Gallipoli Campaign
Ottoman forces defeat the Entente at Gallipoli
17 February 1915 - 9 January 1916
author Paul Boșcu, November 2016
During the Gallipoli Campaign the Entente organized a series of British-led amphibious landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula, with the intent of capturing Constantinople, the Ottoman empire's capital city. The campaign went very poorly for the Entente who were forced to withdraw their forces after a few months of combat.
The Gallipoli Campaign took place during the First World War on the Gallipoli Peninsula. During the course of the campaign, France and Britain launched a naval attack against the Ottoman Empire, followed by an amphibious landing. The intention of the Entente powers was to capture the Turkish capital, Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. After heavy fighting the attack was defeated, and the invasion force had to withdraw to Egypt. Gallipoli was the only major Ottoman victory during the war, and in Turkey it is seen as a defining moment in the nation’s history.

In Britain, some saw Turkish weakness as an opportunity. Winston Churchill, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty, believed that a British naval expedition to force the Dardanelles and take Constantinople could quickly open the way to aiding Russia, and allow the encirclement of the Central Powers. This concept would grow into a somewhat muddled plan to take the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula, subdue Constantinople, and knock the Turks out of the war quickly.

The strategic confusion at the heart of the British government was indicative of the inability of politicians to grasp the implications of their involvement in a continental war based firmly in Europe, rather than the traditional random maritime interventions of yore. Troops had begun to gather in the Mediterranean area almost by default, with no real attention paid to their readiness for war.

As the British attacked at Gallipoli they came to realize that the Turkish army, although ill-equipped and although defeated in the Balkan Wars, put up a formidable fight, especially when on the defensive. There was no sense of a combined purpose; each beach landing was fought as a separate operation, with no effective cooperation to assist each other when things went wrong.

The effort against the Dardanelles and the landings of troops at Gallipoli led to more than 250,000 Entente casualties, and demonstrated many of the problems of coordinating army and navy forces in ‘combined operations’. Although the Entente made many mistakes, in some cases they simply suffered the bad luck of the accidents of war. In retrospect, the history of Gallipoli became one of the great tragedies of World War I.

Although the Ottoman Empire had shrunk and its military forces seemed weakened in the years before World War I, the country had been modernizing fairly rapidly. In a seizure of power, a group of military men and political leaders known as the Young Turks took over in 1908, retaining the sultan in name, but working to reduce the influence of Islamic clergy. In their efforts to westernize the country, they brought in military advisers from Europe and built up the armed forces. Several factors pushed Turkey in the direction of an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

Reforms in the status of women, in education, and in other areas of life proceeded more slowly than the improvement in the military. The leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha proclaimed the official equality of all faiths within the state: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. In some of the Arabic-speaking areas of the Empire, such as Syria, Palestine, and the Arabian Peninsula, resentment at the Turks for their movement away from traditional Muslim values simmered beneath the surface.

Several events made it easier for Turkey to meet its treaty obligations. First, the British decided, given the well-known pro-German stand of Turkey, to refuse to deliver two new battleships that had been ordered by Turkey, paid for, and built in British yards. The Young Turks played up the British offense to their sovereignty in the press, and public opinion took a decidedly anti-British turn.

Although the Young Turks admired both German and British modernity, British Liberals had openly criticized Turkish policies and the regime. Russia and Turkey had a long history of conflict, and Russia had made no secret of its ambitions to control the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Meanwhile, Germany had tried to build up friendly relations with Turkey by sending military advisers. This effort led to a secret treaty signed just before the war, in which Enver Pasha, the Young Turk war minister, agreed to assist Germany in the event of war. Nevertheless, Turkey remained officially neutral through the first three months of the war.

Germany had two battleships in the Mediterranean when the war started, the battle cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau. After some inconclusive engagements with British warships, the commander of this small German force, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, decided to proceed to Constantinople. After some negotiations, the Turks agreed to let the German ships proceed through the Dardanelles, on condition that the Turkish navy purchase them. The purchase went ahead, with the German officers remaining in charge to train Turkish sailors.

In order to provide a precipitating incident, the warships Goeben and Breslau left Constantinople, under nominal Turkish control and flags but officered and partially crewed with the original German sailors, and steamed across the Black Sea, where they shelled three Russian ports. Russia, with its long-standing interest in controlling the route to the Mediterranean, needed no further provocation for a war. Russia declared war on Turkey.

After the Ottoman declaration of war, the focus of attention was on the Dardanelles, the narrow strip of water between Europe and Asia, one of the great maritime sea lanes, acting as the gateway to Constantinople, the Black Sea and Russia. The Entente were ordered into immediate action and bombarded the forts at the entrance of the Dardanelles, thereby drawing attention to the paucity of the existing Turkish defences covering that vital waterway. While the Turks subsequently put much effort into improving their fortifications, the Royal Navy bided its time. Early bombardments of the Turkish forts achieved little.

Shortly afterwards, the Turkish Sultan Mehmed V, as the titular head of the Muslim Caliphate, declared a Holy War with a clarion call to all Muslim subjects in British, French or Russian domains to rise up against their masters. This would have minimal impact but it was nevertheless worrying, in particular for the British, who were concerned as to the possible impact on the large Muslim population within the Empire.

The British operation was further hamstrung by the opposition of both the First Sea Lord Sir John Fisher and the Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet Sir John Jellicoe. They were weary of any naval resources denied the Grand Fleet as it faced the German High Seas Fleet across the North Sea.

Herbert Kitchener, the Secretary of War, received a request for help from the Russians who were hard-pressed by a Turkish offensive in the Carpathian Mountains in December 1914. The British response was to dispatch a joint Anglo-French fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Sackville Carden to force the Dardanelles.

