Gallipoli, the 100th Anniversary
By Ismail Veli
On 25th April 1915 the Western allies Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and many other Commonwealth troops landed at the Gallipoli peninsular, in Turkey. The aim of this military move was to capture Constantinople and knock the Ottomans out of the war. Many historians have debated and written endless books on the subject. Each author has their own perspective on the history of the Gallipoli campaign. The 100th centenary of this sad event is also the subject of a new Australian film “Water Diviner”. produced and directed by Russell Crowe. The great actor who starred in the memorable film ”Gladiator”. The aim of this article is not to give its own spin to history, but to share archive photos and reports written while the war was in full swing. The material is from 2 original books entitled ”The Great War” (Volumes 4 & 6) which formed part of a series of 13 volumes published by ”The Amalgamated Press Ltd” and edited by H.W.Wilson in 1915 & 1916 respectively.
The book is from the British perspective of the war. It’s hard to judge the outlook and thoughts of yesteryear with those of today. Initially the Turkish point of view is hardly mentioned, but some balance soon comes into the writings as the respect for the ordinary and long suffering Turkish soldier becomes apparent. Apart from short snippets of analysis the write up is through their eyes.
”After the losses of the landing battles, Sir Ian Hamilton must have had less than 35.000 bayonets immediately at hand for the desperate work of a thrusting attack at the seat of power of the Ottoman Empire, which could draw upon a half million or more men for the defence of the road to Constantinople. As a matter of fact, the Turco-German commanders concentrated all their principle armies on the defence of the Dardanelles. The campaign against Egypt was discontinued, and the attack on Russia across the Caucasus was reduced to an unimportant defensive battle. Even the comparatively small Indo-British army advancing along the Euphrates up towards Bagdad was only opposed by a single weak Turkish army corps. All the main military resources of one of the greatest warrior races in the world were organised by capable German officers and set in a series of almost impregnable mountain defences. There were never less than 150.000 Turkish soldiers with thousands of German engineers and artillerymen, holding the entrenched heights between Achi Baba and Sari Bair”.
Volume 4: Page 410.
In the above report the writer is clearly attempting to exaggerate the strength of the Turkish army in order to highlight a disparity in the opposing forces, while ignoring the condition of the Turkish army which itself was often undersupplied and ill equipped against the much more industrialised Western powers. It’s interesting that the German numbers are also grossly exaggerated.
June 4th 1915
It looked as though the Turks were about to roll up the whole of our line, for when the Naval Brigade was compelled to retreat across the open, sloping fields. under a terrible fire, the exposed flank of the Manchester Brigade was in turn caught by Turkish and German machine guns, and swept by volleys of rifle fire, and then hammered by hostile bombing parties. But the Manchester men – nearly all of them Territorials – fought with bulldog courage to hold what they won. There were places in which one Lancashire man resisted every force that the enemy could bring to bear upon him. Company Sergeant Major Hay, having captured single handed a redoubt near Krithia, held it for ten hours with four men until he was relieved”.
June 21st 1915
”Just as the sky was shading over at evening, some of the latest recruits of the French army, striplings of the new drafts, fought their way up the ridge with the impassioned courage of youth, and in ten minutes captured six hundred yards of the enemy trenches. There were Zouaves and men of the Foreign Legion in the two victorious battalions, but these veterans were the first to praise the lads of the 1915 class. All the night the Turks counter-attacked, and their violent efforts to return into the Haricot redoubt did not cease till June 23rd, by which time some seven thousand of them lay dead or wounded in front of the French firing-line. The French losses were heavy, amounting to two thousand five hundred men, but they had gained a very important position, and had annihilated the best part of a Turkish division.
After this blow against the Turkish left on the ridge over-looking the strait, it was the turn of Lieutenant-General Hunter-Weston to hammer at the enemy’s right on the cliff overlooking the sea. The Turks had all along held with great tenacity to the coast, where their position was one of extraordinary strength, owing to the deep ravine running between Krithia and the sea”.
Volume 4: page 420
It’s clear from the above that the fierce fighting was having its toll on human life, and that the Gallipoli campaign was starting to turn into the trench like battles similar to those of France. The acceptance of such high casualties in single offensives are by today’s standards truly horrendous.
”The Turk displayed remarkable bravery of a characteristically apathetic kind. He came on, tall and vigorous, with fixed bayonet, apparently quite indifferent to death. On the other hand little or no organised use was made of this personal attitude and courage of the enemy private. There was no science in the leadership of the company officers. This was not the way in which Ottoman advanced of old from Asia into the Balkans, overthrowing the Byzantine empire, conquering Hungary, and laying siege to Vienna. The individual Turk, and in particular the Anatolian peasant and the Mussulman of Macedonia, still proved himself a first class fighting man. At times he quite enjoyed a man-to-man tussle with the bayonet, having a sturdy build of body that enabled him to stand up to the tall cattlemen and sheep farmers of Australasia.
