Gallipoli and the Anzacs

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Why did Anzacs land at Gallipoli?

Overview: events leading up to the landing

On 19 February 1915, the sea off the entrance to the strait of the Dardanelles in Turkey was calm; there was no wind and the sun shone. A few kilometres offshore from the old Ottoman imperial forts guarding either side of the entrance -- Seddulbahir at the toe of the Gallipoli peninsula and Kumkale on the Asian side -- a small fleet of British and French warships took station. From there they opened a leisurely bombardment of the forts. All day shells fell on Seddulbahir and Kumkale without reply. Then, as the Allied ships came to within three kilometres, the Turkish gunners fired back, showing that the forts had not been destroyed.

Panorama: the bombardment of the Turkish forts – click ‘start scroll’ to scroll the image, and ‘scroll left’ and ‘scroll right’ controls as they appear

A scrollable bird’s eye view diagram of the bombardment of the Turkish forts

The bombardment of the Turkish forts. Original illustration published by H W Wilson, British journalist and naval historian, editor of The Great War: The Standard History of the All-Europe Conflict, a popular part series published by the Amalgamated Press in 13 volumes, 1914 to 1919.

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Read: more on the diagram ‘bombardment of Turkish forts’

This panoramic illustration is a bird’s eye view looking north across the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula, showing the Allied fleet near Lembros Island to the west. The Dublin, Suffren and the Bouvet are shown in the Gulf of Saros shelling the Bulair Lines, the defences across the narrow neck of the Peninsula, and the town of Gallipoli and the Sea of Marmara (called Marmora on the map) and Nagara are shown to the east. Standing off North Beach and Anzac Cove, the Queen Elizabeth, Prince George and the Inflexible are shown shelling the Turkish forts at Kilid Bahir on the peninsula coast of The Narrows. The distance across the Peninsula between the Queen Elizabeth and the target is marked as approximately 12 miles. Four warships are shown in the Dardanelles, observing fire results on the forts at Kilid Bahir, the Albion, Cornwallis, Canopus and Irresistible. The Irresistible is shown nearest to Kephez Point on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles. A line across the Peninsula from the Queen Elizabeth to the Canopus shows the line of wireless message contact. In the foreground Cape Helles and the forts of Seddul Bahir are shown to the west, with Kepez Point, Dardanus and Chanak to the east.

The British and French attempt to knock the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) out of World War One had begun. It became known as the ‘Gallipoli campaign’ and it lasted until 8 January 1916, when the last British soldiers left the Gallipoli peninsula from positions near Seddulbahir.

Russia appeals for assistance

The attack on Gallipoli was one of the more imaginative strategies of the First World War. The German army had delivered a crushing blow to Russia at Tannenberg at the start of the war and had been driving eastwards. The Russians were threatened by a Turkish advance through the Caucasus and appealed to their allies for assistance. Gaining control of the narrow straits of the Dardanelles leading to the Sea of Marmara and the Turkish capital, Constantinople would re-establish communications with Russia and release wheat and shipping locked in the Black Sea by Turkey.

On 2 January 1915, the British government received an urgent appeal from Russia, asking for a British attack on Turkey to divert the Turks from the Caucasus where Russian forces were in danger of being overrun.

Besides this, British strategists had for many years before the war believed that the best defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal was an attack on Turkey.

Could Constantinople be taken by naval forces alone?

The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had for some time been concerned over the comparatively inactive role played by the Royal Navy, and there was growing anxiety within the War Council about the military situation on the Western Front, where there seemed to be little headway against the German advance.

The Russian request spurred Churchill to ask the Commander of the British Squadron in the Aegean if the Dardanelles could be forced and Constantinople taken by naval forces alone, i.e. without a substantial land contribution. The answer Churchill received was heavily qualified, but he did not inform the War Council of these reservations, and on 19 February 1915 the naval attack on the Dardanelles began.

Bombarding the forts

The British Royal Navy could have gone a long way towards achieving these goals by steaming through the Dardanelles straits in November 1914 and shelling Constantinople (now Istanbul) and perhaps putting the government to flight. Instead, they cautiously tested the range of the Turkish guns by bombarding the shore batteries.

The Turkish commanders immediately became aware of their vulnerability to further attacks and strengthened their defences to include carefully laid minefields, well-sited guns and searchlights that swept the narrows at night.

Naval attack fails

Three months later, a British and French fleet that included 18 battleships, attempted to force its way through to Constantinople. Three capital ships were lost and three crippled. It was an utter failure, the combination of Turkish mines and mobile howitzers being more than a match for the fleet of ageing battleships that had been committed to the operation.

Unknown to the Allies, the Turkish gun batteries had almost exhausted their ammunition supplies in this effort, and the fleet could have sailed on through the straits with little further damage. Instead, the naval commanders came to the conclusion that they could not force their way through the Dardanelles unless troops were first sent to occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula in force to silence the Turkish guns. Planning for the landing of troops on Gallipoli commenced.

AIF diverted to Egypt

The AIF was raised to fight against German forces, but en route to Britain in October 1914 it was diverted to Egypt because of a shortage of suitable accommodation and training areas in Britain. It was fortuitous, therefore, that the AIF was on the spot when British attention turned to the possibility of attacking Turkey through the Dardanelles.

Troops would have to land

Although one of the initial attractions of the Dardanelles operation had been that it would not require a significant number of troops, and even then mainly in a garrison role on the Gallipoli peninsula once the straits had been forced and the Turks cleared from the area, the War Council gradually came to the view that troops would have to be landed on the peninsula to overcome the Turkish defences so that mine clearing operations could proceed with minimal interference, thus allowing the fleet to force the straits and advance towards Constantinople. The only regular British division not committed to the Western Front, the 29th, was not deemed sufficient by itself to carry out the land operations against the Turks. Churchill added the Royal Naval Division, the French committed a division, and the Australian and New Zealand forces, then training in Egypt, were conveniently on hand to swell the available numbers.

The landings are planned

The Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, General Sir Ian Hamilton, decided to mount his main attack at the base of the Gallipoli peninsula, landing the bulk of his forces on five beaches around Cape Helles, with a secondary landing by Australian and New Zealand troops designed to seize the Sari Bair Ridge, thereby providing cover for the remainder of the force to move to the eastern side of the peninsula thus cutting it off from Turkish reinforcements. The Royal Naval Division would mount a diversionary attack, and the French would land on the Asiatic coast to prevent heavy Turkish batteries from interfering with the British landings at Cape Helles.

Sir William Birdwood, General Officer Commanding Australian and New Zealand forces, had little time to prepare. The 3rd Brigade had been on the island of Lemnos, off the coast of Gallipoli, since early March; it was joined on April 12th by the 1st and 2nd Brigades, and together they carried out a number of practice landings. Time was short, however, and the operation, originally scheduled for April 23rd, was postponed by bad weather until the 25th.