Kitchener was not optimistic, not least because the British army, depleted by the fierce fighting at Ypres on the Western Front, was fully committed in France. But he recognized that if such an operation were to be mounted its best choice of target would be the Dardanelles, ‘particularly if... reports could be spread at the same time that Constantinople was threatened’.

Winston Churchill had been chafing at the bit since the beginning of the war. Wireless telegraphy had enabled him to intervene in operational matters, not always with the happiest of results. To his chagrin, more action had come the army’s way than the navy’s, and he particularly keenly felt the humiliation the senior service had suffered at the hands of the Turks. Here was an opportunity to right the situation.

In operational terms the project was guided by a great deal of wishful thinking. In 1911 Churchill himself wrote that ‘it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, and nobody should expose a modern fleet to such peril’. Neither the navy nor the army held the key to success. The navy would depend on a sizeable landing to deal with the shore defenses and so open up the narrower part of the channel, and the army would be reliant on the navy’s big guns to provide it with the fire support it would need to effect a lodgement in the first place. The operational difficulties did not, however, invalidate the powerful attractions of the scheme in terms of grand strategy.

Success at Gallipoli might have repercussions in two directions. Both the Central Powers and the Entente were actively competing for allies in the Balkans. Indeed, the possibility that Greece might side with the British in August 1914, and that therefore its army would be available for use against Turkey, was what had first triggered the Gallipoli idea in Churchill’s mind. Victory in the region would give substance to British approaches to Bulgaria and possibly Romania. For the first time in the war, therefore, the Western allies would give real succour to the hard-pressed Serbs. To the east, forcing the straits would open a warm-water route to Russia.

The Entente fleet made a major effort to force open the Dardanelles. Under the command of Vice Admiral John de Robeck the fleet sailed into the Straits. The naval guns blazed out, pounding the forts, but the effects were minimal. When under fire the forts fell silent, but the moment the ships moved closer the Turkish guns burst back into life. From this total defeat the Gallipoli land campaign would be born.

The Turks had plenty of warning that a naval attack up the narrows might be a possibility, and with German help had done much to improve their defenses. ‘My first impression,’ the American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, recorded of a tour of the defenses, ‘was that I was in Germany. The officers were practically all Germans and everywhere Germans were building buttresses with sacks of sand and in other ways strengthening the emplacements.’

Things began to get desperate for the Entente when the battlecruiser Inflexible, already battered by shells, also ran on to a mine, followed by the pre-dreadnoughts Ocean and Irresistible. Although the Inflexible managed to withdraw and run herself aground, the other two sank. Fortunately, the crews were for the most part saved.

The Turkish minelayer Nusrat had laid a line of mines right where the ships were accustomed to maneuver. These had not been detected and the consequences were devastating. The French pre-dreadnought Bouvet ran onto a mine. There was a dreadful internal explosion and she sank within minutes. Some 639 French lives were lost in this tragedy. Still the battle raged on.

Bowing to the inevitable and with his minesweepers making no progress, de Robeck ordered the fleet to retreat. He had lost nearly a third of his ships and had achieved nothing. Subsequently siren voices claimed that the fleet had fallen back at the point of victory, that the Turks had been ready to give way. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Turks still had plenty of shells left for both forts and howitzer batteries; the minefields and torpedo tubes were still intact.

Failure on the 18th of March triggered the decision to attempt a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the aim of seizing the Kilid Bahr Plateau which dominated the narrows of the Dardanelles. The gathering forces were placed under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton, who had arrived the day before the abortive naval attempt in the narrows of the Dardanelles. The challenge ahead of Hamilton should not be underestimated. This would be the first opposed landing in the era of modern weapons; not only that, but it would have to be conducted on a narrow peninsula in terrain that greatly favored the defenders.

The bedrock was the 29th Division, hastily patched together from regular garrison troops gathered from around the Empire, while the French 1st Division of the Corps Expéditionnaire d’Orient (CEO) was a well-trained formation with a full artillery complement. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and Royal Naval Division (RND) were filled with promising material, but had little experience as soldiers. In reserve Hamilton had access to the 42nd Division of Lancashire Territorials and an Indian Brigade. There was an inevitable delay while the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) gathered and prepared for action, a delay which allowed the Turks to improve their defenses.

The landings on the Gallipoli peninsula were not seen as the cue for the navy to hand over the attack to the army. The army relied on ship-based artillery support, but the navy confronted considerable technical difficulties in providing it. The maps it was using were inaccurate; the ground itself steep and intersected; and observation of fire inadequate. There were too few aeroplanes in the theater, and the orders to the navy’s shore-based observers specifically instructed them to direct fire at targets a safe distance from allied soldiers.

No less than five separate landings were to be made by the 29th Division around the Helles tip of the Peninsula. The ANZAC Corps was to land on the beaches just north of Gaba Tepe further up the Peninsula and opposite Kilid Bahr, while the French would land at Kum Kale on the Asiatic coast in order to protect the rear of the 29th Division. Just to complicate matters further, diversionary operations would be launched by the French at Besika Bay and the RND at the Bulair neck of the Peninsula.

All chance of strategic surprise had been lost by the previous naval bombardments; now all Hamilton could hope to strive for was an element of tactical subtlety to try and wrong-foot the Turks. His complex plans, designed to confuse the Turks, were predicated on the Turks posing minimum resistance.

In trying to confuse the Turks, Hamilton divided his forces, failing to concentrate them in any one point and opening up the possibility of failure everywhere.

Hamilton was a sixty-two year-old protégé of Kitchener, who had seen extensive service in colonial wars. He later attributed his failure to insufficient manpower and material. The impression was created that his small force was taking on the might of the Turkish army in its own backyard. But Hamilton did not complain about the manpower situation at the time, and he would not really have been justified if he had.

The Turkish Fifth Army charged with defending Gallipoli was under the command of German General Otto Liman von Sanders. His plans revolved around light coastal screens charged with causing the maximum possible delay while the reserves would march to the point of danger and launch counterattacks designed to sweep the invaders into the sea. As such, by accident or design, he happened on the perfect counter to Hamilton’s scattergun approach.

Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish officer who recognized the threat and defended against the attacks, had expressed aggressive opinions in the past, earning him some political disfavor in the Turkish army. Liman von Sanders recognized Kemal’s leadership qualities, however, and endorsed his command of the defense.

Under Kemal’s command, the Turks held the front, and Kemal became an instant national hero. Kemal later would go on to lead a revolt against the sultan, establish the Turkish Republic, and become universally recognized as the father of his country with the honorary name ‘Ataturk’.

The ANZAC Corps was landed at night, the men being towed in strings of naval cutters behind steam boats. As they approached the shore stealthily there was a tremendous amount of confusion, with the end result being that the boats landed bunched together around the Ari Burnu promontory at the northern end of a small sheltered beach which would soon become known as Anzac Cove. The initial landing was all but unopposed, but a combination of the tortuous terrain and cautious leadership restricted the Australian advance to about quarter of a mile inland. The Anzacs were pinned back and here they would remain.

‘Boats ground in 4 or 5 feet of water owing to the human weight contained in them. We scramble out, struggle to the shore and, rushing across the beach, take cover under a low sandbank. “Here, take off my pack and I’ll take off yours!” We help one another to lift the heavy water-soaked packs off. “Hurry up, there!” says our Sergeant. “Fix bayonets!” Click! And the bayonets are fixed. “Forward!” And away we scramble up the hills in our front. Up, up we go, stumbling in holes and ruts. With a ringing cheer we charge the steep hill, pulling ourselves up by roots and branches of trees; at times digging our bayonets into the ground and pushing ourselves up to a foothold, until, topping the hill, we find the enemy have made themselves very scarce.’ (Private Alfred Perry, 10th (South Australia) Battalion, AIF)

‘We guessed that the enemy was advancing slowly and cautiously in order to capture the ridge where we were which dominated all sides – namely Chunuk Bair to Gaba Tepe. We set about our task of throwing the enemy and we felt a moral force in ourselves for performing this task. All the signs indicated that opposing our 2,000 armed men was a force of at least four or five times that size – or even bigger. We had to prevent the enemy from reaching and occupying the dominating line of Chunuk Bair–Gaba Tepe and had to gain time until the 19th Division arrived.’ (Lieutenant Colonel Mehmet Sefik, Headquarters, Fifth Turkish Army)

Instead of a gently sloping hinterland and open country all the way to the Narrows (only five miles away across the peninsula) they were confronted with steep slopes - up which the ANZACs rushed. Their impetus carried them to the heights of the Sari Bair ridge, brushing aside the resistance of Turkish detachments covering the beach.

The arrival of the 19th Turkish Division under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal on the dominating bulk of Chunuk Bair changed the situation radically. Soon it was the Turks, not the Anzacs, who were attacking: ‘To my mind there was a more important factor than this tactical situation – that was, everybody hurled himself on the enemy to kill and to die. This was no ordinary attack. Everybody was eager to succeed or go forward with the determination to die. Here is the order which I gave verbally to the commanders: “I don’t order you to attack – I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our places.”’ Kemal’s words perfectly encapsulate the spirit of grim determination that motivated the Turkish troops.

A great Turkish assault in May, aimed at sweeping the Anzacs into the sea, was fought off, leaving thousands of putrefying dead in the open. So appalling was the smell and health hazard that a truce was agreed in which both sides buried their dead, fraternizing briefly as they did so.

At Helles the British landed confident that once they got their troops ashore the Turks would cut and run. The main landings were to be made by the 86th Brigade at V and W Beaches at the tip of the Peninsula, with subsidiary landings at S, X and Y Beaches to try and threaten the Turks’ flanks, with the French landing at Kum Kale on the other side of the Straits. The troops came ashore almost unopposed at S, X and Y Beaches, but then failed to advance in a purposeful manner. Indeed, the Y Beach force soon found itself battling to survive as Turkish reinforcements forced a somewhat panicked evacuation. The story of the assaults of W and V Beach are a mixture of horror, heroism and gross British exaggeration of the odds they faced.

It was intended that the British troops would reach the hill of Achi Baba which dominated Helles by the end of the day before moving up the Peninsula to attack the Kilid Bahr Plateau in conjunction with the ANZAC Corps. Major General Hunter-Weston had chosen to land in broad daylight, a decision for which his troops paid dearly. Coming ashore under tow in ship's boats, rowed for the last hundred yards by blue jackets, they came under devastating fire at V beach from the defenders. A naval aviator flying overhead was appalled to see that the water for 50 yards out from the beach was red with blood.

At W Beach the Lancashire Fusiliers were initially held up, but the Turks were soon outflanked and swept away. However, at V Beach it was a different matter. Here the Turks fought brilliantly, pouring concentrated rifle fire onto the rows of rowing boats carrying the 1st Dublin Fusiliers and the 1st Munster Fusiliers emerging on to the exit ramps of a specially adapted tramp steamer, the River Clyde, which had been deliberately run ashore: ‘I had to run about 100–150 yards in the water and being the first away from the cutter escaped the fire a bit to start with. But as soon as a few followed me, the water around seemed to be alive, the bullets striking the sea all around us. Heaven alone knows how I got thro’ a perfect hail of bullets. The beach sloped very gently – fortunately! When I was about 50 yards from the water’s edge I felt one bullet go thro’ the pack on my back and then thought I had got through safely when they put one through my left arm. The fellows in the regiment had told me I was getting too fat to run, but those who saw me go through that bit of water changed their opinions later – I ran like hell!!!!!’ (Captain David French, 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers) The survivors were pinned down until nightfall allowed the bulk of the troops to come ashore, exposing the numerical weakness of the Turkish garrison. The British troops had overrun the Turkish positions but by this time the timetable had been thrown completely out of kilter.

