, despite his prejudices and his intention to make the history a statement about society, was meticulously to record and analyse what had happened on the battlefields. His method was generally to describe the wider theatre of war, and then the detailed planning behind each battle. He then moved to the Australian commander's perspectives and contrasted these with the impressions from the troops at the front line (usually gathered by Bean 'on the spot'). He then went further and quoted extensively from the German (or Turkish) records of the same engagement, and finally summarised what had actually happened (often using forensic techniques, going over the ground after the war). All throughout he noted the individual Australian casualties where there was any evidence of the circumstances of their death. Even with that small contingent of 240,000 (of whom 60,000 died) this was a monumental task. Bean also – uniquely – reported ultimately on his own involvement in the manoeuvring around command decisions regarding Gallipoli, and the appointment of the Australian Corps Commander, and did not spare himself some criticism with the wisdom of hindsight.

Bean's style of writing profoundly influenced subsequent Australian war historians such as Gavin Long (who was appointed on Bean's recommendation), and the Second World War series, describing the battles of North Africa, Crete, New Guinea and Malaya, retain Bean's commitment to telling the story of individuals as well as the bigger story.

Bean played an essential role in the creation of the Australian War Memorial. [52] After experiencing the First World War as the official Australian war historian, he returned to Australia determined to establish a public display of relics and photographs from the conflict. Bean dedicated an enormous portion of his life to the development of the Australian War Memorial, located in Canberra and now one of Australia's major cultural icons.

It was during the time spent with the First Australian Imperial Force in Europe that Bean started thinking seriously about the need for an Australian war museum. A close friend of his during this time, A.W. Bazley, recalled that "on a number of occasions he talked about what he had in his mind concerning some future Australian war memorial museum". Bean envisioned a memorial that would not only keep track of and hold records and relics of war, but would also commemorate the Australians who lost their lives fighting for their country.

In 1917, as a result of Bean's suggestions to the Defence Minister, Senator George Pearce, The Australian War Records Section was established. The AWRS was set up to guarantee that Australia would have its own collection of records and relics of the First World War being fought. This department arranged for the collection of relics from the field, and the appointment of official war photographers and artists. Many of the numerous relics collected, and photographs and paintings produced, can be seen in the Australian War Memorial today. The quality of paintings from the First World War is attributed in large part to the "quality control" exercised by Bean. [52]

The basis of the building known today as the Australian War Memorial was completed in 1941. The Memorial's website describes the building plan as "a compromise between desire for an impressive monument to the fallen and a budget of only £250,000". Bean's dream of a memorial in recognition of Australian soldiers who fought in the Great War had finally been realised. However, when it was realised that the Second World War was of a magnitude to match that of the First, it was understood that the memorial would have to also commemorate servicemen from the latter conflict, despite the original intentions.

The Hall of Memory, completed in 1959, could not have fulfilled Bean's dream of commemoration more completely. It adhered to Bean's view that war should not be glorified, but that those who died fighting for their country should be remembered. Bean's moral principles such as this, and the fact that the enemy should not be referred to in derogatory terms, along with many others, greatly influenced the philosophical angle that the Australian War Memorial has always taken, and would continue to take.

  • With the flagship in the South (1909)
  • On the Wool Track (1910)
  • The Dreadnought of the Darling (1911)
  • Flagships Three (1913)
  • What to Know in Egypt: A Guide for Australian soldiers, (1915)
  • The Anzac Book, Written and Illustrated by The Men of Anzac (Ed., 1916)
  • Letters from France (1917)
  • In Your Hands, Australians (1918)
  • Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918
  • Volume I – The Story of Anzac: the first phase (1921)
  • Volume II – The Story of Anzac: from 4 May 1915 to the evacuation (1924)
  • Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France: 1916 (1929)
  • Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France: 1917 (1933)
  • Volume V – The Australian Imperial Force in France: December 1917 – May 1918 (1937)
  • Volume VI – The Australian Imperial Force in France: May 1918 – the Armistice (1942)
  • War Aims of a Plain Australian (1943)
  • Anzac to Amiens (1946)
  • Australia’s Federal Archives: John Curtin’s Initiative (1947)
  • Here, My Son, An account of the independent and other Corporate Boys’ Schools of Australia (1950)
  • Gallipoli Mission (1952)
  • Two Men I Knew, William Bridges and Brudenell White, Founders of the A.I.F. (1957)
  • A Bibliography of CEW Bean’s Major Works,APPENDIX X, to ‘BE SUBSTANTIALLY GREAT IN THY SELF: Getting to Know C.E.W. Bean Barrister, Judge’s Associate, Moral Philosopher (2011)’[53]

Bean married Ethel Clara "Effie" Young of Tumbarumba on 24 January 1921. She died in the 1990s. [ citation needed ]

In Poets Corner of Central Park in Bourke, New South Wales, a plaque notes Bean's On the wool track (1910) book.


The Battle of Gallipoli was one of the Allies’ greatest disasters in World War One. It was carried out between 25th April 1915 and 9th January 1916 on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire. The doomed campaign was thought up by Winston Churchill to end the war early by creating a new war front that the Ottomans could not cope with.

