Gallipoli landing botched and excess blood shed

Raw, untried Australian soldiers were led to a horrific scene at Gallipoli as Allied forces initiated a costly, maladministered amphibious invasion of The Dardanelles on April 25.

Among a devastating 2,000 casualties from the day’s unforeseen bloodbath, many lost their lives before having the chance to place one foot ashore.

The longboats were often showered in a hailstorm of lead and the sniper attacks were ceaseless.

Numerous men drowned while trying to wade through the water, their heavy packs weighing them down. Only broken remnants of the force reached the first defensive line.

In a matter of hours, the hospital was filled with the wounded and a hospital ship of 600 men was sent to Alexandria for treatment.

It was not until late afternoon when the wounded littering the beach were able to be collected and carried back to the already overpopulated hospital.

The Gallipoli Campaign was launched in an effort to open supply lines with Russia and demoralise the Germans. Gaining control of the peninsula would also release wheat and shipping locked in the Black Sea by Turkey. But many aspects of the plan for invasion were overlooked by authorities.

About 17,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on the western coast of the peninsula. Under the command of General-Lieutenant Sir William Birdwood, the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force combined to fight together for the first time as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

The British troops simultaneously landed at five beaches along the most southern tip of the peninsula, Cape Helles.

The ANZACs were surprised to land at Ari Birun (Anzac Cove), which was 1.6 kilometres north of Gaba Tepe where they had initially intended to advance ashore.

Thomas E. Drane, a tailor from Forbes now in the 1st Field Company Engineers, was among those in the first of their line of longboats. The men’s initial excitement upon rising before dawn abruptly vanished. The tension became palpable in the dark of night as they sat wedged tightly side by side in the boats proceeding towards an unfamiliar place armed by a foreign enemy.

“It was just Hell let loose. Nothing short of murder,” Mr Drane recalled.

“To see our boys go down like sheep, it made your blood boil. You get mad with excitement and you are only there to kill or be killed, to avenge the pals who you have loved like brothers.”

With just one gallon of water and 200 rounds of ammunition, the Allies had difficulty advancing up the rugged, mountainous terrain. The dense, five-foot high scrub provided further problems.

Stretcher bearers carried wounded men down the cliffs to dressing stations, the steepness such that a soldier needed to be carried sideways to prevent them from sliding off the stretcher.

Private Herbert V. Reynolds, 18, of the 1st Australian Field Ambulance received just 16 loaves of bread to feed over 900 wounded.

“They gave a great deal more thought for how things were going in the line, than they seemed to do for their wounds,” Mr Reynolds said.

“There is a definite understanding between everyone to stick the thing through, and hold out against the increasing numbers of enemy at any cost.”

A naval attack had begun on February 19, which ended a month later when three battleships were sunk by mines. The naval guns were near ineffective against the Turkish trenches as their trajectory was reasonably flat.

This gave the Turks ample time to bring reinforcements to Anafarta and prepare for a potential land assault. They built their trenches deep and narrow, covered with heavy timber serving as as over-head protection against shellfire and bombs.

The Australian soldiers were transported to the landing zone in ships after just over four months of training in Cairo. The men were loaded into longboats and towed inshore by steamboats, before being left to row to the beaches. The ANZACs were instructed to capture the Anafarta Hills and press inland to Mal Tepe.

While widely reported that the harshness of the situation was unexpected, some had their doubts before the campaign set shore.

Among the sceptics was former British Army officer Colonel Hubert Foster, also director of military studies at Sydney University.

In an article published yesterday in the Sunday Times, ‘What the landing at Enos may mean’, Mr Foster predicted the hilly nature of the country could prevent fire from Ally warships off the coast.

“In these days of powerful and rapid fire, troops moving to the shore in boats present so helpless a target that landing under fire would be very costly and, in most cases, impossible,” Mr Forster wrote.

In the absence of land artillery until sunset and ammunition running low, the Australians managed to establish a foothold on the steep slopes above the beach.

Commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force Lieutenant-General Ian Hamilton announced he intends to continue the campaign.

Originally written for the Herald Sun.

*Sir Keith Murdoch Journalism Scholarship: Award-winning submission.


About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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