None of our troops despised their opponents. On the contrary they were often loud in praise of the gallantry of their foes. It was a lack of food that had made the Turk seem but a vanishing ghost of himself when the three Bulgarian armies closed upon him in 1912. Even then he had held up the Bulgarians along the Chatalja lines”
Volume 4: Page 425
As the campaign was in full swing the writer seems to begin appreciating the poor state of the ordinary Turkish soldier, who in-spite of the atrocious conditions in which they were expected to fight, did so with courage and fortitude. The lack of consideration by the officers for the well being of their men is a well known fact. The butchery that was in evidence in the great war is and continues to be a subject of incredulity.
To put the position plainly, our munition output, after a year’s experience of war, was so small as to conduce to our defeat in the Dardanelles, and our arrangements for raising, training, and arming soldiers, after twelve months experience of war, were tragically inadequate to all our needs. Sir Ian Hamilton could only be given one chance of making an attack in force; the attack failed, and the military resources of our Empire were so comparatively feeble in comparison with those of our enemies that the Dardanelles had to be abandoned.
The main fault rested with the British government. It proved unequal to the task it assumed so confidently and with so much fine rhetoric”. We believe it is a fact that our cabinet was informed some six years before the war of the military significance of the enormous increase of the German production of machine tools.
Volume 6: page 168.
1st December 1915
Frozen and buffeted by the wind and sleet, and barely able to move sufficiently to keep their blood circulating, all the troops endured agonies. But the Anatolians, lining all the northern heights of the Peninsula, were even more exposed to the blast and the blizzard than our men on the Anzac cliffs and the hills near Suvla Bay. The Anatolian Turks were accustomed to severe winters, but the combined action of the great flood and the great frost took the heart out of them. Brave men they had proved themselves to be, with a gallantry that excited the admiration of Australasians, British, and French. But after the blizzard they became quite incapable of attacking. In many cases their clothes were a disgrace to the men who commanded the resources of the Ottoman Empire.
Volume 6: page 175.
By December 1915 the Gallipoli campaign was a failure. H.W. Wilson puts the blame squarely on the inability of the British Government to the lack of preparation and the inadequacy of their policy in preparing for the war. Though beaten, the Allies seem to have had an immense admiration for the ordinary Turkish soldier who were clearly neglected by the Ottoman officers and government who had little or no regard for their men, other than expecting them to sacrifice their lives in the most atrocious conditions.
THE END OF THE CAMPAIGN
It is no exaggeration to call this achievement (the withdrawal) one without parallel. To disengage and to withdraw from a bold and active enemy is the most difficult of all military operations; and in this case the withdrawal was effected by surprise, with the opposing forces at close grips-in many cases within a few yards of each other. Such an operation when succeeded by a re-embarkation from an open beach, is one for which military history contains no precedent.
Volume 6: Page 185
Though very critical of the conduct of the campaign H.W.Wilson is full of praise for the organisation that led to the Allies withdrawal. The Turkish inability to notice or react against a retreating enemy, could be put down to either brilliant planning by the Allies or Turkish exhaustion in a bloody campaign that took its toll on human lives. It’s possible of course that the Turkish High Command misread the activities of the allies in disengaging from the peninsula. Either way the Gallipoli campaign left a scar on the psyche of the Anzacs, and Allies that is still debated today. While for the Turkish people its pride in opposing a much more technologically advanced alliance became a rallying point in continuing the war, it gave the false hope that perhaps they could win. One of the strange features of the writings of H.W.Wilson is that Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Canakkale does not get mentioned. Whether this is deliberate or not is something we cannot know. Apart from Enver Pasha and Liman Von Sanders he hardly mentions the names of the Turkish High Command. Neither does he publish any photos of any Turkish General, in contrast his history is full of photos and remarks on French and British officers from the top to the lower ranks.
On leaving Anzac Cove there is a Turkish Memorial and on it are the words sent by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to an official party of Australians, New Zealanders and British who were visiting Anzac Cove in 1934. Ataturks words of comfort to the families of his former adversaries are a testament to the man’s greatness, and a shining example against those who prefer the animosity to pass on to future generations. It’s a legacy of a man who knew how to win battles, but even more, the peace that is often so much more difficult to achieve. Perhaps his legacy of peace and fraternity can best be left to the fact that on January 12, 1934 the 8 times Prime Minister of Greece nominated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk for the Nobel Peace prize.
For those who have very little knowledge of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who became the founder of modern day Turkey, please click on the following link from the Australian War Memorial web site Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal)
“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,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries …
Wipe away your 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”.