On November 25th 1914, Winston Churchill suggested his plan for a new war front in the Dardanelles to the British government’s War Council. On January 15th 1915, the War Council gave its agreement and British troops in Egypt were put on alert. The Central Powers were fighting primarily on two fronts – the Western and Eastern Fronts. Fighting against such forces as the Russian and French armies put a great deal of strain on the German military. The input of the smaller Austrian army into the major battles had been small when compared to the German army’s input.

Churchill’s idea was simple. Creating another front would force the Germans to split their army still further as they would need to support the depleting Turkish army. When the Germans went to assist the Turks, that would leave their lines weakened in the west or east and lead to greater mobility there, as the Allies would have a weakened army to fight against.

The Turks had joined the Central Powers in November 1914 and they were seen by Churchill as being the weak underbelly of those who fought against the Allies.

Churchill had contacted Admiral Carden, head of the British fleet anchored off of the Dardanelles, for his thoughts on a naval assault on Turkish positions in the Dardanelles. Carden was cautious about this and replied to Churchill that a gradual attack might be more appropriate and had a greater chance of success. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, pushed Carden to produce a plan which he, Churchill, could submit to the War Office. Senior commanders in the navy were concerned at the speed with which Churchill seemed to be pushing an attack on the Dardanelles. They believed that long term planning was necessary and that Churchill’s desire for a speedy plan, and therefore, execution was risky. However, such was Churchill’s enthusiasm, the War Council approved his plan and targeted February as the month the campaign should start.

There is confusion as to what was decided at this meeting of the War Council. Churchill believed that he had been given the go-ahead Asquith believed that what was decided was merely “provisional to prepare, but nothing more.” A naval member of the Council, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, stated:

“It was not my business. I was not in any way connected with the question, and it had never in any way officially been put before me.”

Churchill’s secretary considered that the members of the Navy who were present “only agreed to a purely naval operation on the understanding that we could always draw back – that there should be no question of what is known as forcing the Dardanelles.”

With such apprehension and seeming confusion as to what the War Office did believe, Churchill’s plan was pushed through. It would appear that there was a belief that the Turks would be an easy target and that minimal force would be needed for success. Carden was given the go ahead to prepare an assault.

Ironically in 1911, Churchill had written:

“It should be remembered that it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, and nobody would expose a modern fleet to such peril.”

However, he had been greatly impressed with the power and destructive ability of German artillery in the attack on Belgium forts in 1914. Churchill believed that the Turkish forts in the Dardanelles were even more exposed and open to British naval gunfire.

On February 19th 1915, Carden opened up the attack on Turkish positions in the Dardanelles. British and ANZAC troops were put on standby in Egypt.

The battleship “Cornwallis” bombarding the Gallipoli peninsula

Carden’s initial attacks went well. The outer forts at Sedd-el-Bahr and Kumkale fell. However, more stern opposition was found in the Straits. Here, the Turks had heavily mined the water and mine sweeping trawlers had proved ineffective at clearing them. The ships under Carden’s command were old (with the exception of the “Queen Elizabeth”) and the resistance of the Turks was greater than had been anticipated. The attack ground to a halt. Carden collapsed through ill health and was replaced by Rear-Admiral Robeck.

By now, there was a military input into Britain’s plan. Lieutenant-General Birdwood, who had been a former military secretary to Lord Kitchener, commanded the ANZAC’s based in Egypt. He reported that a military support for the navy was imperative and General Sir Ian Hamilton was appointed commander of the newly created Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. It contained 70,000 men from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand along with troops from France. Hamilton left for the Dardanelles on February 13th along with a hastily gathered staff. He had little information on Turkish strength and he arrived on March 18th knowing little about the military situation there. It is probable that he had the same opinion as many as to the ability of the Turks in battle – and this was to prove very costly to the force under his command.

Also on March 18th, the Allies suffered a chronically embarrassing naval disaster. Three British battleships were sunk, three were crippled (but not sunk). At a stroke, the British had lost 2/3rds of their battleships in the Dardanelles. Robeck had little idea of what to do next. The mine clearing trawlers were ineffective, the Turks held the higher ground which was of great strategic importance and the idea of using destroyers to clear the minefields would have taken time to organise. The army suggested that it should take over.

On March 22nd, Hamilton and Robeck decided that the naval fleet would sail to Alexandria to give it time to reorganise itself while Hamilton prepared his force for a land battle. According to Winston Churchill, this decision was taken without the knowledge of the government:

“No formal decision to make a land attack was even noted in the records of the Cabinet or the War Council. This silent plunge into this vast military venture must be regarded as extraordinary.” (Churchill)

While this was going on, the War Council did not meet and was not to meet for another two months!

The army’s input into the Gallipoli campaign was a disaster. It would appear that the senior commanders on the ground believed that their opposition simply was not up to the standards of the British and ANZAC troops.

The Secretary to the War Council, Sir Maurice Hankey, called the whole affair a “gamble” based on the belief that the Turks would be an inferior force. Even the General Officer commanding Egypt, Sir John Maxwell, wrote “Who is co-coordinating and directing this great combine?” Maxwell’s comment was apt. Hamilton commanded the army on the ground Robeck the navy while Maxwell was GOC Egypt where the troops were based. No one was given overall charge.

