I knew little of the history of WWI Gallipoli until I visited New Zealand and Australia. That seems unconscionable, now that this is more than a century since the battles of Gallipoli took place. However, it was a visit to Peter Jackson’s exhibitions at the Te Papa museum in Wellington that led us here. We followed that up with a trip to the National ANZAC Museum in Albany, Australia. After those two, coming here to Gallipoli has been a certainty. While visiting in the height of summer wasn’t the best of ideas, it was in many ways a more moving visit because of that. It feels more appropriate that we’re hot, sweaty and uncomfortable when paying our respects to the thousands of men who died here in the sweltering heat of the Gallipoli campaign.
The Gallipoli campaign lasted just 8 months, 2 weeks and one day. It started on 25th April 1915 and ended on January 9th, 2016. During that time there were 302,000 allied casualties and 250,000 casualties from the Ottoman Empire. The landings on 25th April are commemorated each year by Australians and New Zealanders as ANZAC day. There are dawn services throughout the world.
What Happened at Gallipoli?
The Gallipoli peninsula forms the northern bank of the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey. The Strait provides a sea route to Russia, one of the Allied Powers during the war. Britain and France began by launching a naval attack intending to secure the passage. This would hopefully lead to the capture the of capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The Ottoman Empire had formed a secret alliance with Germany two days after the outbreak of war against Russia. It was, however, the closure of the Dardanelle Strait on 27 September 1914, led by the German commander of the fortifications there that began what would lead to the Gallipoli Campaign.
Increased German presence and battle success gave the Ottoman’s confidence enough to declare war on Russia. Two Ottoman naval ships (previously German) sortied into the Black Sea, sinking several Russian ships and bombing Odessa. Ignoring demands from the Allies to expel the German presence in their country, the Ottomans joined the war on 31 October 1914. Britain and France declared war on Turkey on 5 November 1914.
The war on the Western front grinding out as a stalemate, land and sea routes between the Western Allies and Russia increasingly being closed down by Germany. While the Ottoman Empire had been neutral, the Dardanelle Strait was a viable route to Russia. When the Ottoman’s declared war, the strait was closed and then mined by them.
It was Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty who proposed a naval attack on the Dardanelles, based on an underestimate of Ottoman strength. It was proposed in part of open the sea route to Russia and also draw Ottoman troops away from other battles against Russia in the Caucasus.
The first attack came on 19 March 1915 with 18 Allied Battleships with supporting cruisers and destroyers engaging the forts of the Dardanelles. The Allies had expected casualties and so had sent obsolete battleships. A number were critically damaged, the naval attack failed and plans were made for a land campaign.
Gallipoli Peninsular Land Campaign
The Allies land forces comprised 345,000 British, 79,000 French, 50,000 Australians and 15,000 New Zealanders. The Australians and New Zealanders became known as the ANZACs. Landings began on 25 April 1915 on six beaches on the peninsula. The cove where the ANZAC brigades landed became known as ANZAC Cove. The campaign lasted 8 months, with much-criticised leadership from Britain, huge loss of life from Australia, New Zealand and France. This first day of the campaign, 25 April became known as ANZAC day and is marked each day around the world with a dawn service. We attended our first ANZAC day service at Alice Springs, Australia in 2016.
Historial Gallipoli – ANZAC Cove
Standing on the narrow stretch of pebbled beach here at ANZAC Cove is a sobering experience. Imagining the many who died here, as they landed, we remember the many hundreds of memorials we passed by in the smallest New Zealand villages.
Looking up from here on the beach to the unmistakable profile of the Sphinx we can see the infamous battlegrounds that we’ve only read about until this time. It’s not difficult to imagine this land blasted clear of trees, strung with barbed wire, running with blood.
It’s hard to condense the eight months of fighting here to a short version. A little headway was made one day and lost the next. Ottomans and Allies fought in trenches close enough to be able to speak to each other. In the summer the heat, flies and disease were intense. Water was scarce, food rotted. Heroes and legends such as Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone and Simpson and his donkey were made. In the winter ill equipped soldiers, still wearing summer clothing fought the cold and frostbite as well as each other.
Retreat from Gallipoli
With mounting deaths and little success, public opinion began to be swayed against the Gallipoli campaign. Troops were moved to alternative campaigns and discussions of withdrawal from the peninsula began in October 1915. A visit from Kitchener and his subsequent recommendations set the plan in motion.
The ingenuity of the ANZACs had been celebrated as they ingeniously found ways to survive the heat, cold, bullets and disease. Even as the evacuation began ANZAC soldiers rigged guns to fire as a can of water drained to give the impression that the Allies were still in place. Just a single life was lost in the retreat from Gallipoli, as a magazine exploded.
Ataturk and Gallipoli
One Ottoman leader stood alone in guessing the Allies plans for invasion Mustafa Kemal, was at the time a Lieutenant-Colonel. Disobeying orders to move his troops to another location, Kemal followed his instinct and was largely responsible for the continued success the Ottomans had in standing firm against the invading Allies.
His success was just the start. In 1923 he was to become the first president of the Turkish Republic. The surname Ataturk was conferred upon him in 1934.
Visiting Gallipoli WWI Memorials
We paid our respects at Lone Pine Cemetery, Chunuk Bair, and Anzac Cove.
This was a short visit. I suspect we will be back, though, time allowing. This is a place of incredible importance to Australians and New Zealanders, but many more nationalities died here too.
It’s a place of pilgrimage for some, a selfie opportunity for others. For us, it was a place of quiet reflection, so see where those that we’ve read so much about ended their lives. The reality of the scrubland that they clambered up, the trenches that they lived and died in, the scorching sun that beat down on them is an appropriate way to understand, just a little of what happened here.
For an in-depth read of the full story of what happened at Gallipoli – take a look at the following resources
- Wikipedia (although this is blocked in Turkey, you will need a VPN to access it)
- New Zealand History
- The Smithsonian
Our visit to Gallipoli was with Madventures – and the first stop on our Istanbul to Kathmandu Overlanding the Silk Road trip. We’re spending 3 months with a group of 30-40, in an overland truck called Alice. There’s more about our first week overlanding here – as well as this trip to Gallipoli, we wine tasted, took in Troy, Ephesus and Hierapolis before arriving in Goreme.
- We’re overlanding with Madventure
- Find out about our Turkish Wine Tasting at Gallipoli
- Blogs from our fellow traveller Cat can be found here.