Gallipoli: AIF Divisions


The Gallipoli Campaign was fought in 1915 between the Ottoman Empire backed by their German ally, and the western powers of France and Britain in support of their Russian ally.  The campaign took part on the Gallipoli peninsula of Turkey that forms the northern bank of the Dardanelles, a strategic strait and sea route between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and close to the Ottoman (Turkish) capital of Constantinople (Istanbul). The strait was controlled by the Turks, and while neutral, supplies could be sent from the Mediterranean to the Russians in the Black Sea, but even prior to Turkey entering the war on 29th October 1914 the straits were being mined and when the Russians requested assistance in early January 1915 to the Ottoman attack in the Caucuses, a demonstration of force was planned. Winston Churchill, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty proposed a naval bombardment supported by a limited number of occupation troops to seize the forts and therefore control the straits.

Gallipoli bombardment - G00229.JPGNaval bombardment (photograph right) commenced on 19th February 1915 by a combined Anglo-French task force and the outer forts were soon put out of action, but Turkish mobility thwarted any significant breakthrough and increased military effort was therefore required. The main naval attack started on 18th March with a fleet of 18 battleships supported by cruisers and destroyers. Despite the presence of minesweepers many of the ships hit mines and sunk, including the French battleship Bouvet with 600 men aboard. The fleet had to withdraw, and with it went Churchill’s plan to take the Dardanelles with limited troops. Planning now turned to the use of a significant amount of ground forces, tasked with eliminating the mobile Turkish gun batteries to enable the minesweepers to clear the straits.

gallipoli-invasion-map.jpgThe British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the 78,000-strong Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to carry out the mission. Soldiers from the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force were encamped in Egypt, undergoing training prior to being sent to France. These troops were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood. The ANZAC troops, along with the regular British 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps, were subsequently placed under Hamilton’s command. With only five divisions the operation would be complicated by the limited forces available, the rugged terrain of the peninsula, the small number of suitable landing beaches, as well as severe logistical difficulties. In addition allied intelligence failed to adequately prepare for the campaign.


Gallipoli landing - G00905.JPGHaving been delayed by two days due to bad weather, the Allied forces left the Greek island of Lemnos and landed at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915. The British 29th Division landed on the tip of the peninsular at Helles, whereas the Anzacs, spearheaded by the 3rd Infantry Brigade landed at a small cove on the Aegean coast north of Gaba Tepe, soon to be known as ‘Anzac Cove’. Although the landing at Cape Helles was going well, the landing at Anzac Cove was not as successful and Birdwood, the commander of the Anzacs, contemplated the re-embarkation of his troops. Where there were successes, little was done by the Allies to exploit the situation and apart from a few limited advances inland by small groups of men, most troops stayed on or close to the beaches. The Allied attack lost momentum and the Ottomans had time to bring up reinforcements and rally the small number of defending troops.

On the afternoon of 27th April, the Turks under Mustafa Kemal launched an attack to drive the six Allied brigades at Anzac back to the beach. With the support of naval gunfire, the Allies held back the Ottomans throughout the night. The following day the British and French troops, attempted to capture Krithia, but the Ottoman defenders stopped the Allied advance having inflicted 3,000 casualties. As Ottoman reinforcements arrived, the possibility of a swift Allied victory on the peninsula disappeared and the fighting at Helles and Anzac, became a battle of attrition.

On the 30th April Ottoman troops launched strong counterattacks at Helles and Anzac. Although these briefly broke through in the French sector, the attacks were repulsed by massed Allied machine-gun fire, which inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers. The following night, Birdwood ordered the New Zealand and Australian Division under Major General Alexander Godley, to attack towards “Baby 700”. Colonel John Monash’s Australian 4th Infantry Brigade, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and marines from the Chatham Battalion took part in the attack. The troops advanced a short distance during the night, under a combined naval and artillery barrage but in the dark became separated and after coming under heavy fire from their exposed left flank, were eventually forced to withdraw, having suffered about 1,000 casualties.

Galliploi soldiers - C01501.JPGOn 5th May, believing Anzac to be secure, Hamilton moved the Australian 2nd Infantry Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, along with 20 Australian field artillery pieces, to the Helles front as reserves for the Second Battle of Krithia. Involving a force of 20,000 men, it was the first general attack at Helles and was planned as a daylight attack. French troops were to capture Kereves Dere, and the British, Australians and New Zealanders were assigned Krithia and Achi Baba. Under heavy artillery and then machine-gun fire from Ottoman outposts that had remained hidden from British aerial reconnaissance, the advance stopped; the next day, it was resumed by reinforcements. The attack continued on 7th May, but the success of the Ottoman defences continued. Four battalions of New Zealanders attacked up Krithia Spur the following day and with the 29th Division they managed to reach a position just south of the village. Amidst heavy small arms and shell fire, the Australian 2nd Infantry Brigade charged towards Krithia and gained 600 metres, though about 400 metres short of the objective with 1,000 casualties. Near Fir Tree Spur, the New Zealanders managed to get forward and link up with the Australians, although the British were held up and the French were exhausted, despite having occupied a point overlooking their objective. The attack was suspended and the Allies dug in, having failed to take Krithia or Achi Baba.

