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Gallipolli - A Deadly Campaign

Gallipolli - A Deadly Campaign (Illustration) Ethics Disasters Tragedies and Triumphs World History World War I

One hundred years ago—come the 25th of April, 2015—the world had its first amphibious assault of the modern era.

It was a disaster for nearly half-a-million Allied invaders and Ottoman defenders who were killed or wounded during the Gallipoli Campaign—a World War I military operation, beginning in March of 1915, to capture the Dardanelles and the Gallipolli Peninsula (a narrow straight between Asian and European Turkey)—intended to force Turkey out of the war.

The invasion plan, conceived by Allied Commanders to break the bloody stalemate of the Western Front, ended in failure when the Ottoman Empire (whose leaders had signed a pact with Germany in August of 1914 and whose soldiers were effectively engaging Russians on the Eastern Front) pushed-back.

It was a costly push-back, for both sides, and one which shocked Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. The future Prime Minister had famously declared:

A good army of 50,000 men and sea power—that is the end of the Turkish menace.

Instead, invading forces were meet with unbelievably accurate sniper-fire (initially) and opponents who gave-up little-to-no ground.

Preparing to land on the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula, the1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers made ready. Their target area was a part of the beach the invaders called “W.”

Afterwards, Richard Willis—Commander of C Company who would receive a Victoria Cross for his efforts—remembered what happened as he and his men neared the beach:

Not a sign of life was to be seen on the peninsula in front of us...it might have been a deserted land we were nearing in our little boats. Then, crack! The stoke oar of my boat fell forward, to the angry astonishment of his mates.

The men had no choice but to keep moving forward, despite realizing the truth: What had seemed quiet was not quiet at all. They just couldn't see the Turks who were waiting for them.

Captain Clayton paints the grim scene as his fellow Lancashires left their boats:

There was tremendously strong barbed wire where my boat landed. Men were being hit in the boats and as they splashed ashore. I got up to my waist in water, tripped over a rock and went under, got up and made for the shore and lay down by the barbed wire.

There was a man there before me shouting for wire cutters. I got mine out, but could not make the slightest impression. The front of the wire by now was a thick mass of men, the majority of whom never moved again…The noise was ghastly and the sights horrible. I eventually crawled through the wire with great difficulty, as my pack kept catching on the wire, and got under a small mound which actually gave us protection.

The weight of our packs tired us, so we could only gasp for breath. After a little time we fixed bayonets and started up the cliffs right and left. On the right several were blown up by a mine. When we started up the cliff the enemy went, but when we got to the top they were ready and poured shots on us.

Six weeks later, Captain Clayton also died at Gallipoli.

Thousands of men, on both sides, died or were wounded during the Gallipoli Campaign. Australians and New Zealanders (referred to, collectively, as ANZACS) were particularly hard hit.

By the time Allied forces withdrew in defeat, during January of 1916, there were around 500,000 casualties (counting both sides). Of those deaths and injuries, around 180,000 were Allied troops and 253,000 were Turks.

A local cemetery, on the Peninsula, holds the remains of 28,000 British men who died at Gallipoli. Australian casualties numbered 28,150 including about 8,700 deaths. Those numbers add-up to nearly one-sixth of Australia’s casualties during the entirety of World War One.

Trenches, a main feature of Great-War fighting, also played a role at Gallipoli. Sometimes opposing trenches were hundreds of yards apart, but at Chunuk Bair—a high-point on the Peninsula—ANZAC and Ottoman soldiers were so close they could throw grenades into each other’s trenches.

Simon Harrington, a retired Australian rear admiral who is part of an investigating team at today’s Gallipoli, tells what it was like as Allied soldiers (mostly ANZACS), climbed-up the steep cliffs where waiting Turks stopped their advance, forcing both sides to dig-in:

You dug deep, and you erected barbed-wire netting on top to protect yourself. If you had time, you threw the grenades back.

The Allies did not have sufficient medical personnel or hospital ships to help the wounded. Lt. Col. Percival Fenwick, a New Zealand medical officer involved in the campaign, related what it was like when it wasn’t possible to remove the dead soldiers from their trenches or from the ravines where they had fallen:

Everywhere one looked lay dead, swollen, black, hideous, and over all a nauseating stench that nearly made one vomit.

Trying to break the stalemate, and produce an Allied victory during the now-lengthy campaign, members of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade were sent to “The Nek,” a small plateau below Chunuk Bair, during the early-morning hours of August 7, 1915. Allied howitzers, firing from Anzac Cove to keep the Turks in position, ended their furious bombardment about seven minutes ahead of schedule.

As the mostly farm-and-ranch boys from Australia’s Outback waited to mount their attack, the Turks—who’d been forced down during the bombardment—had a chance to regroup. When the first wave of the Light-Horse Brigade members went over the top of their trenches, they were immediately shot-down by the Turks.

Sgt. Cliff Pinnock, who survived the attack while so many others did not, recalled the moment when the boys left their trenches:

I was in the first line to advance and we did not get ten yards. Everyone fell like lumps of meat....All your pals that had been with you for months and months blown and shot out of all recognition.

I got mine shortly after I got over the bank, and it felt like a million ton hammer falling on my shoulder. I was really awfully lucky as the bullet went in just below the shoulder blade round by my throat and came out just a tiny way from my spine very low down on the back.

The second wave of Aussies had the same experience. So did the third and the fourth.

When Maj. Gen. Alexander John Godley, from New Zealand, ordered his troops to attempt what had cost so many Australians their lives, they met the same vicious opposition.

In four days, the ANZACS sustained ten thousand casualties. Later, wondering why the Allied troops had been ordered to keep-up the attack in the face of insurmountable opposition, Sgt. Pinnock expressed his opinion of the effort: “It was simply murder,” he said.

Finally, after eight months of similar disastrous efforts, Lord Kitchener—who was then-serving as an overall commander of the operation—ordered the remaining Allied forces to leave the Gallipoli Peninsula. About 80,000 troops were able to board ships, under the cover of darkness, and sail away from what had become an example of senseless battle losses.

In the image, at the top of this page, we see a photograph depicting a scene near the end of the Campaign. The picture  was taken by Lt. Ernest Brooks in January 1916, just prior to the final evacuation of British forces. Among other things, the photo shows the explosion of a Turkish shell in the water, fired from the Asian shore of the Dardanelles.

Winston Churchill lost his post as 1st Lord of the Admiralty as a direct result of the failed Gallipoli Campaign. Spared from a parliamentary inquiry, into his decision-making process, Lord Kitchener died the following year after his battleship struck a mine. And ... historians criticize General Sir Ian Hamilton, the campaign’s commander, for not thinking of his men and acquiescing to Kitchener’s indecisiveness.

On the other hand, Otto Liman von Sanders—the German general who commanded the Ottoman 5th Army—effectively used his well-equipped men to resist the Allied invasion. Mustafa Kemal—who sensed the dangers of the ANZAC landings— effectively deployed his men who held the ridge lines for five months.

Further complicating the Allied strategy, the campaign’s leaders remained safely distant from the fighting while Kemal, the Ottoman commander, stayed with his men, frequently risking his own life.

Although its victory at Gallipoli would ultimately become the Ottoman Empire’s last impressive stand, Mustafa Kemal faced a different future. Changing his name to Ataturk, he led the Turkish National Movement. In 1923, he forged the creation of a new secular nation ... called Turkey.

Secular Turks have a different name for the Gallipoli Campaign. They call it the Battle of Canakkale and, for them, it marks the beginning of their modern state.

 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 28, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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