Gallipoli – the facts behind the Myths

By Dr Geoffrey Partington

The Aim

The losses on the Western Front in the early months of war in 1914 and 1915 were far higher than each warring nation had anticipated. After early German advances in Flanders, a virtually stationary Western Front ran from the English Channel to the Alps and thousands of lives were required for advances measured in yards. An alternative way of waging war against Germany and Austria-Hungary seemed highly desirable to the Allies, especially since it seemed likely that other states would enter the fray, Greece and Italy to join the Allies and Turkey and Bulgaria the Central Powers. The ‘Young Turk’ leaders in Constantinople decided to ally with Germany. They opened the Dardanelles to German warships, which bombed Russian Black Sea ports before the formal Turkish declaration of war. In this context the Dardanelles, or Gallipoli, campaign was conceived. Its leading advocate, Winston Churchill, then first Lord of the Admiralty, was convinced that the Dardanelles Straits could be forced, Constantinople captured, Turkey knocked out of the war, Greece and Italy encouraged to enter on the Allied side, and aid given to the hard-pressed Russian and Serbian forces.

Formation of ANZAC

Before 1914, all major political parties in Australia supported military training for young men. Labor leaders such as Billy Hughes, born in London, and John Christian Watson, of Scottish descent but born on board ship in Valparaiso Harbour, Chile, were ardent supporters of the Australian National Defence League. In his recent Soldier Boy: The True Story of Jim Martin the Youngest Anzac, Anthony Hill explains how young Jim was imbued at school with pride in being part of the British Empire and was keen to join the military training scheme for boys of twelve and above. Jim enlisted at 14, giving a false age, and had not reached his fifteenth birthday when he died of typhoid fever in a hospital ship off Gallipoli in October, 1915.

When war broke out, the Labor leader, Scotland-born Andrew Fisher, supporting the England-born Liberal Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, declared that Australia would stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to the last man and the last shilling. About 40 per cent of all Australian males aged between 18 and 45 voluntarily enlisted to serve in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF), that is about 417 000 men, of whom about 60 000 died in all campaigns and another 160 000 were wounded or maimed. At least a quarter of the Australian volunteers were born in Great Britain and Ireland, Robert Rhodes James’s estimate being 35 per cent. About 98 per cent of the rest were of British or Irish origin. The immigration rate from the United Kingdom was exceptionally high between 1910 and 1914. ‘Simpson’ – ‘the man with the donkey’ was John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a recent Geordie emigrant.

‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ and ‘Sons of the Sea’ were sung at recruiting offices in Adelaide and Sydney, Wellington and Christchurch, as loudly as in Birmingham or Glasgow. In 1914 and 1915 there was little difference between the volunteer rate in Australia of Protestants and Roman Catholics of Irish descent, but the number of Irish volunteers fell sharply after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and after Cardinal Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, took a leading part in opposing conscription in the referenda of 1916 and 1917.

In 1915 almost all Anzac troops considered themselves part of a wider British people and wanted to be regarded as British, not only as Australians or New Zealanders. When Australian units were photographed in Egypt they usually chose themselves to wear the standard British pith helmet. Most Anzac units landing at Anzac Cove wore British-issue caps, but when after the war George Lambert was commissioned to paint that scene he was instructed to show them with slouch hats.

The Australian forces soon made themselves distinctive. One example of Australian ingenuity was Lance-Corporal Beech’s periscope rifle invention which enabled gunners to fire without putting their heads above the trenches. Two British generals, Walker and Birdwood, made important contributions to Anzac successes but their role was played down by Charles Bean and some other Australian historians in order to elevate the role of Monash, an excellent planner but an indifferent commander in the field. Birdwood and Walker tightened discipline among the Australians without alienating them or reducing their aggressive spirit.