At 'W' beach on the other side of Cape Helles, only a mile away, the first battalion ashore, the Lancashire Fusiliers, fought their way off the beach through dense barbed wire, winning six Victoria Crosses in the process. Elsewhere around the Helles area the landings met little resistance, but Hunter-Weston ignored this, concentrating on reinforcing the slaughter at 'W' and 'V'. By last light the Brits were shattered and incapable of exploiting inland. The day's final objective, the dominating high ground of Achi Baba, five miles from the landing beaches, was never taken during the campaign.

The French landings at Kum Kale stirred up a hornet's nest and fierce fighting took place before the troops were ferried across the straits to join their British comrades at Helles.

The next couple of days were marked by a period of reorganization and consolidation. The French were brought back from their covering landing at Kum Kale and given the position on the right of Helles adjoining the Dardanelles, ironically rendering themselves cruelly vulnerable to fire into their rear by Turkish batteries across the Straits. Once they were finally sorted out, the Entente began to press forward on Achi Baba during the First Battle of Krithia, only to find progress stalled and then to face utter defeat, during Turkish night counterattacks launched by fresh reserves.

These attacks were crude: rushing forward in massed hordes, the Turks were attacking in the dark primarily to avoid being flayed by the guns of the fleet. Nevertheless they almost broke through, although the casualties they suffered reduced them to a defensive posture. At this point the Turks were still not properly dug in across the Peninsula, having just a string of outposts and defensive positions.

Desperate to get his stalled campaign moving, Hamilton brought in his reserves and sanctioned a series of attacks which together are known as the Second Battle of Krithia. There was no tactical subtlety here. Every time the Entente troops felt their way forward they came under scything fire. It was a disaster. Over the three days they suffered some 6,500 casualties for the gain of at most 600 yards.

Hamilton was forced to appeal, cap in hand, to Kitchener for more troops; this would prove the pattern for the campaign. Every time reserves arrived they were soon matched by Turkish reinforcements and swiftly frittered away in attacks that had little or no military justification.

By the start of June 1915 there was a fully fledged trench system crisscrossing the Helles Peninsula. The British response was to use some of the new assault tactics already being employed on the Western Front in their next attack, the Third Battle of Krithia. Essentially this was intended as a ‘bite and hold’ to break the deadlock by seizing the three defensive lines held by the Turks, which would then allow the next assault to be made on Achi Baba directly. For all the slaughter, only a meager few hundred yards of British gains were retained. It was evident that, as on the Western Front, neither side could break through at Helles.

‘We scramble up and over the top into a withering machine gun and rifle fire with shrapnel bursting overhead. Many fell back into the trench before they got properly over, we spread out as we went and charged with fixed bayonets through No Man’s Land which is all shell holes and deep crevices. F. Royle on my left was killed by my side, also the next man on my right. I felt as though I was alone for the moment until I saw a Turk about to throw a bomb at a bunch of chaps on my left. Kneeling, I took a steady aim and fired twice rapid, he ducked down sharp, but whether I hit him or not I do not know. I ran on soaked in sweat and white with dust. We dashed on and on over barbed wire and shell holes, jumping gullies, through thick gorse or wild thyme, knee deep; this was on fire in many places and we were choked by smoke and dust. The Turks were keeping up a rapid rifle and machine gun fire, and as we got nearer threw bombs amongst us, also shrapnel bursting overhead, we were being mown down like corn. We kept on and on with our artillery lengthening their range as we went and helping us all they could. Suddenly we let out a wild yell all along the line, then we were on their parapet. It was now all hell let loose and then we were down amongst them in their trench. It was a shambles and the slaughter was terrible on each side, and here we were at a disadvantage as the enemy were using bombs with deadly effect and we were being blown to pieces. This drove us into a frenzy of rage and we went at them like madmen. They nearly drove us out as they were three to one, but we rallied and at last we drove them out and had captured the trench and many prisoners.’ (Private Jack Gatley, 1/7th Manchester Regiment)

The 42nd Division had done well, but on the right the French CEO was charging toward disaster, baulked by the redoubts clustered on the Kereves Spur and around the head of the deep ravine of Kereves Dere. This failure opened the flanks of the Entente forces. The Turkish reserves launched counterattacks over the next couple of days, swarming down the gullies and at one point appearing to be about to break through themselves.

By now Hamilton and Hunter-Weston had lost sight of the real objective – to break through to seize the Kilid Bahr Plateau which overlooked the Narrows. They were fixated on Achi Baba, which in reality was just a stepping stone. It had tactical significance at Helles, dominating the skyline and allowing the Turks to see everything above ground across the whole Entente sector, but it had no view over the Narrows. Also, the ground that lay between it and the imposing bulk of Kilid Bahr was perfectly configured for defence. At Helles fantasy had overcome reason.

Their failure at the Third Battle of Krithia caused Hunter-Weston and the French CEO commander, General Henri Gouraud, to introduce a more refined version of ‘bite and hold’ by attacking on a very small frontage to allow the maximum concentration of guns. The French attacked first, at the head of Kereves Dere, while the British followed up with an attack on Gully Ravine. They were encouraged by their partial success, but hampered by the dreadful shortage of guns and shells. When they tried to launch a two-staged attack by the recently arrived 52nd Division, some limited progress was made but it did not justify the casualties incurred. Helles was becoming a hopeless nightmare.

The shell shortage was not a temporary problem. The British munitions industry could not keep up with demand, and priority was being given to the BEF on the Western Front. At Gallipoli, the Entente were indeed making small advances, but they were using a disproportionate amount of their ammunition stocks to do so.

