9/1/1916 Gallipoli: Turks count cost of victory as last Allied soldiers leave

Allied forces landed in Gallipoli last April in an attempt to clear a route through the Straits for a naval assault on Constantinople. The attack failed, with Allied troops finding themselves confined to tiny enclaves. An attempt to renew the offensive in August was another failure. After that the Allies decided to evacuate from Gallipoli. Troops were shipped from the northern enclaves of Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay before Christmas.

Now over two nights the last men have been taken from the southern enclave at Helles Point. The evacuation has proceeded without a hitch, for all that the Turks were watching for any sign of the men being withdrawn. Now as dawn breaks over the peninsula they rejoice to find that their enemies have gone. Cautiously occupying the British lines (perhaps losing some men to booby traps) they find a wealth of supplies that the invaders have left behind.

The resolute defence of the Turks has won a great victory, but at terrible cost. In the whole campaign they have lost some 86,500 men killed. The losses of the Allies are smaller but still considerable. Some 20,000 British army soldiers have died in Gallipoli (of whom many are from India) and some 10,000 French. 8,700 Australians met their end in this doomed enterprise and some 2,700 New Zealanders.

The campaign has ruined the reputation of its main architect, Britain’s Winston Churchill. A year ago he was a leading cabinet minister, now he is in the trenches commanding a battalion in France. On the Turkish side the campaign has transformed Colonel Mustafa Kemal into a national hero. Although the Turks were commanded by Germany’s Liman von Sanders, Kemal captured the Turkish imagination thanks to key interventions at the start of the battle and during the August offensive.

image sources

Turkish soldiers (David Doughty; I particularly recommend this site to anyone who wants to see stunning illustrations of the campaign)

Mustafa Kemal (left) and other Turkish soldiers (Wikipedia)

20/12/1915 Gallipoli: the Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay evacuations completed

Britain’s leaders have given up on the Gallipoli campaign. They have been quietly evacuating the troops from Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay over the last week. Soldiers have been taken away at night while those left behind make as much noise as possible to convince the Turks that the Allied positions are still being defended.

And now the evacuation is complete. Overnight the last British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers silently made their way down to the beaches and boarded the boats that will take them away from Gallipoli. To prevent the Turks realising what is happening, the British and ANZAC troops rig up devices to fire guns automatically after a trench has been vacated. Only in the morning do the Turks discover that their enemies are gone.

The Allies have not yet completely abandoned Gallipoli. The British position at Cape Helles on the peninsula’s southern tip remains. But it cannot be long before this enclave too is evacuated.

13/12/1915 Gallipoli: the Allied evacuation begins

The Allied campaign in Gallipoli has been a costly failure. Allied forces there have been confined to small enclaves, unable to knock out the gun batteries that would allow British warships to sail up to attack Constantinople. An attempt to break the deadlock in August with a renewed offensive proved to be another pointless bloodbath.

The Allied force at Gallipoli comprises British, Australian, New Zealand and French forces, but it is under British command. With no prospect of the campaign being pursued to a successful outcome, the British have decided to bring it to an end. The forces deployed there are to be evacuated, starting with the mainly Australian and New Zealand forces at Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. Their evacuation begins today.

Evacuation involves considerable dangers. If the Turks realise that their enemies are withdrawing they could attack and butcher the Allies as they try to board ships. To fool the Turks, the evacuation is conducted in conditions of the utmost secrecy. Soldiers are to be withdrawn from the line at night, with a skeleton force left to deter Turkish attacks.

The first men leave Gallipoli today, but the full evacuation of Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove will take over a week. If the Turks realise what is happening in that time then the result will be a terrible disaster.

image source:

West Beach, Suvla Bay (Century Ireland)

12/11/1915 Kitchener visits Gallipoli, Churchill resigns from the cabinet

Lord Kitchener, Britain’s war minister, is in Gallipoli. He is visiting Allied positions there to see if there is any prospect of the campaign being turned around and proceeded to a victorious outcome. General Charles Monro, the new Allied commander in Gallipoli, has already reported that there is no realistic chance of Allied forces breaking out of their enclaves and forcing open the Straits, still less effecting an overland march to Constantinople. Now that he is here in person Kitchener can see for himself how easy it is for the Turks to keep the Allies bottled up. It is easy for Monro to persuade him that the only thing to be done in Gallipoli is prepare the Allied forces for evacuation.

The main political architect of the Gallipoli operation was Britain’s Winston Churchill. At the time he was Britain’s naval minister but after the initial failures of the campaign he was demoted to the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a demand of the Conservatives as a price for their entry into the coalition government. Churchill remained a member of cabinet but found himself increasingly sidelined and denied an opportunity to assist in the direction of the war. He finds this intolerable and today he resigns from the cabinet. He retains his seat in the House of Commons but decides that he will go to France and serve there as an army officer.

