The Gallipoli Campaign - Revisiting History
While this site is named after one of the landmarks of the Western Front, I am sure that visitors to Hellfire Corner have an interest in the Great War which extends beyond the battlefields of France and Flanders. The story of Gallipoli is not just about its military aspects. It is also a story of politics and of personalities that influenced all theatres and every aspect of the war.
I intend this to be more of a travelogue than a history. I'm not an historian anyway, but more a collector of books and memorabilia and a sponge for information on World War One. I was always more interested in the Western Front, and had ignored Gallipoli until around ten years ago. But once I started reading and poring over the maps in The Story of Anzac (the first two volumes of the Australian Official History) I knew that I had been neglecting something very important.
My first visit confirmed that Gallipoli was indeed a special place. I have visited several times since, and each year in the weeks before Anzac Day I bring out my maps and photographs and imagine myself there again.
Some battles cannot fully be appreciated without seeing the battlefields on which they were fought. Fromelles, Bullecourt, Thiepval, the Menin Road, the Chemin des Dames the photographs and contour maps do not always convey the scale, or the steepness, or the flatness, or the extent to which some positions were exposed to enemy view.
||This is especially so at Anzac, Helles, and parts of Suvla. Even
with the maps it is difficult to appreciate just how precipitous some parts
of Anzac are, or how the Turks overlooked so much of our front line. And
the futile daylight attacks at Helles seem all the more incredible when the
gentle uphill slope to Krithia and Achi Baba, completely devoid of cover,
In relating the highlights of the campaign I have attempted to explain why some things happened as well as what happened.
I have tried to be fair and avoid the "lions led by donkeys" stereotypes which amateurs like myself tend to favour. However, except for the miraculous Evacuation, I see a lot of donkey hoofprints whenever I read about Gallipoli.
A note on nomenclature
The names Gallipoli and Dardanelles tend to be used interchangeably, and are sometimes alternated with "the straits" or "the peninsula". Gallipoli (or Gelibolu) refers to the town, over 30km from the battlefields, which was never an objective and never saw any fighting. The Dardanelles is the strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. However, Gallipoli has the cachet. The 1981 film starring Mel Gibson surely could not have achieved such strong recognition had it been called Dardanelles!
My Turkish friend always calls the battlefield Cannakale, after the town across the straits. He hasn't seen the film.
Why should Gallipoli be so interesting?
Statistically we should not expect Gallipoli to be of great interest to anyone but the Turks, as only a small minority of Allied soldiers fought there. 332,000 Australians and 99,000 New Zealanders fought in all theatres of the Great War1, but only around 70,000 2 fought at Gallipoli. Similarly, of a total of 5.4 million soldiers from the UK who took the field3, only 340,000 4 served at Gallipoli.
We Australians have an almost innate interest in Gallipoli, perhaps because it was there that we first fought as a nation. In Australia we have about eight public holidays a year and one of them is Anzac Day, so on that measure it ranks with Christmas Day and Good Friday. The fact that the Gallipoli campaign was a tragic failure, despite the manifest examples of courage and bravery, makes it even more romantic and attractive when compared to victories like the Somme and Passchendaele.
But for whatever reason, Gallipoli sustains interest out of all proportion to the length of the campaign, to the numbers who fought there, or to its strategic outcomes. The Anzac Day ceremony at Anzac Cove now attracts attendance of 12,000 to 15,000, so large that a new site has been developed to accommodate the crowd and minimise damage to the cemeteries and their surroundings. These crowds attend despite the difficulty of access to the Gallipoli peninsula: the only way for most people to get there is a 4 to 5 hour drive from Istanbul.
The Gallipoli Association has overseas members in Australia, Turkey, France, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland 5 and Canada6 , all countries that fought there. But it also has members in the USA, Japan, Greece, Belgium, Hong Kong, Holland, Malta, Israel, Switzerland, Brunei, South Africa and the Czech Republic, none of which, as far as I am aware, was represented at Gallipoli. Maybe this is one indicator of international interest in the campaign and the name. The diversity of membership of the Western Front Association would make an interesting comparison.
Many people researching the military service of family members will find that they served both at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Most Australian and New Zealand forces who fought at Gallipoli were sent there after the Evacuation, and Lt-General Hunter-Weston's 29th Division was to enhance its reputation for willing self-sacrifice on the Somme. My relative William Dick Stevens, whose diary is already on Hellfire Corner, was one of many who came to France and Flanders via Gallipoli.
The meaning of Gallipoli and the Anzac tradition to Australians is complex, and, unfortunately, is usually expressed in sweeping generalisations and platitudes. Ken Inglis, in a wide-ranging and thought-provoking article7, unravels some of this and argues that what the tradition meant varied depending on whether or not one was the child of a "returned man", male or female, educated in Protestant, Catholic or State school, left wing or right wing, etc.
Perhaps the key reason why the Gallipoli campaign is of such great interest is that it was the greatest "what if" of the war. With the Western Front characterised by needless sacrifice and limited imagination, Gallipoli stands out as the one Grand Idea of the whole conflict: a brilliant masterstroke which would drive Turkey out of the war, succour Russia, threaten Germany from the rear and force it to divert its own forces from the Western Front. However, we all know now that it was a disaster, doomed almost from the moment it was first thought of.
|Why were we there at all?
The Dardanelles was not a novel theatre of war: after all, one of the most popular side trips for visitors to Gallipoli is to the ruins of Troy. The British were familiar with the Gallipoli peninsula from the Crimean War, and over the centuries the Dardanelles had been fought over because of their strategic position between Europe and Asia. Not surprisingly, then, attacks on the Dardanelles and Constantinople were being proposed from the first month of the war.
The Greek government in August 1914 offered its full naval and military resources to the Allies. In early September Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) asked the army's General Staff and the Admiralty to develop a "plan for the seizure of the Gallipoli peninsula, by means of a Greek army of adequate strength, with a view to admitting a British fleet to the Sea of Marmara" 8. The General Staff confirmed that such an attack, while feasible, would require at least 60,000 men and strong siege ordnance.
It can hence be seen that, from the very first, a solely military campaign was contemplated to capture the peninsula. Only then would naval forces attempt the passage of the Dardanelles.
By January 1915 the British government had already become concerned at the stalemate on the Western Front and at the wisdom of continuing to send every available soldier there. It saw that the Entente desperately needed an outstanding military success to bring in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania as allies, but had little confidence that this could be achieved in France.
Moreover, there were other diplomatic pressures. On 2 January the War Council received a telegram from the British Ambassador in Petrograd relaying a Russian request for assistance to relieve pressure from a Turkish attack in the Caucasus. By the time the request was received the Turkish attack had failed disastrously and the need had passed. Nonetheless, the British government committed itself to making a demonstration against the Turks, although it did not decide where. Lord Kitchener (the Secretary of State for War) thought it should be at the Dardanelles. However, he acknowledged that, because of the unwillingness to spare any forces from the Western Front, "we shall not be ready for anything big for months".
Hence, by mid-January the War Council was already considering "an attack on Turkey with the triple purposes of removing one of Germany's most important allies, opening the vital sea-route to Russia, and drawing the wavering neutral Balkan States - particularly Greece, Rumania and Bulgaria - into the Entente"9. But because Kitchener remained unwilling to make available any troops, the idea was not pursued.
"To fail to plan is to plan to fail"
The British War Council, formed late in 1914 to decide the higher direction of the war, suffered from what today would be called a lack of accountability. It was unclear what it was supposed to decide or to do, how its decisions were to be made and communicated, the authority they would carry, and how they would be implemented. Moreover, decisions were also being made by the Government, Cabinet, the War Office, Admiralty and several loose cannons, notably Kitchener, Churchill and Jackie Fisher (First Sea Lord), with varying degrees of consultation. Hence at no stage was one person or one body responsible for all decisions and actions regarding any campaign at Gallipoli. And no one person or body possessed all the information necessary.
