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Battle of Gallipoli
The Battle of Gallipoli took place on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli in 1915 during the First World War. A combined British Empire and French operation was mounted in order to eventually capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. The attempt failed, and an estimated 131,000 soldiers were killed and 262,000 wounded.
See also: Timeline of the Battle of Gallipoli
Russia, one of the Allied powers during the war, had problems with its supply routes over sea. The Baltic Sea was locked by the German Navy, while the Black Sea's only entrance was through the Bosporus, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
By late 1914, the Western Front, in France and Belgium, had effectively become fixed. A new front was desperately needed. Also, the Allies hoped that an attack on the Ottomans would draw Bulgaria and Greece into the war on the Allied side.
A first proposal to attack Turkey had already been suggested by a French minister in November 1914, but it was not supported. Later that month First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill put forward his first plans for a naval attack on the Dardanelles. A plan for an attack and invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula was eventually approved by the British cabinet in January 1915. The British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force that was to carry out the mission.
See main article: Naval operations in the Dardanelles Campaign
On February 19, the first attack on the Dardanelles began when a large fleet of British and French vessels, including the British battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, bombarded Turkish artillery along the coast.
Although the attack was politically successful — Bulgaria stopped negotiations with Germany, Greece offered support, and Italy also seemed keen to enter the war on Allied side — the military effect was very small. Continued bombardments and landings on February 25 also proved unsuccessful.
A new attack was launched on March 18, targeted at the narrowest point of the Dardanelles where the straits were just a mile wide. A massive fleet containing no less than 16 battleships was initially successful, eliminating many Turkish artillery batteries. However, an undetected minefield, laid along the Asian shore by the Turkish minelayer Nusret, sunk or damaged a number of ships as they turned about. Three battleships were sunk (the British HMS Ocean and HMS Irresistible and the French Bouvet) while the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible and the French battleships Suffren and Gaulois were badly damaged.
The severe losses prompted the Allies to cease any further attempts to force the straits by naval power alone. This was a great relief to the Turkish commanders, as their artillery batteries were running perilously short of ammunition. Had the Allies persisted with the attacks despite the losses of March 18, the outcome of the entire battle may have been completely different.
After the failure of the naval attacks, it had become clear that ground troops were necessary to eliminate the Turkish mobile artillery. This would allow mine sweepers to clear the waters for the larger vessels.
In early 1915, Australian and New Zealand volunteer soldiers were encamped in Egypt, undergoing training prior to being sent to France. The infantry were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) which comprised the Australian 1st Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division. General Hamilton also had the British 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division (RND) and the French Corps expéditionnaire d'Orient under his command.
Hamilton's invasion force was opposed by the Turkish Fifth Army, under the command of the German advisor to the Ottoman Army, General Otto Liman von Sanders. The 5th Army, which had to defend both shores of the Dardanelles, comprised six of the best Turkish divisions totalling 84,000 men. At Bulair, near the neck of the peninsula, were the Turkish 5th and 7th divisions. At Cape Helles, on the tip of the peninsula, and along the Aegean coast, was the 9th Division and, in reserve at Gaba Tepe in the middle of the peninsula was the 19th Division , under the command of Mustafa Kemal. Defending the Asian shore at Kum Kale, which lies at the entrance to the Dardanelles, were the 3rd and 11th divisions.
The invasion plan of 25 April, 1915 was for the 29th Division to land at Helles on the tip of the peninsula and then advance upon the forts at Kilitbahir. The Anzacs were to land north of Gaba Tepe on the Aegean coast from where they could advance across the peninsula and prevent retreat from or reinforcement of Kilitbahir. The French made a diversionary landing at Kum Kale on the Asian shore. There was also a one-man diversion by Bernard Freyberg of the RND at Bulair.
See main article: Landing at Anzac Cove
The Anzac covering force, the 3rd Brigade of the Australian 1st Division, began to go ashore shortly before dawn at 4.30 am on April 25. The intended landing zone was a broad front centered about a mile north of Gaba Tepe. For reasons that are debated to this day, the landing went awry and the boats concentrated about a mile and a half further north than intended in a shallow, nameless cove between Ari Burnu to the north and Hell Spit to the south. The cove today is known as Anzac Cove.
The Anzacs were confronted by a treacherous, confusing tangle of ravines and spurs that descended from the heights of the Sari Bair range to the sea. At first the landing was only lightly opposed by scattered Turkish units however Mustafa Kemal, commanding the 19th Division, perceiving the threat posed by the landings, rushed reinforcements to the area in what became a race for the high ground.