Some Australian troops considered British regiments stuck too much to regulations when encamped, whereas some British troops thought Australian regiments made bad conditions worse by lack of attention to routine. Birdwood admitted to Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, that, although ‘my men are A1 in attack’, they are ‘curiously callow, and negligent, and the only thing I fear is a really heavy night attack … as I cannot get the men to bestir themselves and hurry up to repulse an attack at once’. The Australians were usually distinguished by boldness in attack, the British by discipline in retreat. The New Zealanders were widely thought, not just by themselves, to possess both Australian and British virtues in warfare. Perhaps the most remarkable individual achievement of the campaign was that of Lieut-Commander Bemard Freyberg, awarded the DSO for swimming naked in an ice-cold sea for two miles to light flares on the coast at Bulair. Freyberg later gained the VC in France and became Governor-General of New Zealand, among other distinctions. The epitome of Australian guts was Albert Jacka, who killed seven Turks in a single engagement and was awarded the VC.

The Naval Campaign

The directive that ‘The Admiralty should prepare for a naval expedition in February to bombard and take the Gallipoli peninsula with Constantinople as its objective’ was later derided by opponents of the plan, but it came close to success. Reports recovered later from the Turkish staff revealed that on 19 March nearly all the Turkish ammunition was expended and that ‘A naval attack executed with rapidity and vigour might have been successful.’ The Gallipoli campaign proved more than once that often a small group, even one person, may make a great difference to mighty issues. The mines of a single Turkish mine-layer had a powerful effect on the naval battle, more perhaps than shells from all the Turkish guns. British minesweepers, manned by civilian crews, refused to continue to clear the mines whilst under Turkish shell-fire, and that proved a crucial failure. After the sinking of HMS Irresistible and the French ship Bouvet and severe damage to the French ships Gaulois, Suffren and Charlemagne and to HMS Inflexible, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson, Albion, Admiral Carden called off the attempt to enter the Straits. Carden feared that his ships could not deal with the Turkish guns until the mines were cleared, but that the mines could not be cleared so long as the Turkish guns were intact. Under Carden or his replacement, Admiral de Robeck, the Allied fleets never tried to force an entry into the Sea of Marmara, even when thousands of troops were fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

When ships’ gunners could get a sight of Turkish positions, they were generally accurate and effective, with the result that few Turkish officers would risk an advance across ground vulnerable to their fire. Inevitably, there were some instances of ‘friendly fire’, the most devastating being when a New Zealand battalion close to breaking through the Turkish lines was shelled from a British warship and forced to retreat to better cover, but overall the ships ensured that the army’s artillery, often seriously short of ammunition, was able to compete with Turkish fire. However, a significant reason for Allied failure during the land fighting of 1915 was poor co-ordination between the British Army and Royal Navy, although co-ordination between General Sir Ian Hamilton and his subordinate military commanders was not much better. Especially weakening was division at the very head of the Royal Navy. The aged Admiral ‘Jackie’ Fisher returned to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord at the invitation of the responsible minister, Winston Churchill, who believed that Fisher still had ‘fire in his belly’. Fisher initially supported the Dardanelles concept but soon became its fiercest critic at the very time strong support was needed for it to have a real chance of success.

Warships were very vulnerable to submarine attack in 1915, when depth-charges had not yet been invented. The sinking of HMS Triumph and Majestic by the German U21 under Lieut. Commander Hersing forced the withdrawal of the largest British and French battleships from the Eastern Mediterranean, with demoralising effect on some of the troops. On the other hand The Australian AE2 torpedoed Turkish gunboats well inside the Narrows before it was itself destroyed. British submarines under Lieutenant Commanders Nasmith, Boyle and Stocks did substantial damage to Turkish ships in the Straits, creating panic in Constantinople.

The Turkish Forces

Few of the Allied troops had previous experience of modern warfare, but many of the Turks were battle-hardened. They had not performed with much distinction in the recent Balkan Wars, but then they had been fighting to retain provinces with huge non-Turkish majorities. At Gallipoli the Turks felt they were defending their homeland, especially when they learned that Constantinople would come under Russian rule after a Turkish defeat. Allied troops soon realised the stupidity of HQ propaganda about low Turkish morale and lack of equipment. Although medical organisation was even worse on the Turkish than on the Allied side, most Turkish troops fought with great courage, even when required to attack well-defended positions without cover, as at the Nek in May and Helles in December, just before the Allies withdrew from the peninsula. Their successful defence of their lines at Krithia in May was significant in the final outcome of the campaign. Mustapha Kemal ended the Gallipoli Campaign as Turkey’s greatest war hero, with little tribute being paid to the able overall strategist, the German General Liman von Sanders. Kemal was responsible for some of the bloodiest Turkish losses and, had the Allies prevailed, might well have been denounced for unnecessary deaths, since the Turks had only to hold on to their hill positions to win the campaign, whereas the Allies had to attack in order to justify the entire venture. On the other hand Kemal rallied his troops successfully when the Anzacs nearly broke through soon after their first landings and in later crises.