Hamilton decided on a landing at Gallipoli. The landing place was barely a secret as security at Hamilton’s headquarters was regarded as weak at best. Hamilton’s plan was that:

  • The 29th Division would land on five small beaches at the southern end of the peninsula
  • The ANZAC’s would land further north just by a jutting promontory called Gaba Tepe.
  • The French would launch a feint – a ‘landing’ at Besika Bay. The French were to make a proper landing at Kum Kale to protect the 29th Division

It is generally assumed that one major failing of the Allied forces in the Dardanelles was that they underestimated the ability of the Turks. In fact, the Turkish Army was weak in the region and it was poorly led. On March 24th, the command of the Turks was passed to General Liman von Sanders. He had to defend a coastline of 150 miles with just 84,000 men. However, its fighting capacity was just 62,000 men. The troops that were there were poorly equipped and supplies were poor. Sanders could not call on one plane to assist him. However, he placed his men away from the beaches much to the consternation of the Turkish officers there. They argued that there were so few beaches that the Allies could land on, that Turkish troops were better being placed on the beaches or immediately above them.

The landings started on April 25th. The British landed unopposed on three beaches at Cape Helles. Another landing was resisted but the Turks were defeated. But the landing at Sedd-el-Bahr was a disaster. The British were caught in the fire of well dug-in Turkish machine gunners. Many British troops could not get ashore and were killed at sea.

The ANZAC’s landed at Anzac Cove. Here they were faced with steep cliffs which they had to climb to get off the beach. To make matter worse, Anzac Cove was a tiny beach and quickly became very congested. The Turks pushed back the initial ANZAC move inland. The fighting was bloody and costly. The Turks in this area were led by the unknown Colonel Mustapha Kemel. Lieutenant-General Birdwood asked Hamilton for permission to withdraw his troops. Hamilton refused.

Some months later Birdwood wrote:

“He (Hamilton) should have taken much more personal charge and insisted on things being done and really take command, which he has never yet done.”

By May in Helles, the British had lost 20,000 men out of 70,000. Six thousand had been killed. The medical facilities were completely overwhelmed by the casualties. Trench warfare occurred along with the fear of dysentery and the impact of the heat. One British soldier wrote that Helles:

“looked like a midden and smelt like an open cemetery.”

The next phase of the battle started in August. Hamilton ordered an attack on Suvla Bay that was not heavily defended. The landing took place on August 6th and involved the landing of 63,000 Allied troops. This time the secrecy behind the operation was so complete that senior officers were unaware of what others were doing. These 63,000 men were meant to take the area around Suvla Bay and then link up with the ANZAC’s at Anzac Cove. The plan very nearly worked but the ANZAC’s could not break out of Anzac Cove. The British at Suvla were pushed back by a frantic attack led by Mustapha Kemal and by August 10th, the Turks had retaken Suvla Bay.

However, the opponents of the campaign in London had become louder and more numerous. Hamilton was recalled and he was replaced by Sir Charles Monro. He recommended evacuation and the task was given to Birdwood. The evacuation of Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove was a brilliant success. It was accomplished on December 19th to December 20th. Not one casualty occurred.

The evacuation of Helles occurred on January 8th to January 9th, again with no loss of life. Thus the campaign ended with two successes.

However, the overall campaign was a disaster of the first order. Over 200,000 Allied casualties occurred with many deaths coming from disease. The number of Turkish deaths is not clear but it is generally accepted that they were over 200,000.

Before the Gallipoli campaign even got started, Lloyd George had prophetically written:

“Expeditions which are decided upon and organised with insufficient care generally end disastrously.”

After the end of the campaign, opinions were divided. Sir Edward Grey and Lord Slim (who fought at Gallipoli) were scathing in their criticism. Slim called those who had been in command at the campaign the worst in the British Army since The Crimean War. Despite the losses, Churchill remained a defender of what had gone on – as was Hamilton.

Gallipoli: 5 reasons why the First World War campaign was a failure

But for the achievement of the Australian and New Zealander Army Corps (Anzac) in carving out a small bridgehead at Anzac Cove, the WW1 campaign to seize the Gallipoli peninsula was a disaster, says Peter Hart. Writing for BBC History Magazine, the author of a 2011 book on the disastrous First World War campaign offers his explanations for the Allies' failure in 1915

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Published: April 9, 2021 at 11:11 am

What happened at Gallipoli?

The Gallipoli campaign was a terrible tragedy. The attempt by the Allies to seize the Gallipoli peninsula from the Ottoman empire and gain control over the strategically-important Dardanelles failed in a welter of hubris, blood and suffering. Located just across the Dardanelles straits from the fabled city of Troy, its classical undertones have helped create a rich mythology of ‘the terrible ifs’ of what might have been achieved with ‘a bit more luck’. The beach landings at Helles – the first made against modern weapons systems – saw incredible heroism and turned the sea at V Beach red with blood.

Gallipoli is today synonymous with the achievement of the Australian and New Zealander Army Corps (ANZAC) in carving out a small bridgehead at Anzac Cove. That maze of tangled gullies and ridges is still sacred for Australians.

But for all that the campaign was an utter failure. The question is why? Here are five possible reasons…

The Gallipoli campaign was poorly conceived

The First World War stalled when the huge armies of Germany and France fought themselves to a standstill on the Western Front in 1914. When the Ottoman Turks attacked Russians in the Caucasus mountains in December 1914, Russia went to her allies requesting help. The British were fully committed elsewhere but a group of politicians led by Winston Churchill, then at the Admiralty, sought to help Russia with an attack on the Gallipoli peninsula that aimed to gain control of the Dardanelles straits that separated Asia and Europe. This, it was boasted, would remove one of the allies ‘propping up’ Germany, influence wavering Balkan states and open the sea route to Russian Black Sea ports for the export of munitions to feed Russian guns on the Eastern Front.