The Official History's description of the conception, planning, organising and execution of the campaign10 is a case study of ineffective decision-making worthy of any management textbook. Of course, the reader needs to be aware that the official historian, Brigadier-General Aspinall-Oglander, had been on Hamilton's staff, and may have unintentionally overemphasised the defects of the War Council in order to minimise the responsibility of himself and his comrades for the ultimate failure. These things apparently happen in military history writing.
I don't propose to go into detail here: the Official History and most writers document the way the key decisions were made. But on 28 January the War Council finally agreed with an Admiralty proposal that the Dardanelles should be forced by the fleet alone. Thus an operation which in September the General Staff, the Admiralty and the War Office had regarded as a military task had became an enterprise for the fleet, without the aid of a single soldier.
Then, within a few weeks of the War Council accepting its plan and assurances, the Admiralty had second thoughts on the feasibility of its unassisted naval attack. At the same time the troops that had not been available for an attack at Gallipoli had been found for a campaign in Salonika, although Kitchener vacillated for weeks on whether the 29th Division would be included. In early March Lieutenant-General Birdwood11, sent to the Dardanelles by Kitchener to study the proposal on the spot, reported that he did not believe that the fleet could force the straits without military assistance, and in any event the operation would take a considerable time.
It was finally decided that the troops earmarked for Salonika should be concentrated near the Dardanelles in case their assistance was required. But even at this stage it was still to be a naval operation: Churchill only wanted military forces available for landing parties to complete the destruction of the enemy's guns.
While this was happening the War Council had decided that Sir Ian Hamilton was to be the Commander-in-Chief of the military operations, and on 12 March Kitchener offered him the job, with 75,000 troops. However, there was no unity of command, and still no clear understanding of just what the army's role was to be. Hamilton was to be in charge of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and Vice-Admiral Carden of the naval attacks. Coordination between them depended on their ability to cooperate with each other.
Kitchener's orders to Hamilton on 13 March12 made clear his intention that Hamilton's forces were for the occupation of Constantinople, after the fleet had forced the passage of the Dardanelles. Only in exceptional circumstances did they permit Hamilton to temporarily detach some troops to assist the fleet. But inexplicably there was to be no change to the size of Hamilton's forces, even when it was realised that the assumptions underlying this order had changed completely.
||Were the 75,000 troops of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
going to be adequate? The August 1914 proposal of the Greek government (later
amended and finally withdrawn) would have deployed 130,000 troops. A grandiose
scheme by Fisher in early January was for 100,000 British troops in conjunction
with attacks by Greek forces, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Russians and Serbs.
On 8 January Kitchener told the War Council that a combined operation would
require 150,000 troops, but on 12 March he told Hamilton that half this number
would be sufficient, as the Turks "were busy elsewhere". The fighting abilities
of the Turks, now largely under German leadership, were being badly
On 18 March Hamilton's staff estimated that they would face between 40,000 and 80,000 Turks on the peninsula. In his Force Order Number 1, issued 14 April, Hamilton estimated enemy strength at 34,000.
It is interesting to compare the size of Hamilton's force with the numerical superiority which prevailing military thinking believed was required to ensure success in attack:
in a conflict between forces of the same standard of skill, determination and valour, numbers approaching three to one are required to turn the scale decisively13.
"Three to one" is a slippery concept, for it depends on matters a lot more material than "skill, determination and valour." Hamilton, with 75,000 men, had either an overall superiority of around two (if his estimate of 34,000 enemy is used) or no advantage at all (if 80,000 enemy was correct).
Moreover, "three to one" was no guarantee. At Anzac, V and W beaches on the morning of 25 April 1915 Hamilton's forces outnumbered the defenders on the spot by a far greater margin than this, but in each case the attacks failed to gain their objectives.
And on 1 July the following year the British Fourth Army, with 16 divisions attacking14, faced 34 German battalions15 at the Somme. This advantage of over five to one, following a week of the heaviest bombardment so far of the war, could not compensate for poor strategy and tactics.
Ultimately nearly 500,000 British and French were to be drawn into the Gallipoli campaign, but always too late to make a decisive difference:
A week lost was about the same as a division. Three divisions in February could have occupied the Gallipoli Peninsula with little fighting. Five could have captured it after March 18. Seven were insufficient at the end of April, but nine might just have done it. Eleven might have sufficed at the beginning of July. Fourteen were to prove insufficient on August 716.
Was surprise compromised?
On 3 November the British naval squadron blockading the Dardanelles bombarded the outer forts at the entrance, apparently to test the range of their guns. This alerted the Turks and Germans to the need to protect the inner defences and the minefield a few kilometres upstream, because the British attack had shown the outer forts to be so vulnerable.
On 13 December the British submarine B11 passed under the minefields in the Dardanelles and sank an old Turkish battleship anchored south of Cannakale.
Then, between 19 February and 4 March, further naval bombardments were accompanied by parties of marines landing repeatedly at the forts at Kum Kale and Sedd-el-Bahr to demolish the guns. Initially there was little opposition and no loss, but on the final attempt they were driven off with 27 killed and missing and 25 wounded.
Finally on March 18 came the major naval attack which the Admiralty and the War Office had agreed to on 28 January. It appeared to be succeeding, causing considerable damage to the forts, when in a short space of time 3 French and British battleships were sunk and 3 more vessels crippled, with the loss of 700 men. Vice-Admiral de Robeck, who had replaced Carden only days before when the latter had some kind of breakdown, called off the attack, expecting to be sacked because of the losses. The Turks, we now know, were nearly out of ammunition, with many of their guns out of action. Some writers believe that, had the attack been resumed next day, the fleet would have been able to fight its way past and into the Dardanelles.
Certainly de Robeck sounded keen: he wrote to Hamilton "we are all getting ready for another 'go'", and "our attack [will be] renewed in a few days' time"17. But whether or not de Robeck meant this, Hamilton was sceptical. In an exchange of messages with Kitchener, he expressed the view that a military assault would now be necessary to clear the way for the navy. Kitchener replied "the passage of the Dardanelles must be forced". Thus Hamilton's force was diverted from its initial purpose and committed to an ambitious amphibious landing on the peninsula.
The Army's Field Service Regulations state that "surprise is a very important factor in assault for this reason a bombardment should rarely directly precede the delivery of the assault, except when the course of the previous operations has been such that the bombardment will not serve as a warning to the enemy"18.
The cumulative effect of the naval attacks was to alert the Turks and their German advisers to the inevitability of an attack at the Dardanelles. Hamilton's force, originally intended merely to occupy Constantinople after the fleet had cowed it, was now to amount an ambitious amphibious assault for which it was wholly inadequate. And the enemy had had weeks in which to prepare for an attack which they were confident was coming.
Preparation for the Landings
It is fair to say that the War Council's decisions and actions had already damaged the chances of success of the expedition. The lack of clarity of objectives and of unity of command, inadequate resources, an enemy alerted by repeated naval attacks and delays in making decisions gave Hamilton and his headquarters an extremely difficult task to be completed in a very short time. This was exacerbated by insufficient staff, by defective or inadequate intelligence, by inaccurate maps, by unavailability of suitable equipment and weapons, and by poor organisation.
There was, moreover, complete disregard for secrecy. Most writers on Gallipoli document examples of the publicity given to the enterprise. The Official History even mentions an official letter, sent from London through the ordinary post, addressed to the Constantinople Field Force.
At the time of Hamilton's appointment there was only six weeks left to the eventual date of the landing, yet detailed planning had not commenced. The battle of the Somme was a much larger undertaking, with 24 divisions19 compared to the 5 at Gallipoli, but 4½ months20 was allowed for its planning.
The shortage of time was compounded by Hamilton's decision to base himself at Alexandria while the navy was on Lemnos, thus causing the naval and military staffs to be separated during much of the planning. Hamilton was also so concerned with secrecy that he did not adequately involve his administrative staff in planning. The medical arrangements suffered particularly because of this, and Winter, amongst others, reveals some of the suffering that resulted.
