Early battles for the Anzacs on Gallipoli 1915

 

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), as well as artillery units from the British Indian Army, landed on Gallipoli early on 25 April 1915. Anzac units became separated as they moved through the tangled scrub across unfamiliar spurs, ridges and ravines. Turkish resistance was fierce. By mid-morning, Turkish reinforcements arrived under their commander Mustafa Kemal. Falling back on their improvised entrenchments, the Anzacs held on. By the end of the first day, 16,000 men had landed, and over 2000 had been killed or wounded. The struggle to hold or enlarge the Anzac position went on for days. The Anzacs fought many battles in the first month but did not advance. Despite massive counter-attacks, the Ottoman Turks could not force the stubborn invading Anzacs into the sea. Guns on British warships assisted the Anzacs.

Second Attack on Anzac Cove 27 to 29 April 1915

The Ottoman commanders and their German advisors wanted to extinguish the Allied threat on the peninsula. The Allies only had a precarious hold on a small part of Ottoman territory, but it was strategically important land. Istanbul could fall if the Allies managed to occupy the Dardanelles and open the Sea of Mamora to Allied warships.

Between 27 and 29 April 1915, the Ottomans launched furious counter-attacks. They tried to drive the Anzac and Allied forces into the sea. Brave Turkish counter-attacks were met with equal bravery by the Allies. The Ottomans ultimately failed in their objectives.

During the course of the counter-attacks, the impact of modern warfare and its weapons of destruction was laid bare. One shell fired in a salvo from HMS Queen Elizabeth wiped out an entire Turkish company as it attacked British troops at Helles.

Private Archie Barwick fought through the early days in one of the hottest parts of the line - the Chessboard area, near Quinn's Post. Barwick wrote:

I had two rifles smashed in my hands during the fighting on the 27th … the piece of ground opposite us was literally covered with dead bodies, our own boys and Turks. God knows what our losses were must have run into a few thousands.

Private Ellis Silas, a signaller of the 16th Battalion, was an artist who kept a diary and sketchbook during his short time at Lemnos and Gallipoli.

Silas published Crusading at Anzac AD 1915, which provided a dramatic insight into the dangers, hardship and loss that accompanied the Anzac Corps' attempt to establish a foothold on the Gallipoli peninsula. By 27 April, the troops had not slept for days, and Silas wrote:

Still fighting furiously — now all signallers have been wiped out of A and B Companies except myself … the continual cry of "Signaller!" never seems to cease.

Battle for Baby 700 2 to 3 May 1915

By May, the Allied perimeter was relatively secure. ANZAC commander Lieutenant-General Birdwood tried to take the offensive.

On the evening of 2 May, the New Zealand and Australian Division launched an attack on the dominating Baby 700 position, on the way to Chunuk Bair. The men were supported by four Royal Naval Division battalions recently arrived from Helles.

The plan was for four Australian battalions to attack from Quinn's Post. At the same time, the New Zealander units would advance out of Monash Gully, north of Quinn's, to secure the seaward slopes of Baby 700. The Australians would then move forward to take the inland slopes.

The attack went badly from the outset. The New Zealanders move from Walker's Ridge to the head of Monash Valley took longer than expected. They were not in position when the Australians launched their attack. When the New Zealanders launched their brave charge out of Monash Gully more than 1 hour late, the forewarned Ottoman units decimated them with machine gun and rifle fire.

By daybreak, it became apparent how exposed the Australian and New Zealand positions were. The soldiers drew heavy fire from the Turks and then withdrew. Units of the Royal Naval Division courageously tried to continue the advance but suffered heavy losses.

The failed assault cost the Anzacs and their British Allies 1000 casualties with no gains.

Roll call of the Australian 16th Battalion

Private Leslie Wallis of the 16th Battalion (Western Australia) was one of the few to reach the crest of the hill known as the Bloody Angle. He wrote to his brother:

At 12 o'clock … we were entrenched where the enemy had been. I can't speak of our Dead and wounded — too sad Jimmie ... bullets were again flying around like flies … I'm scratches all over … It's a sad, sad day when we land in Fremantle, if we ever do, what's left of our old 16th West Aust. Batt.

Shortly after dawn, the 16th was forced from its newly won trenches. The battalion landed at Gallipoli with more than 1000 men. After 9 days of continuous fighting, only 309 remained. Official historian, Charles Bean, eventually estimated the loss to the Anzac Corps during this period as 8364 killed, wounded and missing.

The roll call after battle was 'always a most heart-breaking moment. Name after name would be called; the reply a deep silence'.

Private Silas Ellis wrote about the 16th Battalion's roll call on 11 May:

Few of us are left to answer our names, just a thin line of weary, ashen-faced men, behind us a mass of silent forms, once our comrades. They have been there for some days, we have not the time to bury them.

A painting depicting group of soldiers standing and facing a commanding officer with dead bodies lying around.
Danger, hardship and loss at the Battle of the Landing. Detail from painting, Roll Call AWM ART02436

Silas was the only participant in the Battle of the Landing to produce paintings from his personal experiences.