Much of this was nonsense. There was no backdoor to Germany no easy route to victory, no allies that propped her up. Germany operated on interior lines of communications and even in the event of a Turkish defeat would merely have rushed reinforcements to bolster her Austro–Hungarian allies.

Finally Britain did not have sufficient munitions for her own armies. Britain had to fight the war as it was not how visionaries dreamt it might be. German armies were deep in France, and Britain could not just abandon her ally to her fate. The priority of the Western Front meant that the Gallipoli expedition could never be given sufficient men and guns to have any chance of success. As such it should never have been started.

The myths of the battle of Gallipoli

Professor Gary Sheffield challenges some commonly held assumptions about this failed attempt to change the course of the First World War…

The British Army wasn’t ready

The British Army of 1915 was not yet ready for war. There were not enough guns or shells for the Gallipoli campaign to have any chance against Turkish troops once they were well dug in, with barbed wire, machine guns and artillery. Success demanded hundreds of guns that did not exist, fired by gunners not yet trained, using complex artillery techniques that had not been invented, firing hundreds of thousands of shells as yet not manufactured. It required infantry tactics not yet painfully developed in the heat of battle and support weapons not yet imagined.

Gallipoli shared the failings of every campaign launched in that benighted year: a lack of realistic goals, no coherent plan, the use of inexperienced troops for whom this would be the first campaign, a failure to comprehend or properly disseminate maps and intelligence, negligible artillery support, totally inadequate logistical and medical arrangements, a gross underestimation of the enemy, incompetent local commanders – all of which was overlaid with lashings of misplaced over-confidence leading to inexorable disaster.

Gallipoli was damned before it started. Every day merely prolonged the agony and it ended in such catastrophe that it could only be disguised by vainglorious bluster.

Inferior leadership

The British commander was General Sir Ian Hamilton who was one of Britain’s greatest soldiers. He was no fool, but his plans for Gallipoli were fatally overcomplicated. He launched multiple attacks, each dependent on each other’s success, but left isolated when things went wrong. Taken as a whole, his schemes were utterly unrealistic. Everything had to go right, but his plans demanded incredible feats of heroism, raw troops would have to perform like veterans and incompetent subordinates lead like Napoleon. Above all, his plans demanded that the Turks put up little resistance. When the landings failed he blamed everyone but himself.

“Behind us we had a swarm of adverse influences: our own General Headquarters in France, the chief of the imperial general staff of the War Office, the first sea lord of the Admiralty, the French cabinet and the best organised part of the British press. Fate willed it so. Faint hearts and feeble wills seemed for a while to succeed in making vain the sacrifices of Anzac, Helles and Suvla. Only the dead men stuck it out to the last.” – General Sir Ian Hamilton

Opposing Hamilton was a German, General Otto Liman von Sanders. A steady professional, Liman husbanded his reserves until he knew what the British were doing before committing them to devastating effect. He was fortunate indeed in one of his Turkish subordinates Colonel Mustafa Kemal. As Kemal led his 57th Regiment into action against the Anzacs on 25 April his chilling words have gone down in legend: “I don’t order you to attack – I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our places.”

This unflinching martial spirit inspired the Turkish troops to victory.

The Turks were experienced and well led

Colonel Mustafa Kemal, who became President Kemal Atatürk after the war, summed up the grit and determination his countrymen demonstrated at Gallipoli. A good proportion of the Turkish soldiers had recent experience fighting in the Balkan wars of 1912–13. But all of them came from a country where life was hard. They made tough, well-disciplined soldiers when fighting in defence of their homeland.

“But think about the enemy which landed at Ari Burnu shores equipped with the most advanced war machinery, [they] were, by and large, forced to remain on these shores. Our officers and soldiers who with love for their motherland and religion and heroism protected the doors of their capital Constantinople against such a strong enemy, won the right to a status which we can be proud of. I congratulate all the members of the fighting units under my command. I remember with deep and eternal respect, all the ones who sacrificed their lives…” – Colonel Mustafa Kemal

In contrast, with the exception of the British 29th Division and two French divisions, most of the Allied troops committed to battle were inadequately trained. It was not that the Anzacs, the reservists of the Royal Naval Division, the Territorials and the first of Kitchener’s New Armies raised in 1914 were not keen it was just that they were not yet ready for war in such an unforgiving environment as Gallipoli. The Turks were experienced and well led. They were determined to win – and they did.

It was a logistical nightmare

The United Kingdom was some 2,000 miles away and the nearest ‘real’ base was that of Alexandria back in Egypt with its spacious quays, cranes, lighters, tugboats and plentiful labour. Yet it was nearly 700 miles from Alexandria to Gallipoli. The advanced base of Mudros on the island of Lemnos, some 60 miles from Helles, had a good natural anchorage. But that was all it offered – there were no port facilities. A phenomenal amount of work was required to build it up into a military supply base.