The official historian emphasises the detail and difficulty of the planning, perhaps in self-extenuation, but what is remarkable is that so much of the complex and extensive undertaking was thoroughly and expertly done, and so much succeeded or nearly succeeded.
Even though the naval attacks of November, February and March had alerted the Turks, who had improved their defences and their dispositions as a result, the locations of many of the landings on 25 April took them by surprise and initially outnumbered them. The feint at Bulair was brilliantly executed, and the French diversionary attack at Kum Kale was efficiently done.
We now know that the first day's attacks failed to take their objectives, and in retrospect the one chance of success was lost then. Hamilton had lost the advantage of surprise and momentum, along with several thousand men. The Turks could replace their losses faster than Hamilton could, and they were equipped for siege warfare, whereas Hamilton had no hand grenades, no trench periscopes and hardly any artillery. While the landings at Anzac and Helles both failed, they faced radically different challenges, so I will discuss them separately.
The Landing at Anzac
One of the first mysteries facing anyone reading about Gallipoli is whether the first 1500 Australians ashore at Anzac - the first wave of the covering party - landed where intended and in the best place.
Most photographs show Anzac Cove looking north.
This is looking south, with the seawall of Ari Burnu on the left, being repaired.
Bean's account in The Story of Anzac21 makes clear his belief that they had not ("the dam' fools have taken us a mile too far north" ), and most writers since have accepted this. The planned landing place and the best one, according to this theory, was Brighton Beach, north of Gaba Tepe.
This is a very attractive theory. When the visitor faces north from near the museum at Gaba Tepe, the road winding up Pine Ridge is visible immediately ahead, with the wild country of Bolton's Ridge to the left and the Third Ridge to the right. From Gaba Tepe to Maidos (now called Eceabat) is about 8km across quite level ground. Obviously any attack should have been made here.
Hamilton had thought this, and the initial plans had been for a landing on Brighton Beach. But the Germans and Turks also realised that this was an ideal direction for an attack, and had begun to defend this approach with trenches and barbed wire. The guns of Gaba Tepe were already ideally placed to shell the beach to the north all the way up to Hell Spit, at the southern end of Anzac Cove.
Denis Winter dedicates four of his nineteen chapters22 to unravelling where the landing was intended to be and why. He argues that while initially it was to be Brighton Beach, as Hamilton and his staff learned more of the strength of Gaba Tepe's batteries and of the extent of the new trenches and wire, they moved it by stages to Anzac Cove. Such maps as they had showed that the cove had minimal defences, and was rugged enough to appear to the defenders to be impossible to assault. Events justified the choice of Anzac Cove: the small garrison was quickly driven off, the troops were landed in relative safety, and the cove offered shelter from Gaba Tepe's guns.
However, the real problems started once the first wave was ashore. Winter argues that the communication of the plans and of changes to them was seriously flawed, and he found little evidence that the covering party was adequately informed of its objectives. The plan had been to move inland to the east and seize the Third Ridge (or Gun Ridge), thus capturing the enemy guns behind Gaba Tepe. The force was also to take the Sari Bair range to the north-east of Anzac. This overlooks the coastline where the force was landing and the Third Ridge, and gives observation over the Dardanelles.
However, for a number of reasons the axis of the attack swung inland, towards the Third Ridge. In the excitement of battle, with units mixed and separated from their officers and with Turkish fire from the direction of the Third Ridge increasing, there was a kind of stampede towards it.
This diversion of forces left inadequate strength to capture Sari Bair. By about 10am on the morning of the Landing a small party of Australians had advanced to Battleship Hill, which can now be seen as the key to Anzac. However, they were driven back by increasing Turkish fire to Baby 700, a slightly lower hill back towards Anzac. Mustafa Kemal, the future creator and leader of modern Turkey, just happened to be on exercises with his Division a few kilometres away when he heard of the landing, and at about 4.30pm his counterattack drove the front line from Baby 700 back to The Nek. Turkish reinforcements flowed in, the Anzacs lost momentum and the initiative which surprise had won for them, and their front line did not appreciably advance for the rest of the campaign.
||The story of Anzac is more complex than this, of course. There were delays in landing troops and supplies on 25 April, perhaps because some senior commanders believed that the attack was a feint, or would be withdrawn if it looked like failing. We never had enough artillery, but, then again, there are very few places at Anzac where guns could have been sited. And, of course, the whole enterprise had been done on a shoestring, without adequate numbers to meet the expected opposition.|
But those who were there did all that flesh and blood were capable of. Winter's research23 reveals that 50% of the first wave ashore at Anzac was killed, wounded or missing. Casualties higher than this were sustained at Helles, but in even the bloodiest battles on the Western Front losses were rarely this high.
And while the Australians and New Zealanders were winning undying fame and the world was about to first hear the word "Anzac", others no less brave were creating imperishable reputations at places whose names will last for as long as Anzac will: Lancashire Landing and V Beach.
The Landings at Helles
The landings at the end of the peninsula, around 23 kilometres south of Anzac, were different in a number of respects. Stronger enemy opposition was expected than at Anzac Cove, but it was grossly overestimated. While this should have been an advantage, it led to excessive caution in planning and execution. The landings were to be made by day because of the restricted size of the beaches, the strong current, and fear of hidden reefs. The small size of the beaches was also the reason why there had to be so many landing places at Helles: S, V, W, X and Y Beaches.
The brilliant stroke at Helles was the landing at Y Beach, on the Aegean coast about 5 kilometres from the toe of the peninsula. By 6.45am 2000 men had landed unopposed and established a beachhead on the clifftops and the edge of Gully Ravine, 300 metres inland. It was so quiet that a party later crossed the ravine and walked another 1km to within 500m of Krithia (now Alcitepe). No one was to get so close to Krithia for the rest of the campaign.
But a fiasco was developing. The orders for the units at Y Beach were to wait until the X Beach landing, 4 kilometres to the south, was successful, and to link up with the troops advancing from there. However, the X Beach landing bogged down, like those at V and W. If the Y Beach troops had been kept informed of progress and been given alternative orders, they could have advanced down the coast and taken the Turks defending X and W in flank and rear. But they were completely ignored by Hunter-Weston, the commander of the 29th Division, and sadly they took no initiative themselves.
During the night a Turkish attack was bravely fought off, with both sides suffering about 700 casualties. But then fatigue, panic and confusion triggered an unnecessary and ill-timed evacuation.
By chance Sir Ian Hamilton, watching progress from the Queen Elizabeth, had realised that the X, V and W landings were held up and that more troops landed at Y could make the difference. Hunter-Weston ignored his suggestions and, not for the last time, Hamilton deferred to the executive commander on the spot rather than backing his own judgement and forcing the issue.
W and V Beaches
Unlike Anzac and Y Beach, the Turks expected landings at W and V, as they were the only two beaches on the toe of the peninsula. Moreover, they were ideal for defence, being overlooked by cliffs or in a natural amphitheatre.
|The guns of the fleet were intended to pound the defences at these
beaches, but while one or two machine guns were apparently knocked out,
supporting fire from the ships was largely ineffective.
Flat-trajectory guns, like those mounted by de Robeck's ships, were not suited to destroying fortifications and trenches: the plunging fire of howitzers or mortars was required to do this reliably.
In fact, this was a key lesson learned from the war between Japan and Russia a decade earlier, and at which Ian Hamilton had been official observer. But in the enthusiasm or collective self-delusion that characterised much of the thinking in this campaign, this was ignored or forgotten. The Official History notes the misunderstanding of the effectiveness of naval gunfire against fortifications as evidence that "the General Staff had temporarily ceased to exist"24.
The British knew that these beaches were defended, although they did not expect them to be the death traps that they were. However, there was little choice but to use them. If a force strong enough to overwhelm the expected opposition was to be landed quickly, every feasible landing place had to be used.
W Beach was everything that Anzac was not. The Lancashire Fusiliers landed during daylight, and faced barbed wire down to the water's edge, land mines on the sand and at least 2 machine guns concealed in the cliffs. The beach was only 350 metres long, about half the length of Anzac.
