Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

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About Gallipoli

By early 1915, what had started as a war of movement in Europe had already descended into an opposing set of trenches stretching from Switzerland to the Sea in Belgium. Lateral thinkers like Churchill sought to find a way to break the deadlock. The war in the east with Russia was still fluid, however, the Russians were short of everything except manpower. The two ways France and Britain could supply Russia was via Murmansk in the Arctic, or Sevastopol in the Crimea. Only the Black Sea port of Sevastopol could be accessed year round, Murmansk was ice-bound in the winter. To get to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, however, ships had to pass through the Dardanelles, and this passage was controlled by Turkey. In 1914 as a result of good German diplomacy, and British intransigence in the seizure of two warships paid for by Turkey, and being built in Britain; Turkey had entered the Great War on the side of Germany. Here was a lateral solution to the deadlock.

Initially Churchill, who at the time was First Lord of the Admiralty, thought so laterally that he was off the scale. He convinced the British and French governments that the naval passageway could be taken by a naval force unsupported by soldiers on the ground. On 18 March 1915, Admiral de Robeck led a flotilla of ships into the gap between Cape Heles and Kum Kale. The Turkish artillery set up in the previous century to dominate the narrow (2 kilometres wide) stretch of water was not quite up to the task. The small Turkish minelayer Nusrat, however, was. The allied flotilla bombarded the shore batteries, and they soon fell silent, the mines, however, did their deadly work. The Turks, never ones to give up, soon used what shore based artillery they could to drive the ships back. de Robeck his nose bloodied withdrew.

Churchill too was also not one to give up. The man whose intransigence was to save his nation 40 years on, convinced others to have another go but this time with land forces. The nearest land forces were those of the Dominions, Australia and New Zealand. They were training in Egypt; to that point no decision had been made as to whether they would be used to defend the Suez Canal and Egypt from a thrust by the Ottoman Empire through Palestine, or to be sent to France.

25 April 1915 saw the infantry divisions of the Australian and New Zealand expeditionary forces landing on the west of the Gallipoli peninsula to realise Churchill's dream. Commanded by the British General Sir Ian Hamilton, there were no native born or even Australian or New Zealand residents with a rank higher than Brigadier General. They landed in the darkness just before dawn and forced their way inland against little resistance, the ridges were steep; the Turks did not expect a landing there. They were, however facing the Turkish 19th Division commanded by the most brilliant of all commanders in this field, Mustafa Kemal. It was not long before the movement stopped, and the kind of stalemate that reigned in Europe prevailed. Our troops had reached the first un-broken ridge line, about 2 kilometres inland, and there they would stay.


ANZAC Cove Headland and North Beach 2015

In the south, the British had landed at Cape Helles. The landing on the tip of the Cape was a disaster. The collier "River Clyde" had been converted to a landing ship. Three Turkish machine guns almost destroyed the 3,000 strong brigade as they stormed through the special holes in the bow and ran down the gangplanks. The few who did survive were able to shelter behind a small embankment. On nearby beaches the landings by British and French soldiers had greater success, gradually the Turkish defenders were pushed to a line about 2 kilometres north of the Cape. On 8 May, Australian and New Zealand troops also joined this fray, in an effort to capture the town of Krithia, about 4 kilometres from the Cape. Casualties were high, 6,500, one third of the allied soldiers engaged, 500 metres had been gained. Stalemate ensued, the sector commander Lieutenant General Hunter-Weston sought scapegoats for his incompetent planning and poor leadership.


The Gallipoli Peninsula

The 8 May 1915 saw the first of the Light Horse (Australian) and Mounted Rifles (New Zealand) units land at ANZAC Cove, and take up forward positions. These soldiers were trained to use their horses for manoeuvre, and fight on foot. At Gallipoli, rather than having their horses held a short distance from the point of battle, they had to go into battle without their horses as their horses were left in Egypt.

Soon after the horsemen took up their positions in the trenches, on the 19 May at 03:00, the Turks attacked. There were 30,000 Turks against 12,500 ANZACs. The Turks attacked to the cries of &qout;Jacko and Allah". Ordered to die by Mustafa Kemal, that is what the Turkish soldiers did. The attack came without covering fire or artillery support; they lacked heavy guns, just shock troops, and bands playing martial music. 3,000 Turkish soldiers died that day (7,000 wounded), as did 160 ANZACs (600 wounded). The attack failed and the stalemate ensued; Albert Jacka won the Victoria Cross during that engagement. There were so many dead lying between the trench lines that a truce was called to enable burial.

Next it was the allies turn to have a bright idea to break the stalemate. It was an idea that would have succeeded but for the indolence and stupidity of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, and the brilliance and audacity of Colonel Mustafa Kemal. A new British corps under Stopford was to land at Suvla Bay, north of ANZAC, and sweep across the peninsula, this effort was to be supported by attacks all along the ANZAC front to distract the Turkish defenders.

