24 Apr 2015

Gallipoli: remembering one of WWI’s bloodiest campaigns

Prince Charles and Prince Harry, together with leaders from Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, commemorate the bloody, nine-month 1915 Gallipoli campaign, which began 100 years ago.

Prince Charles and Prince Harry are in Turkey for a series of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, writes Nick Scott Plummer. Leaders from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey will join events, along with relatives of soldiers who served and died in the bloody nine-month struggle.

The plan – the brainchild of Winston Churchill – had been to open a second front by attacking Constantinople (Istanbul) from the sea. It was hoped this would knock the Ottoman Empire – Germany‘s main ally – out of the war.

To do that, though, British and French warships would have had to pass through the heavily defended Dardanelle Straits. An initial attempt to clear the mines and coastal batteries which protected the straits failed. But rather than abandon the plan, the allies dispatched the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to capture the Gallipoli peninsula.

On 25 April 1915, under murderous machine-gun fire, tens of thousands of British troops landed on the southern tip of the peninsula at Cape Helles.

20 kilometres further up the Gallipoli peninsula, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) made a separate landing at Ari Burnu (now known as Anzac Cove).

Defending the peninsula was a relatively small number of units form the Ottoman Fifth Army. Despite being outnumbered in the next few days, they largely held their ground, pinning the allied forces down on the beaches and land, sometimes only a few hundred meters in shore. By 28 April the two sides had fought each other to a standstill.

Prince Harry and Prince Charles, with Commanding Officer Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, at a reception on HMS Bulwark (Getty Images)

In the months that followed the allies consolidated their beachheads at Cape Helles and Ari Burnu but repeatedly failed to take vital high ground. For their part, the Ottoman defenders were unable to push the invaders back into the sea. It was a bloody stalemate that continued with failed counter-attacks by both sides until January 1916, when allied forces were withdrawn.

Around 58,000 allied troops died while 87,000 Turks were killed defending their home soil.

Among the allied deaths were 10,000 from Australia and New Zealand. Although less than a quarter of the number lost on the western front, for both countries the failed campaign has huge significance – seen as a baptism of fire in their emergence as independent nations.

In Turkey the costly but ultimately successful defence also resonates strongly. The commander of the Ottoman forces was Mustafa Kemal, who went on to become the first president of the republic of Turkey.