There was only one company of defenders - around 200 men - but their discipline was faultless. They opened a hail of fire just as the boats struck ground, yet the Fusiliers did not falter. They squirmed and cut their way through the wire and within 75 minutes they had secured the beach.
Of the 950 who attacked, 533 were killed, wounded or missing, a casualty rate higher even than the first wave at Anzac had borne. In this brave effort the regiment had won 6 VCs (the regiment was thereafter famous for its "6 VCs before breakfast"), 2 DSOs, 2 MCs and one DCM25.
W Beach must have been terrifying, but by mid-morning the 400-odd survivors could look back on what they had accomplished through their sacrifice.
But V Beach was unredeemed horror, and it lasted all day. And, had they known, those who had landed on W Beach could have prevented much of it.
A dramatic innovation for the V Beach landing was the use of the old collier River Clyde as a Trojan horse. Sally ports were cut in her side, and she towed a steam hopper and three lighters, which would make a temporary floating bridge to get her 2000 troops ashore. A battery of machine guns in the bows was protected by sandbags.
There was only one company defending V, too, with up to 4 machine guns and 2 "pom poms" (automatic weapons firing ½ kilogram explosive projectiles).
but just as River Clyde grounded, and when the boats were only a few yards from the shore, Hell was suddenly let loose. A tornado of fire swept over the incoming boats, lashing the calm waters of the bay as with a thousand whips. Devastating casualties were suffered in the first few seconds26.
Official historians don't use language like this, and they are not usually permitted to depict disaster so graphically. Perhaps the enormity of the loss and devastation at V Beach, in a campaign that is not short of heartbreaking failure and bloody slaughter, overwhelmed his professionalism and his objectivity.
Of the Dublins nearly all the officers, and of the Munsters seven out of the ten who had attempted to land, were already casualties, and seventy percent of the rank and file27.
Messages sent around 9.30am from V advised headquarters of the 29th Division that the landing was held up, yet it was early afternoon before it was passed to the senior officer at W. However, he appears not to have absorbed this message, nor realised that he could perhaps help, and it was not until 5pm that Divisional headquarters unequivocally told him that the V landing was held up and that he should advance towards it to outflank the defenders. But initiative and energy at W was exhausted. Only nightfall permitted progress to be made at V.
V Beach from the cliffs overlooking it from the west.
The cemetery, which contains 697 graves, is in the centre of the photo.
The ruined fort of Sedd-el-Bahr is on the other side of the peninsula,
and the entrance to the Dardanelles beyond it. The spits running
out from the beach are the remains of the causeway
which was built to connect the "River Clyde" to the shore.
By the night of 27 April the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had lost all but four of their officers and over 550 men, and the rest of the 86th Brigade, which included the Royal Munster Fusiliers, had lost half their officers and a third of their men28. The Dublins and Munsters were temporarily combined in a composite battalion called the Dubsters.
The consequences of failure on the first day
What must have been occupying the mind of Hunter-Weston, commanding officer of the 29th Division, this morning? He was ignoring the runaway potential of the successful landing at Y and the smaller landing at S Beach on the other side of the peninsula. He didn't realise how completely V was held up, and that troops from W weren't linking up with them. He didn't seem to consider the way in which the separate landings should support each other, with troops from the unopposed landings at Y and S sweeping inland and attacking the defenders from behind. But communications were not very good (and Hunter-Weston ignored most of them anyway), the orders of the troops were rigid and inflexible, and at none of the Helles landings was any sense of urgency or initiative demonstrated.
Those who fought at the Dardanelles were forced to make do because of the absolute priority of the Western Front. Supplies of trench stores, such as barbed wire and material for revetments, and trench weapons, such as hand grenades and trench mortars, were never adequate. It is a measure of Kitchener's lack of clarity of vision that he could say to Hamilton that, if the fleet got through, "you will have won, not a battle, but the war", yet he could so starve his force of resources that they had to make bombs out of empty jam tins.
So the bitter fact remains that by the end of the first day, the forces landed with such bravery and enterprise had not got anywhere near their objectives. Sketch 11 (The Landings: Situation at disk, 25th April) in the Official History29 shows a pathetic picture: footholds around 1½ kilometres inland at Anzac and too small to measure at Helles, with the objectives of Hill 971, Mal Tepe and Achi Baba still 2½ to 8 kilometres away.
Thereafter the fighting at Anzac degenerated into costly squabbles to gain advances of a few metres and to try to resolve the discontinuous front line. In May Liman von Sanders, the German commander of the Fifth Turkish Army, showed that he could match Hunter-Weston in sacrificing men for no gain. On the morning of 19 May 42,000 Turks attacked the Anzac front line from The Nek to Bolton's Ridge, suffering 10,000 killed and wounded. Australian losses were 160 killed and 468 wounded30. This attack changed the attitude of the Australians to the Turks. Before they had seen them as invisible and inhuman foes. Now they saw them as similar to themselves: brave and willing fighters, doomed to have their lives squandered. Any hate seems to have evaporated in the spirit of shared suffering.
Near Twelve Tree Copse cemetery at Helles. The 88th Brigade of the 29th Division
attacked in this direction in the Third Battle of Krithia in June 1915. Krithia, over the crest of the ridge,
is directly ahead to the north-east, approximately 1 km away.
There would have been very little vegetation here at the time of the attack.
At Helles there was a series of unbelievably poorly-organised frontal attacks, nearly all in daylight. These did advance and straighten the front line, but it never got closer to Krithia than 1½ kilometres, still 3 kilometres from its first-day objective of Achi Baba.
Sir Ian Hamilton
It is appropriate to discuss briefly the qualities of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Sir Ian Hamilton.
My reading has shown Hamilton as a very human, witty and engaging character, well read but perhaps too intelligent for a soldier of his era. But behind his dilettante demeanour, he was a soldier with vast experience, perhaps more than any other British general. Hamilton's personal bravery was beyond question. He had commanded troops in battle, and also had experience as a senior staff officer. He had been on the shortlist for command of the British Expeditionary Force in France, but this had gone to Sir John French.
Yet Robert Rhodes James, a scholarly and objective writer who generally lets the weight of evidence tell the Gallipoli story, assembles several pages of damning criticisms of Hamilton's character and of his conduct of the campaign. All accounts of the conception and planning of Gallipoli reveal that it was a disaster waiting to happen. But Hamilton probably made sure that it happened.
Perhaps his greatest defect was his unwillingness to upset or to ask too much of his old boss, Kitchener. So in the train on his way to the Mediterranean the evening after being appointed Commander-in-Chief, he had no useful information and only the vaguest idea of what he was to do:
I shall never forget the dismay and foreboding with which I learnt that, apart from Lord Kitchener's very brief instructions, a pre-war Admiralty report on the Dardanelles defences and an out-of-date map, Sir Ian had been given practically no information whatever31.
Compare this with Sir Charles Monro, commander of the Third Army in France, when he replaced Hamilton in October. He refused to leave for the Dardanelles until he had spent several days being briefed at the War Office and had had four interviews with Kitchener.
Hamilton was also unrealistically and unreasonably optimistic. His diary, which is actually a memoir in journal form, shows how his optimism lurched frequently into wishful thinking. His communications to Kitchener are a case study in oblique and misleading writing: they do not convey any sense that the campaign is failing.
|Finally, Hamilton did not command. He did not take charge even when he could see that things were getting off the rails. He made polite suggestions to Hunter-Weston at Y Beach when actions he suggested could have meant success. He permitted Stopford to waste several days at Suvla before he finally pressed him to advance. Perhaps this was another manifestation of his optimism, perhaps he was just too detached, or perhaps he did not comprehend the cumulative effect of all the separate failures.||
But by the middle of the year Hamilton had managed to convince London of the inadequacy of his initial force, and reinforcements began to be found. A major and complex (by 1915 standards) attack was planned, but it was fated to become the last throw of the dice at Gallipoli. The August campaign would give history even more immortal names: Suvla Bay, Lone Pine and The Nek.