The embittered commander of 52nd Division summed up the situation at Helles perfectly: ‘It seems to me that the fighting of this battle was premature and at the actual moment worse than unnecessary – I submit that it was cruel and wasteful. The troops on the Peninsula were tired and worn out; there were only two Infantry Brigades, the 155th and the 157th, that had not been seriously engaged. It was well known to the higher command that large reinforcements were arriving from England and a grand attack was to be made at Suvla. Was it not therefore obvious that the exhausted garrison at Helles should be given a fortnight’s respite and that the fresh attacks from that position should synchronise with those at Suvla and Anzac? I contend that the Battle of July 12–13th was due to a complete want of a true appreciation of the situation. If the conception of the battle was wrong the tactics of the action were far worse. The division of the attack of two Brigades on a narrow front into two phases, no less than 9 hours apart, was positively wicked.’ (Major General Granville Egerton, Headquarters, 52nd Division)

The second chapter in the campaign began after Hamilton requested substantial reinforcements. But the advent of the Coalition Government and the subsequent reconstitution of the War Council as the Dardanelles Committee caused a considerable delay in the decision-making process. When the committee finally met, the decisive voice proved to be that of Winston Churchill, who, although deposed as First Lord of the Admiralty, was still an influential member of the committee. In consequence it was agreed that Hamilton needed reinforcements.

In a superb example of political sophistry, Churchill urged a major new investment of troops and resources in bringing the Gallipoli campaign to a successful conclusion, after which the entire resources of the Entente would be directed against the Germans on the Western Front. In allocating these troops to Gallipoli, no proper consideration was taken of the poor state of their training and leadership, the continuing crippling lack of artillery and shells or, indeed, the situation on the Western Front.

Hamilton had many options before him in deciding where to deploy his new forces. After due consideration he decided to use one division in bolstering an ANZAC Corps plan to launch a left hook from that diminutive bridgehead. This plan for a night attack across some of the most tortuous terrain in the Peninsula by a combination of exhausted veterans and untried new troops was spectacularly optimistic. At the same time Hamilton had fixed upon a new landing in the Suvla Bay area.

First there would be a diversionary attack on the Turkish Lone Pine trenches on the Anzac right flank. Then, when it was dark, assaulting columns would march north. After all of the identified Turkish outposts had been swept away, the New Zealand Brigade would climb up Rhododendron Ridge on to Chunuk Bair behind the Turkish lines. They would then drive down into the rear of the Turkish trenches in conjunction with a frontal attack by the Australian Light Horse Brigade across The Nek. The second assaulting column would move further along the coast before the 4th Australian Brigade would move inland and ascend onto Hill 971, the highest point of the Sari Bair Ridge.

At the Suvla Bay the 11th Division, supported by the 10th Division, would land on the beaches during the night and rapidly deploy inland to seize first the foothills and then the commanding heights of Kiretch Tepe and Tekke Tepe that overlooked and dominated the whole of the Suvla Plain. Then, if possible, they were to assist in the ANZAC Corps operations up on Sari Bair Ridge.

Hamilton made the worst possible start when he resolved to deprive Lieutenant General Sir Bryan Mahon (already present and leading the 10th Division) of the chance to take command of the IX Corps that would be created to carry out the Suvla operations. Hamilton had got it into his head that Mahon was not up to the task.

The only available general of sufficient seniority to outrank Mahon was Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, a man in poor health, semi-retired and acting as Governor of the Tower of London. He would prove a disastrous choice. The intentions of the original Hamilton plan were soon watered down by Stopford, who feared the consequences of advancing inland without proper artillery support. The plans lost all focus and became over-complicated as he obsessed over Turkish defences that barely existed. Soon, any idea of a rapid rush for the hills disappeared and the primary concern became establishing a safe base.

Nothing was done by Hamilton to hammer home the real priorities. Stopford was allowed to drift along unchecked. To Hamilton the ANZAC Corps thrust was at the very heart of his plans; on that would depend success or failure. What they would do next had barely been considered: once again the Turks were presumed to be teetering on the edge of the abyss, and success would trigger abject surrender.

The campaign would start with one more sacrifice made by the men of the VIII Corps at Helles, who were required to throw themselves against the Turkish trenches to ‘pin down’ the garrison and prevent the Turks from marching to Anzac. Any temporary successes were soon negated as the Turkish counterattacks threw the British back across No Man’s Land. The Turks not only held them back with ease but were able to deploy forces to assist at Anzac. Then it was the turn of the Australian 1st Division which launched a assault across the bare No Man’s Land between the trenches at Lone Pine. The ground gained was negligible and as a diversion the attack had been only partially successful.

‘I was trying to get my breath when from the right end of the traverse a big fellow of a Turk came bolting along the trench. He took no notice of me because close at his heels were two Aussies and as he passed me I raised my rifle and let him have it fair in the middle of the back, almost at the same time as the other two. He went down like a pole-axed bull and the three of us then followed on down the trench to be met by some Turks who came at us suddenly and savagely. I lunged at the nearest, but my bayonet stuck in his leather equipment and for the moment I was helpless. Instantly he raised his rifle to shoot me, but before he could there was an awful bang alongside my ear and he crumpled up at my feet. My mate behind had put his rifle over my shoulder and had shot him but that discharge nearly blew my head off. A dark head appeared round the traverse. I immediately let fly with my rifle from my hip and missed. In reply came two cricket ball bombs. One was kicked by one of my mates round a corner, but the other was behind us. I had a moment or two of uncontrollable paralysing fear – to be utterly helpless with that thing sizzling within a few feet of me. I flattened myself in the side of the trench, clawing at it with my fingers and certainly thought my last moment had come. By some miracle none of us was seriously hurt.’ (Private Charles Duke, 4th (New South Wales) Battalion, AIF)

The main assault forces began to creep out of Anzac that night. At first, things went well as the Turkish outposts were easily overrun. Then everything went wrong: the 4th Australian Brigade and 29th Indian Brigade became lost, stumbling around harassed by Turkish snipers. Dawn found them still in the foothills, and nowhere near Hill 971; they never would be. The New Zealand Brigade was also soon lost in the tortuous valleys and complex ridges on the approach to Rhododendron Ridge. They fell hopelessly behind schedule, failing to reach Chunuk Bair in time to launch the attack in concert with the Australian Light Horse Brigade.

