WWI Gallipoli

A01829 Troops of an Australian Battalion on the deck of the battleship Prince of Wales in Murdos Harbour just before the landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

While still training in the Egyptian desert in late 1914, the 1st Australian Division and the New Zealand Australian Division, which later included the 1st Light Horse Brigade, were re-formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – the ANZACs.

Photograph above: Troops of an Australian Battalion on the deck of battleship Prince of Wales in Mudros Harbour just before the landing. The ship was part of the fleet which transported Australian troops to the Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove. 24 April 1915. AWM A01829.

The ANZAC forces, under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood, had been based in Egypt due to of a lack of training and accommodation facilities in England. Later, these forces helped protect the Suez Canal following Turkey’s entry into war in October 1914.

As fighting on the Western Front in France in late 1914 deteriorated into a stalemate, the British War Council suggested that Germany could best be defeated by attacks on her allies, Austria, Hungary and Turkey. Initially, the attack on Turkey was planned as a naval operation. However, following several abortive attempts to force the Dardanelles in February and March, the British Cabinet agreed that land forces could be used. A combined international force (the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) was assembled under the command of British General Sir Ian Hamilton, and a three-pronged landing was planned to clear the Turkish defenders from the straits. Once the straits were clear, the allied fleet would steam into Constantinople where, it was believed, the threat of the fleet's guns would cause mass panic and force Turkey to surrender. At dawn on 25 April 1915, the ANZACs landed north of Gaba Tepe (the landing area later named Anzac Cove) while the British forces landed at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The aim of these two landings was to capture the Turkish forts commanding the narrow straits. French forces attacked the Turkish positions on the Asia Minor side of the Dardanelles as a diversion and later landed and took over part of the Helles frontline alongside the British. Later reinforcements included the dismounted Australian and New Zealand Mounted Brigades at Anzac Cove. In August, a new British corps landed at Suvla Bay, to the north of Anzac Cove, in support of an attempt by allies to break out of the Anzac beachhead.

The campaign was a heroic but costly failure and by December plans were drawn up to evacuate the entire force from Gallipoli. On 19 and 20 December, the evacuation of Anzac and Suvla was completed with the last British troops leaving Cape Helles by 8 January 1916. The entire operation evacuated 142 000 men with negligible casualties. Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26 111, comprising of 1007 officers and 25 104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7 779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers in Australian units.

While the campaign is considered a military failure, Gallipoli became a household name in Australia and with it the ANZAC tradition was created. Gallipoli became the common tie forged in adversity that bound the colonies and people of Australia into a nation.