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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Five Major Myths of Gallipoli by John Tognolini

Australian and Turkish dead at the Battle of Lone Pine Gallipoli 1915

Myth 1. The ANZAC’s were defending Australia and New Zealand by invading Turkey at Gallipoli.

No they were not. They were fighting for the British Empire and World War One was about that, empires and colonies. The main reason Germany went to war was to gain colonies like Britain and France. The Turkish Ottoman Empire was massive. It was nicknamed “The Sick Man of Europe.” because it was crumbling, before World War One it had lost its colonies in the Balkans. Britain and her allies France and Russia wanted to carve the rest of it up. Russia would get Constantinople and access to the Aegean Sea, France would get Syria and Lebanon and Britain would have Palestine and Iraq. Even then Iraq’s massive oil reserves were highly valued with the British navy converting from being fuelled by coal to oil.

There was one major problem though for Britain. The Turks were far more pro-British than pro-German. As Les Carlyon, describes in his book Gallipoli, the actions taken by First Lord of the Navy Winston Churchill to sort out this difficulty in detail. 

Carlyon calls Churchill’s actions against Turkey “an essay in provocation”. Britain seized two Turkish war ships that had been built in British shipyards, one was operational the other was nearly finished and Turkish sailors had been sent to Britain to crew both of them. The ships were given Turkish names and the ship building company was paid seven and half million pounds. The funds for the two ships had been raised by public subscription with Turkish women selling locks of their own hair to raise money for their purchase.

After the War, Britain and France, would get their new colonies from the Ottoman Empire. The success of Russia’s Revolution and Lenin’s Bolsheviks would rule out the ambitions of the former Russian Czar.

Myth 2 The British landed the ANZAC’s on the wrong beach.

No the Anzac Cove landings on April 25th 1915 were organised by senior ANZAC officers, Lieutenant General William Birdwood (the British officer commanding the ANZAC’s), and Australians Major General William Throsby Bridges and Colonel Brudenell White. They convinced the Allied commander of the 80,000 strong invasion Sir Ian Hamilton, to change their goals - and time of the First of Three Invasion Waves to pre-dawn from dawn.

This was after their intelligence officer Major Charles Villiers-Stuart flew over the Gallipoli two weeks earlier. He told the Birdwood, Bridges and Brundell White of the formidable Turkish defences including artillery batteries that he had observed during his flight.

Hugh Dolan, a former Australian Air Force Intelligence Officer bought this all to light in his tenaciously researched book 36 Days-The Untold Story Behind the Gallipoli Landings the documentary Gallipoli From Above is based on his book and first screened on the History Channel in 2012. Dolan told the Canberra Times on 24-4-2012

''They did something extraordinary….They sent their military intelligence officer, Major Charles Villiers-Stuart, on an aerial reconnaissance mission over Anzac Cove on April 14, 1915. He sat in the back seat [of the two-man biplane] with a pair of binoculars and a 1/40,000 scale map. He was able to determine the strength and position of the Turkish forces on the ridges [behind Anzac Cove].''

''That led to a reappraisal at Anzac headquarters. Here something special happens,'' says Dolan. ''Instead of landing and advancing [across the Gallipoli peninsula] to Maidos on the Dardenelles, they gained Hamilton's permission to change their orders.''

Myth 3 The Turks were poor soldiers.

Winston Churchill said “A good army of 50,000 men and sea power – that is the end of the Turkish menace.” The toll of dead Allied soldiers and sailors was far greater than that.

There is debate and controversy about the numbers of men that died at Gallipoli but it is believed that over 100,000 died, between 56,000 – 68,000 Turkish and 53,000 British and French soldiers in the Gallipoli Campaign. There were 43,000 British soldiers killed or missing, including 8,709 Australians, 2,721 New Zealanders, nearly twenty five per cent of those who had landed there. The British Indian (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) troops killed 1,358 and 49 Canadian Newfoundlanders. In this total are those who died from disease.

Myth 4 All the suicidal attacks were organised by British Senior Officers who were incompetent.  

In Peter Weir’s classic 1981 film Gallipoli a British officer is shown telling Australians to get out of their trenches to attack the Turkish trench at the Battle Nek.