The Light Horse went over the top on The Nek. They had to go just sixty yards across a narrow valley about the size of a tennis court. It might as well have been miles: ‘There was the din of rifles, machine guns and bombs. On mounting the parapet just in front of us was a double row of Turks with bayonets fixed, firing at us. Most of the first wave were down: either killed, wounded, or had taken cover. I was soon laid out with a couple of bullet wounds in my body and a graze on my head. I could not move and was eventually dragged back into our trenches, while the Turks seemed to pause for a few minutes, realising that they had stopped the attack.’ (Lieutenant Andrew Crawford, 8th (Victoria) Light Horse, AIF)

The ambitious plans had fallen to pieces under the combined pressure of impossible terrain, tired troops, timid commanders and a robust Turkish defence. For the next few days the fighting raged on. Much is made of the temporary occupation of Chunuk Bair and Hill Q, but these positions were isolated, and the troops were outnumbered in cruelly exposed positions facing superior Turkish forces and living on borrowed time. Colonel Mustafa Kemal led a dawn attack which swept them away. At the end the British were back in the foothills, or perched below the Turkish positions on the dominating heights. The Anzac offensive had been an abject failure.

After the August landings no further offensive action was possible at Gallipoli; priority for reinforcements went to the Western Front, and the need to send troops to Salonika progressively weakened the force's ability to do more than hold on.

The Suvla landings started well. The troops got ashore unopposed from their new armored lighters on B and C Beaches south of Nibrunesi Point. At A Beach, which was actually inside the horns of Suvla Bay, the situation was very different: a great deal of time had been lost and the units were disrupted. Instead of capturing the commanding heights of Tekke Tepe, it was only with a last-ditch effort that they managed to capture the lowest of the foothills, Chocolate Hill, before nightfall. Hamilton lifted his eyes from the Anzac debacle to realise that his subsidiary operations were also collapsing into oblivion.

Amidst some confusion, the 6th Yorkshire Regiment overran the Turkish positions at Lala Baba – an attack significant because it was the first made by troops of Kitchener’s Army: ‘On arriving at the base of Lala Baba I ordered a charge and we ran up the hill. About three-quarters of the way up we came upon a Turkish trench, very narrow and flush with the ground. We ran over this and the enemy fired into our rear, firing going on at this time from several directions. I shouted out that the Yorkshire Regiment was coming, in order to avoid running into our own people. We ran on and about twelve paces further on, as far as I can judge, came to another trench; this we also crossed and again were fired into from the rear. I ordered the company to jump back into the second trench, and we got into this, which was so narrow that it was quite impossible for one man to pass another, or even to walk up it unless he moved sideways; another difficulty was that if there were any wounded or dead men in the bottom of the trench it was impossible to avoid treading on them in passing. There was a little communication trench running from right to left behind me, and whenever I shouted an order a Turk, who appeared to be in the trench, fired at me from a distance of apparently 5 or 10 yards. I had some difficulty in getting anybody to fire down the communication trench in order to quiet the enterprising Turk, who was endeavouring to pot me with great regularity, but I eventually got him shot.’ (Major William Boyd Shannon, 6th Yorkshire Regiment). Although they suffered considerable casualties, Lala Baba was soon cleared.

At A Beach the invading troops would have been better off in the old rowing boats, as the deeper draught of the lighters soon caused them to run aground in the rapidly shoaling waters – leaving the men trapped up to 200 yards offshore. Eventually, by hook or by crook, they all got ashore. At no senior level of command, from lieutenant general to major, was anyone able to wrest control of the situation. A mish-mash of orders, counter-orders and disorder hamstrung progress; they all feared responsibility, everyone was scared of making a mistake and hence made the greatest mistake of all by doing little or nothing. So time trickled away and soon the day had all but gone.

At A Beach the most important reason for the British lack of success was the vibrant and skilful defence of the Turks. Under the command of a Bavarian cavalry officer, Major Wilhelm Willmer, just three battalions of infantry and a few field guns had managed to thwart the progress of a whole division. A controlled defense had allowed the Turks to cull the slowly advancing British, firing until the last moment and then melting into the scrub ready to fight again.

A desperate Hamilton resolved to intervene directly and went to Suvla to meet Stopford and Hammersley. Taking command of the situation, he ordered an immediate attack by the only troops immediately to hand. So an utterly hopeless attempt to take Tekke Tepe was launched. The staff work was non-existent, no one knew where anybody else was and in the confusion just one battalion was sent off in time. They had been holding a recently captured foothill, Scimitar Hill, but were recalled and dispatched on their way without a passing thought. As they advanced up the hill they were overwhelmed by a furious Turkish counterattack sweeping down around them.

The Suvla operations were effectively over: the Turks would control the hills. But Hamilton kept on raising the stakes. The 53rd Division was thrown into action piecemeal with the objective of recapturing the self-same Scimitar Hill that had been so precipitously abandoned the night before. After two days of chaos, the division was emasculated as a fighting force.

The horizons shrunk to a futile squabble over the foothills that guarded the way to the hills in front of Tekke Tepe, but the battle of 21 August was to be the largest engagement in the whole campaign. After an inadequate bombardment the infantry went over the top. The British troops were slaughtered.

