ANZACs Land at Gallipoli, April 25, 1915
he military campaign in Gallipoli, in 1915, is little known or remembered in the United States. The U.S. did not join the 1914-1918 War until two years later, and the geographical area of the campaign seems remote and strategically irrelevant to the war in the trenches of France. In 1981, Australian filmmaker Peter Weir released a film with the title of that battle of long ago, starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson. Gallipoli won many awards and provided the world with a stunning reminder of the sacrifices of young Australian and New Zealand men, known as ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), in the First World War. The Campaign lasted eight months and cost more than a half million casualties.
New Zealand troops land at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
The war pitted the Allied nations, primarily England, France, Italy, Russia, and their respective empires against the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire which included Turkey and most of the Middle East. France and Great Britain and their main opponent, Germany, settled into a complex of trenches across France and Belgium. A full year of war only brought about the digging of trenches deeper and more sophisticated, and fruitless assaults across no-man’s land. With the stalemate on the “Western Front,” the English high command—led by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Fisher—developed an offensive plan that would send a British fleet through the Dardenalles Straits and land an army to knock Turkey out of the war, draw Bulgaria and Greece onto the side of the Allies, and stall the Turkish offensive against Russia in the Caucasus.
Map of the Gallipoli region of Turkey, showing ANZAC Bay
The army was preparing for the spring offensives and said they couldn’t spare the men. The Navy thought they could, perhaps, attack by themselves and bombard Constantinople. None of the Allies seriously thought the Turks could withstand pressure, and that popular uprisings would finish off the Turkish government. In reality, the Turks, with German aid, had bolstered their shore artillery, trained a credible army, and sowed the sea lanes with mines. They prepared well for what the British thought would be a big surprise. The run of the British ships through the last twenty miles of the straits would have to first navigate the “Narrows,” with twenty forts, hundreds of artillery positions and strings of mines. There would be a surprise, but it would not be for the Turks. On February 19, the fleet entered the Dardenalles with guns blazing. Several French and British battleships blew up and the whole expedition withdrew. The Allied high command decided to land troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula and fight the Turkish army the old-fashioned way, setting the stage for one of the great military disasters of all time.
Landing of Australian troops at ANZAC cove, April 25, 1915
The forty-nine mile long and four mile wide Gallipoli peninsula extends along the Aegean Sea on the west, and the Dardenalles Strait to the east, on the European part of Turkey. General Kitchner appointed Sir Ian Hamilton to lead the 78,000 men of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces. To the Allied Army were added the Australian and New Zealand Divisions (ANZACs) currently training in Egypt. The Royal Navy Division, the 29th Infantry, and French troops were also combined, to throw 300,000 men against about 255,000 Turkish defenders. The allies underestimated the fighting qualities of the Ottoman Army since they had not fared well in earlier wars and battles, and their Empire itself was known as “the sick man of Europe.” German arms and military advisors, who became the senior officers, helped steel the Turks for the coming invasion and, in the end, repelled the Allies at enormous cost to both sides. The British took four weeks to organize a landing, giving the Ottomans plenty of time to prepare defenses on both sides of the peninsula.