This failure led to the decision to force the Straits by a landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. Once the Turkish forts and batteries had been seized, the Royal Navy could steam on to Istanbul. A Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) composed of British Empire and French troops was hastily assembled in Egypt. Among the British Empire forces were the men of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) and the NZEF (New Zealand Expeditionary Force) who had been training in Egypt when the decision to invade Turkey had been taken. They were now combined into one army corps, known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and the men who fought in the corps became known as Anzacs.
At dawn on 25 April 1915, the Gallipoli campaign began. Australians and New Zealanders landed on the rugged and mountainous western side of the peninsula. The small area captured that day became known as ‘Anzac’ and the little beach where most Anzacs came ashore after the initial attack was soon called Anzac Cove. The aim of the landing was twofold – to capture the heights of the Sari Bair range which dominate this part of the peninsula and to force a way inland to a hill known as Mal Tepe, overlooking the Straits and the Turkish lines of communication to the south.
That same morning, around Cape Helles, the British landed at a number of different locations. Their objective was the high point of a plateau about 11 kilometres from the cape, which ran across the peninsula, known locally as Alçitepe (Achi Baba to the British), and then to progress north from there to join up with the Anzacs. Across the Straits, the French mounted a diversionary landing at Kum Kale. The British position in the south became known as ‘Helles’. But strong and unexpected Turkish resistance held off both these attacks and by the evening of 25 April the landing forces clung to small gains at both Anzac and Helles.
Over the next few days, during the Battle of the Landing, and despite terrible casualties on both sides, the Turks were unable to drive the Anzacs back into the sea. Conversely, the Anzacs made little or no headway against the Turks, and by 5 May 1915 they were left holding a slice of Turkey 1.5 kilometres from north to south and 0.5 kilometres at its widest point. This position was held, with additions of territory to the north during the ‘August offensive’, until the end of the campaign.
During May and June the British undertook a number of operations at Helles, designed to push their line towards Achi Baba and hopefully to break out to the north. All of these actions – the First Battle of Krithia (28 April), the Second Battle of Krithia (8 May) and the Third Battle of Krithia (4 June) – failed. For the Second Battle of Krithia, the 2nd Brigade (Victoria) AIF and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade (about 8000 men) were sent to Helles. On the morning of 8 May, the New Zealanders gained about 360 metres of ground with considerable losses. Late that afternoon, the Australians made a charge over open ground towards the village of Alçitepe (Krithia), suffering similar losses without even reaching the front line. This was the only occasion when Australian and New Zealand infantry fought at Helles, although artillery units also served there.
At both Anzac and Helles things settled into the stalemate of trench warfare – exactly what the Allies had come to Turkey to avoid. The most sensitive part of the Anzac line lay along the ridge (Second Ridge) from the Lone Pine position in the south to Quinn’s Post in the north. At Quinn’s Post, Anzac and Turk faced each other over a few metres of bullet- and bomb-blasted landscape. If the Anzac line gave way here the Turks would look down the valley, Shrapnel Gully, all the way to the sea, and the whole Anzac position would be untenable. Quinn’s became a constant battleground, with endless bomb attacks by both sides. On one occasion the Turks broke into Quinn’s but were quickly driven out.
On 19 May 1915, the Turks mounted a major attack all along the ridge. An estimated 40 000 Turkish soldiers had been assembled to drive the invaders back to the beaches, but the Anzacs received warning of the attack and were ready. Despite their desperate courage the Turkish soldiers were shot down in their hundreds by rifle and machine-gun fire as they charged across the narrow ridge. That morning an estimated 3000 Turks died in this fruitless attack and a further 7000 were wounded. By comparison, there were few Anzac casualties. So great became the stench from the rotting corpses in no-man’s-land that a truce was arranged for 24 May 1915 to allow both sides to bury their dead in pits and trenches between the lines.
By early August 1915 a new plan had been evolved for a breakout at Anzac. On the afternoon of 6 August, Australians mounted a large diversionary attack at Lone Pine, aimed at seizing and holding the front- line Turkish trenches. The strength of the assault was to make the Turks think a major offensive was being launched here and to tie their reserves to those positions. This was achieved over the next two days during some of the most savage and costly trench fighting ever experienced by the AIF. Dozens of brave Turkish counter-attacks were made in an effort to drive the Australians out of their old trenches at Lone Pine, but by the end of 9 August it was clear that the Australians were going to hold on, and that this would be the new Australian front line at Anzac.
As the battle raged at Lone Pine, an Allied force composed of Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Gurkha and British troops made their way in the darkness north from North Beach at Anzac and into the valleys leading up to the heights of the Sari Bair range – Chunuk Bair (Conkbayiri) and Hill 971 (Çimentepe). The objective was to capture these dominating positions and turn the flank at Anzac, compelling the Turks to retreat back across the peninsula. From there, a breakout might be possible and the original aim of the campaign, the seizure of the Dardanelles, might be achieved. To support this new ‘August offensive’ British troops were landed at Suvla Bay on the night of 6–7 August with the intention of getting across the peninsula by way of the low-lying land north of Chunuk Bair.
For three days the struggle raged in the ranges. On 8 August, the New Zealanders, with some British support, reached the peak of Chunuk Bair and dug in there, holding on against increasingly strong Turkish counter-attacks. Further north, Australian forces had become lost in the valleys leading up to Hill 971, the highest point on the peninsula, and never managed to get forward against Turkish opposition.
On 9 August, more Turkish attacks were directed against the New Zealand and British trenches at Chunuk Bair without success, while a Gurkha unit managed to seize a position between there and Hill 971 at Hill Q. But the Allied foothold on the heights was precarious. At dawn on 10 August 1915 the Turks attacked over Chunuk Bair, driving all before them back down the slopes beyond. Here the Turks were themselves shot to ground by the New Zealand machine-guns, but Chunuk Bair was safe and never again threatened. The British landings at Suvla were a disaster and no real headway was made there. The August offensive had failed and in many ways, despite some bitter fighting to straighten out the new line between Anzac and Suvla, the serious fighting was over.
After the August offensive the Allies prepared for a winter on the peninsula. At Anzac a large base was built up at North Beach, but discussions were already taking place back in London as to whether the positions at Gallipoli were viable at all. After a visit by the British Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, the British government determined on evacuation. There were concerns about winter gales as storms during October and November wrecked piers at Anzac. It was also feared that the Turks would be able to bring in heavy artillery to shell the precarious Anzac positions. On 29 November, such a bombardment did indeed occur at Lone Pine, with significant casualties and considerable damage to the trenches. It was an indication of what might happen.
Between late November and 19–20 December, the garrisons at Anzac and Suvla were gradually withdrawn. Elaborate precautions were taken to make the Turks think that life was proceeding as normal until, on the morning of 20 December 1915, the last Anzac embarked from North Beach. On 8 January 1916, the last British troops left Helles. The Gallipoli campaign was over.
Gallipoli cost the Allies 141 000 casualties, of whom more than 44 000 died. Of the dead, 8709 were Australians and 2701 were New Zealanders. The Turks suffered 251 000 casualties, of whom more than 86 000 lost their lives. Countless thousands had been evacuated sick from the various diseases which had plagued both sides, especially during the long hot summer. For the Allies it was a defeat despite the individual courage and endurance of the soldiers themselves. Equally, Turkish soldiers had shown a strength and capacity in defence of their homeland which amazed all who had known the military weaknesses of the old Ottoman Empire.