Early in the campaign many Anzacs believed the Turks practised vile atrocities on prisoners, but later experience suggested that many disfigured corpses had suffered from shrapnel rather than bayoneting after capture, although two British officers were bayoneted in cold blood after surrender at Suvla in August. After the truce at Lone Pine in May, during which the Turks were able to pick up their over 10 000 casualties, Turks and Allied troops regarded each other much more as decent human beings. However, Turkish treatment of prisoners of war was worse than treatment by Germans, French, British or even Russian captors. The chilling account provided by Greg Kerr in his Lost Anzacs is a salutary corrective to the Turkish monument at ANZAC Cove, ‘depicting a Turkish soldier fondly cradling a wounded Australian’, as Rhodes James put it in his Gallipoli. Turkish troops were often threatened with immediate execution if they withdrew and with officers such as Kemal that was no idle threat. On the Allied side General Hunter-Weston recommended the MC to a young subaltern who summarily executed three men for alleged cowardice.

Whilst the Gallipoli campaign was being waged, the ‘Young Turk’ government launched an horrific attack on Armenian civilians, some of whom were suspected of supporting the Allied cause. The Turkish massacre of the Armenians was only exceeded during the century by the Nazi holocaust of Jews and the mass killings ordered by Stalin. Of two million Armenians in Turkey in 1914, Alan Moorehead’s estimate was that ‘three quarters of a million were dead or dying by the time the frantic rage of their tormentors had exhausted itself’ by 1916.

The early fighting

The British commanders in Egypt as well as on the Western Front were reluctant to give the swift backing to the Gallipoli enterprise essential for maximum chances of success. There was abysmal lack of co-ordination between the French and British forces, and between the British naval and military staffs, although things were little better in this respect between German and Turkish officers on the other side. One key difference, however, was that General Sir Ian Hamilton was reluctant to interfere with the immediate commanders in the field, who in their turn were often uncertain about his overall strategic intent, whereas von Sanders forced his decisions on subordinates. Several British officers were brought out of retirement in 1914: the most able were usually used on the Western Front and some appointments to commands at Gallipoli, such as Sir John Stopford, proved disastrous.

Some British operations were carried out skilfully and successfully, such as the organisation of supplies from Egypt, but there was considerable muddle and confusion in the landings. Landing gear, medical supplies, water carriers, and much besides, were all available in the vicinity but rarely where and when most needed. A popular joke among the troops linked Imbros, Mudros and Chaos, the first two being the islands serving as supply bases. Lines of Communication were weak and there was resentment among the troops at reports of creature comforts for the HQ staff at Mudros. Hamilton was for some weeks mainly on HMS Queen Elizabeth and in poor contact with shore operations.

In the first wave of landings in April, 1915, British troops under Hunter-Weston were responsible for landings at Cape Helles, the southern tip of the Peninsula. The core was the regular 29th Division, supported by battalions of recent volunteers. Some landings, such as that at W Beach, met ferocious Turkish gunfire. As the Lancashire Fusiliers tried to reach the beach they lost six officers (including the commanding officer and his next-in-command soon afterwards) and 183 men killed, four officers and 279 men wounded, and 61 men missing, out of 950 who started out. Six VCs, 2 DS0s, 2 MCs and one DCM were awarded at W beach on 25 April. The Dublin Fusiliers, Munster Fusiliers and Hampshire Regiment suffered heavy losses, too, at V Beach under heavy Turkish fire, many being killed as they tried to disembark from the River Clyde.

