Gallipoli Campaign 1915
Early on the morning of 25 April 1915, Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Ottoman Turkey. This marked the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, a land-based element of a broad strategy to defeat the Ottoman Empire. Over 8 months, the Anzacs advanced little further than the positions they had taken on that first day of the landings. By November 1915, it was clear that the stalemate was not likely to be broken. Lord Kitchener, the British chief of staff, recommended an evacuation.
In late December, the Anzacs were evacuated from the peninsula with very few casualties. By 20 January 1916, all Allied troops had been withdrawn.
The Gallipoli Campaign was a military defeat, but the battles fought on Gallipoli established the military reputation of the original Anzacs.
Main battles involving Australians:
- Landing at Anzac Cove 25 April 1915
- Early battles and the Third Turkish Attack on Anzac Cove 19 May 1915
- Landing at Suvla Bay 6 to 15 August 1915
- Battle of Sari Bair (August Offensive) 6 to 21 August 1915
- Battle of Lone Pine 6 to 10 August 1915
- Battle of the Nek 7 August 1915
- Battle of Hill 60 21 to 29 August 1915
Background to the campaign
By early 1915, the Allies were in a deadlock with Germany on the Western Front, and the Russian army was struggling in the east.
The First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill, sought to strike at the Central Powers on a new front in south-eastern Europe by:
- seizing the Dardanelles
- getting Allied ships near Constantinople to bring the city under fire
- opening Russia's route from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean
The Dardanelles Strategy began with an attempt to force the straits by naval power alone. Early bombardments of the coastal forts failed. On 18 March 1915, three Allied battleships were lost to Turkish sea mines, and three others were severely damaged. Senior Allied officers decided that success in the Dardanelles required amphibious landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Preparations in Egypt
For some time, the British Army had been preparing for a landing to support naval operations in the Dardanelles.
General Ian Hamilton, a semi-retired officer, was sent to Egypt to take command of what became known as the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). The MEF was a force of more than 70,000 comprising units from the British Army, France, British-India, Australia, Newfoundland and New Zealand, as well as a Royal Navy division.
During training in Egypt, the Australians and New Zealanders were combined into one corps – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Commanded by a British-Indian Army officer, Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, these men were soon known as 'the Anzacs'.
The mission of the MEF was to seize the Gallipoli peninsula and clear the way for the Royal Navy to bring the Turkish capital of Constantinople under fire, forcing an Ottoman surrender.
The British 29th Division under General Aylmer Hunter-Weston was to land at Cape Helles and push inland to capture a piece of high ground called Achi Baba. The Anzacs would land further north at Gaba Tepe. The invasion was originally planned for dawn on 23 April 1915 but was delayed for 2 days due to poor weather.
The French would stage a diversionary landing on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles near Kum Kale. Then they would re-embark to support the British at Helles.
The British, so the plan went, would advance rapidly and take Kilid Bahr, the high plateau that lay across the centre of the peninsula. Meanwhile, the Anzacs would gain the Sari Bair range and advance on a hill called Mal Tepe which commanded the roadway leading from the eastern part of Gallipoli to the south. It was essential to Turkish forces moving to reinforce positions there.
It was all meant to be over quickly. Few people thought that it would result in an 8-month long campaign. British high command did not hold high opinions of the fighting capacity of the armies of the Ottoman Empire, whose fortunes had been in decline for more than 100 years.
Preparations at Lemnos
In the month before the invasion, the MEF units gathered on the Greek island of Lemnos, 100km south-west of Gallipoli. Here, at Mudros Harbour, was the main base camp for the campaign. Soon it would become an area for large tented hospitals, such as the Australian No 1 Stationary Hospital and the 3rd Australian General Hospital.
The Australians, aware now of their destination, practised landings and some officers were instructed in that art:
... Lieutenant Green [12th Battalion, Tasmania and Western Australia] was detached for duty. No one exactly knew what his duty was, but he could always be seen careering around the harbour in a motor or steam launch, or towing lighters or barges from jetty to troopship ... the ease with which he substituted nautical orders for military words of command gained him the nickname ... 'The Admiral'.
On the afternoon of 24 April 1915, the Anzacs boarded transports (troop ships), destroyers and battleships for a short overnight voyage. The more reflective among them were aware that this would be a significant venture for Australia.
Lieutenant Alan Henderson of the 7th Battalion, a 20-year-old accountant from Hawthorn in Victoria, confided in a letter that would have arrived home well after his death in action a few days later:
It is going to be Australia's chance and she makes a tradition out of this that she must always look back on. God grant it will be a great one. The importance of this alone seems stupendous to Australia.
Heading for Gallipoli that night was the British destroyer Ribble, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Ralph Wilkinson. Elements of the 12th Battalion were on board. Wilkinson admired the soldiers on his ship, describing them as 'the cream of the men of Australia'. He had a close conversation with one of them:
I well remember a very fine Australian officer ... he spoke to me of his wife and his children, showing me snapshots of them. He asked me, 'Was I right to volunteer and come?' – I trust my answer helped to reassure him.
Map of the landings
On this map, the dotted lines from the three red ships (London, Prince of Wales, Queen) indicate the first six companies of the first wave. Lines from the seven orange ships indicate the second six companies. The solid red lines show the routes taken once ashore.
Summary of the campaign
Early on the morning of 25 April 1915, Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Ottoman Turkey. The British Army landed at Cape Helles. Troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed north of Gaba Tepe (Kabatepe) headland, on a beach later called 'Anzac Cove'. French troops landed in a feint at Kum Kale on the Dardanelles Asian shore before moving to the Helles sector on Gallipoli.
The Gallipoli Campaign was the land-based element of a broad strategy to defeat the Ottoman Empire.
A British-French fleet had made several attempts to breach Ottoman defences in the Dardanelles but had suffered a decisive defeat on 18 March 1915.
The Allies realised that naval forces alone were unlikely to force a surrender. They hoped that infantry would destroy the shore-based defences. This would bring a victory that would:
- allow Allied navy ships to pass through the Dardanelles straits and attack Constantinople (current day Istanbul)
- knock the Ottoman Turks out of the war
Success depended on a quick victory, but this did not occur.
Ferocious Turkish resistance resulted in protracted trench warfare through the forbidding scrubby slopes and ravines. Fighting in the landings and early battles resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. The unhygienic conditions for soldiers on Gallipoli caused serious illnesses. As the campaign moved into summer, more men were evacuated because of illness than wounds sustained during the conflict.
From the earliest days of the campaign, the Turks clung grimly to the high ground. The Allies could not advance against the higher-positioned Turks. The Turks could not force the Allies back into the sea.
In August 1915, a reinforced Allied force of 11 divisions tried to break the deadlock with an assault on Suvla Bay and diversionary attacks at Helles and Anzac. These actions tried to draw Ottoman reserves away from the main Allied attack on the Sari Bair range, north of Anzac.
At Lone Pine, the Anzacs were successful after days of intense trench fighting.
At the Nek, two Australian Light Horse brigades were cut down as they tried to cross no-man's-land and seize the Ottoman trenches.
Soon afterwards, the New Zealanders launched an assault against the hills around Chunuk Bair, north of Anzac Cove. Both this attack and the British landing at Suvla Bay failed.
The battle returned to a stalemate.
Finally, senior British commanders decided to evacuate. First Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay in December 1915. Then Helles in January 1916.
Overall the Gallipoli campaign was unsuccessful for the Allies. But the campaign did help to draw Ottoman troops away from the Caucasus front. Running from the Black Sea to Persia, Russian and Ottoman soldiers were engaged in bitter fighting.
The battles fought on Gallipoli established the great military reputation of the original Anzacs.