Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign

I was ruined for the time being in 1915 over the Dardanelles, and a supreme enterprise was cast away, through my trying to carry out a major and cardinal operation of war from a subordinate position. Men are ill- advised to try such ventures. This lesson had sunk into my nature.

Winston Churchill

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

This year I thought we would focus on taking a closer look at the Gallipoli Campaign.  It was the project chiefly of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.  Churchill was an idea man.  He constantly came up with ideas that ranged from insane to brilliant.  The Gallipoli idea I think was on the surface brilliant.  Seize the Dardanelles, the opening of the sea corridor between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, take Constantinople, ferry Russian troops over the Black Sea by the Royal Navy to knock out Turkey from the War and then launch a war winning campaign up the Balkans to drive the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of the War and then defeat a surrounded Germany.  It had the hallmark that would always remain Churchill’s goal in the realm of grand strategy: a short cut to victory.  Rather than slug it out against Imperial Germany in bloody trench warfare where, in Churchill’s grim phrase, brave men matched their bodies against machine guns, take an easier and quicker path to victory by defeating the weaker allies of Germany.  Small wonder that Churchill convinced the British war cabinet to back this bold gamble.

This brilliant idea also had drawbacks that tend to suddenly appear when a high concept plan is attempted to be implemented in this Vale of Tears.

  1. Geography-The rough terrain of Gallipoli offered superb defensive ground for the Turks.
  2. Mines-In a narrow sea passage like the Dardanelles heavy use of mines could negate the sea power of the Royal Navy.
  3. Logistics-Keeping a large invasion force supplied would require a maximum effort, limiting the number of troops that could be landed and supported.
  4. New type of warfare-This type of amphibious operation seems commonplace now.  It was not in 1915.  There was much to learn in a short period, and many mistakes to make.
  5. Johnny Turk-The average illiterate peasant Turkish soldier was almost totally ignorant of the outside world and had little but hate for the Young Turk politicians of Constantinople.  He had a great love for his religion and his country however, and he knew how to handle his weapons.  If commanded to hold a position he would hold it or die trying.  A superb soldier in defense.

Summing up the British implementation of the Gallipoli plan the phrase too little and too late recur.  Not enough forces were allotted,  and operations seemed to proceed in slow motion giving the Turks maximum opportunity to thwart the effort.

So the troops deployed, were left to endure a Golgotha of insufficient rations, appalling weather, millions of flies, some of the worst terrain on Earth over which to attempt to attack, all while fighting a valiant and tenacious foe.  By January 1916 the British had enough and withdrew.  The Butcher Bill was appalling:

British Empire:

198,340 (31,389 killed
9,708 missing and POWs
78,749 wounded
78,494 evacuated sick

France:

9,000 killed & missing
18,000 wounded
20,000 evacuated sick

Australia:

7,594 killed
18,500 wounded

New Zealand:

3,431 killed
4,140 wounded

The casualties for the sparsely populated countries of Australia and New Zealand sparked a moment in their new national histories that would never be forgotten, as they took pride in the courage and determination of their troops in a losing effort, which would ultimately end in victory in the War overall.

Published in: on April 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign  
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