Read diary extracts and see sketches from Ellis Silas

The second Battle of Krithia, 8 May 1915

The British landings at Helles were no more successful than those of the Australians and New Zealanders at Anzac. The Allies failed to achieve their objectives at the first battle of Krithia (now Alçitepe) on 28 April 1915. General Hamilton ordered the Australian 2nd Brigade (5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions, from Victoria) and the New Zealand Brigade to help the British and French in their second attempt to capture Achi Baba, a prominent hill behind Krithia. The second battle started on 6 May 1915 but made little progress in the first 2 days. The New Zealanders courageously advanced towards Kritihia early on 8 May. The men were mown down by heavy fire from the Ottoman positions. Nobody was clear where the Turkish positions were. This situation still prevailed in mid-afternoon when the Australians were ordered to attack. The Australian 2nd Brigade was camping and cooking a meal when the order came for the advance across 'wide, dry, level grassland'. The troops met a ferocious hail of fire from the Turks. Official war historian Charles Bean wrote:

The heavily loaded brigade hurried straight on, heads down, as if into fierce rain, some men holding their shovels before their faces like umbrellas in a thunderstorm.

The Australians advanced only about 900m in 1 hour. They lost nearly 1000 men killed, wounded and missing. This flawed attack was described by one historian as 'one of the most misconceived episodes in a misconceived battle'.

Among the dead was 52-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gartside, commanding officer of the 7th Battalion. Gartside was struck in the stomach by machine-gun bullets. He was heard to call as he rose to lead his men forward:

Come on, boys, I know it's deadly but we must go on

A painting of battleground with soldiers in trenches and smoke rising from blastings in the distance
Charge of the 2nd Infantry Brigade at Krithia, Charles Wheeler, 1927. AWM ART09558

Wheeler's painting depicts an incident during the Australian advance at Krithia on 8 May 1915.

Brigadier General James McCay, commanding officer of the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade, urged his men on with the words:

Now then Australians! Which of you men are Australian? Come on, Australians!

Third Attack on Anzac Cove 19 May 1915

Despite the Anzacs consolidating their position in the face of ferocious counter-attacks and bombardment, the Ottomans lost none of their persistence. They still hoped to drive the invaders back into the sea and off their territory. The Ottomans planned further counter-attacks and amassed reinforcements for an attack against the entire Anzac line. They targeted sections such as Quinn's Post and other areas where the opposing forces were only metres apart, and the Anzac line was considered weak. The Ottoman element of surprise was lost due to Royal Naval Air Service reconnaissance planes observing the movement of reinforcements on the peninsula. When the Ottoman counter-attack began at 3:30am in the dark early hours of the 19 May 1915, the Anzacs were expecting them.

The Ottoman soldiers were tremendously brave. Their massed assault against the Anzac lines bristling with alert machine-gunners and riflemen was disastrous. It was calculated that the Anzac forces expended more than 948,000 rounds of ammunition into the massed ranks of Ottoman soldiers between 3:30am and midday. Thousands of brave Ottoman soldiers were killed outright or wounded near the Anzac line, which was not breached at all. When the attacks ceased, the scene was horrific. Historian Charles Bean, who was present at the battlefield, wrote:

... the dead and wounded lay everywhere in hundreds. Many of those nearest to the Anzac line had been shattered by terrible wounds inflicted by modern bullets at close ranges. No sound came from that terrible space

The Anzac losses were 160 killed and 468 wounded. Most of the Australians killed had been hit in the head or neck. Many of them had exposed themselves above their parapets so they could shoot better into the massed ranks of Turks.

Of the 42,000 Ottoman soldiers involved in the attack, 3000 lay dead and another 10,000 wounded. The bloated putrefying bodies rotting in the sun were buried after a truce was arranged on the 24 May. Turks and Anzacs worked side by side as they buried their poor dead countrymen in large pits. They smiled at each other and shared cigarettes as they worked.

The scene in front of the Australian lines at Johnston's Jolly and along Second Ridge on the morning of 24 May 1915, the day of the truce to bury the dead of the failed Turkish attack of 19 May. AWM H16397

Bodies of men killed in earlier struggles along the ridge were also discovered and buried. Private Albert Facey of the 11th Battalion (Western Australia) worked with the burial parties:

Most of us had to work in short spells as we felt very ill … The whole operation was a strange experience — here we were, mixing with our enemies, exchanging smiles and cigarettes, when the day before we had been tearing each other to pieces ... Away to our left there were high table-toped hills and on these there were what looked like thousands of people. Turkish civilians had taken advantage of the cease-fire to come out and watch the burial.

From that time forward the Anzacs gained a new appreciation of their Turkish adversaries. Men on both sides were soldiers bound to the business of war, experiencing equally its brutalities and sufferings.


Last updated: 24 January 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Early battles for the Anzacs on Gallipoli 1915, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 20 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/gallipoli/early-battles
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