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 October 31, 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 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 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 crash through the minefields in the Dardanelles with old battleships so that Turkish gun emplacements could be destroyed
  • 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 "rush through" the Dardanelles using warships in broad daylight
  • A fleet of old battleships, French and British, was assembled along with new ships such as the new, super-Dreadnought class Queen Elizabeth
  • The naval operation began on February 19 with a naval bombardment of Turkish gun implacements
  • On March 18, a fleet of 12 British and 4 French battleships advanced into the Dardanelles
  • Support was given by minesweepers, cruisers and destroyers
  • It advanced steadily until about 2 pm in the afternoon when, suddenly, the French battleship Bouvet was sunk
  • The tide of battle changed and 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 suddenly became more difficult than anyone had anticipated
  • Turkish mines were more effective and artillery resistance was more competent than had been anticipated
  • It was then decided that the army would be needed to take the Gallipoli Peninsula
  • 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