The conditions at Gallipoli
Most of the men who fought at Gallipoli, particularly those who arrived later in the campaign, had had no military experience before the war. Many were untrained, ill-trained or mistrained. This was not, of course, unique to Gallipoli. However, units were trained by default for the Western Front, and much of what they had leaned just did not apply when they got to the peninsula.
Perhaps nothing could have prepared those who arrived in the Gallipoli summer. The heat and dryness would have been a debilitating shock to all but the Indian troops, and perhaps those who had served in the Sudan and South Africa.
All at Gallipoli were prey to diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery, spread by the flies that were nourished by the thousands of unburied dead.
This was exacerbated by the widespread insanitary conditions. Field Service Regulations state that "neglect of sanitary precautions inevitably results in great loss of life and efficiency"32, but there were major failures at Gallipoli. The Director, Medical Services of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force had not been adequately involved by the General Staff in planning, and this poor start ensured that sanitary discipline suffered from obstruction, indifference and ignorance.
There were other diseases as well. Overall, for every wounded man evacuated from Gallipoli, 3 to 4 times as many were evacuated for illness or disease33.
The soldiers' diet was monotonous and highly unsuited to the climate, and must have contributed to the level of disease. The staples were fatty, gristly, salty bully beef, and biscuits that could break teeth. Fresh fruit and vegetables were practically unknown. Only very late in the campaign were canteens permitted where the soldiers could buy sweets, tinned delicacies, cakes, hams and other little luxuries which could have nourished both body and soul.
Compounding all this was the absence of any back area for troops who were not in action. For soldiers in France and Belgium there was usually an opportunity, when out of the line, to get away from the sound of gunfire and the sight of the war. On the peninsula there was nothing. In the summer of 1915 most of the Allied area would have been a dustbowl, and the Turkish guns could shell most of it. Perhaps, with the wind blowing in the correct quarter, it may have been possible to be out of hearing of gunfire, but I doubt it.
Towards the end of the campaign a rest break on Lemnos became available to some. The island sounds bleak, windy and unattractive, but after months on Gallipoli it must have seemed like paradise.
The names of many of the senior officers whose incompetence became manifest can be rattled off by the well-read cynics. Equally damaging, though, was the lack of experience amongst the junior officers and NCOs, the day-to-day leaders to whom the men would look for leadership, guidance and example.
Before the Suvla Bay landing, the author Compton Mackenzie had been worried not only by the apparent lack of energy and commitment of IX Corps' senior officers, but by more fundamental matters: "Stopford, Sitwell, and a Brigade-Major called Bask! Ominous names"34. For those who are interested in such omens, Stopford's sloop was called the Jonquil.
The August Offensive
The initial strength of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force had been 75,000 men in 5 divisions. By August Hamilton's forces had been increased to 15 divisions plus other detachments equivalent to around one more division.
Not all these divisions were full strength, as the original forces sent to Gallipoli had never received the level of reinforcements to replace loss that divisions in France did. The 4 British divisions at Helles, for example, had a combined rifle strength of 26,000, when their normal establishment should have been 46,000.
Nonetheless, Hamilton now had sufficient forces for a major effort, which was planned to commence on the afternoon of 6 August.
The opening action was an attack at Helles that had been intended as a diversion, but which was expanded into an overambitious assault. The artillery firepower to support it did not exist, and the attack failed completely. The Official History goes so far as to criticise the officer responsible by name.
||Next was the Australian First Division diversionary attack at Lone Pine, remembered for the ferocity of its hand-to-hand fighting and for its doggedness. The Turks suffered 3 times as many casualties as the Australians, but a few days later when the fighting was over the bite that had been taken out of their front line was of no strategic or tactical advantage. Worse, the fighting attracted Turkish reserves from Helles that were then on the spot when they were needed farther north a few hours later.|
In the evening, with the noise of the Lone Pine battle behind them, the Australian and New Zealand Division moved north out of Anzac along the coast, then inland to capture the whole Sari Bair range in a pincer movement. It was brilliantly conceived, but demanded precise coordination and accurate navigation through rugged scrub, gullies and mountainous spurs at night.
The New Zealanders cleared the foothills, but the plan was completely unachievable. Maps and directions were poor, guides became lost, the men were sick and worn out by months of digging, and the terrain that they were expected to traverse is daunting and nearly impenetrable even by day.
The miracle is that the New Zealanders secured a foothold on Chunuk Bair and the Gurkhas on Hill Q. But the forces that were meant to support them became victims of the unrealistic plans and hostile topography and the incompetence of senior officers, with rumours even today that one of them was drunk.
The heroes at Hill Q, on the verge of success, were shelled off by friendly fire, and those holding the trenches on Chunuk Bair were driven off by a Turkish human wave. This bayonet charge pushed the survivors hundreds of metres back down the spurs of the Sari Bair range, where their bones are still found to this day.
|The newly-formed IX Corps was to land 8 kilometres north of Anzac at Suvla Bay, move inland and secure the ridges to the north and east of the plain. They were then to wheel right and climb Sari Bair from the opposite side to the Australian and New Zealand Division attack, thus ensuring its successful occupation. There were hardly any Turkish defenders at Suvla when the Corps landed, and there was nothing in the way of a determined advance. But vague orders, incompetence, inexperience and, once again, Hamilton's poor judgement of when to intervene led to complete failure and needless loss.||
But before the tragedies of Sari Bair and Suvla Bay were played out, the Australian 3rd Light Horse made its needless sacrifice at The Nek. This invariably overshadows the simultaneous and equally futile attack of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse and the 8/Royal Welch Fusiliers at Pope's Hill and Quinn's Post.
The last act was the fighting for Hill 60, an attempt to salvage from the ruins of Sari Bair a strong left flank for the Anzac position. This at least was partly successful.
The official historian is too lenient in his Retrospect chapter when he says that "a very small turn of fortune's wheel would have steered it through to success". The failure of the August attacks was not a near miss. The Official History itself and The Story of Anzac show dozens of examples of incompetence, incapacity, slipshod planning and defective command. That the regimental officers, NCOs and men could push themselves to the limits of their endurance in these circumstances is difficult to understand, except in terms of loyalty to their comrades and their sense of duty.
The end of the story
On 17 August Hamilton cabled Kitchener that the "coup had so far failed", and asked for a total of 95,000 more men. This news and request came at a bad time, with disasters on the Eastern and Italian fronts, and Bulgaria about to join the Central Powers.
Joffre had announced a major offensive in France in September to maintain French morale. This meant that, once again, the Western Front had first call on all personnel and matériel.
Over the next few months London bubbled with a complex series of political, military and personal intrigues, fed by selective and partial information from the journalists Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Keith Murdoch. Hamilton had lost the confidence of many in Gallipoli, and he finally lost the support of the Dardanelles Committee (which had evolved from the War Council). He was recalled by a telegram from Kitchener:
though the Government fully appreciate your work and the gallant manner in which you personally have struggled to make the enterprise a success in the face of the terrible difficulties you have had to contend against, they, all the same, wish to make a change in the command which will give them an opportunity of seeing you35.
Hamilton's successor, Sir Charles Monro, appeared already to have made up his mind. On 31 October, 3 days after he had taken command, he recommended evacuation. Kitchener was reluctant to agree, partly because of the pessimistic estimate of likely losses (which Monro had put at 30 to 40% of men and material). So Kitchener visited the peninsula in mid-November. He was shown around by Birdwood, one of the few senior officers in favour of staying, and in command now that Monro had been moved to Salonika.
At the end of November it was finally agreed that Gallipoli would be evacuated. The onset of winter, with snowstorms, flooding, frostbite and deaths by drowning or freezing, confirmed how untenable the Anzac position had been all along.