At X beach the Royal Fusiliers met little Turkish resistance, nor did the South Wales Borderers at S beach, or the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, South Wales Borderers and Plymouth Battalion of Marines at Y beach. Unfortunately, Hunter-Weston thought his task was to land the troops successfully and failed to order immediate progress inland. Thus the Turks had ample opportunity to reinforce their positions, and the belated Allied penetration inland was bitterly contested. At ‘Y Beach’ there was uncertainly whether Lt-Col Koe of the Scottish Borderers or Lt-Col Matthews of the Marines was in command, with the result that no one was effectively in charge. After Koe and many other officers had been killed, some troops panicked and sought evacuation on the boats, even as new troops were being landed and the Turks were retreating because of losses under naval fire.

The Allied dilemma was that energetic attack was the only way of securing victory, and assaults on defended heights immensely bloody, but early aggression might have ensured that the Turks did not occupy positions from which they later dealt out severe punishment. Morale varied greatly from unit to unit. The Border Regiment broke and ran when charged by the Turks on 28 April, whereas the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Scots successfully repelled a similar attack on 1 May. In June the Manchesters, Lancashire Territorials and Worcesters broke through nearly to Krithia, which would have forced a massive Turkish retreat, but Hunter-Weston reinforced the stationary Royal Naval Division, not the advancing units. Hunter-Weston. a martinet who was strangely enough very popular with his men, collapsed in July, leaving behind an army utterly exhausted and incapable of further offensive action. Indian and British losses at Gully Spur on 28 June were even higher than anything at Anzac, but Turkish losses were higher still and the Turks on Helles were close to breaking point.

The landings at Anzac Cove in April were a mile north of those intended. Whether strong currents were to blame, errors by Lieut. Commander Waterlow, the British naval officer directing the landings, or even a late change of plan by Generals Birdwood and Throsby, remains uncertain to this date. Yet the initial landings were successful, since the Turks did not expect them, and two parties of Australian troops under Captains Lalor and Tullock fought their way inland. Lalor was a scion of an old English military family, who had deserted from the Royal Navy, fought in revolutionary wars in South America and then sailed to Australia to enlist in its army. Lalor ordered his men to dig in on hill Baby 700 but they were reported by a scout sent to check on their progress to be ‘smoking and eating as if on a picnic’, one soon interrupted by a murderous Turkish counter-assault. The Australians then counter-attacked up the hill against massive odds and Lalor, wielding an old family sword, was killed with many of his men. An hour’s picnicking exacted a heavy price. Nearly all the Anzac units were handicapped by razor-sharp cliffs and deep ravines, unsuspected since they landed at the wrong beaches and had the wrong maps. They also faced the most able and determined Turkish commander in Kemal.

The main effort of the French troops was on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles, where they captured the fort at Kum Kale previously badly hit by British warships. Turkish troops who went through the motions of surrendering killed the French officer accepting the surrender, following which French troops executed eight Turkish prisoners. The French commanders had problems with their Senegalese regiments, which sometimes fought hard and sometimes surrendered under little pressure. Hamilton had great difficulty in preventing the French commander, General D’Amade, from ordering total evacuation. Some of the French generals, such as General Bailoud, proved very inadequate, but great courage was shown by most of the French forces. At Helles their attack on Kereves Spur, heroic but unavailing, greatly impressed allies and enemies.