There was an advanced supply depot at Imbros, but even then there were still 15 miles of open sea to the Gallipoli peninsula where all the thousands of tonnes of necessary foodstuffs and munitions had to be landed on open beaches. Makeshift piers were all they had and these were ephemeral in the face of the raw power of the sea. Every day of the campaign Turkish shells crashed down on the beaches while soon U-boats lurked offshore.

Gallipoli was a logistical nightmare that would make any responsible staff officer tear his hair out. As a method of waging warfare, it was insanity.

Peter Hart is a military historian specialising in the First World War. He is the author of Gallipoli (Profile, 2011)

Goals of the Gallipoli Campaign

  • To get control over the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits
  • With control over this 67 kilometer stretch of water, it would be much easier to invade Constantinople and, eventually, Turkey
  • To open a supply route via the Black Sea to Russia, a British ally.
  • Eventually attacking Germany’s main other ally, Austria-Hungary
  • Shortening the war by taking down Germany’s allies

This article is part of our extensive collection of articles on the Great War. Click here to see our comprehensive article on World War 1.


Antiquity and Middle Ages Edit

In ancient times, the Gallipoli Peninsula was known as the Thracian Chersonesus (from Greek χερσόνησος, "peninsula" [2] ) to the Greeks and later the Romans. It was the location of several prominent towns, including Cardia, Pactya, Callipolis (Gallipoli), Alopeconnesus (Greek: Ἀλωπεκόννησος ), [8] Sestos, Madytos, and Elaeus. The peninsula was renowned for its wheat. It also benefited from its strategic importance on the main route between Europe and Asia, as well as from its control of the shipping route from Crimea. The city of Sestos was the main crossing-point on the Hellespont.

According to Herodotus, the Thracian tribe of Dolonci (Greek: Δόλογκοι ) (or "barbarians" according to Cornelius Nepos) held possession of Chersonesus before the Greek colonization. Then, settlers from Ancient Greece, mainly of Ionian and Aeolian stock, founded about 12 cities on the peninsula in the 7th century BC. [9] The Athenian statesman Miltiades the Elder founded a major Athenian colony there around 560 BC. He took authority over the entire peninsula, augmenting its defences against incursions from the mainland. It eventually passed to his nephew, the more famous Miltiades the Younger, about 524 BC. The peninsula was abandoned to the Persians in 493 BC after the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars (499–478 BC).

The Persians were eventually expelled, after which the peninsula was for a time ruled by Athens, which enrolled it into the Delian League in 478 BC. The Athenians established a number of cleruchies on the Thracian Chersonese and sent an additional 1,000 settlers around 448 BC. Sparta gained control after the decisive battle of Aegospotami in 404 BC, but the peninsula subsequently reverted to the Athenians. During the 4th century BC, the Thracian Chersonese became the focus of a bitter territorial dispute between Athens and Macedon, whose king Philip II sought possession. It was eventually ceded to Philip in 338 BC.

After the death of Philip's son Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the Thracian Chersonese became the object of contention among Alexander's successors. Lysimachus established his capital Lysimachia here. In 278 BC, Celtic tribes from Galatia in Asia Minor settled in the area. In 196 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus III seized the peninsula. This alarmed the Greeks and prompted them to seek the aid of the Romans, who conquered the Thracian Chersonese, which they gave to their ally Eumenes II of Pergamon in 188 BC. At the extinction of the Attalid dynasty in 133 BC it passed again to the Romans, who from 129 BC administered it in the Roman province of Asia. It was subsequently made a state-owned territory (ager publicus) and during the reign of the emperor Augustus it was imperial property.

The Thracian Chersonese was part of the Eastern Roman Empire from its foundation in 330 AD. In 443 AD, Attila the Hun invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula during one of the last stages of his grand campaign that year. He captured both Callipolis and Sestus. [10] Aside from a brief period from 1204 to 1235, when it was controlled by the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire ruled the territory until 1356. During the night between 1 and 2 March 1354, a strong earthquake destroyed the city of Gallipoli and its city walls, weakening its defenses.

Ottoman era Edit

Ottoman conquest Edit

Within a month after the devastating 1354 earthquake the Ottomans besieged and captured the town of Gallipoli, making it the first Ottoman stronghold in Europe and the staging area for Ottoman expansion across the Balkans. [11] The Savoyard Crusade recaptured Gallipoli for Byzantium in 1366, but the beleaguered Byzantines were forced to hand it back in September 1376. The Greeks living there were allowed to continue their everyday activities. In the 19th century, Gallipoli (Turkish: Gelibolu) was a district (kaymakamlik) in the Vilayet of Adrianople, with about thirty thousand inhabitants: comprising Greeks, Turks, Armenians and Jews. [12]

Crimean War (1853–1856) Edit

Gallipoli became a major encampment for British and French forces in 1854 during the Crimean War, and the harbour was also a stopping-off point between the western Mediterranean and Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). [13] [14]

In March 1854 British and French engineers constructed an 11.5 km (7.1 mi) line of defence to protect the peninsula from a possible Russian attack and so secure control of the route to the Mediterranean Sea. [15] : 414

First Balkan War, persecution of Greeks (1912–1913) Edit

Gallipoli did not experience any more wars until the First Balkan War, when the 1913 Battle of Bulair and several minor skirmishes took place there. A dispatch on 7 July 1913 reported that Ottoman troops treated Gallipoli's Greeks "with marked depravity" as they "destroyed, looted, and burned all the Greek villages near Gallipoli". [ citation needed ] Ottoman forces sacked and completely destroyed many villages and killed some Greeks. The cause of this savagery in the part of the Turks was their fear that if Thrace was declared autonomous the Greek population might be found numerically superior to the Muslims. [ citation needed ]

