Gallipoli centenary: The landing

Gallipoli poster series: The landing

WHY INVADE GALLIPOLI?

The Gallipoli Campaign was launched during World War I in an effort to drive Germany’s ally,Turkey, out of the war.

In late 1914, Russia was being threatened by a Turkish advance near the Georgian border. If successful, this campaign would demoralise the Germans by opening supply lines with Russia, releasing wheat and shipping that Turkey had contained in the Black Sea.

The Allies began a naval attack on February 19 to force their way through to Constantinople (now Istanbul), but the naval guns were near ineffective against the Turkish trenches as their trajectory was reasonably flat. The operation was abandoned a month later when mines struck five of their battleships and sunk three.

It was decided that they would first need to gain control of the peninsula to silence Turkish gunfire before supply lines could be opened up.

THE LANDING

So at dawn on April 25, 1915, an amphibious invasion was initiated under the command of British General Sir Ian Hamilton. More than 20,000 Anzac soldiers were transported to the landing zone in ships. 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 while British troops simultaneously landed along the most southern tip of the peninsula, Cape Helles. Both forces were to then press inland to seize their objective, Mal Tepe.

While the Anzacs knew the cove would be heavily fortified and armed, they were surprised to land at Ari Birun (now Anzac Cove) which was 1.6 kilometres north of where they had intended to advance ashore. Their landing place was instead a narrow strip of beach before a rugged, mountainous terrain.

About 17,000 Anzac soldiers landed on the western coast of the peninsula that day and they managed to establish a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The failed naval attack a few months’ prior had meanwhile alerted the Turkish army to strengthen their defences. The enemy had ample time to line the hills with machine guns and prepare for an anticipated land assault. The Turks built their trenches deep and narrow, covered with heavy timber to serve as over-head protection against shellfire and bombs. The height of the cliffs also served as a huge military advantage for the Turks.

The longboats were inevitably showered in a hailstorm of lead. The Australians landed under the heavy shrapnel fire of Turkish machine guns and Anzac forces were vastly fragmented before even reaching the first defensive line.

Many unforeseen challenges were posed by the steep, gravelly nature of the landscape. Stretcher bearers had great difficulty manoeuvring the stretchers so as to carry the wounded side-on through dense five-foot high scrub and down ridges, separated by sharp gullies, to the beach.

With ammunition running low and the Anzacs being without land artillery until sunset, the horrific bombardment led to unexpected mass casualties. Hospital ships became overcrowded with the wounded in just a matter of hours.

THE LEGACY

The fierce attack led to a devastating 2,000 casualties, with heavy losses of officers.

The landing at Gallipoli marked the first time the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and New Zealand Expeditionary Force combined to fight as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

Despite the large death toll, General Ian Hamilton announced that the campaign was set to continue.

Within two years, April 25 became a national public holiday. Anzac Day is held every year to commemorate the men who lost their lives on the Gallipoli peninsula, and to honour their courage and fighting spirit.

“DID YOU KNOW?”

Every year on Anzac Day, services are held across the nation at dawn, the time of the original landing, as a form of commemoration. During battle, it was military routine for soldiers to be woken up early and be on the alert, manning their weapons, as the half-light of dawn was deemed to be one of the best times of day for an attack. This was known as the dawn ‘stand-to’. The Last Post, which is now played at ceremonies before and after two minutes’ silence, was a bugle call played to signal the end of a soldier’s day.

Originally published at Herald Sun.

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About Alana Mitchelson

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

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