The heavy Anzac losses led the Divisional Commanders, Major-General Godley of the New Zealanders and Scottish emigrant Major General Bridges of the Australians, to recommend that Anzac Beach be evacuated. Hamilton instead urged them to dig in, which they did and so ensured that the campaign became immortalised in Australian and New Zealand history. The Australian approach was embodied in Colonel Braund, whose defence of Russell’s Top, overlooking the main landings, probably saved the situation. Braund was accused by New Zealand Colonel Malone of having ‘no defensive position, no plan, nothing but a murderous notion that the only thing to do was to plunge troops out of the neck of the ridge into the jungle beyond’. Braund was soon afterwards shot by an Anzac sentry whose challenge he did not hear. Malone nearly shared the same fate and several Allied troops died in that way. Within a week of the landings the Anzacs suffered 6 554 casualties, including 1 252 dead. The opposing Turks, so their own officers estimated, suffered 14 000 casualties, the majority killed. British Marine reinforcements sent to support the Anzacs were described by General Birdwood on their arrival as ‘nearly useless … special children of Winston Churchill, immature boys with no proper training’, but they proved him wrong and won Anzac respect by scaling and re-capturing Dead Man’s Ridge on the night of 2-3 May after the Australians had been forced to retreat. Within a few days of the Anzac Cove landings, the situation there was relatively quiet, so that Hamilton moved some ANZAC troops south to join in what he hoped would be a critical attack, The Australians lost over a thousand men during an advance of under 600 yards up the steep Krithia Spur on 8 May when their courage made them deeply admired among the Allied troops who had not been at their side at Anzac Cove.

Quite apart from bullets and shells, lice and flies, together with poor food and water shortages, contributed to acute dysentery – the Gallipoli Trots, which affected three out of four Allied troops. Dental disease also became acute. Australians suffered severely from these scourges, partly because they were generally less rigorous in hygiene routine than the British or New Zealanders and partly because they bathed frequently in the contaminated sea. The British, held by the Australians to keep their towels dry, may have benefited for once from aversion to water. On the positive side, British aircraft under Commander Samson, whilst not inflicting a great deal of actual damage, were feared by the Turks and greatly encouraged the Allied troops.

The later fighting

The best Allied military plan at Gallipoli was devised by Lt-Col Skeen, a scholarly Scottish migrant who lectured at Quetta Staff College before the war. It revolved on the capture of Sari Bair Ridge and Chanuk Bair, the heart of the Turkish position. The plan was partially adopted by Hamilton in August: Australians under Walker were to attack the Turkish lines at Lone Pine, whilst the New Zealanders tried to outflank the Turks to the north. At the same time, British and French troops further south at Helles were to attack once more the strong Turkish positions at Krithia and Achi Baba, and other British troops were to land at Suvla Bay north of Anzac Cove.

Execution of the plan was delayed, partly because of the worst accident in the history of railways in Britain, when at Gretna Green on their way south 210 officers and men of the Royal Scots were killed and 224 injured. The attempted break-out from Anzac Cove was planned well, but aerial photographs proved very misleading, since they failed to show a timber cover protecting the Turkish trenches or a steep gully interrupting any advance. In bloody and confused fighting Turks sometimes killed Turks and Australians killed Australians. The Australians came close to a complete breakthrough but were finally overwhelmed with the loss of over 2000 men, the Turks suffering 7000 casualties, in the bloodiest single encounter during the whole campaign. The New Zealanders, Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Auckland Regiment, supported by Gurkhas, Wiltshires and South Wales Borderers, made rapid early progress towards the key point of Sari Bair. Much of their good work was undone by the New Zealand commander, Brig-General Johnson, who ordered a halt until the Canterbury Battalion, which had lost its way, arrived. The New Zealanders’ best scout, Major Overton, was killed during the advance. The Gurkhas broke through their opposing positions and the Turks were nearly encircled, but Johnson’s lack of determination gave the Turks time to reinforce their positions. Johnson’s failure was costly for the Australian 3rd Light Horse, who had to charge the Turkish trenches at The Nek. Furthermore, the Welch Fusiliers, protecting the Light Horse flank, were forced by Turkish bombs back down the hill they were trying to climb. The Light Horse lost 372 out of 600 officers and men from Turkish fire within minutes. The New Zealanders, Welsh Fusiliers and Gloucesters fared no better: only 70 out of 760 New Zealanders survived unwounded, the 8th Welsh Fusiliers lost 17 officers and 400 men, and the 7th Gloucesters lost every officer and sergeant and over 350 other men. The Turks, too, suffered heavily in these battles, but Kemal threw all his reserves into the biggest assault of the campaign on 10 August at Chanuk Bair and The Pinnacle against the Allied front trenches in the Anzac section. None of the British troops, mainly Wiltshires, survived the assault.