The Turkish Government, under the pretext that a village was within the firing line, ordered its evacuation within three hours. The residents abandoned everything they possessed, left their village and went to Gallipoli. Seven of the Greek villagers who stayed two minutes later than the three-hour limit allowed for the evacuation were shot by the soldiers. After the end of the Balkan War the exiles were allowed to return. But as the Government allowed only the Turks to rebuild their houses and furnish them, the exiled Greeks were compelled to remain in Gallipoli. [16]

World War I: Gallipoli Campaign, persecution of Greeks (1914–1919) Edit

During World War I (1914-1918), French, British and allied forces (Australian, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Irish and Indian) fought the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916) in and near the peninsula, seeking to secure a sea route to relieve their eastern ally, Russia. The Ottomans set up defensive fortifications along the peninsula and contained the invading forces.

In early 1915, attempting to seize a strategic advantage in World War I by capturing Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), the British authorised an attack on the peninsula by French, British and British Empire forces. The first Australian troops landed at ANZAC Cove early in the morning of 25 April 1915. After eight months of heavy fighting the last Allied soldiers withdrew by 9 January 1916.

The campaign, one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war, is considered by historians as a major Allied failure. Turks regard it as a defining moment in their nation's history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence [ citation needed ] and the founding of the Republic of Turkey [ citation needed ] eight years later under President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.

The Ottoman Empire instituted the Gallipoli Star as a military decoration in 1915 and awarded it throughout the rest of World War I.

The campaign was the first major military action of Australia and New Zealand (or Anzacs) as independent dominions. The date of the landing, 25 April, is known as "Anzac Day". It remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and "returned soldiers" in Australia and New Zealand.

On the Allied side one of the promoters of the expedition was Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whose bullish optimism hurt his reputation that took years to recover.

Whilst the underlying strategic concept of the campaign were sound the military forces of the WW1 lacked the logistical, technological and tactical capabilities to undertake an operation of this scope against a determined, well equipped defender.

The all arms coordination and logistical capabilities required to successfully prosecute such a campaign would only be achieved several decades later, during the successful Allied amphibious invasions of Europe and the Pacific during WW2.

Prior to the Allied landings in April 1915, [17] the Ottoman Empire deported Greek residents from Gallipoli and surrounding region and from the islands in the sea of Marmara, to the interior where they were at the mercy of hostile Turks. [18] The Greeks had little time to pack and the Ottoman authorities permitted them to take only some bedding and the rest was handed over to the Government. [18] The Turks also plundered Greek houses and properties. [19] A testimony of a deportee described how the deportees were forced onto crowded steamers, standing-room only how, on disembarking, men of military age were removed (for forced labour in the labour battalions of the Ottoman army) and how the rest were "scattered… among the farms like ownerless cattle". [ citation needed ]

The Metropolitan of Gallipoli wrote on 17 July 1915 that the extermination of the Christian refugees was methodical. [16] He also mentions that "The Turks, like beasts of prey, immediately plundered all the Christians' property and carried it off. The inhabitants and refugees of my district are entirely without shelter, awaiting to be sent no one knows where . ". [16] Many Greeks died from hunger and there were frequent cases of rape among women and young girls, as well as their forced conversion to Islam. [16] In some cases, Muhacirs appeared in the villages even before the Greek inhabitants deported and stoned the houses and threatened the inhabitants that they would kill them if they didn't leave. [20]

Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) Edit

Greek troops occupied Gallipoli on 4 August 1920 during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22, considered part of the Turkish War of Independence. After the Armistice of Mudros of 30 October 1918 it became a Greek prefecture centre as "Kallipolis". However, Greece was forced to withdraw from Eastern Thrace after the Armistice of Mudanya of October 1922. Gallipoli was briefly handed over to British troops on 20 October 1922, but finally returned to Turkish rule on 26 November 1922.

In 1920, after the defeat of the Russian White army of General Pyotr Wrangel, a significant number of émigré soldiers and their families evacuated to Gallipoli from the Crimean Peninsula. From there, many went to European countries, such as Yugoslavia, where they found refuge.

There are now many cemeteries and war memorials on the Gallipoli peninsula.

Turkish Republic Edit

Between 1923 and 1926 Gallipoli became the centre of Gelibolu Province, comprising the districts of Gelibolu, Eceabat, Keşan and Şarköy. After the dissolution of the province, it became a district centre in Çanakkale Province.

The Landings

View of Anzac Cove shortly after the landing.

On April 25, 1915, the army campaign began. Most of the troops came from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand the latter two gathered together in the ANZAC Division.

The preparations had been rushed. The operation – a beach landing in the face of heavily entrenched opponents – was unprecedented in modern warfare. The terrain was hostile, with steep cliffs and deep gullies along the coastline. Everything was set for disaster.

British forces were to land at Cape Helles, while the ANZACs were to land further north.

2000 British troops used a primitive landing craft made by converting the collier the River Clyde. The rest of the troops used rowing boats to get ashore. On some beaches, the British faced stiff resistance and were cut down in droves. Elsewhere they met almost no opposition but had no idea what to do next.

