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Who really died at Gallipoli ?


From the heights above the Gallipoli-beaches the Turks had an open field of fire. For them it sometimes looked like a shooting-match. Picture made by a German war-photographer, Gallipoli, 1915
(Click on the picture to start a slide show on this battle)

By Rob Ruggenberg

Somehow the impression has taken root that in that terrible Battle of Gallipoli (1915) only the Anzac troops fought and suffered in Turkey. The reality is different, but the overwhelming attention that Australia and New Zealand place on Gallipoli is understandable - see below.

The Battle of Gallipoli took place on a small peninsula on two, later three, different battlefields, not far from each other. On one of these fields merely Anzac soldiers (from Australia and New Zealand) fought - and died. In the other two places British and French troops took the Turkish blow.

The casualty figures give a good understanding of who suffered:

( These figures are educated guesses, but still approximate and controversial. They are taken from various sources, i.c. official Turkish, , Bernd Langensiepen, Robert Rhodes James, Spencer Tucker and Geoffrey Moorhouse. )

The pictures below give an impression of what happened at Gallipoli. They can be viewed as a slide show. If you click on a picture the next one will come up.

Click on the picture.

Landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the peninsula of Gallipoli on 25th April 1915.

Whoever dominates the peninsula controls passage through the Dardanelles. This narrow strait leads to the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Black Sea.

Click on the picture.

Shells have ripped this allied transport into junk and annihilated the drivers. Picture made at Cape Helles, the most southern point of the peninsula of Gallipoli.

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ANZAC troops charging on Gallipoli.

Winston Churchill as First Lord of the British Admiralty had four ambitious motives for getting hold of the peninsula:
1. Divide Turkey in two parts (a European part and an Asian part) and prevent traffic between the two.
2. Provide access for gun ships to the Sea of Marmara. From there these ships could attack the two munition factories near Constantinople (Istanbul), capital of the Ottoman Empire.
3. Conquer Constantinople and bring down the government. This would also influence non-aligned Balkan countries to join the allies.
4. Open a new supply route to Imperial Russia.

Click on the picture.
German tactics

Turkish troops assaulting from their trenches on Gallipoli.

The Turks stood under command of the German fieldmarshall Liman von Sanders, who correctly predicted the place where the allies would attack. Together with the Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal he took effective precautions: barbed wire on the beaches, digging of trenches and establishing strategic firing positions in the heights.

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Over the top

Kings Own Scottish Borderers over the top at Gallipoli.

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ANZAC troops in trenches scoping out the lie of the land at Gallipoli

At first the allied campaign was purely a naval affair. On March 18, 1915, eighteen British and French battleships opened large-scale bombardments on Turkish coastal fortifications. When three ships were sunk by mines the campaign swithched to a land-operation.
Because of chaotic organization it took four weeks before allied land troops were ready to land. That gave von Sanders and Kemal enough time to restock and reinforce. When on April 25 the allied troops finally did land, they were met by murderous fire. In spite of heavy fighting the allies could not advance beyond small footholds on the beaches.

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Conquered trench

ANZAC soldiers in a captured Turkish trench on Lone Pine, Gallipoli.

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Exhausted ANZAC troops hiding in their foothold from Turkish fire.

Instead of aborting the operation, the (British) allied command decided to send five more - inexperienced - divisions into the battle.
It became a massacre. The Turks succeeded in repelling all attacks.

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Carrying a soldier

ANZAC soldier carrying a wounded comrade on Gallipoli. Maybe the most famous war-picture made in Turkey.

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Evacuation of the wounded

Evacuation of wounded troops from Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

It took a long time before the British War Council was ready to admit that the campaign had become a complete disaster. In November the council finally concluded that the small bridge-heads on the beach were untenable.

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Evacuation of all

Evacuation of allied troops from the beaches at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.

On 7, 8 and 9 January 1916 all troops were successfully evacuated. In every respect this was the best organized part of Operation Dardanelles.
Afterwards military strategists learned lessons from the Gallipoli campaign. For instance, the successful evacuation led to the development of American amphibious warfare tactics practiced in the Pacific during the Second World War.

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Pasja Mustafa Kemal.

The aftermath: in Great-Britain Winston Churchill was forced to resign from the Cabinet.
In Turkey the victor of the battle, Mustafa Kemal, was promoted Pasja (general). In 1923 he was elected the first modern president of the Republic of Turkey. Later he became known as Atatürk: Father of all Turks.

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Coming Home

A warm welcome for this young, wounded ANZAC soldier. He is met by auxiliary nurses on arrival at a hospital in Randwick, Sydney, Australia.

The aftermath in Australia: Gallipoli was the first and last time this new country allowed another nation (Britain) to command their troops. After the disaster Australia vowed to retain command and therefore responsibility for its own.

Seventyfive years after Gallipoli some Australian historians began to question the importance of the Australian contribution to the battle. Had the Anzac legend been exaggerated all these years? Their research led to furious reactions; some called it a stab in the back.

Nevertheless bitter poems and bitter songs were made about Gallipoli. Check out Eric Bogle's 'And the band played Waltzing Mathilda...' in our music section.

Gallipoli as an Australian statement of Nationhood

Departure of Australian troopsOn various places on the Internet discussions go on as to why Australia and New Zealand tend to claim the Gallipoli battle as their own.
In correspondence with The Heritage of the Great War from Tasmania, Australia, made the following relevant remarks:

"Australians do know of the other nations taking part and also losing vast numbers of their youth. We do not mean to take away from the contribution and sacrifice of other nations.
It is hard to convey an understanding of what ANZAC Day means to Australians. I have heard the term "celebrations" many times when refering to ANZAC Day. In fact, it is a solemn occasion in which we remember the sacrifice. At the beginning of WW1, we had been a nation for only 14 years. We had been a British colony and had gained independence not through the sword, but by stubborn defiance of British rule. We were struggling to find our place in the world and many still had a fierce loyalty to the monarchy in Britain. Hence our entry into the war as soon as England declared war.
Gallipoli has come to mean so much to Australians as it was the first time this country, as an independent country, had fought in open warfare. It was obviously not a military victory, but in some way it became an Australian statement of nationhood. It sounds perverse, but it's not and that's the way it is. We had greater losses on the Western front in places like Pozières, Messines, Passchendaele, the Somme, Mont St. Quentin and Villers-Bretonneux. Because Gallipoli was the first, it stands out."

Picture shows departure of Australian troops. Click on it if you want to read more about ANZAC troops in the Great War.

bullit  We have more than 50 pictures of the ANZAC forces in Flanders and in Palestine, made by Frank Hurley, nicknamed the Mad Photographer.

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