Allied stocks of ammunition were almost expended, particularly for artillery, and both sides paused to bring in replenishments and expand and improve their trench systems. The Ottomans relieved troops opposite the Australian line, which was reinforced by the Australian Light Horse operating as infantry. Sporadic fighting continued, with sniping, grenade attacks and raids, with opposing trenches separated in places by only a few metres. The Australians lost a number of officers to sniping, including the commander of the 1st Division, Major General William Bridges, who was wounded while inspecting the 1st Light Horse Regiment’s position and died of his injuries on the hospital ship Gascon on 18th May.

Gallipoli sniper - P09871.008.JPGOn 19th May, 42,000 Turks launched an attack at Anzac in an effort to push the 17,000 Australians and New Zealanders back into the sea. Lacking sufficient artillery and ammunition, the Turks relied on surprise and weight of numbers for success but their preparations were seen and the defenders forewarned. In the resulting battle the Turks suffered approximately 13,000 casualties, of which 3,000 men were killed; Australian and New Zealand casualties were 160 killed and 468 wounded. The dead included a stretcher bearer, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, whose efforts to evacuate wounded men on a donkey while under fire, became legendary amongst the Australians. Ottoman losses were so severe that a truce was organised to bury the dead lying in no man’s land, which led to camaraderie between the armies, much like the Christmas truce of 1914 on the Western Front.

With this defeat, the Ottoman forces ceased frontal assaults and began tunnelling in the Anzac sector. On the morning of 29th May, despite Australian counter-mining, the Ottomans detonated a mine and attacked with a battalion. The Australian 15th Battalion was forced back but counterattacked and recaptured the ground later in the day, before being relieved by New Zealand troops. Operations at Anzac in early June returned to consolidation, minor engagements and skirmishing with grenades and sniper-fire.

In the Helles sector, which had been extensively entrenched by both sides, the Allies attacked Krithia and Achi Baba again, in the Third Battle of Krithia on 4th June, with the 29th Division, Royal Naval Division, 42nd Division and two French divisions. It failed and the possibility of a decisive breakthrough was gone and trench warfare resumed, with objectives being measured in hundreds of yards. Casualties were approximately 25% on both sides; the British lost 4,500 out of 20,000 men and the French 2,000 casualties from 10,000 troops. Ottoman losses were 9,000 casualties.

Gallipoli August - G01124.JPGA new landing at Suvla Bay took place on the night of 6th August against light opposition, but the British failed to push for an advance inland, and ground not much more than the beach was seized, reducing the Suvla front as well to static trench warfare. The offensive was preceded on the evening of 6th August by diversions at Helles and Anzac. At Helles, the diversion at Krithia Vineyard became another costly stalemate. At Anzac an attack on the Ottoman trenches at “Lone Pine”, led by the 1st Infantry Brigade, captured the main Ottoman trench line in a diversion to draw Ottoman forces away from the main assaults at the peaks of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, but both of these main attacks failed with their objectives. On the dawn of 7th August the New Zealand Infantry Brigade came within 500 metres of the near peak of Chunuk Bair but was not able to seize the summit until the following morning. This delay had fatal consequences for another supporting attack on the morning of 7th August, by the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek. The attack went ahead regardless ending in a costly failure, after the opening artillery barrage lifted seven minutes early, leaving the assaulting troops to attack alerted Ottoman defenders on a narrow front. An attack on Hill 971 never took place after the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade and an Indian brigade lost direction during the night. Attempts to resume the attack were easily repulsed by the Ottoman defenders, at great cost to the Allies.

The New Zealanders held out on Chunuk Bair for two days before relief was provided by two New Army battalions. An Ottoman counterattack on 10th August then swept these two battalions from the heights. Of 760 men in the New Zealand Wellington Battalion who reached the summit 711 became casualties. With the Turkish forces having recaptured the vital ground the Allies best chance of victory was lost. On 12th August the newly arrived 54th Division attacked Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe. The attack failed and Hamilton’s staff briefly considered the evacuation of Suvla and Anzac.

Gallipoli reinforcements - A05774.JPGElements of the newly formed Australian 2nd Division began arriving at Anzac from Egypt, with the 5th Infantry Brigade landing on 19–20th August; the 6th Infantry Brigade (including the 22nd Battalion) and 7th Infantry Brigade arrived in early September. The final British attempt to reignite the offensive came on 21st August with attacks at Scimitar Hill and Hill 60. Control of the hills would have united the Anzac and Suvla fronts but both attacks failed.  Prior to the fighting on 17th August Hamilton had requested another 95,000 troops, but the previous day the French had announced plans to Kitchener for an autumn offensive in France thereby reducing the number of troops available for the Dardanelles.