Meanwhile, the ANZACs became lost in the pre-dawn darkness and landed on the wrong stretch of coast. Instead of a gradual slope onto the peninsula, they faced steep gullies and tangled scrub. A swift response by the Turkish Mustafa Kemal saw their advance halted.

By the end of the day, the Allied forces were confined to narrow beachheads.

Churchill Archive for Schools

Detailed map of the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915 showing British and Allied landing beaches. (The War Illustrated Album deLuxe published in London 1916 / Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

When the First World War broke out in July 1914 the general feeling was that it would be over by the end of that year. However, as 1914 turned into 1915 it was clear this wasn’t the case. On the Western Front in particular, the fighting had ground to a stalemate, and the casualties continued to rise. The politicians and the military commanders in Britain began to look for other ways to attack Germany and to alleviate the pressure on the Eastern Front. The Russian government had also formally requested a ‘show of strength’ against Turkey, one of Germany’s allies. As First Lord of the Admiralty, the government minister responsible for the British navy, Winston Churchill supported the idea of an attack on Turkey. The plan was to attack Gallipoli, a peninsula in the strategically important area of the Dardanelles near the Turkish capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and then move inland to capture the capital. It was hoped that once Turkey had been knocked out of the war, the Allies would have access to Russia’s Black Sea ports, creating a line of communication to Russia and access to Russian wheat necessary for the war effort. The campaign is either referred to as the Gallipoli Campaign or the Dardanelles Campaign.

The Gallipoli campaign began with the Allied bombardment of Turkish defences on 19 January 1915, followed a few months later by the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula early on 25 April. The campaign lasted until January 1916 and was a costly failure for the Allies, with heavy losses (44, 000 dead) and no gains made. Even so, there’s been a lot of debate about why it failed and how important that failure was in the context of the war overall.

The campaign has proved to be historically significant in other ways. A large number of the troops in the Allied force were from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, better known as ANZACs. Gallipoli was the first really high-profile campaign in which they took a leading role. More than 8,700 Australians and 2,779 New Zealanders (over half of all ANZAC troops sent) were killed. Gallipoli has proved to be a key event in Australian and New Zealand history, giving birth to an ANZAC legend which is still enormously important in those countries today.

While the public in Australia and New Zealand were proud of the bravery of their soldiers, there was also anger and dismay at the scale of the losses and an intense desire to find out what went wrong. For many years, the most widely accepted explanation was that the British officers in command at Gallipoli were incompetent, careless and regarded the troops as expendable. Was this impression of the British commanders and their planning fair? If not, why did the campaign go so badly wrong?

The documents in this investigation focus on the planning, communication and coordination in the run-up to the Gallipoli campaign. They tell us about how the commanders prepared and planned. However, if we look closely at the documents they also reveal other factors such as the difficult terrain faced by the Allies and the determination and strong resistance from the Turkish troops - and the Allies’ underestimation of their resilience. It’s important to recognise that we’re only looking at one, albeit crucial, aspect of the campaign in this investigation but you’ll find that the sources do contain references to these other factors, too.

Cape Helles, Gallipoli, 7 January 1916, just prior to the final evacuation of British forces during the Battle of Gallipoli. (© Lt. Ernest Brooks, Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain])

The Gallipoli campaign: a defining moment in Australian history

On 25 April 2015, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War. Here, Australian writer Peter FitzSimons talks to Rob Attar about the experiences of his compatriots in the ensuing battle and explains why it has become such a defining moment in the country's history, commemorated each year on Anzac Day.

This competition is now closed

Published: April 25, 2019 at 5:15 am

Q: Why does the battle of Gallipoli seem to have so much more importance for Australians than for people in Britain?

A: In 1901 all the colonies of Australia came together to become a country but there was a view at the time that you weren’t a serious nation until you had shed blood – both your own and that of your enemies.

Our great revered poet, Banjo Paterson, wrote a poem when the news came through of the Gallipoli landings: “…We’re not State children any more/We’re all Australians now…!/The mettle that a race can show/Is proved with shot and steel,/And now we know what nations know/And feel what nations feel…” There in that poem you have got the exultation that took place in Australia our diggers (slang for Antipodean soldiers) had fought for the British empire and they had done well. There is a pretty strong argument – which I have come to believe in – that while Australians went to that war as loyal sons of Great Britain, they came back as Australians.

Q: Why do you think that so many Australians volunteered to fight in the war in Europe?

A: The romantic reason was to fight for Britain – and that was certainly true of many of them. Andrew Fisher, who became Australian prime minister (for a third time) soon after the war began, proclaimed to great acclaim: We will fight for Great Britain to the “last man and the last shilling”. There were lots of patriots who left accounts saying that the mother country had called on her lion cubs to come to her aid and that’s what they were doing.

Others joined for adventure and still others joined – and this was not an insignificant reason – for “six shillings a day, mate”. It wasn’t bad pay. The British soldier was getting paid just one shilling a day. In my book I tell the story of the Australians who went absolutely crazy in the red light district of Cairo. Our soldiers were very well known in the city and all the ladies of the night wanted an Australian because they had six shillings in their pocket every night, so they were the first in line. Tragically a lot of soldiers got venereal disease and were sent home in disgrace.

