The birth of a nation at Gallipoli 1915 – The ANZAC legend
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) was formed as a fighting unit in 1915 to carry out the orders of the British War Council – to assault and take the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. These two young nations were to eventually fail in meeting that military objective … yet the valour they displayed against impossible odds won supreme renown and honor in the eyes of the world, causing many to declare the birth of a nation, there on the slopes of Gallipoli in 1915. More than 11,000 ANZACs did not leave in the eventual withdrawal from the peninsula and remain buried there 15,000km from home.
Each year on the 25 April, tens of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders return to those fateful shores to remember the fallen and to bear testament to the truth contained in General Sir Ian Hamilton’s claim in 1915 that ” those ANZACs who fought at Gallipoli have bequeathed a heritage of honour to their children’s children.” Lest we forget.
NOTE: This Knol in part is a reprint of a chapter of a book titled “A Short History of Australia”. This book is in the public domain. The text in this chapter was originally authored by Ernest Scott (1868-1939) and is made available to the public via the Project Gutenberg Australia. It is my intent here to take the author’s text and give it a new life and readership by using multimedia tools, inconceivable in 1916, but now made readily available to 21 century publishers like me, via the Knol platform. A bio of Professor Ernest Scott from the University of Melbourne is published in the acknowledgments at the end.
|Turkish Soldiers carrying the Turkish, New Zealand and Australian Flags on Anzac Day Gallipoli 25 April 2007“An enemy turned to friend indeed” … Respecting and remembering together the sacrifices made by all.
Why attack the Gallipoli Peninsula?
The great movement in which the Australians and New Zealanders participated during the first year of the war was one wherein their valour won for them supreme renown and honour. It was the assault upon the Gallipoli Peninsula. The reasons why this enterprise was undertaken were as follow.
The gigantic military struggle on the western front, in Flanders
, reached a deadlock. The first onrush of the German armies was stopped. The German commanders had counted on crumpling up all resistance and smashing their way through to Paris, where they would dictate terms to the defeated Allies. These plans failed. But though the Germans were held up by the French and British defences, they were strongly entrenched in their own positions. Two great armies dug themselves in
. From their trenches and from the air they hurled at each other thousands of tons of shells, bombs, and rifle bullets. Attacks and counter-attacks at various points along the far-stretched lines were successful, or they failed, whether undertaken by the Allies or by the Germans; but ground gained one week was lost the next.
The war had become one of attrition. It was desirable to develop an attack in some other direction, which might secure a successful conclusion. Further, it was desirable to force the Dardanelles, wrench Constantinople from Turkish control, cut off Turkey from the Germanic powers, and, by opening the Black Sea, place Russia in easy communication with her allies. Russia had great stores of wheat in her southern ports, which she could spare for Great Britain and France, and she needed supplies of war material, which the Allies could furnish. The clearing of the Dardanelles, if it could be effected, would, as was said by the author of the idea (Winston Churchill) mean ‘victory in the sense of a brilliant and formidable fact.‘
|Sir Ian Hamilton
In January 1915 the British War Council determined that the attack upon the Dardanelles should be made. But the Turks, anticipating trouble, had constructed strong fortifications upon the Gallipoli Peninsula; and though some of the most powerful battleships in the British Navy rained shell upon the works, the bombardment did little towards reaching the object in view. The naval attack was a failure.
It became apparent that the goal would not even be in sight unless military forces were landed, who would drive the Turks out of their fortified positions. The mistake made from the beginning was in attempting to open the Dardanelles by naval warfare only. In March, therefore, it was determined to send an expeditionary force to the Gallipoli Peninsula, and endeavour to destroy the Turkish batteries
, preparatory to sending ships through the Straits.
The operations were placed under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton.
The Australian Army in Egypt, commanded by Lieut.-General Sir William Birdwood, was ordered at the beginning of April to embark for the island of Lemnos, which was selected as the base for the grand attack upon Gallipoli.