The British, French and Indian troops at Helles did their part in the August plan, but lost heavily in assaults on strong Turkish positions. The key weakness was the Suvla Bay landings. Blame lies mainly on Hamilton, who surrounded his plans in an air of secrecy: Turkish spies knew more of his plans than did his own commanders in the field, let alone his junior officers. Hamilton fatally changed the initial instructions to Stopford to read: ‘your primary objective will be to secure Suvla Bay as a base for all the forces operating in the northern zone …. If it is possible, without prejudice to the attainment of your primary objective, to gain possession of these hills at an early period of your attack, it will greatly facilitate the capture and retention of Hill 305′. The original plan was justified if surprise was achieved and rapid advance took place to occupy the ridges overlooking the bay, but Stopford felt he had done great deeds if his forces simply managed a successful landing.

Many of the British troops landed on August 6 at Suvla Bay were inexperienced and had never undertaken a night landing before. Many suffered severe reactions after cholera inoculations. Some landings took place significant distances from the intended points, so that the troops were faced with landmarks they did not recognise. One battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers lost 60 per cent of its officers and 20 per cent of its rank and file between the night landing and the following noon. However, at other landing points there was little resistance and 20 000 men were put safely ashore. Had they advanced resolutely inland, they might have captured with relatively few casualties the positions at. Kiretch Tepe and Tekke Tepe. Instead for a day and a half several units loafed around the beach waiting for instructions and unaware that the heavy fighting a few miles to the south could only succeed if they attacked the Turkish positions quickly and vigorously. An East Yorkshire officer and signaller climbed to the top of Tekke Topi and reported it unoccupied, but the message never reached Hamilton or any senior commanders. The troops at Suvla Bay were short of water and were soon blisteringly hot, but staying on the beaches did not help them or the other Allied forces. The positions they should have attacked were soon occupied by Turkish gunners who rained down fire on the Suvla beaches. The East Yorkshires were shot to pieces from heights they themselves could well have occupied. A few days later, Hamilton and General de Lisle, who replaced the demoralised Stopford, decided on a further major attack at Suvla across the Salt Lake which forced the Turks to bring in their last reserves, but British losses were over 5000 and no significant advance was made. The last realistic chance to occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula was gone.

The Withdrawal

Hamilton’s replacement, Sir Charles Monro, did not take long to decide that the Gallipoli positions could not be held, let alone extended to threaten the Straits and Constantinople, without massive injections of men, artillery and ships which were not going to be made available. Unfairly blamed by Churchill for limp capitulation, Monro took the decision which enabled the remaining Allied troops to fight another day, which many did on the Western Front and Middle East.

As winter set in, instead of flies and sunstroke, the troops suffered from frostbite and extreme cold. At Suvla there were over 12 000 cases of frostbite and exposure, nearly 3000 at Anzac Cove and 1000 at Helles. One junior officer found 30 Worcesters frozen to death in a single trench. Heavy seas made supplies harder to land and any withdrawal more difficult week by week. Those for staying on argued that bad conditions at sea meant that losses in trying to withdraw might well be as high as a third of the troops. In the event, the withdrawal from Gallipoli was perhaps the most successful part of the expedition. Monro ordered withdrawal first from the Suvla and Anzac positions, both of which were under heavy Turkish counter-attack. Between 14 and 18 December 80 000 men, together with most of their guns and stores, were shipped out without the Turks being aware that a withdrawal was taking place. The Helles withdrawal took place only after one of the most ferocious Turkish assaults of the campaign. Von Sanders did not want the Allied troops to escape without loss as at Anzac and Suvla, but his assault against the British 13th Division holding Gully Spur was met with tremendous resistance: the Turkish losses were never revealed. 164 British casualties were the price of ensuring the complete withdrawal of over 35 000 men from Helles. Nearly 4 000 horses and mules were shipped out as well. The French battleship Suffren managed to sink a large Allied transport ship, but fortunately before it had been filled with departing soldiers.

Can Gallipoli be Justified?