‘At 3 pm the Battalion shoved off 700 strong. The furthest any got was 500 yards and none came back from there. They all got mown down by machine gun fire. We lost nine officers and nearly 400 men. The Turks shelled us very heavily and the whole country, which is covered with gorse, caught fire. This split up the attack and parties got cut up. Many of our wounded were burnt alive and it was as nasty a sight as I ever want to see. Our Headquarters was very heavily shelled and then the fire surrounded the place and we all thought we were going to be burnt alive. Where the telephone was, the heat was appalling. The roar of the flames drowned the noise of the shrapnel, and we had to lie flat at the bottom of the trench while the flames swept over the top. Luckily both sides didn’t catch simultaneously, or I don’t know what would have happened. After the gorse was all burnt, the smoke nearly asphyxiated us! All this time our battalion was being cut up in the open and it really was very unpleasant trying to send down calm messages to the brigade headquarters, while you were lying at the bottom of the trench like an oven, expecting to be burnt every minute, and knowing your battalion was getting hell a hundred yards away. The telephone wires finally fused from the heat.’ (Captain Guy Nightingale, 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers)

The Brits began their long march – in full view of the Turkish gunners – across the Salt Lake. Casualties were inevitable and on reaching Chocolate Hill they stumbled into action, disorientated, and the pace of killing redoubled. That night was a miserable frenzy of death and heroism on both sides. But the conclusion was certain: the British achieved nothing for the loss of 5,300 casualties.

The campaign was now all but over, although its death throes would take another four months. The French began to drift away, scenting defeat and preferring to devote their resources to the campaign building in Salonika. The Turks sat on the hills above the Allied lines at Helles, Anzac and Suvla, from where they could look down in total control of the situation. But still Hamilton refused to accept defeat. When Hamilton refused to even consider evacuation he was summarily dismissed and replaced by Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro. Arriving at Gallipoli he recommended evacuation, a decision that was supported by Kitchener.

The Bulgarians had mobilized ready to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers in September 1915 and it was soon apparent that without intervention the Serbs were doomed, so a force had been dispatched to the Macedonian town of Salonika. The nearest source of troops was Gallipoli.

An Australian journalist, Keith Murdoch, sent a sharply critical unofficial letter to the Australian and British Prime Ministers, which caused a considerable degree of concern as to the handling of the campaign, which was then exacerbated by the whispering campaign led by Stopford on his return to London.

Monro was a veteran of the Western Front; he visited the Gallipoli bridgeheads and was appalled by what he saw. The tactical state of affairs was bad, the logistical situation impossible. Monro recommended a swift evacuation but Kitchener demurred: he was afraid of triggering a reaction within Muslim parts of the Empire to such a humiliating defeat by the Turks. The old warrior decided to take a look for himself and in November came out to tour the battlefields. What he saw shocked him and he too recommended evacuation. The British government hesitated, but in the end they had to give in.

Dozens of diaries, collections of letters, and memoirs of eyewitnesses reported the horror of trench conditions. Entente troops found their diet intensely boring, and later analysis showed it nutritionally quite bad for the weather and the living conditions. Flies that gathered on dead mules and human corpses clouded the air and immediately covered any exposed food before a soldier could eat it. A plague of dysentery resulted, which left its victims almost too exhausted to move. Troops slept curled up in narrow shelves cut into the face of trenches. If they survived they would live for weeks in conditions of intense heat with no shade during the daylight.

When relieved from service at the trench-fronts, troops would bathe in the ocean, even though they were exposed to sniper fire from the hills which were still within rifle range. Mules and horses tied in ranks on the shore did not realize that the gunfire represented a hazard, and when one among them would fall from a sniper’s shot, the others would hardly react. Often, the dead mules floated out to sea, where sailors sometimes mistook their stiffened legs for enemy periscopes, creating temporary panic aboard supply ships.

On the beach known as Anzac, for the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps, troops spent hours digging trenches. So the nickname ‘diggers’ became attached to the men from down under. The Anzac troops tended to scoff at authority, and British officers found it scandalous that the troops would not always salute properly, that they would not wear a full uniform, and that they would expect a rest after an eight-hour day. But as the surviving Anzacs hardened, their bitter determination to hold onto the territory gained and their courage under fire earned them the name, the ‘imperishable’ Anzacs.

Troops from Britain frequently remarked on the strange and haunting contrast between the beautiful clear weather and the horrors of the battlefield. Fragrant wildflowers and plants like thyme and sage, swooping birds, and powder-puff clouds against an intensely blue sky, with a view out over the sparkling Aegean Sea, seemed almost like an outing to the beach at home on a rare balmy British summer day. The illusion vanished with the constant sound of gunfire, the screams of the wounded, and the stench of death.

The Turkish soldier, previously regarded as no more than an unlettered brute, earned the respect of his opponents. At Anzac, as the precarious beachhead became known, the attackers had to cling to a ridge line subjected to incessant sniper and artillery fire.

The approach of winter brought torrential rain, followed by hard frost and snow, creating appalling conditions for the hapless infantry in their open trenches. Thousands were evacuated with frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot; hundreds froze to death.

As the Turks built up their defenses, so trench warfare asserted itself. The differences compared to the Western Front were the products of the terrain and the climate. The narrow and steep foothold on the shore meant that the positions had little depth, and that the only relief was to go for a swim in the sea. But the heat that made that an attractive option also brought flies and then disease, particularly dysentery; water supplies were a constant headache. Only 30 percent of British casualties in the campaign were sustained in battle.

On the hospital ships the nurses were women. One, a New Zealander called Lottie LeGallais, wrote in September, ‘it was dreadful, and what with fleas and crawlers my skin at present is nearly raw, but we all scratch - scratch — except the men patients poor devils, they are used to them’. In November a transport was torpedoed, and LeGallais reported on the fate of the nurses: ‘Fox they say her back was broken, another nurse both legs; Rattray had two nurses keeping her up for hours, they were holding on to spars & with hands crossed these girls kept Rattray up until she became mental & died of exhaustion.’