Some weeks before the troops left Egypt on ‘the great adventure,‘ the name ‘Anzac’ had been coined. It was in the first instance simply a word of convenience; it became a name hallowed by a tragic and glorious history within that fatal year. A telegraphic code word was required. The initial letters of the words ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps,’ stencilled on cases of supplies, suggested to a clerk that ANZAC would be a useful short name for telegraphic purposes, and, with General Birdwood’s approval, it was adopted.
English as well as Australian troops took part in the Gallipoli campaign. Here we are concerned only with the phases of the operations which are relevant to the short history of Australia; and even these can be related only in outline. Any narrative which would do adequate justice to the superb, reckless courage with which the landings were effected, to the heroic fortitude with which every inch won from the Turks was held, to the stubborn valour which marked the incessant fighting throughout the occupation, would require not a few paragraphs, but more than one volume.
The landing at ANZAC cove
On April 25, 1915 landings were forced at two places. Feint attacks were simultaneously made at four other points, in order to occasion a dispersal of the Turkish forces, and to conceal from them the exact places which it was intended to hold.
The 29th Division, consisting of British regiments, in co-operation with a naval division and a French contingent, landed at Cape Helles, the nose of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Anzacs landed at a little cove to the north of a rugged promontory which the Turks called Gaba Tepe. By noon 10,000 men were ashore at Anzac Cove
. All the morning since dawn the transports from Lemnos had been bringing up their freights of splendid men in the pink of condition. The sun shone from a cloudless blue sky upon the sparkling waters of the Aegean as the ships moved inshore. From the land defenses a hail of bullets spattered the sea, and shells from heavy howitzers screamed through the air, dealing out death to many of the men in the boats which dashed through the shallow waters from the transports to the shore. One boat full of dead men drifted aimlessly in the surf. Overhead, shells from the cruisers covering the landing poured upon the Turkish positions. Seaplanes floated above the storm, reconnoitring, and signalling messages to the officers.
Singing and shouting, the Anzacs scaled the cliffs, hundreds of them mown down by the Turkish fire; but the dauntless remainder pressed on, and dug themselves in on the top. The fighting was incessant from the early morning of the 25th, all through that day, all through the night, all through the following day. Not for a moment did the rattle of rifle fire and the boom of the big guns cease. The losses were terrific–but the landing was achieved; and that troops were able to gain a footing at all on that steep and rocky peninsula, under constant fire from concealed positions, was the result of a great feat of arms not eclipsed for daring and endurance by any during the war.
The purpose of this desperate attempt, the conquest of the peninsula, was never accomplished. Every phase of the campaign has been the subject of controversy, and it will be discussed, in respect to its origins, its probability of success had military effort accompanied naval work from the beginning, the strategy, the command, the tactics, and everything connected with it, as long as military history is studied. To describe the many battles which raged on that narrow strip of soil would be beyond the present purpose; merely to enumerate them would be to dispose in a few words of splendid deeds of heroism wasted on vain attempts. After the landing, and the failure of the Turks to dislodge their assailants, there was a period of three months during which the position was one of stalemate, resembling that on the western front.
|Anzacs on the move 1915
In August, General Hamilton launched attacks on the mountain range of Sari Bair, and 12,000 men went down in five days in the fierce fights by which it was attempted to dislodge the Turks from that stronghold. In the same month endeavours to capture fresh positions by effecting a landing at Suvla Bay were defeated.
The last battles were fought during August 21 to 27, when the Anzacs set themselves to hurl the Turks from an advanced post known as Hill 60
. They gained the crest, and dug themselves in, but the enemy were still in control of the eastern slopes.
Eyewitness account – ANZAC day 25 April 1915
The Times British war correspondent who was first to write on the feats of the ANZACS was Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. His despatch on the landing at Gallipoli was first published in the English newspapers, and then one day later in The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1915 pp. 13-14.
