Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales are leading events being held in Turkey to mark 100 years since the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign. Here’s the Dardanelles campaign explained…
What was the thinking behind the plan?
The aim of the Gallipoli Campaign was to change the course of the First World War and knock Turkey out of the conflict by attacking Constantinople. The idea was that by opening a second front 1,000 miles to the east it would assist Russia, which was cut off from the Allies.
But to get there, the Royal Navy would have to bust through the heavily-defended Dardanelles straits - the crucial link between the Mediterranean and the Russian Black Sea.
Who was in charge?
The idea to knock the Ottomans out of the war and open a sea route to Russia was instigated by future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. But it was flawed and the campaign led to stalemate and eight months later, withdrawal.
The amphibious assault started at dawn on April 25, 1915 as waves of British and Irish, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops attacked heavily defended beaches, through barbed wire and raced up cliffs through scrub, to attack the strategically-important Gallipoli peninsula.
Among the troops were The First Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers who landed on a sandy cove given the operational name W beach, straight into the teeth of the Turkish defences.
Some 87,000 Turks died defending their home soil. Many were cut down before they reached the shore and the sea turned red from the blood.
Although Gallipoli is synonymous with antipodean heroism, three times as many British and Irish troops were killed as Anzacs – members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
Some descendants feel the British involvement has been overlooked by history, perhaps because it ended in failure.
Why did it fail?
The operation was poorly planned. Commanders initially underestimated the resolve of the Turkish forces and planning for such a major operation was rushed.
There was a lack of artillery, inaccurate maps, the under-prepared troops were poorly equipped and the commanders made tactical errors.
About 58,000 Allied troops died, including 29,500 from Britain and Ireland, over 12,000 from France, 11,000 from Australia and New Zealand and 1,500 from India.
Why is Gallipoli so important to Australians?
Gallipoli was the first campaign that both Australia and New Zealand fought as independent nations. The battle is remembered in Australia for being the one from which the legend of the courageous, loyal and tough Anzac soldier, and the Australian characteristic of ‘mateship’, was born.
Conditions were hellish as more than half a million Allies faced heat, flies, dysentery and eventually, extreme cold. It is considered by veterans as one of the worst places to serve.
The Turks are considered to have defended heroically. An estimated 87,000 Turks were killed, with 300,000 casualties.
What’s happening to mark the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli?
April 25, 2015 marks the centenary of the landing. While Anzac Day is nationally observed in Australia and New Zealand, many relatives of the dead feel that Britain and Ireland’s contribution to the campaign, and the bravery of those who fought, has been overshadowed by the war on the Western Front.
After attending commemorations for British and other Commonwealth countries in Turkey, Prince Harry and Charles will join a French ceremony.
What is Anzac Day?
Anzac Day, established to mark the anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, is celebrated annually on April 25 and is one of the most solemn days of the year in both countries.
Ceremonies are held each year across Australia and New Zealand in memory of soldiers who have died in battle.
The day is a national holiday in both countries. As well as remembrance marches, Anzac Day traditions include a dawn service, the ‘gunfire breakfast’ – coffee with rum added to remember the breakfast taken by many soldiers before battle – and games of two-up, a gambling game played by Anzac soldiers which due to strict gaming laws is only allowed to be played on Anzac Day itself.
Harry and Charles will be attending a traditional dawn service to mark the official date. Meanwhile, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders have travelled to Turkey after winning places in a ballot. Many will camp overnight to join in the poignant remembrance ceremony.
Somewhat ironically, the evacuation was the most successful part of the failed Allied mission. The disastrous Gallipoli campaign was scrutinised and came to influence military thinking, including planning for the D-Day Normandy Landings nearly 30 years later.