Gallipoli

This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the fighting in the ill-fated campaign at Gallipoli.

British forces involved at Gallipoli
(Mediterranean Expeditionary Force)

Battles and engagements

Background

Gallipoli is the most frequently used name for the peninsula to the west of the Dardenelles Straits, and the fighting that took place there between British and French troops of the Allies against Turkish troops between April 1915 and January 1916. Most famously, it was where the soldiers of the first ANZAC - the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - went first into action during the Great War.

Once the fighting on the Western Front in France and Flanders settled into siege warfare that defied attempts by both sides to break through, some British politicians became entranced by the idea of attacking Germany 'by the back door'. Despite pre-war Naval planning that suggested a passage of the Dardanelles Straits was impossible, the lure of an easier route to the defeat of Germany became irresistible. The pro-'Westerners' in the high Army command were overruled and eventually acquiesced.

Gallipoli

The Gallipoli peninsula lies in Turkey, forming one land side of the Dardanelles Straits, an historic waterway that links the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. The peninsula is only 10 miles at the widest point and is about 45 miles long. Cape Helles lies at the southernmost tip. The terrain is inhospitable: it is a rocky, scrub-covered area with little water. The hills are steep-sided and are cut into deep gulleys and ravines. Among the hills which lie along the spine of the Peninsula, there are many peaks and valleys. The most important heights are the summits of Achi Baba (709 feet), which overlooks all of Cape Helles; and Sari Bair (971 feet) from which can be seen ANZAC beach and the Asian side of the Straits. At the southernmost (Aegean) tip are a number of small sandy beaches, and there are some small stretches of beach on the Western side too. There are no such beaches on eastern (Straits) side. To the North-West is a flat area surrounding a salt lake. There are no towns on the peninsula (although today holiday houses are being built around the coast). There are a number of small settlements, of which Krithia in the south and Bulair in the north are the most important.

Anzac

The planning of the Gallipoli operations was makeshift to say the least, but it was based on land operations only being required in support of a naval breakthrough of the Dardanelles Straits.

1915

The naval attempt to bombard the Turkish guns and forts failed, as did a half-hearted attempt to push through the Straits minefields. The Royal Navy now called on the army to capture the guns from the land side, and the door was thus opened to disaster.

It is easy to forget, given the quite proper place that Gallipoli has in Australian and New Zealand legend, that Gallipoli was by no means purely an ANZAC affair; in fact, both the rest of the British, and the French army contingents on Gallipoli outnumbered the ANZACs in terms of men deployed and casualties lost.

It has proven to be very difficult to determine the losses of both sides in this most appalling and costly theatre: perhaps the most realistic estimates are that the Turkish army suffered 300,000 casualties (including the many sick) and the Allies, 265,000. The consequent effect of diverting troops and supplies sorely needed on the Western Front, particularly for the assault at Loos, is impossible to quantify.

Conditions on Gallipoli defy description. The terrain and close fighting did not allow for the dead to be buried. Flies and other vermin flourished in the heat, which caused epidemic sickness. In October 1915, winter storms caused much damage and human hardship, and in December, a great blizzard - followed by cataclysmic thaw - caused casualties of 10% (15,000 men) throughout the British contingent, and no doubt something similar on the Turkish side. Of the 213,000 British casualties on Gallipoli, 145,000 were due to sickness; chief causes being dysentery, diarrhoea, and enteric fever.

Other useful information

Australian Official History Volume I (Australian War Memorial, downloadable full copy) Link

Australian Official History Volume II (Australian War Memorial, downloadable full copy) Link

General conclusions of the Dardenelles Commission 1917 (National Archives) Link

Gallipoli diary Volume I (Sir Ian Hamilton, free download of full book) Link

Gallipoli diary Volume II (Sir Ian Hamilton, free download of full book) Link

The Dardanelles (with maps) (Sir Charles Callwell, free download of full book) Link

Gallipoli (John Masefield, free download of full book) Link

The New Zealanders at Gallipoli (Frederick Waite, free download of full book) Link

The 10th (Irish) Division at Gallipoli (Bryan Cooper, free download of full book) Link