The landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at what is now known as ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, was Australia’s first major action in World War I. Here they joined with British Forces in an attempt to take the Dardanelles Strait, which would give access to Constantinople (Istanbul), the Black Sea and the ports of Russia.
On their way to Europe, the troops first stationed themselves outside of Cairo in Egypt, where they went through four and a half months of gruelling training alongside troops from Britain, France, British India, Newfoundland, and New Zealand, as well as a Royal Navy Division. Together this group was known as the MEF, or Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. The Australians were combined with New Zealand under the command of British-Indian Army Officer Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, and it was then that they first became known as ‘the ANZACs’.
Early on the morning of 25 April 1915, the Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the aim of defeating the Ottoman Empire. The British landed at Cape Helles, the French at Kumkale and the ANZACs just north of Kabatepe. Failed attempts at breaching the Ottoman defences with naval force earlier in the year had shown that a land-based strategy was necessary. They hoped this would bring a quick victory and allow Allied navy ships to pass through the Dardanelles and onto Constantinople, as well as knock the Ottoman Turks out of the war.
From the beginning, the Turks firmly held their higher ground, and the Allies weren’t able to advance. Several diversionary attacks at different points on the peninsula were staged in an attempt to draw the Turks away from the main attack on the Sari Bair range, north of ANZAC Cove. While some of these diversions were successful, ultimately the battle returned to a stalemate, and after many months of fighting the British commanders decided to evacuate. The ANZACs were evacuated from ANZAC Cove in December 1915. In the eight months of fighting there were sadly 17,924 Australian casualties, and of those there were 8,709 deaths.
While overall the campaign was seen as unsuccessful for the Allies, it did draw Ottoman troops away from the Caucasus front, where Russian and Ottoman soldiers were in a bitter fight. Not only that, the battles fought by the ANZACs established their great military reputation and left a legacy for generations of future Australians.
Nowadays, there is a Historical Site covering over 33,000 hectares of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Established in 1973, the Historical Site honours the 500,000 soldiers who lost their lives here, and you’ll find statues, memorials, and cemeteries. You can also visit ANZAC Cove and the trenches of Lone Pine for a deeper understanding of the experiences of the soldiers who fought so bravely here.
It’s a fascinating site to visit, and paying homage to the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli should be on the bucket list of all Australians.