The fact that such stirring material was written by an Englishman who was a very experienced war correspondent and published first for an English readership gave it added authority back in Australia.
When Ashmead-Bartlett died in 1931, the Australian historian and journalist Charles Bean wrote ‘the tradition of the Anzac landing is probably more influenced by that first story than by all the other accounts that have since been written’.
An entry in The Anzac Book of reminiscences of Australia’s Gallipoli soldiers (London: Cassell, 1916) reads: ‘It is fairly certain that future historians will teach that Australia was discovered not by Captain Cook, explorer, but by Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett, war correspondent’. Here then is his account …
At 1.20 a.m. the signal was given from the flagship to lower the boats, which had been left swinging from the davits throughout the night. Our steam pinnaces were also lowered to take them in tow….
On the quarter-deck, backed by the great 12 in. guns, this splendid body of colonial troops were drawn up in serried ranks, fully equipped, and receiving their last instructions from their officers, who, six months ago, like their men, were leading a peaceful civilian life in Australia and New Zealand, 5,000 miles away….
At 2.5 a.m. the signal was given for the troops to embark in the boats which were lying alongside, and this was carried out with great rapidity, in absolute silence, and without a hitch or an accident of any kind….
|Men of the 1st Divisional Signal Company about to land at Anzac Cove.
The whole operation had been timed to allow the pinnaces and boats to reach the beach just before daylight, so that the Turks, if they had been forewarned, would not be able to see to fire before the Australians had obtained a firm footing and, it was hoped, good cover on the foreshore….
At 4.53 a.m. there suddenly came a very sharp burst of rifle fire from the beach, and we knew our men were at last at grips with the enemy. This fire lasted only for a few minutes, and then was drowned by a faint British cheer wafted to us over the waters….
The first authentic news we received came with the return of our boats. A steam pinnace came alongside with two recumbent forms on her deck and a small figure, pale, but cheerful, and waving his hand astern. They were one of our midshipmen, just sixteen years of age, shot through the stomach, but regarding his injury more as a fitting consummation to a glorious holiday ashore than a wound; and a chief stoker, and petty officer, all three wounded by that first burst of musketry, which caused many casualties in the boats just as they reached the beach.
From them we learned what had happened in those first wild moments. All the tows had almost reached the beach, when a party of Turks, entrenched almost on the shore, opened up a terrible fusillade from rifles and also from a Maxim. Fortunately most of the bullets went high, but, nevertheless, many men were hit as they sat huddled together forty or fifty in a boat.
|3 hours after first landing, 25th April 1915
It was a trying moment, but the Australian volunteers rose as a man to the occasion. They waited neither for orders, nor for the boats to reach the beach, but, springing out into the sea, they waded ashore, and, forming some sort of a rough line, rushed straight on the flashes of the enemy’s rifles. Their magazines were not charged, so they just went in with cold steel, and I believe I am right in saying that the first Ottoman Turk since the last Crusade received an Anglo-Saxon bayonet in him at 5 minutes after 5 a.m. on April 25th. It was over in a minute. The Turks in this first trench were bayoneted or ran away, and a Maxim gun was captured.
Then the Australians found themselves facing an almost perpendicular cliff of loose sandstone, covered with thick shrubbery, and somewhere half-way up the enemy had a second trench strongly held, from which they poured a terrible fire on the troops below, and the boats pulling back to the destroyers for the second landing party.
Here was a tough proposition to tackle in the darkness, but these Colonials are practical above all else, and they went about it in a practical way. They stopped a few moments to pull themselves together, and to get rid of their packs which no troops could carry in an attack, and then charged their magazines. Then this race of athletes proceeded to scale the cliffs without responding to the enemy’s fire. They lost some men but did not worry, and in less than a quarter of an hour the Turks were out of their second position, either bayoneted or in full flight.
|Anzac Cove slopes – 1915
This ridge under which the landing was made, stretches due north from Gaba Tepe, and culminates in the height of Coja Chemen, which rises 950 feet above the sea level. The whole forms part of a confused triangle of hills, valleys, ridges, and bluffs which stretches right across the Gallipoli Peninsula to the Bay of Bassi Liman, above the Narrows. The triangle is cut in two by the valley through which flows the stream known as Bokali Deresi….