The respect that built up between the Entente and the Turks should not be exaggerated. There were armistices to collect the dead. But snipers when captured were regularly shot out of hand, as were other prisoners. Nor could British prisoners necessarily expect any better treatment.

One French officer, Jean Giraudoux, wrote on 13 June 1915: ‘The Australians massacre all the Turks: the Australian’s national enemy, one of them said to me, is the Turk.’

Some Ottoman soldiers, uprooted from inner Anatolia, thought they were off to fight Greece, a traditional enemy, but others were like Hasan Ethem, who wrote to tell his mother that he had prayed: ‘My God, all that heroic soldiers want is to introduce thy name to the French and English. Please accept this honorable desire of ours and make our bayonets sharper so that we may destroy our enemy! ... You have already destroyed a great number of them so destroy some more.’

Ironically, the final evacuation was conducted brilliantly. The staff planned with marked attention to detail, exemplary innovation and a realistic approach to what was and wasn’t possible. It was late in the day but at least staff functions were belatedly beginning to improve as they learned their job. First Anzac and Suvla were evacuated, then the much more dangerous task of evacuating Helles was carried out under the very noses of the Turks.

Despite the fact that commanders anticipated terrible losses, the troops, aided by diversionary artillery barrages, successfully departed without any casualties at all in several operations under cover of fog. Despite efforts to demolish equipment and to kill the remaining mules and horses, the British had to abandon immense quantities of supplies that fell into the hands of the Turks.

In this situation, the troops invented numerous clever deceptions to create the impression that they still held the trenches they abandoned. One method consisted of leaving behind loaded rifles rigged with weights to fire long after the troops had left. The soldiers muffled their footsteps by binding their feet with rags. Pre-timed mines left the impression of a pending attack against the Turkish trenches.

For all the difficulties of disengaging from an enemy in the field, the key point remains that it was hardly in the Turks’ interests to prolong the allies’ departure or to incur further losses needlessly. The Turks had 86,692 dead; the French suffered 10,000 more than the Australians, whose deaths totalled 8,709, a low number by the horrific standards of this war; the British suffered approx. 40,000 dead. New Zealand’s losses were smaller, at 2,721.

During the war and through the decades after the war, analysts reviewed the Gallipoli campaign. Some argued that the plan reflected serious flaws from the start, with no real understanding of the hazards, with poor security, and with no sense of what would be required to eject or cut off entrenched troops who held the high ground along the peninsula. Others argued that the plan made good sense, but that leadership simply executed it poorly, reflecting incompetent or inexperienced officers, bad communication, and multiple episodes of bad luck and missed opportunities.

As an example of opportunities that might have made a difference, several British submarines penetrated through minefields and protective nets to torpedo Turkish supply ships in the inland Sea of Marmara. If a few troops had been landed from submarines in a fast behind-the-lines commando raid, they could have cut vital supply roads to the defending Turks further down the peninsula and prepared the way for larger landings behind the Turkish front. But the Entente made no such effort.

Officers and the Turkish leadership continued to think along traditional lines, much as the generals on the Western Front did. They believed that masses of troops, supported by heavy artillery, should be deployed to take positions and either drive back the enemy or defend against being driven back. In Europe, the policy already seemed to be a disaster, leading to excessive casualties and immobilized fronts facing each other, but at Gallipoli no commanders thought of a means to break out of that pattern.

The effective evacuation itself provided some lessons later employed at Dunkirk in May and June 1940, when more than 300,000 troops successfully escaped to Britain in the face of German attacks.

Apologists for the Gallipoli Campaign have long tried to boast of what could have been, with a heavy emphasis on ‘if only’. This fails to recognize that the Entente fought the campaign with levels of naval and military support that were considered acceptable until the Turks defeated them. Time and time again Hamilton promised success; again and again he failed.

Gallipoli was one of a series of military ‘Easterner’ adventures launched without proper analysis of the global strategic situation, without consideration of the local tactical situation, ignoring logistical realities, underestimating the strength of the opposition and predicated on a hugely optimistic assessment of the military capabilities of their own troops.

The British hubris was a major factor during Gallipoli. But the Gallipoli Campaign was a serious matter: vital resources had been drawn away from where it really mattered. The Turks were all but helpless if left on their own. They had tried to launch an ambitious attack across the Sinai Desert on the Suez Canal but had been easily thwarted. Gallipoli achieved nothing but to provide the Turks with the opportunity to slaughter British and French troops in copious numbers in a situation in which everything was in the defenders’ favor. Meanwhile, back on the Western Front, lay the real enemy: the German Empire. This was the real war – Gallipoli was nothing but a foolish sideshow.

The attempt to attack Constantinople would have changed the course of the war if it had succeeded, just as Churchill had predicted and as Kitchener had reluctantly concluded. Although a failure in many respects, the long-drawn-out campaign through 1915 did draw Turkish forces off the Russian front, allowing the Russians to advance into Turkish Armenia and western Persia (now Iran).

In later wars, when planners contemplated combined operations involving troops landed from the sea, they closely reviewed the lessons of the Dardanelles expedition. Later operations put in practice ideas such as deception, commando raids behind the lines, close air support, coordination of naval and army forces, improved command and control communication, rapid mobility, and attention to supply organization (logistics), most of which had been sorely lacking at the Dardanelles.

Great heroism was displayed on both sides, but to pit inexperienced troops against the best of the Turkish army, fighting for its own soil and fired by patriotism, was asking too much. Amphibious operations are the hardest of all to bring off, requiring careful training and rehearsal, neither of which were given to the soldiers that fought at Gallipoli.

It was not only Australian and New Zealand national identity that was forged at Gallipoli, it was also Turkey’s. This was a major victory, less for the Ottoman Empire than for the ethnically and geographically more defined state that emerged from the First World War. Moreover, although many of the architects of the defensive battle were German, it produced a Turkish hero who became the founder of that state, Mustafa Kemal.