Gallipoli Part II

So we have left the Allies quite dumbfounded at the event of not being able to break the Turkish defences by sea. Churchill, First Lord, was keen on keeping the pressure. To no avail. Fisher was of the opinion that the field Commander (or Sea Admiral in the case) was best to assess the situation; the PM was not in the mood of arguing against the Navy; Kitchener said the Army would do the job nicely… Enter Anzac Day, then.

Almost everything went wrong from the outset: no joint command, no planning or intelligence gathering, scarce space for troop deployment, or barracks…Hamilton went to Egypt to see to it all that shambles was sorted out: And a month passed, thus giving Otto Liman von Sanders, the German Inspector General of the Turkish Army, and Commander of the Fifth Army, precious time to rearrange and reinforce his troops now that it was pretty clear were the blow would be taken.

Finally, everything was ready. And Hamilton could launch the assault. It was obvious the Gallipoli Peninsula, to the left of the Dardanelles was the place. What where exactly? Hamilton, with guile, decided to disperse the attack so the Turks would not know the exact place of the main attack. This meant that the ANZAC would go all alone to the Ari Burnu area, while the other forces would be scattered all around, including two diversion landings in Kum Kale, to the right, by the French; and in Bulair, almost in the mainland. So von Sanders would have to decide sharply when and where to move his troops to cover attacks in eight different beaches. Interestingly enough, given the amount of confusion and disorder associated to this campaign as a whole, the fleet assembled swiftly and in a very orderly way they crossed the sea to the landing spots. Landing itself would take place in 25 April; troops were given three days rations. Again, the feeling was of strength and superiority. If only they would had known better.

One can imagine those Australian and New Zealand soldiers, young and brave, all zeal and disdain for death. Thinking on those barbaric Turks, maybe dreaming to get into History with their exploits. And they surely went in to History…the hard way. ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) was a newly created unit, raw, unexperienced and eager to fight for the Empire. With their characteristic flexible hats and an attitude to authority not always welcomed by the top brass, those hardened farmers, workers, used to the hardships of the still to tamed Southern lands would be the stars of what was meant to be an adventure film, but soon turned into a horror movie.

To begin with, what was to be known since as Anzac Cove was the worst recognised landing area ever. Well, maybe not ever. But definitely in 1915. At dawn, April 25, the ANZAC landed with not that much opposition and soon the beach was cleared. After that, probably, the young Southerners did took a good look to the surroundings: the beach was small. Beyond, high cliffs and ravines. A nightmare of shrub and rock. With the light of day, the cruel reality: they were in the wrong place. Yes, the landings went almost unopposed, but that was only because they had missed the intended beach by a mile, and now their main enemy was terrain, not the Turks. But that also was to change soon, as a man was taking command of the Turkish army. His name would also go into History as Father of the Turks: Mustafa Kemal, to be known as Ataturk.

Meanwhile, the rest of the landings was well underway. It was easy in beach Y, North of Cape Helles. So easy that some men walk calmly to the heights of Achi Baba, a key position. But, again, all went wrong: no one was really sure of who was in command, so no one took it and the troops stay there, top of the cliff, waiting, while the ANZAC were climbing and the Lancashire Fusiliers were mowed down by machine guns and trapped in the wire, as in the Western Front, in beach W; or the River Clyde, in fact a coal ship, was under so heavy a fire in beach V that the men could not get out of the ship until dusk. Hamilton was on board the Queen Elizabeth, with no actual, to the minute, knowledge of what was going on in the beaches; Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, commanding the Helles area, was no closer on board the Euryalus. Kemal, in the meantime, was crossing the heights of Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair.

So the landings were ill-planned and poorly executed; the troops were badly led, if at all; the equipment was not really appropriated, dependent on feet and bayonet. With no intelligence, there was no real understanding of the importance of some terrain features which passed almost unnoticed. And yet, the landings were somewhat succesful and the beach-heads stand by the end of a day which, unbeknownst to all the interested, was to be known in the future as ANZAC Day.

Surprisingly, they held every beach but Y, which had been the easiest prey. And was also the first gone, after a vicious night attack by the Turks that couldn’t be repelled, entrenchment not even given a thought through the day. A rough 30000 men were disembarked, amid growing pains and confusion. But the situation was far from ideal, particularly so with the ANZAC.

Kemal spent the day rallying dispersed troops and launching counter strikes, gaining the high terrain and pushing the forward-most ANZAC units back to the beach. A beach, one must remember, which instead of a mile long was a mere five hundred yards long and a scrawny thirty yards wide. Soon the ANZAC was bottled and its Commander, Sir William Birdwood, gathering intelligence from his Officers, was asking for evacuation. The whole beach-head was no more than three and a half thousands long and a little more than a thousand deep. Water, food and supplies were lacking, the landscape fiendish, exhaustion rife. The situation getting worse and the position clearly untenable. Yet, as precisely an Australian submarine, the AE2, finally forced The Narrows, Hamilton denied permission to evacuate (taking the forcing as a sign) and said to Birdwood that they had to cave, cave, cave and hold until an attack from the South would relief the pressure. So they did. Cave, cave, cave and hold against the enemy, the terrain, the lack of almost everything, earning everlasting respect as a combat force. But this was not close to an end.

Endless suffering will ensue in the next months as the operation designed to get out of the Western Front stall transformed into a clone with trenches and useless deaths.We will come back to see what was done of the ANZAC and the other Allied troops in the ongoing campaign. By now, we will just take some time to reflect on why so many had to die because of the lack of insight or sheer stubbornness of so few, so far from home.

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