What did the allies hope to achieve by attacking Gallipoli?
The idea to send the Australian troops to Gallipoli was planned by Winston Churchill, who in 1915 was a mid level English military leader, but who is better remembered as the Prime Minister of England during the Second World War.
Their aim was to destroy the triple alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy and they planned to occupy the area, thereby causing the Turkish army to abandon their largest city, Istanbul (Constantinople). This would cut off all supply from Europe, including Germany, to Central Power armies in areas such as Asia Minor, Syria and Arabia. This would aid the Allied armies who would be able to quickly overrun these areas, achieving a swift and great victory.
The Turks proved to be excellent fighters and quickly contained the British positions. In the Mediterranean, German submarines destroyed many Allied warships in the close quarters. Ultimately, the entire fiasco was cancelled by the Allies and the survivors withdrawn.
The landing and the retreat
25 April, 1915, was the first day of the landing, but the process of landing and the initial fighting to secure as much land as possible lasted for several days.
There were heavy casualties on the first day, but the worst fighting and greatest casualties came as the Turkish defenders counterattacked. An estimated 2,300 Australians were killed in the Anzac Cove
area between 25 April and 3 May, 1915.
The landing scheme itself was, in theory, relatively simple. The 3rd Brigade’s 4,000 men would land as a covering force to secure a beachhead for two Australasian divisions made up of six brigades. Those 4,000 would go in two waves. The first, consisting of 1500 men, was to start from three battleships, the Queen, Prince of Wales and London, then be distributed between twelve tows, each made up of a steamboat, a cutter, a lifeboat and either a launch or a pinnace . The remaining 2,500 men who formed the second wave, were to land from seven destroyers shortly afterwards. Those destroyers would wait near the island of Imbros and join the battleships, one and a half miles from the mainland, at 4.15 am. The first wave was scheduled to land a few minutes earlier, and the destroyers would then sail in, full speed ahead, adding a number of lifeboats borrowed from transport vessels to the tows that had been used by the first wave. Once the whole 3rd Brigade was ashore, the rest of the 1st Division would arrive on transports, grouped in fours and coming in at regular intervals.
This was the outline of the plan and its first stage was achieved without difficulty. Troops on the battleships were woken at 1 am, given a hot meal and a drink while the tows were being made ready, and by 1.30 am were ready for mustering into companies. This operation was carried out with impressive efficiency: no one spoke; orders were given in
whispers. The only sounds were shuffling boots and muttered curses as men slipped on the ladders leading down to the boats. It is not difficult to imagine the fear and tension as the troops set out on that still April night.
Daily life of the soldiers
Among the many reasons that thousands of men volunteered to go to war in 1914 was that they thought it would be an adventure and a great chance to travel and see the world. For many of these men, the possibility of traveling to another country was limited and the armed forces offered an opportunity to combine a sense of duty with a sense of adventure. What they did not take into consideration, nor could have possibly imagined, were the conditions they would face while they were overseas.
The soldier’s life was affected by the climate of the area. When the soldiers landed on the shore at Gallipoli in late spring the climate was at its most pleasant. During summer, the temperature soared and remained high during the night, making it difficult to sleep. During winter, the freezing blizzards and frost, caused illness, and damp and unpleasant living conditions.
In Gallipoli, clean water was not sufficient, even in the spring months. Wells did provide enough water, meaning that water had to be shipped in.
Food was not varied. The ANZAC’s primary diet consisted of bully beef, hard biscuits, some tea and sugar and some jam. Small quantities of bread sometimes came through, with bacon and cheese also being made available at times. Vegetables were scarce. In the early days the men resorted to eating ‘Julienne,’ which was flaked and dried pieces of various vegetables in a tin. ‘Machonochies’ was a tinned meat product that also contained some potato and other vegetables.
The soldiers lived in crowded trenches filled with stagnant water. Sanitation was inadequate and vermin, such as flies, lice, mosquitoes and rats, attracted to the rotting food scraps and empty tins, and to the dead bodies that lay unburied in the area between the trenches known as no man’s land, caused the spread of disease.