The contest for the heights was decided on the main ridge line where the Anzacs and Turks fought over a knoll called Baby 700. The position changed hands a number of times on the first day before the Turks, having the advantage of the higher ground on Battleship Hill, took final possession which they never relinquished. Once the Anzac advance was checked, the Turks counter-attacked, trying to force the invaders back to the shore, but failed to dislodge them from the foothold they had gained. A trench perimeter quickly developed and a bloody stalemate ensued until August.
See main article: Landing at Cape Helles
The Helles landing was to be made by the 29th Division under the command of Major-General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, on fives beaches in an arc about the tip of the peninsula, designated from east to west as S, V, W, X and Y beach.
At the extremities of the arc, on S, X and Y beaches, there was little opposition but the opportunity was not exploited. The commander of the Y Beach landing was able to walk unopposed to within 500 metres of Krithia village, which was deserted. The British never got so close again. Y Beach was eventually evacuated the following day as Turkish reinforcements arrived.
The main landings were made at V Beach, beneath the old Seddülbahir fortress, and at W Beach, a short distance to the west on the other side of the Helles headland.
At V Beach the covering force from the Royal Munster Fusiliers and The Hampshire Regiment was landed from a converted collier, the SS River Clyde, which was run aground beneath the fortress so that the troops could disembark directly via ramps to the shore. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers would land at V Beach from open boats. At W Beach the Lancashire Fusiliers also landed in open boats on a small beach overlooked by dunes and obstructed with barbed wire. At both beaches the British infantry were massacred by the Turkish defenders. The troops emerging one by one from the sally ports on the River Clyde presented perfect targets to the machine guns in the Seddülbahir fort.
As at Anzac, the Turkish defenders were too few to force the British off the beach. At W Beach, thereafter known as Lancashire Landing, the Lancashires were able to overwhelm the defences despite their dreadful losses, 600 killed or wounded out of a total strength of 1000. The battalions that landed at V Beach suffered about 70% casualties. Six awards of the Victoria Cross were made amongst the Lancashires at W Beach. Six Victoria Crosses were also awarded amongst the infantry and sailors at the V Beach landing and a further three were awarded the following day as they finally fought their way off the beach.
The early battles
On the afternoon of April 27, Kemal launched a concerted attack to drive the Anzacs back to the beach. With the support of naval gunfire, the Turks were held off throughout the night.
On April 28, the British, now supported by the French on the right of the line, intended to capture Krithia in what became known as the First Battle of Krithia. The plan of attack was overly complex and poorly communicated to the commanders in the field. The troops of the 29th Division were still exhausted and unnerved by the battle for the beaches and for Seddülbahir village, captured after heavy fighting on the 26th. The attack ground to a halt around 6pm with a gain of some ground but the objective of Krithia village was not reached. After the battle, the Allied trenches lay about halfway between the Helles headland and Krithia village. With Turkish oppositioning stiffening by the day, the opportunity for the anticipated swift victory on the peninsula was disappearing. Helles, like Anzac, became a siege. Strong Turkish counter-attacks on the nights of May 1 and May 3 were repulsed despite breaking through the French defences.
The first attempt at an offensive at Anzac took place on the evening of May 2 when New Zealand and Australian Division commander, General Godley, ordered the Australian 4th Brigade, commanded by General John Monash, and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, to attack from Russell's Top and Quinn's Post towards Baby 700. The troops advanced a short distance during the night and tried to dig in to hold their gains but were forced to retreat by the night of May 3, having suffered about 1000 casualties.
Believing Anzac to be secure, Hamilton moved two brigades, the Australian 2nd Infantry Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, to the Helles front as reserves for the Second Battle of Krithia starting on May 6. This was the first major assault at Helles and gained about a quarter of a mile on a wide front at the now customary enormous cost in casualties.
The Turks launched a major assault at Anzac on May 19 — 42,000 Turks attacked 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders — but the attack tragically miscarried. Lacking sufficient artillery and ammunition, the Turks relied on surprise and weight of numbers for success but their preparations were detected and the defenders were ready. When it was over the Turks had suffered about 10,000 casualties. In comparison, the Australian casualties were a mere 160 killed and 468 wounded. The Turkish losses were so severe that a truce was organised for May 24 in order to bury the scores of dead lying in no man's land.
In May the British naval artillery advantage was diminished following the torpedoing of the battleships HMS Goliath on May 13, HMS Triumph on May 25 and HMS Majestic on May 27. After these losses much of the battleship support was withdrawn and those remaining would fire while under way, reducing their accuracy and effectiveness.
In the Third Battle of Krithia on June 4 all thought of a decisive breakthrough was gone and the plans for battle had reverted to trench warfare with objectives being measured in hundreds of metres. Casualties ran to around 25% for both sides; the British suffering 4500 from an attacking force of 20,000.