Q: Were the Australian troops surprised by the ferocity of the fighting that they encountered at Gallipoli?

A: I think so. It was certainly hell on earth. At the battle of the Nek [on 7 August] you had Australian soldiers charging about 50 yards across open ground with no bullets in their rifles into open machine gun fire and artillery.

And yet the veterans of Gallipoli who then went on to the western front all said: “Look, we thought Gallipoli was bad but we’ve got to the western front and realised we didn’t know anything.” There, the German artillery was so overwhelming and so precise that some Australians almost looked back on Gallipoli with nostalgia. We lost 46,000 killed on the western front, which almost makes the 9,000 lost at Gallipoli pale into insignificance. But still Gallipoli is writ so large in the Australian psyche. I think if you tapped most Australians for their military knowledge, 90 per cent of it would start and finish at Gallipoli and 90 per cent of that would centre on the first day.

Q: How did the Australians view the Turks they were fighting?

A: Early on they had little respect for them: “Let us at these Turks and we’ll sort them out.” Yet, even though the Ottoman empire was on its knees by this time, it was nevertheless an empire with hundreds of years of martial tradition. These men knew what they were doing they believed in their cause they were very courageous and fought very hard.

The story I most love in my book concerns an incident on 24 May 1915. After one month of fighting, no man’s land at Anzac Cove was filled with stinking dead bodies, and a truce was arranged. Both sides came up waving flags and the Turks and Australians began to talk to each other. The Turks had one particular question for the Australians, which was: “Who are you?” The Australians would explain: “We’re from Australia.” “Yes, yes we know that,” the Turks would reply, “we looked in the atlas, but why are you here?” And then the Australians would have to explain about being part of the British empire.

The Turks had a respect for the Australians because they knew the punishment they had taken and still held on. And the Australians had a respect for the Turks because they saw the way they kept charging onto their guns, which was extremely courageous. From then on there was empathy between the two sides.

Three days after that meeting, something thumped in front of the Australian trenches and for the first time it didn’t explode. It was a package with a note that said: “To our heroic enemies.” Inside were Turkish cigarettes, which our blokes smoked and thought were pretty good. They wanted to send something back and all they could find were cans of bully beef – some dating back to the Boer War, reputedly. They threw some over to the Turks and a minute later it came back with a note: “No more bully beef!”

Recently I was speaking to our former prime minister Bob Hawke and I asked him what was the most moving time in his period of office. He said that it was the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, in 1990. They flew back 53 diggers – most of whom were 90 or 95 years old – and when they got there, who should pull up, but 100-odd Turkish soldiers of the same vintage? These two groups of very old men walked towards each other across the same no man’s land where they had first met 75 years earlier. Our blokes put out their hands – let bygones be bygones – but that wasn’t good enough for the Turks. They pushed away their hands and gave them bear hugs, kissing them on both cheeks. There was still this extraordinary respect between the Turks and Australians.

Q: That’s a remarkable story, considering that the Australians had originally come to invade their country…

A: It’s very interesting you use that phrase. In my introduction, I explain how, like most Australians, I took Gallipoli in with my mother’s milk. I studied it at school and at university. It’s in my bones, part of the Australian birthright.

Then, in 1999, I was listening to ABC Radio in the car and a historian said, “when Australia invaded Turkey” and I just about ran off the road! ‘Invaded’ seemed like such an ugly word but then thinking about it that’s what it was, really. But in Australia we just didn’t think of it as an invasion – I dare say similar to the fact that we still don’t think of our dispossession of the indigenous people as an invasion. But what else would you call it if you were an indigenous person and you saw the big ships arrive?

Q: One debate you bring out in the book is the question of how heroic the Australian troops really were at Gallipoli. Have you formed a view about that issue?

A: Cecil Aspinall-Oglander was on the staff of [Gallipoli commander] General Hamilton and became a British war historian afterwards. He wrote that some of the Australians had run away on that first day – which does not fit with our national image – but I imagine that some of it was true.

I often wonder what I would have done if I had been in the third wave at the battle of the Nek. The first wave of 150 Australian soldiers was just completely slaughtered, as was the second one. If I would have been in the third wave, would I have given in to civilian sanity and said: “I’m not going to do that. My job is not to give my life for my country, my job is to make some other poor bastard give his life for his country”? Had I landed on the shores of Gallipoli, looked up and seen machine guns firing and shrapnel coming down at me, what would I have done? The numbers are disputed, but certainly some Australians gave in to that and refused to fight – just as I dare say some Brits did at Cape Helles – but the majority went forwards.

Against all the accusations of cowardice, when I go to Anzac Cove and see that beach, I look up and think: “God help me, how the hell did those bastards hold on for as long as they did? They never had the higher ground, never had sufficient supplies, never had as many machine gun bullets, or as much artillery, or as many men.” There is no doubt the Australians did very well, as did the Kiwis and the Brits, to hold on against overwhelming numbers.

Q: How do you think we should remember the Gallipoli campaign now?

A: I strongly believe that we should commemorate, not celebrate, this centenary. When I wander through the graveyards and see the ages of those who died and read about the circumstances of their deaths, I feel that we need to understand their world, what they did and why it happened. As that great line from Rudyard Kipling says: “Lest we forget.”

Peter FitzSimons is an Australian journalist and author whose work includes several history books.

Watch the video: The Gallipoli Campaign 1915