In the early part of the day very heavy casualties were suffered in the boats which conveyed the troops from the destroyers, tugs, and transports to the beach. As soon as it became light, the enemy’s sharpshooters, hidden everywhere, simply concentrated their fire on the boats….
Throughout the whole of April 25th the landing of troops, stores, and munitions had to be carried out under these conditions, but the gallant sailors never failed their equally gallant comrades ashore. Every one, from the youngest midshipman straight from Dartmouth and under fire for the first time, to the senior officers in charge, did their duty nobly….
When the sun was fully risen and the haze had disappeared, we could see that the Australians had actually established themselves on the top of the ridge, and were evidently trying to work their way northwards along it….
The fighting was so confused, and took place amongst such broken ground that it is extremely difficult to follow exactly what did happen throughout the morning and afternoon of April the 25th. The role assigned to the covering force was splendidly carried out up to a certain point, and a firm footing was obtained on the crest of the ridge which allowed the disembarkation of the remainder of the force to go on uninterruptedly except for the never-ceasing sniping.
|ANZACs pushing forward 1915
But then the Australians, whose blood was up, instead of entrenching themselves and waiting developments, pushed northward and eastward inland, in search of fresh enemies to tackle with the bayonet. The ground is so broken and ill-defined that it was very difficult to select a position to entrench, especially as after the troops imagined they had cleared a section, they were continually being sniped from all sides. Therefore they preferred to continue the advance…. The Turks only had a comparatively weak force actually holding the beach, and they seemed to have relied on the difficult nature of the ground, and their scattered snipers, to delay the advance until they could bring up reinforcements from the interior.
Some of the Australians who had pushed inland were counter-attacked and almost outflanked by these oncoming reserves, and had to fall back after suffering very heavy casualties.
|HMS Swiftsure providing covering fire 1915
It was then the turn of the Turks to counter-attack, and this they continued to do throughout the afternoon, but the Australians never yielded a foot of ground on the main ridge, and reinforcements were continually poured up from the beach as fresh troops were disembarked from the transports. The enemy’s artillery fire, however, presented a very difficult problem. As soon as the light became good, the Turks enfiladed the beach with two field guns from Gaba Tepe, and with two others from the north…. In vain did the warships endeavour to put them out of action with their secondary armament. For some hours they could not be accurately located, or else were so well protected that our shells failed to do them any harm….
Later in the day the two guns to the north were silenced … and a cruiser moving in close to the shore, so plastered Gaba Tepe with a hail of shell that the guns there were also silenced and have not attempted to reply since.
As the enemy brought up reinforcements, towards dusk his attacks became more and more vigorous, and he was supported by a powerful artillery inland, which the ships’ guns were powerless to deal with. The pressure on the Australians and New Zealanders became heavier, and the line they were occupying had to be contracted for the night. General Birdwood and his staff went ashore in the afternoon, and devoted all their energies to securing the position, so as to hold firmly to it until the following morning, when it was hoped to get some field guns in position to deal with the enemy’s artillery.
Some idea of the difficulty to be faced may be gathered when it is remembered that every round of ammunition, all water, and all supplies had to be landed on a narrow beach and then carried up pathless hills, valleys, and bluffs, several hundred feet high, to the firing line. The whole of this mass of troops, concentrated on a very small area, and unable to reply, were exposed to a relentless and incessant shrapnel fire, which swept every yard of the ground, although, fortunately, a great deal of it was badly aimed or burst too high. The reserves were engaged in road-making and carrying supplies to the crest, and in answering the calls for more ammunition.