The Evacuation and its aftermath
If only the same professionalism and attention to detail had been applied to planning before the Landing! Men, animals and as much material as possible were progressively withdrawn by night, with the last troops leaving Anzac and Suvla on 19/20 December and Helles on 8/9 January 1916. Not one man was lost. But while it succeeded brilliantly, many were troubled that they would be abandoning their dead comrades who had fought so bravely and endured so staunchly:
|For days after the breaking of the news there were never absent from the cemeteries men by themselves, or in twos and threes, erecting new crosses or tenderly "tidying up" the grave of a friend. This was by far the deepest regret of the troops. "I hope," said one of them to Birdwood on the final day, pointing to a little cemetery, "I hope they won't hear us marching down the deres [gullies]"36.||
Most who left Gallipoli went to the Western Front, but some went to Salonika or the Middle East. Conditions at Salonika were probably worse than at Gallipoli, but those who went to France, even arriving in winter, must have thought that they had won the lottery. The AIF in France 1916 (the third volume of the Australian Official History) shows the Diggers in bucolic scenes, mixing with the locals and enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of billets and headquarters in houses and farm buildings, rather than in holes in the side of a hill.
This did not last forever, of course. There would be snow and ice and mud, and barbed wire and machine gun fire and shrapnel far worse than anything they had encountered on the peninsula. And there would be incompetence, and there would be courage and forbearance beyond comprehension. After all, they were soldiers in a war where most of the learning was by trial and error.
I suppose that they weren't at first conscious of the bonds of brotherhood that had been forged at Gallipoli. But perhaps as newer units and reinforcements who had never been there joined and eventually outnumbered them, those who had served their apprenticeships in the hills and gullies and scrub of Anzac or Helles or Suvla began to feel different. They were members of an exclusive club, and they were accorded respect because of it. The Australian official historian observed this, but the same could probably have been written of British or French Gallipoli veterans in 1918:
men who had served at Anzac wore on their regimental colour patches an "A" embroidered in gold. The young Australian recruits, drafted in like half-wild colts, many with an almost complete disregard for customs and authority, were probably moulded more powerfully by these senior comrades than by any other influence since they left their mothers' knees37.
Gallipoli in perspective
In 1915 an advance of three or four miles on the Gallipoli peninsula must inevitably have achieved some result of a strategic nature; in France a frontal attack could only result, as Lord Kitchener himself remarked, "in the capture of another turnip field". At the Battle of Aubers Ridge, in the third week of the Gallipoli campaign, three British divisions sustained 11,000 casualties without gaining a single yard of ground, and enemy losses were so unimportant that not a single company from the German reserves was called up During the first phase of the campaign - between April and June 1915 - the British and French between them lost over 300,000 men on the Western Front Towards the end of the campaign, on 25 September - on the day word reached the Peninsula that three divisions would be transferred to the future military compound at Salonika - operations began in France with the Loos-Champagne offensive during which a quarter of a million French and British troops were sacrificed38
North's acerbic summary has a lot of merit. The resources of men and material at Gallipoli were insignificant compared to those on the Western Front, and could not materially have been the difference between success and failure at Aubers Ridge, Neuve Chapelle, Loos or Champagne. In any event, there were plenty of troops being wasted in places like Salonika and the UK.
But if Hamilton had had a few more divisions, more guns and a lot more ammunition on 25 April the Landings would have been so much more likely to achieve their objectives. The Anzac attack failed mainly because of inability to hold Baby 700 and Battleship Hill in the face of the attack of the 57th Regiment. Had reserves been available here they could have been used to fight off this attack. At Helles, the failure of the troops landed successfully at Y and S to go forward and relieve those bogged down at V and W fatally delayed the planned advance and contributed to casualties that crippled it. Had he had reserves, Hunter-Weston probably would have thrown them into W and V, as he did not even acknowledge the Y and S landings. But then surely Hamilton would have overruled him and
It's all so simple nearly 90 years later. However, there were very few spare troops available in early 1915, gun ammunition was inadequate for all theatres, and shipping was in short supply too.
And there are plenty of historians who argue that the capture of the peninsula would not have led to the collapse of Constantinople, nor would it have opened any back door into Germany. I can see this still being argued just as bitterly in another 90 years.
Books, maps and references
The Australian Official History's first volume on Anzac was published in 1921 and the second in 1924. Being the first comprehensive works published, they did not have access to all the available information. The 1927 monograph published by the Reichsarchiv, Schlachten des Weltkrieges: Der Kampf um die Dardanellen, revealed much on the Turkish side, as did the books of von Sanders and Kannengiesser around the same time. The British Official History was published between 1929 and 1932.
Since then many other books on Gallipoli have appeared, but they have added mainly new perspective and not new knowledge. Historians such as Denis Winter have unearthed new material, but secrecy and the destruction of documents during and since the Great War have probably left very little more to be discovered.
The Australian War Memorial, and probably other museums, has much material such as soldiers' private correspondence and diaries. This is occasionally mined by researchers and writers, but a lot of it still has not been systematically studied. However, soldiers see only what happens immediately around them. They do not see copies of orders or of maps, and they are not privy to the thinking or discussions of their officers. The armed services only tell what needs to be known, and often, as at Gallipoli, they did not even do that. So while this type of material can provide valuable personal insights into how soldiers lived, it is of little value in describing what happened and why.
The best single volume on the campaign is still, in my view, Gallipoli by Robert Rhodes James. It is objective, temperate, concise, and very human. Rhodes James does not find it necessary, as do so many more recent writers, to gloat with the wisdom which hindsight gives, nor to look for behaviours to stereotype and individuals to blame. The facts, as he sets them out with considerable clarity, generally speak for themselves. However, like most books on a campaign in which the topography was so crucial and became so much a part of the legend, the maps and the photographs are inadequate.
From behind Quinn's Post cemetery looking south down Monash Valley.
Top left is Lone Pine, and just out of the picture to the left is
Courtney's and Steel's Post cemetery. The precipitate slopes of Monash Valley
can be seen. On the right, Monash Valley turns left then right and becomes Shrapnel Gully.
There is irony here. It could be argued that it was the absence of accurate maps and intelligence of the ground that doomed the whole campaign. Most maps available today are as useless as those that guided the allied forces ashore on 25 April 1915.
The two volumes of The Story of Anzac39 contain maps of the Anzac battlefields of incredible detail, and Volume XII contains many photographs. These naturally show the battlefields in 1915 and just after the war, not what is there now. Very little has changed, but if you need to be directed to every memorial and cemetery, they will not help you.
The only guidebook I was aware of at the time of my first trip was by Taylor and Cupper40. It is still an excellent reference, even though there have been changes at Gallipoli since it was published (e.g. the 57th Regiment memorial and the new Anzac Day commemoration area at North Beach). Following the noble tradition of Gallipoli, the clarity of its directions is limited by the absence of good maps. The coverage of accommodation is adequate but limited.
Bean's Gallipoli Mission41, while not intended as a guidebook, is an inspiration. It is easy to follow Bean's attempt, in 1919, to identify the limits to which the Anzacs penetrated in the first hours of 25 April 1915.
Tonie and Valmai Holt have since added a guidebook42 and map of Gallipoli to their useful Somme and Ypres ones. The book offers no real advantage over Taylor and Cupper, and is not as useful for Australians. It does not even mention Taylor's Gap and Australia Valley, so it will not help you to retrace the 4th Brigade's epic march on the night of 6/7 August. Their map, however, is the only decent tourist map of the peninsula that I have seen.
The website of the Australian Embassy in Turkey has a page specifically for Anzac Day visitors (http://www.embaustralia.org.tr/anzac/geninfo.htm), but most of its information, including the list of accommodation, is useful for other times of the year too.
Of course you could eschew maps and guidebooks completely, follow your instincts and take your chances.
Research to do before you visit
I can't speak for other nationalities, but we Australians like to think the best of our ancestors, and will sometimes embellish their wartime accomplishments. Perhaps for this reason, most Australians who find that they have a relative who served in World War One will almost automatically assume that they were at Gallipoli. And anyone who did serve at Gallipoli is almost always assumed to have been at the Landing.
Forgive me the harsh exaggeration. Many of these things are said in ignorance, but are so easy to check if you know where to look, and for Australians that is easy.