The Turkish command was lax in record keeping and the official Turkish figures of 86 692 killed and 164 617 wounded or missing are likely to be a significant under-estimate. Rhodes James suggested that Turkish total losses were about 300 000. Estimates of the British and Dominion losses lie between 198 000 and 215 000, with something like 46 000 dead. Hell’s Foundation by Geoffrey Moorhouse, describes most movingly the effects of the campaign on Bury, the depot town of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Losses in Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ affected particular towns very badly, since many workmates and school friends enlisted together in ‘pals’ or ‘chums’ units and often died together as well. The Australian dead were about 7 600 and the wounded and missing about 18 500, the New Zealanders about 2 450 dead and 5 150 dead and missing. French casualties were probably about 50 000. These were dreadful losses compared with British campaigns during the previous century, although relatively light compared with the slaughter on the western and eastern fronts in Europe.

The British Royal Commissions which reported in 1917 and 1918 described the operations as ill-conceived and ineptly executed, with thousands of lives needlessly squandered. This view was held, too, by A. P. Herbert, General Sir William Robertson and, in Australia, Charles Bean. Churchill led opposition to this view, especially in The World Crisis, and other efforts to rehabilitate Gallipoli were made by Hamilton, Admiral Roger Keyes, John Masefield and Ernest Raymond. Their view gained some backing when it became known that at two or three times in the early exchanges, the Turkish forces were close to retreat and defeat. ‘Optimists’ still hold that with more energy in mine-sweeping the Allied fleet could have passed into the Sea of Marmara before the landings took place. ‘History’ seldom makes a final decision on such matters.

Alan Moorehead, referring to the ‘constantly repeated belief that posterity would never forget’ exploits such as those at Gallipoli, asked in 1956, ‘who in this generation has ever heard of Lancashire Landing or the third battle of Krithia? He answered, ‘Even as names they have almost vanished out of memory’. Now the ‘almost’ can be omitted so far as the Tommies and French and Indian troops are concerned. Perhaps because Australia and New Zealand have less of a burden of history to carry, Gallipoli is still remembered in the Antipodes. This is as it should be, but there can be no just cause for any Australian or New Zealander to denigrate the sacrifices of British and other Allied lives in the common cause.


Distorted propaganda is usually at its height during wars but corrected in later years. In the case of Gallipoli the opposite occurred. The official Australian war historian, Charles Bean, was reluctant to hint that Australians were ever less than heroic, and in the interests of maintaining good relationships with Australia, Cecil Aspinall-Oglander, the official British war historian, toned down even implied criticisms of any Australian action. As Rhodes James observed, the result of massaging the truth was an ‘Australian mythology that Gallipoli was an Australian triumph thrown away by incompetent British commanders’. Far worse distortions disfigure the Peter Weir film Gallipoli, which seeks to contrast cowardly and idle British troops with ANZAC heroes. Some British troops did bathe and drink tea at Suvla Bay whilst horrific fighting was taking place a few miles to the south, but others were as fully engaged in that conflict as New Zealanders and Australians. Rhodes James noted that the ‘suicidal assault’ of the Australian Light Horse at The Nek on 7 August 1915 ‘had nothing to do with the British landing at Suvla, but was intended to help the New Zealanders, as the film’s military advisers knew’. However, ‘the principal Australian sponsor of the film wanted an anti-British ending, and got it’, with ‘the deliberately inaccurate final scenes’ of the film, a potent source of Australian republican sentiments. Few Australians realise that ‘the British, French and Indian causalities were far greater than those of the Anzacs, and that the British bore the brunt of the fighting – and the losses.’

Far from covering up British errors, British historians exposed them at every level, from Kitchener, Churchill, Fisher and Hamilton down. The indecisiveness of the naval commanders , the muddle at Imbros, the incapacity of Sir Frederick Stopford, and every other British failing, were laid bare to the world. This is as it should be, if anyone is to benefit from past errors, but in 2001 British people, no more or less than Australians and New Zealanders, can take pride in heroic deeds at Gallipoli, as indeed can French, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. We should not allow latter-day propagandists to sow seeds of unwarranted resentment between peoples whose ancestors fought with great courage in a common cause.

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