A serious problem was getting away the wounded from the shore, where it was impossible to keep them. All those who were unable to hobble to the beach had to be carried down to the hills on stretchers, then hastily dressed and carried to the boats. The boat and beach parties never stopped working throughout the entire day and night.
|Injured ANZACs coming back from the beach 1915
The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten. Hastily dressed and placed in trawlers, lighters, and ships’ boats they were towed to the ships…. I have, in fact, never seen the like of those wounded Australians in war before, for as they were towed amongst the ships, whilst accommodation was being found for them, although many were shot to bits, and without hope of recovery, their cheers resounded through the night, and you could just see, amidst a mass of suffering humanity, arms being waved in greeting to the crews of the warships. They were happy because they had been tried for the first time in the war and had not been found wanting. They had been told to occupy the heights and hold on, and this they had done for fifteen mortal hours, under an incessant shell fire, without the moral and material support of a single gun ashore, and subjected the whole time to the violent counter-attacks of a brave enemy, led by skilled leaders, whilst his snipers, hidden in caves and thickets and amongst the dense scrub, made a deliberate practice of picking off every officer who endeavoured to give a word of command or lead his men forward.
No finer feat of arms has been performed during the war than this sudden landing in the dark, the storming of the heights, and above all, the holding on to the position thus won whilst reinforcements were being poured from the transports. These raw Colonial troops in those desperate hours proved themselves worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons and the Aisne, Ypres, and Neuve Chapelle.
Dispatch from a special Correspondent at the Dardanelles printed in The Times, 7 May 1915
The ANZAC withdrawal
|Field Marshal Lord Kitchener – Anzac battlefield – Russell’s Top wikimedia.org
By the middle of August the purpose for which this deadly campaign was undertaken, the capture of the Dardanelles, became regarded as too costly and too little likely to be successful with the strength that could be spared from the main theatre of war. General Sir Charles Munro, who was sent out to take command in succession to General Hamilton, reported that the position so far won on Gallipoli ‘possessed every possible military defect.‘ Lord Kitchener, the Minister of War, visited the peninsula to form an opinion on the prospects. Munro recommended withdrawal; Kitchener confirmed his judgment. The decision to evacuate was arrived at on December 8, 1915.
By the 20th December 1915, 80,000 men, 5,000 horses, and all guns and stores were removed. But 35,000 brave men were left buried on that war-mangled piece of ground, of whom 8,500 were Australians.
The ANZAC Legend is born
The Melbourne Argus, 25 April 1916 – By Senator George Pearce (Minister of State for Defence)
|Sir George Foster Pearce (1870 – 1952)
“In an army a knowledge of its past achievements is a mighty factor in its future success. Before this war Australia had practically no army traditions, and it is to the meaning of the Gallipoli campaign in this connection that I would direct attention to-day, twelve months after the historic landing”.
To the peoples of Europe the thought of war was ever present in the popular mind; but to the Australian, born and bred in an atmosphere untainted by war, living amid peaceful surroundings and desirous of remaining on terms of friendship with the rest of mankind the word itself has a jarring sound. Yet the German challenge to the Mother Country finds 233,720 of her Australian sons who have voluntarily wrenched themselves from their parents, wives, and friends, and from comfortable and cheerful homes, to answer the call of their country to fight the Empire’s battles on distant shores”.
“Nor has the thunder of the cannon been necessary to inspire Australians with a conception of their duty; and the explanation of it all is that we have inherited to the full that spirit of our forebears which enabled them, not so long ago, to tear themselves from homeland firesides to shape careers in this great island continent, and to overcome with indomitable pluck the awful hardships of a pioneering life”.
“For generations to come the story of the entry of the Australian troops to the European battlefield will ring in the ears of English-speaking nations. The chronicler of the future will provide many thrilling pages of history, magnificent material for the moulding of the youthful Australian character”.
