Gallipoli centenary: Evacuation

The Gallipoli poster series: Evacuation

MURDOCH’S “GALLIPOLI LETTER”

Australian journalist Sir Keith Murdoch landed on Anzac beach shortly after the horrendous “August Offensive”.

Upon arrival he found a disgruntled Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, a British war correspondent who was growing increasingly frustrated by the heavy censorship of his news reports which were misleading the British public from realising the gritty realities of the Gallipoli campaign.

In an effort to beat the censor and accurately inform the British and Australian governments who were also being kept in the dark, Asmead-Bartlett asked Murdoch to deliver a letter to the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The letter contained complaints of General Hamilton’s mismanagement and a genuine account of what was taking place at Gallipoli. But Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter never made it as far as England for it was intercepted by authorities in France.

Having been well-connected among many politicians of the time, Murdoch wrote an 8000 word letter of his own, this time successfully reaching the hands of Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher. The news eventually spread to England and gained traction in the press.

Murdoch’s letter played a significant role in changing the course of the Gallipoli campaign and triggered discussion of an evacuation to save further lives from being lost on the peninsula.

A NEED FOR EVACUATION

In the months after the failed “August Offensive”, leaders of the Allied countries started to lose confidence in General Hamilton’s Gallipoli campaign, especially in light of the demand for more troops at the main battlefields on the Western Front.

A heavy blizzard began settling in on the peninsula and the soldiers were left with few options but to dig in for a long, harsh winter. Anzac units were depleted and many men were in poor health.

Meanwhile, the Turkish army’s defences were strengthening with the support of their German allies.

In October 1915, Hamilton’s desperate request for more men was rejected. The general was recalled from Gallipoli and replaced by General Sir Charles Munro. With a change of command came prompt discussion of a serious need for evacuation. But this process took time and troops endured 16,000 cases of frostbite before Lord Kitchener, the British commander in chief, visited the site in November and ordered a complete withdrawal.

While the troops were relieved the campaign was over, they felt saddened and to an extent guilty for leaving their fallen mates behind. Many soldiers tended to their friends’ graves in the days leading up to the evacuation.

DECEPTIVE OPERATIONS

In contrast to the failures of the Allies’ earlier operations at Gallipoli, their evacuation went on to become one of the great military deceptions in history.

An innovative plan was outlined by Australian chief of staff, General Cyril Brudenell White, so as not to arouse suspicion from the Turks. This involved elaborate deceptive operations such as the “silent stunts”, irregular periods where no activity could be seen or heard from Anzac lines.

A series of masterfully designed drip (or “pop off”) rifles were configured, each weapon consisting of two kerosine tins placed one above the other. When water trickled down the first tin and applied just enough weight to the lower tin, it would weigh down a string which would trigger the gun to fire.

An alternative contraption had a string running through a slowly burning out candle which in turn severed the string to release the trigger.

These self-firing guns were positioned along the trenches and so sporadic fire from the Allied trenches persisted even after the men had withdrawn, deceiving the Turks into assuming the soldiers were still there.

THE SUCCESS STORY

Throughout December 8-20, more than 90,000 troops stealthily left the peninsula under a well-planned and comprehensive deception operation.

Movement toward the piers at North Beach took place after dark. Along with the soldiers, ammunition, 200 guns and 5000 animals were also transported to the ships.

Only about 5000 men manned the Anzac trenches on the last night and by January 9, 1916, the last British and French troops departed from Cape Helles.

Not a single death took place during their covert withdrawal and only a few men were mildly wounded. This rendered the evacuation the best executed and most successful operation of the eight-month long campaign.

“DID YOU KNOW?”

The drip rifle was invented by lance corporal William Charles Scurry with the assistance of Private Alfred Hughes Lawrence of the 7th Battalion. Scurry was promoted to a sergeant ranking and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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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