Following news of the failure at Scimitar Hill, Hamilton felt compelled to assume a defensive strategy. Bulgaria’s recent entry into the war opened a land route for the Germans to rearm the Turkish army particularly with heavy artillery that could pound the Allied trenches. In addition, on 25th September Kitchener demanded three divisions – two British and one French – for service in Salonika in Greece, and this marked the beginning of the end of the Allied campaign at Gallipoli.

Conditions at Gallipoli grew worse for the soldiers on both sides, and summer heat and poor sanitation resulted in an explosion in the fly population. Eating became extremely difficult as unburied corpses became bloated and putrid. The precarious Allied bases were poorly situated, which caused supply and shelter problems. A dysentery epidemic spread through the Allied trenches at Anzac and Helles, while the Ottomans also suffered heavily from disease which resulted in many deaths. Kitchener visited the eastern Mediterranean in early November and after consulting with the commanders agreed with the recommendation for evacuation.

Gallipoli Pier - A02007.JPGThe evacuation was the best-executed aspect of the entire Dardanelles campaign, and at the end of the entire operation 142,000 men were evacuated with negligible casualties. Suvla and Anzac were evacuated in late December, the last troops leaving before dawn on 20th December 1915. At Anzac Cove troops maintained silence for an hour or more, until curious Ottoman troops ventured to inspect the trenches, whereupon the Anzacs opened fire. A mine was detonated at the Nek which killed 70 Ottoman soldiers. The Allied force embarked, with the Australians suffering no casualties on the final night, but large quantities of supplies and stores fell into Ottoman hands.  Helles was retained for a period but a decision to evacuate the garrison was made on 28th December. Unlike the evacuation from Anzac Cove, Ottoman forces were looking for signs of withdrawal. Mines were laid with time fuses and on the night of 7th/8th January, under the cover of a naval bombardment, the British troops began to fall back 8 kms from their lines to the beaches, where makeshift piers were used to board boats.  The final British troops departed from Lancashire Landing around 04:00 on 8th January 1916. Among the first to land in April 1915, remnants of The Plymouth Battalion, Royal Marine Light Infantry were the last to leave the Peninsula.


The Allied attempt to secure a passage through the Dardanelles was a failure, and given this campaign was so close to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople was seen as a great victory by the Turks. However the campaign did cause damage to Ottoman national resources and at that stage of the war the Allies were in a better position to replace their losses than the Turks. While it diverted Ottoman forces away from other areas of conflict in the Middle East the campaign also consumed resources the Allies could have employed on the Western Front. The campaign also resulted in heavy losses on the Allied side.

The campaign’s necessity remains the subject of debate, and the recriminations that followed were significant. Following the failure of the Dardanelles expedition, Sir Ian Hamilton, commander of the MEF, was recalled to London in October 1915, ending his military career. Winston Churchill was demoted from First Lord of the Admiralty remaining in the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, before resigning in November 1915 and departing for the Western Front, where he commanded an infantry battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers early in 1916. Furthermore, Gallipoli’s very public failure contributed to Asquith’s replacement as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George in December 1916. On the plus side, the competence of Australian brigade commanders, John Monash (4th Infantry Brigade) and Harry Chauvel (1st Light Horse Brigade, New Zealand and Australian Division), was recognised by promotion to divisional and corps command. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers in Australian units.

Gallipoli cemetery - C01160.JPGCasualty figures for the campaign vary between sources, but it is believed that by the time the Gallipoli Campaign ended over 100,000 men had died, including 56,000 – 68,000 Turkish and around 43,000 British and 10,000 French soldiers. Included within the British dead are 8,141 from the Australian Imperial Force. Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26,111 comprising of 1,007 officers and 25,104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7,779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease. Also among the British dead were 2,721 New Zealanders, about a quarter of those who had landed on the peninsula. In total there were nearly half a million casualties during the campaign, with the British Official History listing total losses, including sick, as 205,000 British, 47,000 French and 251,000 Turkish. Many soldiers became sick due to the unsanitary conditions, especially from typhoid, dysentery and diarrhoea. It is estimated that at least 145,000 British soldiers became ill during the campaign. Turkish sick are given as 64,000.

The significance of the Gallipoli Campaign is felt strongly in both Australia and New Zealand, and the campaign is referred to as both nations’ coming of age and linked to their emergence as independent nations. It has been argued that the campaign proved significant in the emergence of a unique Australian identity following the war, which has been closely linked to popular conceptualisations of the qualities of the soldiers that fought during the campaign, which became embodied in the notion of an “Anzac spirit”. The landing on 25th April is commemorated every year in both countries as Anzac Day.


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