Gallipoli and the ANZACs

In 1915, fighting during World War I had reached an obvious stalemate in Northern France. The Allied governments were looking for a way forward and noticed that in parts of southern Europe there were long stretches of coastline with difficult terrain, defended by Austrian and Turkish forces who were perceived to be weak. Germany seemed to have a “soft underbelly” and if a bridgehead could be established it would be relatively easily link up with Russia and drive straight into the heart of Europe.

The Gallipolli peninsula in present day Turkey was chosen as a point of attack but it proved to be much more difficult than expected. The coasts were windswept and bare with few bays and many steep cliffs. The land was well defended by 84 000 troops, the sea was heavily mined and attempts to use naval strength failed with the loss of two battleships.

Despite this, on 25th April 1915, an Allied army containing a large number of Australians and New Zealanders (ANZACs) landed at Gallipoli. Some attacks were successful because the Turks were unprepared but others were fiercely defended. At one beach, Allied troops were massacred and a British pilot reported that the sea was “absolutely red with blood”

The survivors fought their way in land to drive the Turks back and numerous footholds were gained. The Turks, under the determined leadership of a local commander called Kemal, continually prevented the Allied troops from capturing their real objective which was the hills above the beach which run along the whole length of the peninsula. Unfortunately for them, the Allied troops became trapped between the steep hills and the open beaches and repeated attacks led to awful losses with thousands dying to capture a few hundred yards.

They had no choice other than to dig in as the fighting continued and increased in intensity as the summer approached. In August, a second landing was made at the nearby Suvla Bay where 5 000 Turks were killed in one morning.

Between offensives, the men lived in awful conditions, sweating in the heat, surrounded by their dead with disease spreading like wildfire. Even so, a friendly respect grew between the opposing armies such that Allied troops threw tinned beef to the Turks who threw fruit and sweets back.

The Allied Generals in London began to have doubts about the operation and in November 1915, Lord Kitchener was sent to investigate. He soon realised it was hopeless to fight on, ordered a withdrawal and by January 1916, no Allied Troops were left at Gallipolli.

Every year, the 25th April is celebrated as ANZAC Day and it is commemorated throughout Australia and New Zealand. An annual Rugby League Test Match is staged between the two countries on or near to ANZAC Day and is called the ANZAC Test.

In 2015, to celebrate the centenary of Gallipoli and the ANZACs it is proposed that the ANZAC Test Match will take place in Turkey, possible at a large soccer stadium in Istanbul. This will be fitting tribute.

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