“A distinguished military officer told us before the war that Australians would require to be in the majority of two to one in meeting a foreign foe on our own shores; but the furious onslaught that accompanied the landing at Gallipoli, the bitter fighting and terrible trials of the occupation, and the wonderful skill that made possible the bloodless evacuation have shown us that the Australians carried out a feat of arms not excelled by the most highly-trained regulars of any nation of the world. The following messages are eloquent in their tribute to Australian bravery”:
“I heartily congratulate you upon the splendid conduct and bravery displayed by the Australian troops in the operations at the Dardanelles, who have indeed proved themselves worthy sons of the Empire.”—His Majesty the King, April 1915.
“The capture of the positions we hold will go down to history as a magnificent feat of the Australians and New Zealanders.”—General Sir William Birdwood, November 1915.
“Happen what may, the Australians who have fought at Gallipoli will bequeath a heritage of honour to their children’s children.”—General Sir Ian Hamilton, November 1915.
“These are examples of the praise which that feat of arms has won, and such is the standing of military bearing which the improvised army of Australian citizens has set up for the citizen army of Australia—a standard which, we may rest assured, has not failed to impress our enemies in computing the military value of our forces”.
“Every unit of the citizen army will now have its tradition. Every soldier of the Australian army will have that inspiring example of the Anzac heroes to live up to in his military work, and we can regard the future with a calm confidence in the military prowess of our soldiers”. Sir George Foster Pearce 25 April 1916.
Extract from Public Domain – A Source Book Of Australian History by Gwendolen H. Swinburne 1919
‘Lest we forget’ – ANZAC Day 25 April
by Peter Baskerville
Tread softly now this hallowed ground
but wear the dust with pride,
for mingled with this ancient soil
our Aussie ash abides.
To sense the golden wattle sprig,
to see the red gums tall,
embodied in their crimson flow
our land and nature call.
Though beaten in a senseless raid
the world’s respect was won,
an enemy turned to friend indeed
our sons and theirs now one.
Eight thousand souls departed here
their flesh, a richer earth
that’s greened these hills for 90 years
their spirit, a nation’s birth.
A heritage won, a legacy given
that’s stood the test of time,
of mateship, grit and courage clear,
these bells forever chime.
Whilst larrikin and defiant they
the ultimate price have paid,
no greater honor now bestowed:
The ‘Anzac Spirit’ displayed.
“Our sons and theirs now one”
In 1934 the Turkish President and leader of the Turkish forces on Gallipoli in 1915, Kemal Ataturk, wrote a tribute to those Anzacs killed there:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. Where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … You mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away the tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
|Kemal Ataturk’s speech on the memorial at Gallipoli
Ernest Scott was professor of History at the University of Melbourne from 1913 to 1936. Born outside wedlock, raised by his grandparents and enjoying no higher education, he worked as a journalist for twenty years. As a young Fabian and Theosophist, he married the daughter of Annie Besant and migrated to Melbourne in 1892. His books on Australian exploration history made Scott into a professional among amateurs and antiquarians. He inspired his students to do archival research and to ask critical questions of popular historical mythologies. A generation of young Australians learned about the country’s past from his notable Short History of Australia (1916). Now made available in the public domain by gutenberg.net
Peter Baskerville was born in Australia and has lived the vast majority of his life in the country of his birth apart from a few years in Fiji and New Zealand pursuing business interests.
Despite imbibing the inherent non-nationalistic attitude that naturally comes with being an Aussie, we just can’t help loving this place called Australia – its vast open spaces, its pristine beaches, its unspoiled outback landscapes, its melting pot of immigrants, its ancient heritage of the First Australians, its Anzac spirit, it mateship creed, it hard working, positive yet carefree attitude to life … yes, and even its perils, dangers and strife – we love it all. It is a long way to come, but I’m sure you will find it well worth the visit, even better, come join us … the people of the land ‘down-under’.