Australia 1900-1945

Sample from Chapter 3



  • On July 30, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm stated that Germans must :

"….rouse the whole Muslim world …" and "…England must lose India …"

  • Turkey looked for allies and desperately wanted to exploit the Balkan crisis
  • On July 29, 1914, Britain seized two Dreadnought ships that were being built in British shipyards for the Turkish navy
  • In August 1914, the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau were chased out of the Mediterranean by the British navy and escaped to Constantinople
  • On September 26, 1914, the Turks mined the Dardanelles
  • 90% of Russian imports and exports were cut
  • On October 29, 1914, the Breslau and Goeben (the German sailors wore fezes!) and the Turkish fleet bombarded Russian Black Sea ports
  • On December 5, 1914, Britain, France and Russia declared war on Turkey
  • On November 14, 1914, the Sheikh-ul-Islam, in Constantinople, declared a Jihad (holy war) against Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro

Churchill's Strategy

  • Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty (essentially the British naval minister)
  • He had a weakness for grand military plans and gestures that often ended in disaster
  • He developed a plan to control the Dardanelles and then threaten Constantinople
  • To succeed, though, thorough and detailed preparation, as well as the element of surprise, was essential
  • At the end of the 19th Century, it had been realized that any attempt to crash through the Dardanelles would be extremely difficult
  • Indeed, Lord Fisher, who became the First Sea Lord in 1904, concluded in an investigation that such an attempt would be "mightily hazardous"
  • This view was supported in 1906 by a joint naval and military investigation
  • In March 1911, Winston Churchill wrote in a Cabinet memorandum that "it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, and nobody would expose a modern fleet to such peril"
  • Despite these reservations, Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was later to ignore this and passionately developed plans to expand the navy's role in the Mediterranean and in the Dardanelles
  • This strategy was developed so that Turkey could be forced out of the war
  • This would bring the Balkans into the war on the side of the Allies
  • Russia would ultimately regain access to the Mediterranean
  • The connection with India and much of the Empire would be secure
  • The British and French also had designs on controlling the Middle East, much of which was under the control of Turkey
  • In broad strategic terms his plans might have been sound, but were fatally flawed at the tactical level
  • The tactic would be to destroy the Turkish gun emplacements, sweep the minefields in the Dardanelles and push through the Straits with old battleships
  • This would then give the British and French control of the strategically important straits so that they could attack Constantinople

Tactic 1 - 18 March 1915

  • An attempt was made to push through the Dardanelles using warships in broad daylight
  • The naval operation began on February 19 with a naval bombardment of Turkish gun emplacements
  • On March 18, a fleet of 14 British and 4 French battleships advanced into the Dardanelles
  • Support was given by minesweepers, cruisers and destroyers
  • About 2 pm in the afternoon the French battleship Bouvet was sunk and the tide of battle changed
  • A confident advance was turned into a calamitous failure
  • Three ships ( 2 British and 1 French) were sunk by mines and 3 others were out of action and 4 had suffered damage
  • Forcing the Dardanelles had been much more difficult than anyone had anticipated
  • Turkish mines were more effective and artillery resistance was more competent than had been anticipated
  • Churchill's great plan to succeed as a naval attack had failed!
  • However, Turkish gunners had poured 20 000 shells onto the British Fleet and had run out of ammunition!
  • The war office anticipated only 5 000 casualties and clearing the entire Peninsula in a matter of weeks
  • Such was their contempt for the Turkish army!

Tactic 2 - capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula

  • The failure of the naval campaign forced Churchill and the British High Command to adopt an alternative
  • It was decided that troops would be used to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula and then attack Constantinople by land
  • The main landings were to be made by three groups - the British, French and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
  • Note : the Australian and New Zealand forces came to be known as Anzacs by early 1915
  • The aim was to clear the coastline of the peninsula of Turkish troops and artillery emplacements

T he Anzacs at Gallipoli

  • At exactly 4.29am, Sunday 25 April, 1915, the first boat was grounded and Australians began to flounder through the shallows to the beach
  • A naval officer shouted :

"Tell the Colonel the damned fools have landed us a mile too far north"

  • In fact, they had landed at Ari Burnu, nearly 3 kilometres off course!
  • This resulted in the Anzac forces having to deal with extremely steep terrain and, unexpectedly, a tough Turkish response
  • The young Turkish commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, was largely responsible for rallying the Turkish forces
  • Morale amongst the Australian forces came close to collapsing
  • Many unwounded soldiers struggled back to the beaches
  • Calls were made to evacuate, but were overruled
  • Tension arose between the troops, especially the lower level officers
  • William Malone, a New Zealand Lieutenant Colonel, wrote in his diary, after the Australians had been relieved:

"It was an enormous relief to see the last of them. I believe they are spasmodically brave and probably the best of them have been killed or wounded. They have been, I think, badly handled and trained. Officers in most cases no good"

  • Despite this disastrous beginning, the British Commander, General Ian Hamilton, decided to dig in rather than evacuate the Anzac troops
  • It was not until 30 April that Australians at home read the first reports in their newspapers
  • What Australians read were positive reports trumpeting military achievement :

"Magnificent achievement"
"The glory of It"

  • It was Australia's first real experience of war as a united nation

A war of attrition

  • The situation at Anzac Cove soon settled into stalemate
  • A network of trenches restricted the Anzacs to a small area of the beach
  • By May 1 1915, 27 000 men had been landed at Anzac Cove
  • On May 2, the names of 22 wounded officers formed the first casualty list
  • On May 19, the Turks launched a ferocious offensive that was repelled by equally ferocious resistance
  • This resulted in a massive loss of life on both sides
  • A truce was called so that the battlefield could be cleared of dead
  • Newspapers in Australia reported by June 25, that 10 000 Anzacs had been killed, wounded and missing
  • On the 6 August, a new landing was attempted by British troops at Suvla Bay, which is north of Anzac Cove
  • As this was taking place, the Anzacs began a new offensive against the heights controlled by the Turks
  • Attacks were made at The Nek, Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair
  • The destruction of human life was appalling
  • For example - in the fighting at Lone Pine (6 - 10 August) over 2 300 Anzacs were killed - Turkish casualties numbered over 6 000
  • This pales into insignificance when compared with the slaughter on the Western Front
  • These assaults proved fruitless and the war slid back into a trench warfare stalemate
  • By late August 1915 over 120 000 British, including some 12 000 Irish troops, French, British Empire (including Indian troops) and Anzac troops had been landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula
  • The Anzac force had suffered 26 000 casualties - between 7 600 and 8 141 Australians dead and 2431 New Zealanders dead
  • The British some 30 000 dead; the French 9 798 ; and the Turks more than 86 500
  • The campaign had been a military failure

End of sample chapter