Sullivans' Corner: Anzac Day
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 22:04
While April 25 may not hold much significance for Americans, it does for Australians and New Zealanders. April 25 marks the 97th Anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign. By 1915, the ‘War to end all Wars’ had been raging on close to a year. At that point, the fighting in Belgium and France had become a stalemate, while the Germans were beating back the Russian Empire along the Eastern Front. During this time, delegates of the Entente Powers had discussed solutions to break the stalemate; including opening up a new front against the Ottoman Empire (joining the Central Powers October 1914). The plan accepted, proposed by then British First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, was to seize the Dardanelles Straits. Seizing the straits, while leaving the Ottoman capital of Constantinople vulnerable, would also provide a trade route for the Russians in the Black Sea.
The initial operation was to be a naval one. A number of Royal Navy battleships, deemed too outdated to contend with the German High Seas Fleet, would force a passage alongside French warships. The first offensive, lasting from February 1915 to March, ended in failure. A combination of Turkish artillery and mines sent a chunk of the fleet to the bottom, and the commanding officers at hand turned back in fear of further losses. Following this, it was decided that ground forces would have to take the Gallipoli peninsula, overlooking the straits.
It took a few weeks before the Entente returned to Gallipoli, giving the Turks time to fortify their defenses. The first landings occurred on April 25, 1915. The initial troops were the British 29th Division at Cape Helles, and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) further to the north (their landing site will later be called Anzac Cove). All parties involved experienced heavy fire from the Turks, but managed to secure footholds on the peninsula.
For months, the campaign could be considered a bloody stalemate. The physical features of Gallipoli made offensives difficult, while disease was rife on both sides. Through the failings of several high ranking officers, the Entente were unable to breakthrough the Turkish lines. One notable instance was the amphibious landing made at Suvla Bay, behind the frontline. Facing light opposition, the British commander at hand nevertheless was lethargic in taking the high ground, allowing the Turks to contain the landings.
Towards the end of 1915, it became apparent that the Entente would gain nothing from the stalemate. The first of the evacuations off Gallipoli occurred in December, while the last of the troops left by early January 1916. Though the British, Anzac, and French soldiers involved fought bravely, the terrain and mismanagement of several officers saw the campaign end in failure. The fighting in Gallipoli saw 480,000 Entente troops committed, with 205,000 to 220,000 of them becoming casualties. The Turks won their hard fought victory at a price, with approximately 250,000 casualties.
If there was any good to come out of Gallipoli, it was the awakening of Australian and New Zealand national identity. Presently, Anzac Day commemorates those who have served in the military, and those who did in defense of the two countries. Though the US was not involved, I would ask all of you to give a small moment of silence for those lost on both sides in that bloody campaign.
PS: To anybody on campus who is from Australia or New Zealand, I hope I got the significance of Anzac Day right.