April 25th 2015 marked the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings when Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops started what became a failed campaign in Turkey. My knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign was almost non-existent, so I decided it was time to learn what it was all about. The following few posts are a very simplified summary of some of the things I’ve come to understand.
For two months now I’ve been reading a variety of history books and diaries about Australia’s involvement in WWI and extended my aim to finding out the reason that the war started, but unlike WWII for which there seems to have been a clear cut purpose, the First World War isn’t so easily explained.
The limited amount of study I’ve been able to do hasn’t provided a simple answer, and I think that’s because there wasn’t a single cause. Instead, numerous factors all came together to create a kind of political and spiritual super-storm.
On the political side, various treaties set up nations and Empires like a chain of dominoes waiting for the first to be pushed. That push happened when the Austrian heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated by a Serbian.
If Austria-Hungary’s retaliatd against Serbia, Serbia’s ally Russia would enter into the conflict. Germany was allied to Austria-Hungary, France was allied to Russia, Britain was allied to France…
…so Germany tried a pre-emptive move, by invading France, but because the French-German border was well defended, they took what seemed like an easier route through neutral Belgium. The response against Germany soon led to the deadlock of trench warfare on the (German) Western Front.
Australia’s involvement came about because of their devotion to the British Empire and the government pledged troops to join the “Mother Country” in war against Germany. But before troops could get to Europe, they were dropped off in Egypt for training.
Around that time new plans were being made to open up a new battle front. The chosen target was Turkey, capital of the centuries old Ottoman Empire (an Islamic Caliphate) after Turkey sided with Germany.
A naval force was sent to break through the Dardanelles Strait, into the Sea of Marmara and on to Constantinople (now Istanbul) with the intention of neutralising the Turks, opening up a “backdoor” to break the Western Front deadlock, and to provide Russia with a safe southern shipping route.
[One of the ironies of this latter aim, is that less than 60 years earlier, the Crimean War had been fought partially to prevent Russia from invading (then British ally) Turkey and giving themselves access to a safe southern shipping route.]
The joint British-French naval force was prevented from achieving their aim by a combination of mines in the water and cannon fire from the land, so a proposed solution was hurriedly thrown together. Troops would be transported to the Aegean and landed on the Western coast of the Gallipoli peninsula where they could easily push their way to the east, overcome the protective coastal forts where the cannons were based, and open up the way to Constantinople. The Anzac troops training in Egypt were sent to become part of this solution.
However, the whole exercise was poorly planned, poorly equipped and poorly led, and a deadlock matching the one in France resulted.
The deadlock was only broken when the British and Anzac evacuated the Peninsula. In the only lasting success of the campaign they did this secretly, avoiding the massive casualties that had been expected.