The Gallipoli Landings
Thursday 16 April, 2020
The landing at Anzac Cove on Sunday, 25 April 1915, known to the Turks as the Arı Burnu Battle began the land phase of the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War.
From February 1915, British forces had been conducting naval operations aimed at forcing a passage through the Dardanelles following the introduction of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in to World War One. A successful attack on Turkey would secure the Gallipoli Peninsula, allowing the Navy to attack the Turkish capital of Constantinople, which would ideally lead to the Turks seeking an armistice.
Initially, the attack on Turkey was planned as a naval operation. However, following several unsuccessful attempts to force the Dardanelles in February and March, the British Cabinet agreed that land forces should also be used.
Troops of an Australian Battalion on the deck of battleship Prince of Wales in Mudros Harbour just before the landing. The ship was part of the fleet which transported Australian troops to the Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove. 24 April 1915. AWM A01829.
The Australian forces that were involved in the Gallipoli landings comprised the 1st Australian Division and two brigades of the New Zealand Australian Division, which primarily consisted of troops from the First Australian Imperial Force and 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force. There were also British and Indian units attached at times throughout the campaign. Together the groups were referred to as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; the ANZACs.
The Gallipoli campaign was the first glimpse at the war for both the Australian and New Zealand forces. Lieutenant-General William Birdwood was in charge of commanding the inexperienced ANZACs, who has been based in Egypt due to a lack of training and accommodation facilities in England.
In total, the ANZAC strength was 30,638 men.
The First World War Ottoman Turkish Army was modelled after the German Imperial Army, with most of its members being conscripted for two years (infantry) or three years (artillery). Unlike the largely inexperienced ANZACs, all the Turkish Army commanders, down to company commander level, were very experienced, being veterans of the Italo-Turkish and Balkan Wars.
On 24 March, the Turks formed the Fifth Army, a force of over 100,000 men, in two corps of six divisions and a cavalry brigade, commanded by the German general Otto Liman von Sanders. The Fifth Army deployed the III Corps at Gallipoli, with the 5th Division and a cavalry brigade on the mainland, positioned to provide support if required.
Source: IWM (Q 13309)
The Gallipoli Peninsula became the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
Running in a south-westerly direction into the Aegean Sea, between the Dardanelles and the Gulf of Saros, the peninsula features terrain that has been described as ‘inhospitable’, characterised by rocky ground with little vegetation and hilly land with steep ravines. In the official history, Charles Bean wrote of the rough country of the Gallipoli peninsula. He described confusing slopes, perpendicular crags, and gorse-like scrub:
“The growth was stubborn, and, in the steep gravelly waterways with which the hillside was scored, it was as much as a strong man could do to fight his way through it, to say nothing of carrying his heavy kit and rifle.”
Gallipoli had extremes of weather. During the summer months, it was blisteringly hot, which helped the spread of disease and flies and made the men’s tiny water rations feel even more inadequate. But the temperature could also plummet, and in the autumn and winter of 1915, the troops were shivering in their light uniforms; large numbers suffered from trench foot and frostbite. Torrential rain hit the peninsula in November which flooded the trenches, broke down the parapets and soaked the men.
Fresh water was scarce on the dusty, dry Gallipoli peninsula – particularly at Anzac Cove – and was strictly rationed out. Getting water supplies to the troops was an arduous process. It was brought from abroad by sea and kept in tanks on the coast, then taken up to the trenches by troops or animal transport. The water shortage would soon take its toll on men already weakened by the harsh climate and living conditions.
The location chosen for the operation was between the headland of Gaba Tepe and the Fisherman’s Hut, three miles (4.8 km) to the north. The rugged nature of the terrain, with its many steep ridges, was a major cause of the Anzacs’ failure on 25 April.
The landings & attack
The plan for the ANZAC battalions was to land on Z beach (later to become known as Anzac Beach) and advance inland, first capturing their own high ground objective, Hill 971 then another hill, Maltepe, closer to the Dardanelles, before reinforcing the British attack at Kilitbahir. The invasion was scheduled to take place before dawn, under the cover of darkness, in order to retain the element of surprise. But the landing didn’t go to plan.
At 1am on 25 April the British ships stopped at sea and thirty-six rowing boats disembarked the first six companies of the 3rd Brigade, two each from the 9th, 10th and 11th Battalions. The move didn’t go unnoticed however, as a Turkish sentry reported seeing ships moving at sea at around 2.30am. Unaware that they had been spotted, the ships continued towards the peninsula until 3.30am when the larger ships stopped. With 50 yards to go, the row boats continued using only their oars.