The Nominal Roll of Australians who served in the Great War is at http://www.awm.gov.au/database/133.asp. If you have a name to research this will tell you when the person enlisted, unit and regimental number, final rank, date died or "RTA" (returned to Australia).
The National Archives of Australia hold the records of all who served, and you can purchase these from http://www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/defence/conflicts/ww1/ww1.html. The Nominal Roll will give you all the information you need to order the dossier, and it, in turn, will tell you exactly where and when the soldier served, any disciplinary measures, wounds, illness, or awards.
Unfortunately I only know about locating Australian records. My one experience with UK World War One records was unsuccessful, and they charge £25 before they will even look!
If your relative died, don't assume that a guide will be able to find a grave or memorial for you when you arrive at Gallipoli. Use the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org.uk/register/register.html. This will tell you at which cemetery or memorial the soldier is commemorated, and how to get there.
The CWGC website also has an Information Sheet and a useful map. But don't get your hopes up if you are expecting to find a relative's grave:
||In the nine months of this bitterly fought campaign more than 36,000 Commonwealth servicemen died. The 31 war cemeteries on the Peninsula contain 22,000 graves but it was possible to identify only 9,000 of these. The 13,000 who rest in unidentified graves in the cemeteries, together with more than 14,000 whose remains were never found, are commemorated individually by name on the Helles Memorial (British, Australian and Indian names), the Lone Pine Memorial (Australian and New Zealand names) and the Twelve Tree Copse, Hill 60 and Chunuk Bair Memorials (New Zealand names)43.|
So only a quarter of the dead have marked graves, and more than a third of them were never found. The cemeteries at The Nek and The Farm, for example, contain nearly one thousand dead, but have a mere handful of marked graves between them. If you have travelled around the world in the expectation that you will see a name on a headstone, you are better off being prepared.
I have visited Gallipoli in March-April and September-October, and these are probably the most equable times of the year. But be aware that the Landings were intended to be earlier in April but had to be postponed because of rough seas and wind. One April when I forgot my hat and was badly sunburnt I was told that there had been metre-high drifts of snow on Chunuk Bair only two weeks before. If you are from Europe you probably know these things, but they come as a shock to us Australians.
I have never visited Gallipoli on Anzac Day. I really don't know how that many people can be squeezed in, and I do not plan to find out.
It is probably easier for visitors from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to get to the Western Front battlefields than it is for those from the UK. We just board a plane, get off at Charles de Gaulle, and make our way to the car hire counter. An hour later we can be crossing the Somme. We don't have to fuss with ferries, driving right-hand drive cars on the wrong side of the road, etc.
But we are all equal when visiting Gallipoli. Some do drive there from the ends of the earth, but most visitors to the battlefields enter by Ataturk Airport at Istanbul.
Australians used not to need a visa for Turkey, but now some of the magic has gone out of the relationship and we have to buy one on arrival, the same as everyone else. These cost US$20 per adult on my last trip.
Ataturk Airport has been drastically upgraded in recent years, perhaps in anticipation of success in the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. It used to be cramped, colourful and somewhat threatening, but now it looks like any other large western European one.
You can get to Cannakale or Eceabat by bus, and you could travel by bicycle, hire a taxi or even hike around the battlefields. However, I have always travelled by car, and can't offer any sound advice on alternative modes of transport.
From Istanbul to Gallipoli is about 4 hours driving time. If you turn right on leaving the airport you will join the motorway (which charges a toll), and if you turn left you follow the congested highway through the suburbs. There is not much difference in travel time, and I have always left Istanbul by the highway and returned by the motorway.
The traffic around Ataturk Airport is a brisk tonic after the torpor of the long flight from Australia. Just keep the Sea of Marmara on your left and follow the signs to Edirne or Tekirdag, eventually turning off to Tekirdag. This is the only significant town between Istanbul and the battlefields. On the crest of the hill on the left, just before you enter it, you will see a service station and a large Hipermarket. I will confess here to a conflict of interests, as these are owned by the family of my great friend Erdal.
After Tekirdag the road moves away from the Sea of Marmara, the country becomes more rugged and the towns smaller and fewer. However, there are plenty of service stations, a few of which have restaurants. After turning south at Kesan you pass pine forests and national parks, then Bolayr and Gelibolu. Gelibolu is, of course, the town that gave its name to the whole campaign. The Dardanelles is now on your left, and you can follow the ferryboat signs to Eceabat.
Where to stay
In deciding where to stay, a major factor in your decision will probably be how close you want to be to the battlefields. Staying in Cannakale necessitates a ferry ride to and from the peninsula. The big Eceabat ferries run on the hour and take 20 to 25 minutes for the crossing, and the Kilid Bahr ferry (which I have never caught because it looks so tiny) apparently leaves when it is full. A ferry trip is not a bad way to start and finish the day, but you lose time queuing at each end. You will also run the gauntlet at the Cannakale end of the vendors of socks, carpets and aftershave.
Cannakale has a wide choice of accommodation types and prices, and plenty of restaurants and shopping. It's a mix of old and new, and one memory that lasts is of seeing a queue of little donkey carts waiting outside a blacksmith's shop. I have stayed at and can recommend the Buyuk Truva Hotel, and have had good reports from friends who have stayed at the Akol Hotel.
The Eceabat Hotel is on the peninsula opposite the ferry wharf, 10 minutes by car from Anzac Cove. If you're looking at an old map, Eceabat used to be called Maidos. The hotel is cheap, very basic (no phone, TV or fridge in the rooms), and breakfast there is usually hardboiled eggs, olives, bread, jam and tea, but it is convenient and friendly. I have had doorknobs come off in my hand, and it takes a while to work out how to get the toilet to flush, but if you are willing to trade off a little comfort and security for economy, you will enjoy its atmosphere.
Eceabat has its own shops and restaurants, but it is a town of only a few hundred and offers limited choice. When I stay there I sometimes catch the ferry into Cannakale in the evening and have dinner there. The ferry also offers refreshments, and on the infrequent wet days its saloon is a cosy place to enjoy a cup of Turkish tea.
Neither of the guidebooks mentioned gives a particularly comprehensive or helpful listing of accommodation. The Australian Embassy website mentioned above lists hotels in places I have not even heard of. You could also search the Internet for "Cannakale", "Eceabat", "hotel" and their combinations.
There are two ways to experience battlefields: independently or with a guide.
The writer at Ari Burnu, with the Sphinx behind. The covering force at the Anzac landing,
with its 1,500 men, landed in boats around Ari Burnu ("Bee Point").
Until 2001 it was the site of the Anzac Day ceremonies,
but a new area has now been opened a hundred metres north.
I have always travelled independently. Because studying the war and collecting books and memorabilia has been my hobby for years, I don't mind spending time reading up on campaigns and battlefields. And I have a room full of books on the Great War, so I don't even have to visit the library.
The alternative to working out your own itinerary is to engage a guide or go with a party. A good guide will not only be able to show you around, but will give you valuable background information and insights. If there are places that you particularly want to see, the guide should be able to accommodate you. If you are in a party, of course, the guide may not be able to go everywhere that everyone wants. And as I have already mentioned, don't expect a guide to be able to locate a grave for you without any prior notice.
I am showing my bias when I say that you can see far more on your own, but the choice is yours.
On the Western Front, the battles damaged or destroyed cities, towns and valuable agricultural and industrial land, which was all rebuilt and restored after the war. The battlefields, cemeteries and memorials there coexist with the urban or rural landscape and lifestyle. A cemetery might be only metres from a motorway, or just down the road from a busy brick factory. Or you might not be quite brave enough to seek the enemy strongpoint marked on an old map because it's in the middle of a field through which a party of chasseurs is walking, shotguns at the ready.
But at Gallipoli there are no such distractions. You may see farmers - always two couples spanning two generations, it seems - in the fields at Suvla, or goatherds around Pink Farm at Helles, or the men sitting outside the café in Alcitepe. You may see some other visitors at Anzac, but, as long as it's not Anzac Day, you will most likely have it all to yourself. In early April the CWGC gardeners outnumber everyone else.