In June, a fresh division, the 52nd Division, began to land at Helles in time to participate in the last of the major Helles battles, the Battle of Gully Ravine which was launched on June 28. This battle advanced the British line along the left (Aegean) flank of the battlefield which resulted in a rare but limited victory for the Allies. Between July 1 and July 5 the Turks launched a series of desperate counter-attacks against the new British line but failed to regain the lost ground. Their casualties for the period were horrendous, estimated at in excess of 14,000.
One final British action was made at Helles on July 12 before the Allied main effort was shifted north to Anzac. Two fresh brigades from the 52nd Division were thrown into an attack in the centre of the line along Achi Baba Nullah (known as Bloody Valley) and sustained 30% casualties without making any significant progress.
See main article: Battle of Sari Bair
The repeated failure of the Allies to capture Krithia or make any progress on the Helles front led Hamilton to pursue a new plan for the campaign which resulted in what is now called the Battle of Sari Bair. On the night of August 6 a fresh landing of two infantry divisions was to be made at Suvla, five miles north of Anzac. Meanwhile at Anzac a strong assault would be made on the Sari Bair range by breaking out into the rough and thinly defended terrain north of the Anzac perimeter.
The landing at Suvla Bay was only lightly opposed but the British commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford , had so diluted his early objectives that little more than the beach was seized. Once again the Turks were able to win the race for the high ground of the Anafarta Hills thereby rendering the Suvla front another case of static trench warfare.
The offensive was preceded on the evening of August 6 by a diversionary assaults at Helles and Anzac. At Helles, the diversion at Krithia Vineyard became another futile battle with no gains and heavy casualties for both sides. At Anzac, an attack on the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine by the infantry brigades of the Australian 1st Division was a rare victory for the Anzacs. However, the main assault aimed at the peaks of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971 was less successful.
The force striking for the nearer peak of Chunuk Bair comprised the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. It came within 500 metres of the peak by dawn on August 7 but was not able to seize the summit until the following morning. This delay had fatal consequences for another supporting attack on the morning of August 7; that of the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek which was to coincide with the New Zealanders attacking back down from Chunuk Bair against the rear of the Turkish defences. The New Zealanders held out on Chunuk Bair for two days before a massive Turkish counter-attack, led in person by Mustafa Kemal, swept the attackers from the heights.
The attack on Hill 971 never eventuated. The attacking force of the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade (General Monash), and an Indian Brigade, was defeated by the terrain and became lost during the night. All subsequent attempts to resume the attack were easily repulsed by the Turkish defenders at great cost to the Allies.
The Suvla landing was reinforced by the arrival of the British 53rd and 54th Divisions plus the dismounted yeomanry of the 2nd Mounted Division. The unfortunate 29th Division was also shifted from Helles to Suvla for one more push. The final British attempt to resuscitate the offensive came on August 21 with attacks at Scimitar Hill and Hill 60. Control of these hills would have united the Anzac and Suvla fronts but neither battle achieved success. When fighting at Hill 60 ceased on August 29, the battle for the Sari Bair heights, and indeed the battle for the peninsula, was effectively over.
Following the failure of the August Offensive, the Gallipoli campaign entered a hiatus while the future direction was debated. The persistent lack of progress was finally making an impression in Britain as news of the true nature of the fighting, instead of what Hamilton reported, were conveyed by the likes of Keith Murdoch. Disaffected senior officers such as General Stopford also contributed to the general air of gloom. The prospect of evacuation was raised on October 11 but Hamilton resisted the suggestion, fearing the damage to British prestige. He was dismissed as commander shortly afterwards and replaced by Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Monro .
The situation was complicated by the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central Powers. On October 5 the British opened a second Mediterranean front at Salonika which would compete for reinforcements with Gallipoli. Also Germany would now have a direct land route to Turkey, enabling it to supply heavy siege artillery which would devastate the Allied trench network, especially on the confined front at Anzac.
Having reviewed the state of his command, Monro recommended evacuation. Kitchener disliked the notion of evacuating the peninsula and made a personal visit to consult with the commanders of the three corps; VIII Corps at Helles, IX Corps at Suvla and ANZAC. The decision to evacuate was made.
Evacuation of 14 divisions in winter in such close proximity to the enemy would be difficult and heavy losses were expected. The untenable nature of the Allied position was made apparent when a heavy storm struck on November 27 and lasted for three days. There followed a blizzard at Suvla in early December. The rain flooded trenches, drowning soldiers and washing the unburied corpses into the lines. The following snow killed more men from exposure.
Ironically the evacuation was the greatest Allied success of the campaign. Suvla and Anzac were to be evacuated in late December, the last troops leaving before dawn on December 20. Troop numbers had been progressively reduced since December 7 and cunning ruses were performed to fool the Turks and prevent them discovering the Allies were departing. At Anzac, the troops would maintain utter silence for an hour or more until the curious Turks would venture out to inspect the trenches, whereupon the Anzacs would open fire. As the numbers in the trenches were thinned, rifles were rigged to fire by water dripped into a pan attached to the trigger.