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Monro, Kitchener and other officers (Auckland Libraries; originally from Auckland Weekly News 24/2/1916)

Winston Churchill, earlier in 1915 (BT)

25/10/1915 Australia’s youngest soldier dies

Like many Australians, James Martin volunteered to join the Australian army after the outbreak of the war. Martin is however unusual in his age. He was just over 14 years old when he enlisted in April 1915, claiming to be over 18 to recruiting officers who seem not to have been too zealous in their checking of enlistees’ ages.

Martin was sent to Gallipoli where he wrote to his parents saying not to worry about him as “I am doing splendid over here”. But like many in the hot and fetid conditions of the Gallipoli trenches he became ill. Today he dies of typhoid fever aboard a hospital ship. He is buried at sea.

image source (Wikipedia)

17/10/1915 Hamilton recalled from Gallipoli

Since the failure of the August Offensive, Allied success at Gallipoli has looked increasingly unlikely. There seems to be very little prospect of the Allies breaking out of their confined positions to clear access through the Straits for British warships. Meanwhile disease is cutting through the Allied troops, with the unsanitary conditions and baking heat seeing many men struck down with dysentery.

General Hamilton, the Allied commander at Gallipoli, has called for more troops to be sent to him, so that he can try another offensive against the Turks. Political opinion back home has however turned against the Gallipoli campaign. Uncensored reports by journalists have slipped past Hamilton’s watchers. Combined with the casualty rolls of the past offensives these have convinced many of Britain’s leaders that the Gallipoli campaign is a shambles that needs to brought to halt before it needlessly claims more British lives.

This morning Hamilton personally decodes a message from Lord Kitchener that arrived for him last night. He is being recalled to London to give a personal report to the Government on the situation in Gallipoli and to present his opinions on the possible evacuation of the Allied forces there. General Birdwood, the British commander of the Australians and New Zealanders, is to command until a permanent replacement is appointed.

image source:

a trench at Lone Pine (Australian War Memorial, London)

21/8/1915 Gallipoli: another break out attempt fails

In Gallipoli the Turkish recapture of Chunuk Bair has effectively killed the Allies’ August Offensive. There is now no realistic prospect that the Allies can secure a victory in this campaign. However their commanders cannot quite bring themselves to accept this, hoping desperately that if they throw some more men at the enemy then maybe they will finally crack. So it is that today British troops from Suvla Bay attack from the Turkish position known as Scimitar Hill while Australian and New Zealand troops attack Hill 60 (not to be confused with the Hill 60 outside Ypres). The Allies are committing three divisions to the attacks, making this their largest single-day offensive thus far.

Somewhat predictably, the attacks are a bloody failure. Any minor gains are mostly lost to Turkish counter-attacks. Both sides suffer terrible losses but the failure to break through means that for the Allies the losses are completely in vain.

Of the 14,300 Allied troops who attacked Scimitar Hill today, some 5,300 are now casualties. A halt is called to attacks there. The Australians and New Zealanders attacking Hill 60 have also suffered greatly, but more attacks there are ordered for tomorrow, to maintain the offensive spirit of the Allied soldiers.

image source (Royal Dublin Fusiliers)

10/8/1915 Chunuk Bair: the Turks counter-attack

The Allies are attempting to break out of the Anzac Cove enclave on the Gallipoli peninsula. British forces landed at Suvla Bay, to the north of the Cove, but their advances were blocked by Turkish troops and their own ineffectual commanders. From Anzac Cove itself soldiers from across the British Empire are trying to take the Sari Bair ridge that dominates their position. Fighting has not gone as well as hoped, but New Zealand troops have managed to take the Chunuk Bair peak, supported by Gurkhas and British units. If they can hold on here then maybe the Allies will be able to break out and march across the peninsula, eliminating the Turkish shore batteries and opening a route though the Hellespont to Constantinople for the British fleet. Then this whole bloody Gallipoli campaign will not have been for nothing.
But the Turks are not giving up Chunuk Bair without a fight. Today Mustafa Kemal leads a counterattack, attempting to overwhelm the enemy with massed infantry assaults. The guns of British ships offshore blast the Turks, but their assaults are unstoppable. At great cost the Turks overwhelm the defenders of Chunuk Bair, wiping out the units on the summit. Kemal leads the attacks in person; he is reputedly struck in the chest by an enemy bullet, but it glances off his pocket watch.

The Allies still hold positions further down the slope, but with the Turks back on Chunuk Bair in strength the battle is as good as over. The Suvla Bay landing has extended the Anzac Cove enclave but there is no prospect of a break out. The attempt to take Sari Bair has turned into another bloody stalemate. For the Allies, any chance of a victory in Gallipoli has passed. The August Offensive has failed.