As the British landed on 8 August, the ANZAC Division under Major General Godley attacked towards Chunuk Bair, the highest point on the Gallipoli Peninsular. The 8th and 10th Light Horse attacked at the Neck, the 1st from Pope's, the 3rd from Quinns, and the infantry against the Lone Pine Feature.

Again the offensive was for the most part a failure. The Suvla landing was initially unopposed. Stopford, however, was reluctant to exploit the situation. Taking a minimalist interpretation of his orders, he stopped his troops at the first line of hills, adopting defensive positions and "brewing tea". The charge at the Nek was just that, timings were mixed-up and the Turks had time to re-occupy their positions after the artillery lifted before the lighthorsemen left their trenches; they charged and died; the name of Lieutenant Colonel John Antill who ordered subsequent charges after the first had so obviously failed passed into the record of the incompetents who were prepared to sacrifice others on the altar of their stupidity. The 10th Light Horse ceased to exist as a fighting force. At Pope's, B Squadron the 1st Light Horse Regiment disappeared. They attacked across the 10 metres dividing the trench lines and disappeared into a "chessboard" of trenches, 147 casualties including all officers, the largest number suffered on any day in the 120 year history of what is now Australia's unit with the greatest number of battle honours. At Lone Pine, there was a win of sorts for the Australian infantry, the fighting was vicious, seven Victoria Crosses were won. The objectives were taken and held, this was not even planned as a breakthrough, stalemate soon returned. The attack by the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair was the closest any of the allied forces got to the goal of capturing the Gallipoli peninsula, from that high point, the New Zealanders were able to see the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara. But for Mustafa Kemal, the New Zealanders may have retained the prize, the energetic divisional commander personally led his men in the counter attack that pushed the New Zealanders from the heights. The losses were incomprehensible. The stalemate returned.

This was the story of the first three years of the first world war. Some initial gains were possible when the enemy had not yet deployed his forces. Once both sides were entrenched, barbed wire and machine guns ensured there would be no progress. The commanders were incompetent; those with combat experience knew how to win against a technologically inferior enemy, not how to deal with equally equipped soldiers. The new blood, men from the colonies who would ultimately show how to conduct a successful modern war, were still learning their trade. Brigadier General Monash, the engineer who at Le Hamel in 1918 would show the world how to plan and execute a battle where machine-gun armed infantry, tanks, aeroplanes and even light horse used in concert could overwhelm the strongest opponent, spent 4 days lost with his brigade on the approaches to Chunuk Bair. In 1918 things were to change, the Germans showed what could be achieved when junior officers and soldiers were allowed to develop their own storm trooper tactics, and the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians showed what could be achieved when seasoned troops were well led and supported by all of the new technology and techniques the war had spored.

Little happened on the Peninsula until November 1915. Patrols probed and men died, the author's great uncle Lance Corporal Maxwell Horwitz (known as Howitz) of the 15th Battalion AIF disappeared presumed dead on a patrol in the vicinity of Lone Pine, but the trench lines did not move. Eventually even the lateral thinkers could see no future in the campaign. The Turks had received new guns, Austrian Howitzers, these were able to heavily pound the trenches not designed for such bombardment.

The withdrawal was planned in detail, General Munro had replaced Hamilton as overall commander, a practical man, he had called for plans well before the withdrawal was authorised. Major General Birdwood commander of the Australian Division was in overall charge of the withdrawal, he charged Colonels Aspinall and Brunell White with the planning. Both were exceptionally good at the job. 80,000 men from four nations were taken from two battlefields with no loss of life. The withdrawal, when an army is most likely to sustain casualties, was accomplished without any. Great pains were taken to "convince" the enemy that nothing was happening. Rifles with primitive timers fired shots to create an impression of activity, troops showed themselves in the front line as over the nights of 17, 18 and 19 December 1915, the troops shuffled silently from the ridges to the boats that were to take them to safety.

The Turks were quiescent, there is evidence to indicate that at least the front line soldiers knew what was happening, and were quite pleased to let the enemy leave their shores without risking more lives in the chase. The man who was most responsible for the Turkish victory, Mustafa Kemal was on leave in Istanbul.

Mustafa Kemal, later as Kemal Atatürk, founding president of the Turkish Republic published this in 1934:

"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 here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent there sons from far away 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."

It is displayed on a stone monument just above ANZAC Cove, the name now universally applied to that stretch of beach where so many young men from the antipodes landed in the early hours of 25 April 1915.  A monument to the ties forged in blood between the Australian and Turkish peoples.  The heroism shown by our soldiers so far away is celebrated every year as the event of nationhood.

Today there are many Australians of Turkish origin.  On 25 April in every Australian town and city the Turkish Australian descendents of the defenders of their once homeland march proudly.

John Howells 2008


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