It was actually an Australian officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jack Antill, the Bull ant, who threw the 3rd and 10th Light Horse against the five Turkish machine guns at the Nek. The survivors of the 10th Light Horse from the Nek later fought at Hill 60. Antil sent four Waves of the Light Horse against an area the size of tennis court that the Turks had covered by fve machine guns. The Turkish officer commanding the Nek was in tears, yelling out to the Australians “Stop charging us.” Antill also had the 9th Light Horse in reserve who were waiting to go over the top until Antill’s madness was stopped.

Yes there were incompetent British officers at Gallipoli such as Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston who sent Australian 2nd Brigade’s battalions, the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade’s Auckland, Canterbury, Otago and Wellington Regiments, into the Second Battle of Krithia, at Helles. That battle took place on May 6 and 8, the Australian and New Zealand troops fought alongside British and French soldiers.

Nearly one-third of Hunter-Weston’s force was killed or wounded due to his decision to attack in broad daylight, and the battle was finished a long way short of Krithia. There was no organisation for the wounded. The small number of stretcher bearers did a herculean job of carrying them from the distant battlefield to the beach, but once the wounded were taken off the beach, the overwhelmed hospital ships were reluctant to take them on board.

The Turks kept the British and French forces at Helles confined south of Krithia until the last Allied troops were evacuated from there on the January 9th, 1916. Hunter-Weston came to be called by his troops Hunter-Bunter. When he was challenged by the British Naval Division’s General Archibald Paris about the massive casualties that were suffered during a later Battle of Krithia led by Hunter-Weston in July, he replied, “Casualties, what do I care for casualties?” Hunter-Weston, along with his golf clubs and two huge arm chairs, was evacuated from Gallipoli, not due to enemy fire, but from illness.

There were capable British senior officers Gallipoli, Major General Harold Walker, a British regular officer took command of the Australian 1st Division’s after its Australian commander, Major General William Throsby Bridges died from a bullet wound at Gallipoli. Walker opposed the attack on Lone Pine but after being forced to agree to it, he meticulously planned for it. Including, stealthily digging a trench across No Man’s Land for the surprise attack on Turkish Trench. Lone Pine was the only successful battle of the August Offensive.

Myth 5 The only organised campaign was the retreat.

There has been incredible debate about whether or not the Turks knew the Anzac’s were going. According to one unknown soldier,
“At once I thought – ‘My goodness, if the Turks don’t see all this as it goes along they must be blind’. But as I went along behind them I began to notice how silently these mules behaved. They had big loads but they were perfectly quiet. They made no sound as they walked except for the slight jingle of a chain now and then … I doubt if at 1,000 yards [914 metres] you could see them at all – possibly just a black serpentine streak.”
[Unnamed diarist in Charles Bean, Story of Anzac, Vol 2, p 866]

He was describing his departure at night, that would have been on one of the two nights and involving more than 41,000 from Anzac Cove.

Macquarie University’s Professor Harvey Broadbent, who spent five translating over 2,000 pages of Turkish archives, including soldiers' diaries and letters from the Gallipoli Campaign to produce his book Defending Gallipoli: The Turkish Story  has looked at evidence, did the Turks know about the evacuation. He told ABC Radio in March 2nd 2015

"A lot of historians have been trying to find the answer to this over many years," he said.
"I found a number of documents which related to that particular event in December 1915.” 

"I wasn't able to find a document which said 'we knew they were leaving on the 20th of December and we let them go'.
"What we do have is a number of documents [with] which you can piece together a scenario.
"That is, the Turks knew there was an evacuation being prepared but they didn't know exactly when and they didn't know where [the troops] were going.

"I think that you can say that it's possible they let them go. [But] it's still an unresolved issue."

So is it a myth?  Whether it is or isn’t is open. It is true that not one ANZAC soldier lost his life or was wounded in the two nights leaving Gallipoli. 


Deidree said...

Can't help myself - Myth 5: 'There has been incredible debate about whether or not the Turks knew the Anzac’s were going.'
One Anzac. Two Anzacs.
Or - ANZACs.

Good article otherwise: very interesting.

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