The Allies have suffered 25,000 casualties since the 6th of August, the Turks 20,000.

image sources:

Diorama photos (Mustering the Troops: the Great War Exhibition Miniature Painting Project)

map (Mental Floss)

9/8/1915 Gallipoli: the Allies attack from Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay

The August Offensive in Gallipoli continues. The Allies are trying to break out of the Anzac Cove enclave.

British troops landed to the north of Anzac Cove in Suvla Bay on the 6th. They were to support the offensive and threaten the Turkish flank but they are halted by organisational failures and the lethargy of their commander, General Stopford. After days spent landing supplies and fighting minor engagements, today the Suvla Bay forces finally begin to advance. In the early hours of the morning they launch a night attack on the Tekke Tepe ridge. However, by now Liman von Sanders, the German commander of the Turks in Gallipoli, has had time to rush in reinforcements. When the British reach the ridge, after a difficult march over rough terrain, they find it strongly defended. The Turks counter-attack, charging the exhausted enemy with fixed bayonets and putting them to flight.

Further south, the efforts of the ANZAC forces (supported by Nepalese Gurkhas and Indian troops) is centred on the Sari Bair ridge that dominates Anzac Cove. If the Allies can take the ridge then they might be able to push on to the far side of the peninsula, finally achieving victory in this bloody campaign. After some bloody failures the Allies have established themselves on the Chunuk Bair peak. British, New Zealand and Gurkha troops attempt to dig in on the heights, but the stony ground is hard and unyielding. They suffer greatly from artillery fire, both that of the Turks and the misdirected shells of their own side.

All of this is taking place in furnace-like heat.

There is one bright spot for the Allies. The Turks have given up their attempts to recapture the Lone Pine position (captured by the Australians on the 6th) after a series of bloody failures. This is however of no great consequence, as Lone Pine is some distance away from the Sair Bair ridge.

image sources:

New Zealand troops advancing on Chunuk Bair (Victoria University of Wellington Library)

Australian troops in Lone Pine (The Australian)

6/8/1915 Gallipoli: the Allies make another bid for victory

The Gallipoli campaign is not going very well for the Allies. Troops from Britiain, France, Australian and New Zealand landed there in April to clear away the Turkish guns defending the Dardanelles straits; this would have allowed a British and French fleet to sail up to attack Constantinople, the Turkish capital. But the Turks were able to bottle up the Allies, confining them to two enclaves, one at the tip of the peninsula and another further up where the ANZAC forces of Australians and New Zealanders have barely got off the beaches. Attempts by the Allies to break out of their confinement have failed. That the Turks have been unable to throw them into the sea is but a small consolation.

Now the Allies launch another major offensive in an attempt to break the deadlock. The aim of General Hamilton, the British commander of the Allies, is to seize the Sari Bair ridge that dominates Anzac Cove (the Australian and New Zealander position). Taking the ridge should allow the ANZACs to push across the peninsula and put the whole campaign back on track for the Allies.
In an effort to confuse the Turks as to Allied intentions, British troops mount diversionary attacks at the southern tip of the peninsula. Australian troops also attack the Turks holding the position dubbed Lone Pine, which overlooks Anzac Cove but is away from the main axis of the offensive’s planned advance. Lone Pine’s situation greatly favours the defenders, to such an extent that the Turks believe it to be nigh impregnable. However, the Australians resort to the clever trick of exploding mines underneath it and then rushing the position in the middle of the afternoon (rather than at dawn, dusk or at night). In brutal hand to hand fighting they take the position, bayoneting the Turks and not bothering with any nonsense about taking prisoners.

The main Allied blow is to hit the Turks further north. Australian and New Zealand troops move into position to attack Chunuk Bair, on the Sari Bair ridge. But to support them and attempt a turning of the Turkish flank, British forces land at Suvla Bay, just to the north of Anzac Cove. The landing takes place at 9.30 pm, by which point night is falling. The Turks offer no resistance at first and the British land in strength. However, as they attempt to move inland things become unstuck. In the darkness units lose their cohesion and soldiers mill around in confusion. Turkish snipers are greatly assisted by British officers wearing white armbands, which makes them that bit more visible in the moonlight. And the British are exhausted and often sick after the long voyage they have made to the landing site; they are not in great shape to press on against the enemy with vigour.

Still, tomorrow is another day. When the main assault on Chunuk Bair takes place tomorrow perhaps at last the resistance of the Turks will be broken.

image sources:

Lone Pine (Wargaming with Barks)

map (Military History Encyclopedia on the Web)