Helles was retained in case the British wanted to resume the offensive. However, a decision to evacuate there too was made on December 27. The Turks were now warned of the likelihood of evacuation and mounted an attack on January 6, 1916 but were repulsed. The last British troops departed from Lancashire Landing on January 9.
It is tempting to suppose the Gallipoli campaign could have had a different outcome by asking "What if?" certain events had followed a different course, whether through luck or leadership.
- The British continued with the naval attacks beyond March 18 when the Turkish defences were virtually out of shells?
- The unopposed Y Beach landing at Helles had been exploited on April 25?
- The Anzac landing of April 25 was made on the intended beach?
- The New Zealanders pressed the attack on Chunuk Bair when it was lightly defended on the morning of August 7?
- A more capable commander than General Stopford had been in charge at Suvla?
The fact remains that the battle of Gallipoli was a finely balanced struggle with neither side able to exploit any slight advantage. When the Allies achieved a breakthrough, such as at Lone Pine or the second battle of Krithia, they lacked the reserves to continue the advance. Likewise when the Turks halted an Allied attack, their counter-attacks were unable to rout the enemy.
The Ottoman Empire had been dismissed by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as "the sick man of Europe" but after victory over the Allies at Gallipoli, Turkey's visions of the empire were renewed. In Mesopotamia the Turks surrounded a British expedition at Kut Al Amara, forcing their surrender in 1916. From southern Palestine the Turks pushed into the Sinai with the aim of capturing the Suez Canal and driving the British from Egypt. Defeat at the Battle of Romani marked the end of that ambition and for the remainder of the war the British were on the offensive in the Middle East.
After the evacuation the Allied troops reformed in Egypt. The Anzacs underwent a major reorganization; the infantry were expanded and bound for the Western Front, the light horse were reunited with their horses and formed into mounted divisions for operations in the Sinai and Palestine. At the Battle of Beersheba they would finally achieve the decisive break-through victory that had eluded the Allies on Gallipoli.
Amongst the generals, Gallipoli marked the end for Hamilton and Stopford but Hunter-Weston was granted another opportunity to bleed the VIII Corps on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The competence of Australian brigade commanders, John Monash and Henry Chauvel, would be recognised with promotion to the command of divisions and ultimately corps. Winston Churchill and the First Sea Lord John Fisher both resigned as a result of the defeat, amid mutual recriminations. Lord Kitchener was too popular to be punished, but he never recovered his old reputation for invincibility and was increasingly sidelined by his colleagues until his death the following year. Gallipoli was also instrumental in the fall of the prime minister Herbert Asquith in 1916.
The significance of the battle of Gallipoli is perhaps most strongly felt in Australia and New Zealand where it was the first great conflict experienced by those fledgling nations. Before Gallipoli the citizens of these countries were confident of the superiority of the British Empire and were proud and eager to offer their service. Gallipoli shook that confidence and three years on the Western Front would destroy it utterly.
On the Turkish side, the meteoric rise of Mustafa Kemal began at Gallipoli. In 1934, Kemal, now Kemal Atatürk, president of the new Turkish Republic, wrote this tribute in remembrance of the Anzac soldiers:
- "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well."
In addition to the killed, died of wounds and wounded listed in the table, many soldiers became sick in the insanitary environment of the peninsula, mainly from enteric fever, dysentery and diarrhoea. It is estimated that a further 145,000 British soldiers became casualties from illness during the campaign.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is responsible for developing and maintaining permanent cemeteries for all Commonwealth forces — Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, Newfoundland and others. There are 31 CWGC cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula: six at Helles (plus the only solitary grave), four at Suvla and 21 at Anzac. For many of those killed or who died on hospital ships and were buried at sea, there is no known grave. These men's names are recorded on memorials for the missing. The main memorials are for the British at Cape Helles, for the Australians at Lone Pine and for the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair.
There is only one French cemetery on the Gallipoli peninsula, located at Helles near S Beach, which was the French base for the duration of the campaign.
There are no large Turkish military cemeteries on the peninsula, but there are numerous memorials, the main ones being the Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial at Morto Bay, Cape Helles (near S Beach), the Turkish Soldier's Memorial on Chunuk Bair and the memorial and open-air mosque for the 57th Regiment near Quinn's Post (Bomba Sirt). There are a number of Turkish memorials and cemeteries on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles, demonstrating the greater emphasis Turkish history places on the victory of March 18 over the subsequent fighting on the peninsula.
- Scanned PDF volumes from the Australian War Memorial of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918:
- Turkish site about the Battle of Gallipoli
- Guide to Gallipoli on www.anzac.govt.nz. Includes interactive panoramas
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