The rats were particularly unpleasant for two reasons. Firstly, they would often move from eating the leftover remnants of food in the discarded tins that had been thrown into no man’s land to feed on the stored supplies in the dug-outs. Secondly, the rats would eat the eyeballs of decaying soldiers laying in no-man’s land, before they commenced to eat the decomposing flesh, a sight that was particularly sad and gruesome for their comrades.
In summer the ANZACs also had to cope with swarms of flies. Apart from the annoyance, they were quickly spreading disease by moving between rotten leftover food and human excrement, and open wounds and decaying corpses. This brought about infestations of maggots. Dysentery and a number of other diseases raged as a result of inadequate diet and impure water.
The Nek was a narrow stretch of ridge connecting the Anzac trenches on a ridge known as ‘Russell’s Top’ to the knoll called Baby 700, which was controlled by the Turks. The area is about the size of three tennis courts.
The attack at The Nek was planned to coincide with an attack by New Zealand troops from Chunuk Bair, which they intended to attack from the front, with the New Zealanders firing on Baby 700 from the height behind. The Light Horse would then go in to attack. The intention was to trap the enemy by fire from front and rear. At the same time there would be an attack from Steele’s Post against German Officers’ Trench, which would stop the Turkish machine guns covering the open ground of The Nek. The attack was to start immediately after a naval bombardmentof the enemy lines. The Australians would advance across an 80 metre front, in four waves of 150 men each. They would carry coloured marker flags to show when they captured a trench.
Everything went wrong. The New Zealanders failed in their attempt to take Chunuk Bair. The artillery barrage ended seven minutes before the Light Horse attack, allowing Turkish defenders to move into their firing positions. The Australian attack from Quinn’s Post did not succeed, leaving the Turkish machine gunners with a clear field of fire into The Nek.
The first wave of attackers was cut down, including the commander, Colonel White. The second wave was also cut down. The 10th Light Horse commander attempted to have the third wave cancelled, but his superior officer claimed to have received reports of
marker flags in the enemy trench, indicating success. The third wave was sent forward, knowing what was in store. The attack was then called off, but poor communication meant that about 75 men of the fourth wave also advanced, and were cut down. There were 372 Australian casualties, and very few Turkish ones. In 1919 a Commonwealth burial party returned to The Nek, and found the bleaching bones of 316 bodies.
The Turks and the Australians had much respect for one another. Even though they were enemies, they respected how hard they both fought for their countries. Whenever there was a ceasefire to collect their dead, neither side broke the promise and shot anyone, they fought with respect for the enemy as hard as they could. The soldiers regarded one another as brave men, fighting for their country.
The Turkish army had many techniques that they used to counter attack the Anzacs. They would camp stay on guard waiting for a chance to attack. They had also planned to let the Anzacs land on shore before eliminating them. Another technique used by the Turks was to situate their bases on high grounds so attacks from the Anzacs would be difficult, and they would have an open space to fire down at. Although the Anzacs’ counter attacks were effective and destroyed between five and ten thousand Turks at a time, the Turks attacked up to five times more than the Anzacs, ultimately making them victorious.
Many people died and were badly injured as a result from this campaign. The lucky ones who did survive were left with terrible traumatic experiences which would have been with them until the day they died.
Total Allies killed-44,092 injured-96,937 total-141,029 France (estimated) killed-10,000 injured-17,000 total-27,000 Australia killed-8,709 injured-19,441 total-28,150 United Kingdom killed-21,255 injured-52,230 total73,485 New Zealand killed-2,721 injured-4,752 total-7,473 British India killed-1,358 injured-3,421 total-4,779 Newfoundland killed-49 injured-93 total-142 Ottoman empire (estimated) killed-86,692 injured-164,617 total-251,309 Total (both sides) killed-130,784 injured-261,554 total-392,338
The ANZAC legend
The Australian and New Zealand troops helped to establish their countries’ reputations in the world through qualities of strength and bravery when faced with adversity. In fact, it is much more than that. The legend of these men who endured so much has given something of which Australians can be proud. It put Australia’s mark on the world as something other than a nation descended from convicts.