No military campaing of modern times has had such an enduring
fascination, with the exception of Stalingrad in 1943 perhaps,
as the attempt by the British, Commonwealth and French forces to
take the Dardanelles, first by sea and then on land to capture
the Gallipoli peninsula. For Australians and New Zealanders it
is sacred ground. With their small populations, scarcely a family
did not have a member involved - too many did not return. For the
Turks it was a glorious victory, but won at terrible cost.
Today Gallipoli is a wonderful place to visit. The peninsula is a national park, the land unsuitable for farming, and therefore very little development has taken place.
In 1914 a new war-strategy was needed to break the deadlock on the western Front and relieve pressure on the Russians who held their line in Galicia and Poland with difficulty. And so the idea of a combined naval and land attack on the Dardanelles was proposed by Winston Churchill. The idea was to capture Constantinople and force Turkey, an important ally of Germany who had opened up a front against Russia, out of the war. Originally the war council agreed on a purely naval attack, but when the Russians asked for some kind of demonstration to help them in the Caucasus, the deployment of an expeditionary force was considered. On 18 March a full-scale naval attack by 16 British and French capital ships was mounted, but the Turkish gunners sunk three of the battleships and put another three out of action for some time. Due to bad weather the action was not resumed.
It was six weeks later when the Anglo-French landings on the peninsula took place and there were moments when it seemed as if success was within grasp. But it was not to be. There were five separate landing beaches at Cape Helles on April 25th: S,V,W,X and Y beach. At V beach, soldiers packed in the collier S.S.River Clyde, which was purposely run aground, were met by murderous machine gun fire when they rushed from the ship. At the end of the day, almost half of the 2,000 strong force had either been killed or wounded. At W beach the situation was just as bad when the cutters carrying troops, suffered under the machine guns, forcing soldiers to jump into deep water. Weighted down by their equipment they drowned. In contrast, S,X and Y beaches were hardly defended by the Turks. But the ANZACs were landed on the least reconnoitred beach, hemmed in by cliffs and about a mile too far north. They were confronted by steep scrub-covered cliffs where they dug into the mountainside for shelter, and hoisted themselves up on ropes to reach trenches on top. In the end none of the Allied's objectives on the peninsula: occupying Krithia and Achi Baba were attained. Fighting carried on for the rest of the year, but the naval hopes of March and military hopes of April had both been dashed.
Robin has visited Gallipoli repeatedly, and from his minute knowledge was able to reconstruct the battlefields and battles for us. He illustrated his presentation with a superb collection of slides from old photographs and those he took during his trips, as well as detailed and excellent maps.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167