The first boats, carrying the covering force, became bunched and landed about a mile north of the designated beaches. Instead of an open beach they were faced with steep cliffs and ridges up to around three hundred feet in height. However this seemed to be an advantageous mistake, as their landing position was a relatively undefended area and the hills surrounding the cover made the beach safe from direct fire from the Turkish artillery. Turkish fire on the boats began at 4.30am, but the ANZAC troops were already ashore at Z beach.
Men from the 9th and 10th Battalions started up the slope, grabbing at branches or digging their bayonets into the soil to provide leverage. At the peak they found an abandoned trench, the Turks having withdrawn inland. Soon the Australians reached Plugge’s Plateau, the edge of which was defended by a trench, but the Turks had withdrawn to the next summit two hundred yards inland, from where they fired at the Australians coming onto the plateau.
The first men from the 11th and 12th Battalions started up Walker’s Ridge, under fire from a nearby Turkish trench. Around the same time Turkish artillery started bombarding the beachhead, destroying at least six boats. The Australians fought their way forward and reached Russell’s Top but then came under fire again so went to ground, having only advanced around one thousand yards inland.
The second six companies landed while it was still dark, the destroyers coming under fire as they disembarked the troops. Some of the troops were killed in their boats, some as they reached the beach. Once ashore the survivors headed inland.
The 2nd Brigade landed between 5.30am and 7am, and the reserve 1st Brigade landed between 9am and 12pm, putting the timetable behind schedule. By this time most of the 3rd Brigade men had been killed or wounded, and the line was held by the depleted companies from the 1st Brigade.
By nightfall, around sixteen thousand men had been landed, and the ANZACs had formed a beachhead, though with several undefended sections, and in places only a few yards separated the two sides.
Birdwood was asked that evening by senior officers to arrange an evacuation following the devastation of the day. Unwilling to make that decision on his own he signalled the commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, General Ian Hamilton:
“Both my divisional generals and brigadiers have represented to me that they fear their men are thoroughly demoralised by shrapnel fire to which they have been subjected all day after exhaustion and gallant work in morning. Numbers have dribbled back from the firing line and cannot be collected in this difficult country. Even New Zealand Brigade which has only recently been engaged lost heavily and is to some extent demoralised. If troops are subjected to shellfire again tomorrow morning there is likely to be a fiasco, as I have no fresh troops with which to replace those in firing line. I know my representation is most serious, but if we are to re-embark it must be at once.”
Hamilton was told that an evacuation would be almost impossible and responded to Birdwood with, “dig yourselves right in and stick it out … dig, dig, dig until you are safe”. The days’ survivors had to fight on alone until 28 April when four battalions of the Royal Naval Division were able to join them.
In the following days there were several failed attacks and counter-attacks by both sides. The Turks were the first to try during the second attack on Anzac Cove on 27 April, followed by the ANZACs who tried to advance overnight 1-2 May. The Turks attacked Anzac Cove a third time 19 May; it turned out to be the worst defeat of them all with around ten thousand casualties, including three thousand dead.
The Turks never succeeded in driving the ANZACs back into the sea and similarly, the ANZACs never broke out of their beachhead. In December 1915, after eight months of fighting, they evacuated the peninsula (read more).
After eight months of heavy fighting the last Allied soldiers were finally withdrawn in January 1916. The campaign, one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war, is widely considered a major Allied failure. Turks regard it as a defining moment in their nation’s history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled.
The full extent of casualties on that first day is not known. Birdwood, who did not come ashore until late in the day on the 25th, estimated between three and four hundred dead on the beaches. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission documents that 754 Australian and 147 New Zealand soldiers died on 25 April 1915. It is estimated that the Turkish Regiments lost around 2,000 men, or fifty per cent of their combined strength.
During the campaign, 8,708 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders were killed. The exact number of Turkish dead is not known but has been estimated around 87,000.
The casualties were not only a result of the fighting, but also from the extremely unsanitary conditions. Surviving combatants also recalled the terrible problems with intense heat, swarms of flies, body lice, severe lack of water and insufficient supplies.
In 1985, the Turkish government formally renamed ‘Z beach’ to Anzac Cove as it is known today.
The date of the landing, 25 April, is known as “Anzac Day” and it remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and returned soldiers in Australia and New Zealand. The anniversary is also commemorated in Turkey and the United Kingdom.