Dardanelles War: Gallipoli and Anzac vs Ottoman Turks (WW1 Gallipoli Campaign Book 2)
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Throwing away strategic surprise by bombarding Turkish coastal defences in February , the fleet suffered heavy losses from mines and shore batteries when on 18 March it attempted to force the straits. By the end of the day, the 29th had established a precarious toehold, but at the cost of terrible casualties. At Anzac Cove, the Australasians pushed inland only to be counterattacked by the Turks and pushed back almost to the beach — again, losses were heavy. Just like on the western front, trench warfare ensued. Conditions were even more primitive, and fighting took place under a burning sun.
Over the next few months the Allies and the Turks launched attacks to try to break the deadlock, but all met with bloody failure. Like the earlier pushes, the August offensive was a failure.
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Deciding not to throw good money after bad, the Allies evacuated Gallipoli in two stages, in December and the following January. The Dardanelles campaign, which had promised so much, ended in disaster. Yet, for all that, it has earned near iconic status.
An avalanche of books, films and newspaper articles have given it a colourful afterlife — one in which facts have had to share space with myth and legend. Here, I will attempt to distinguish the former from the latter. Today, it is still believed by many that Churchill had produced a strategic masterstroke that was only let down by the poor execution of naval and military commanders. However the weight of recent historical scholarship has come to a very different conclusion: that the concept for which Churchill was not wholly to blame was vastly overambitious, that planning and intelligence were defective, that the resilience and fighting ability of the Turks was grossly underestimated, and that the operation was poorly resourced.
In short, far from being a brilliant, potentially war-winning strategy, it was a piece of folly that was always likely to fail.
Initially, the plan was based on British and French warships forcing their way through the Dardanelles, and eventually arriving off the Ottoman capital, Constantinople. Even if a military force had been sent initially to support the fleet, it would have needed to be significantly larger than the one that was actually deployed, as it would have had to operate on both shores of the straits, to clear the coastal defences. Such a force was simply not available in March Even if the mines in the straits had been cleared and the battleships had got through and it was not a given that the fleet would arrive at Constantinople unscathed the question remains: what would happen next?
There is no credible evidence that such a coup would have been triggered. The whole concept was founded, to a remarkable degree, on wishful thinking. It may be the Australian casualties that are remembered in popular history, but the conflict was a multinational campaign…. Largely because of the importance of the campaign in the shaping of Australian and New Zealand identity, the participation of troops of other nationalities has been marginalised in popular memory.
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In reality, Gallipoli was a multinational operation, involving troops from the United Kingdom England, Scotland, Wales and undivided Ireland , Newfoundland, British India including Gurkhas from Nepal , France, the French empire including north Africans and Senegalese , Russian Jews who wanted to fight the Ottomans as a first step to establishing a homeland in Palestine , as well as Australians and New Zealanders, the latter including Maori. Anzacs formed a relatively modest proportion of the total.
The total number of British soldiers that served at Gallipoli far outnumbered Australians. Indeed more French troops fought on the peninsula than did Australians. However, the Australians had the second highest casualties. The figures for Allied killed and wounded make sobering reading.
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The British suffered 70, casualties of which 26, were killed ; Australians, 25, 7, killed ; French, 23, 8, killed ; New Zealanders, 7, 2, killed and Indians, 5, including 1, killed. Aside from the fighting at Anzac Cove, some actions involved sizeable numbers of troops from particular countries. England, the largest and most populous part of the UK, not surprisingly provided the backbone of the Allied force on the peninsula. Formally, they belonged to the army of the Ottoman empire. Like its British and French counterparts, this was a polyglot entity which encompassed many different peoples.
Australia emerged as a nation on 25 April On this first Anzac Day, nationhood was baptised with the blood of young Australians sacrificed by incompetent British commanders — or so a crude version of the origins of Australian nationalism argues. The reality was more complex. April was an important moment in the emergence of an Australian identity, in particular in Australians defining themselves in opposition to the English. A critical figure in the emergence of Australian identity was Charles Bean. He served as official Australian war correspondent at Gallipoli and on the western front, and after the war wrote influential volumes of official history.
Gallipoli thus became a key point in the transformation from British colony to nation. As for the idea of natural soldiers, Anzac forces were poorly trained and badly disciplined, which told against them when faced with determined Turks on 25 April.
From Gallipoli to D-Day
Australian troops in time became highly effective, but this was largely the product of experience, training, and tactical and technological improvements common to British empire armies. By January the last British troops were withdrawn, and the venture abandoned.
Map used at the landing The maps available to the commanders for the landing on 25 April were barely adequate. This one was carried by Colonel Henry MacLaurin, who commanded the 1st Australian Brigade, and it bears his annotations. MacLaurin was an early casualty, killed by a sniper two days later. Are the High Gods bringing our new Iliad to grief? At whose door will history leave the blame for the helpless, hopeless fix we are left in?
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