If you are used to the Western Front battlefields, the compact size and precipitous nature of Anzac will also come as a shock. There aren't many signposts, but the one on the road near Gaba Tepe directs you north along the coast to Anzac Cove and the Suvla plains beyond, or inland along Pine Ridge to Lone Pine, Quinn's Post, The Nek and Chunuk Bair.
Despite the dearth of signs, you won't have much trouble finding most of the places you have heard about. But you can't really understand Anzac unless you get off the road, and this is where you will need to have done your homework if you don't have a guide.
You can follow the footsteps of the first Australians ashore on 25 April, climbing Ari Burnu and Plugge's Plateau, and walking as far up Shrapnel Gully as your bushcraft and stamina permit.
You can see the remains of trenches on Russell's Top and Walker's Ridge, and if you struggle through the scrub to Pope's Hill you will have a panoramic view of the Allied front line from The Nek down to the 400 Plateau, and Bolton's Ridge and Gaba Tepe beyond.
On the way up to Chunuk Bair you pass Baby 700 and Battleship Hill, and the walk from Chunuk Bair down Rhododendron and Cheshire Ridges to The Farm reveals the nightmare of wooded slopes that challenged attackers and defenders in August.
Except for the farmers and a few holiday cottages, Suvla is an isolated and lonely place, and you should prepare accordingly. I have never seen any, but Taylor and Cupper warn of packs of dogs roaming here. Just remember how far from home you are.
||Kiretch Tepe is a difficult climb which you shouldn't take lightly,
and Lala Baba is an interesting drive along sandy tracks with a few creek
crossings, really better suited to four wheel drives. Most other parts of
Suvla are easy to get around.
But between Anzac and Suvla, Taylor's Gap, the Aghyl Dere, Australia Valley, Damakjelik Bair and Hill 60 are not easy going. Monash's 4th Brigade traversed this wild country by night, but even by day you will be tripped and tangled and snagged by head-high scrub.
Helles is different again. This is rolling country, mainly farmland now, with some houses and a few shops, and cars and schoolchildren and tractors and olive trees. It is dry in summer to be sure, but it reminds me a little of the Somme around Pozières or le Hamel.
|It's easy to see how V and W Beaches turned out to be such deathtraps,
and Achi Baba's head and shoulders overlook just about everything at the
end of the peninsula. But even the sunbleached severity of the French cemetery
at Morto Bay cannot disguise the essential homeliness and serenity of
Gully Ravine is the most rugged part of Helles commonly visited. Once I was walking through light scrub near its northern end when I heard the tinkling of goats' bells. Following the flock was a middle-aged couple, who, on seeing me, queried "Inglisi?" "No, Australian", I replied. They nodded and smiled knowingly "Yostralian" that explained it.
Make sure that you visit the two museums. The Gaba Tepe museum is the more formal, while the one in Alcitepe seems to be a community one, staffed by volunteers. Both have many of the touching relics that are regularly uncovered in the fields.
If you leave the road just about anywhere at Gallipoli, sooner or later you will find human remains. The forestry workers, in their cycle of planting pine seedlings then chopping them down when they grow, never seem to remove the bones, but instead sweep them into little bundles. Somewhere, even today, someone probably still mourns the life that these bones once meant.
As with most aspects of life, there are as many reasons for visiting a battlefield as there are people who visit.
Some carry a stack of maps and photographs, and are determined to see for themselves every part of the countryside that was ever fought over or mentioned in a book, film or discussion.
Others go with a few names in their heads, like "Somme" or "Ypres", and have exhausted their knowledge merely by getting there.
Gallipoli is no different. A young Australian I met there had heard of the cricket game played at Shell Green (to mislead the Turks about the Evacuation), and had seen photographs of the Sphinx. I was touched that these meagre scraps had been enough to motivate him to visit.
At the other extreme, I confess that I carry my own stack of maps, and have worn my own trail though Taylor's Gap, trying to follow the 4th Brigade route on the 6/7 August 1915.
But no matter what the starting point, every visitor will learn something and feel something. What is important, I think, is not the rigour of your preparation, or the seriousness with which you approach the pilgrimage. What is important is that you think enough of those who served and fought and suffered there to want to visit and see for yourself what they saw and experienced.
"Smiling may you go, and smiling come again".
1 Anzac to Amiens, C E W Bean, p 532
2 A guide to the Battlefields, Cemeteries and Memorials of the Gallipoli Peninsula, Australian War memorial/Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs.
3 Anzac to Amiens, C E W Bean, p 532
4 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume II shows 410,000 British and 79,000 French fought at Gallipoli. As the British figure represents all British Empire troops, have subtracted the 70,000 Anzacs from this figure. However, it includes the number of Indian soldiers who served at Gallipoli.
5 Ireland was not an independent country at the time of the war.The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli, by Major Bryan Cooper describes the formation, training and role of an Irish unit.
6 The 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment landed in September 1915. Newfoundland was independent during the war, but became a province of Canada in 1949.
7 Anzac and the Australian Military Tradition, Revue internationale d'Histoire Militaire, No. 72, 1990.
8 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli,Volume I p 41.
9 Gallipoli, Robert Rhodes James, p 26.
10 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli,Volumes I and II.
11 Sir William Birdwood commanded the Anzac corps at Gallipoli and later the Australian Corps in France. Kitchener had allowed him to believe that he was to be Commander-in-Chief, but Birdwood gave Hamilton his complete loyalty when he learned that this was not to be.
12 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli,Volume I ,Appendix I
13 Official History Military Operations France and Belgium 1918,Volume II, p 462.
14 Official History Military Operations France and Belgium 1918, Volume I; 3 divisions each in XIII, XV, III and X Corps and 4 divisions in VIII Corps.
15 Official History Military Operations France and Belgium 1916,Volume I, p 267.
16 The World Crisis1911-1918, Volume II, W S Churchill, p 795.
17 Gallipoli, Robert Rhodes James, pp 64, 65.
18 Field Service Regulations Part I; Operations 1909,
(reprinted with amendments 1914) War Office, p 172.
19 16 divisions in Fourth Army (footnote 14) 3 in VII Corps of Third Army, and 5 in the French Sixth Army; Official History Military Operations France and Belgium 1916,Volume I.
20 Generals Joffre and Haig had agreed on the joint attack astride the Somme on 14th February; Official History Military Operations France and Belgium 1916,Volume I, p 29.
21 Official History of Australia in the War: The Story of Anzac, Volume I, p 252.
22 25th April 1915: The Inevitable Tragedy, Denis Winter.
23 ibid, p 230.
24 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume 1, p 58.
25 Gallipoli, Robert Rhodes James, p 119.
26 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume 1, p 232.
27 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume 1, p 234.
28 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume 1, p 284.
29 Official History Military Operations Gallipoli, Volume 1.
30 Official History of Australia in the War; The Story of Anzac, Volume II, pp 160-161.
31 Gallipoli, Robert Rhodes James, p 53.
32 Field Service Regulations Part I; Operations 1909, (reprinted with amendments 1914) War Office, p 73.
33 Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services 1914-18, Volume I, Graph I, p 375, p 451.
34 Gallipoli Memories, Compton Mackenzie, p 353.
35 Gallipoli Diary, Volume II, Sir Ian Hamilton, p 272.
36 Official History of Australia in the War; The Story of Anzac, Volume II, p 882.
37 Official History of Australia in the War; The AIF in France 1918, Volume VI, p 5.
38 Gallipoli: The Fading Vision, John North, p 87.
39 Official History of Australia in the War; The Story of Anzac, Volumes I and II.
40 Gallipoli: A Battlefield Guide, Phil Taylor and Pam Cupper.
41 Gallipoli Mission, C E W Bean.
42 Major and Mrs. Holt's Battlefield Guide to Gallipoli, Tonie and Valmai Holt, Leo Cooper, 2000.
43 Commonwealth War Graves Commission Information Sheet, The Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey.
Copyright © Geoff Moran, March, 2002.
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