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Anzac - The first day

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BerichtGeplaatst: 22 Apr 2008 12:48    Onderwerp: Anzac - The first day Reageer met quote

t was barely eight months into World War I when the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. Winston Churchill, the British First Lord of the Admiralty, had launched a naval assault on the Dardanelles in February 1915, hoping to open the way through to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. The attack failed, the surviving British ships withdrew, and Churchill came up with a new plan to silence the guns on the Straits of the Dardanelles - a land attack on Gallipoli.

Hastily, a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was pulled together - 75,000 men including the ANZAC corps who had been training in Egypt since December, expecting a call-up to the Western Front. Suddenly they were heading off to fight the Turks.

The commander-in-chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, had barely six weeks to plan the attack, and gathered inadequate artillery, equipment and intelligence - he did not expect much resistance. But it was the worst secret of the war - the Turks were well aware of the imminent Allied invasion and prepared for it.

The initial plan was to capture the southern part of the peninsula, the beaches of Cape Helles. British 29th division would land on five different beaches, while the New Zealanders and Australians would land 20km further up the coast, north of Gaba, fighting their way to seize the high ground at Chunuk Bair in the coastal mountain ranges. French would attack Kum Kale on the other side of the peninsula.

Bad weather delayed the assault for two days, and at 4.30am on April 25, the Australians began the onslaught on Turkish soil. However, it was not what they expected. The strategy was thrown into chaos before they hit the beach. Somehow - and why is still argued today - the Australians beached at Ari Burnu, about 2km north of where they were supposed to land. They had stepped on to the wrong beach - a narrow strip of sand bordered by sheer cliffs and razorback ridges. Confusion reigned - the boats were mixed up, the troops split in all directions and their maps were now useless.

Australians surprised the few troops who were holding the beach, but any domination was short-lived. Somewhere in the hills, Mustafa Kemal - later known as Ataturk - heard the gunfire at Ari Burnu (to be renamed Anzac Cove). Against orders, he led his entire division to meet the Anzacs in the battle for the heights. Allied commanders had failed to foresee the strength of the defence, or how determined these men were to protect their crumbling motherland from invaders.

The New Zealanders were not expected to fight on this day - they were to wait on the beach as back-ups as the Australians forced the to retreat. But the fierceness of what the Australians encountered forced the New Zealanders to leap into the frontline. Sometime after 9am, the Auckland Battalion were the first New Zealanders to step ashore. As they lined up for orders, bullets from machine guns whizzed about their heads. wounded from the first prong of the assault were already heading back to ships, and the bodies of the dead were scattered across the beach.

The Auckland men were ordered to reinforce the Australian line on Baby 700, a hill which led towards Chunuk Bair. Few of them got there; struggling with the vertical terrain and the prickly, dense scrub, many were shot dead by Kemal's men.

Officers who stood to give orders were gunned down by snipers. In fact, all New Zealand officers on Baby 700 that day were killed or wounded, leaving the soldiers without leadership.the British suffered heavily too at Cape Helles - 70 per cent of their troops were killed or wounded. French landed successfully at Kum Kale, but were soon withdrawn and sent to Helles.

By nightfall, the Turks had driven the Anzacs back and Kemal held control of all the heights. The surviving Anzacs did not retreat; they clung on to the sheer slopes, and began digging trenches in the hill, from which they would fight for the next eight months.

Later that night it began to rain. Wounded covered the beaches and the ridges - the dead lay where they fell and many bodies were not recovered until years later.

On this single day, the Anzacs suffered more than 2000 casualties - of the 3100 New Zealanders who landed on April 25, about one in five were wounded or killed. The Turkish casualty toll was even higher.

That night, the surviving senior officers argued for an evacuation of Anzac Cove, but Hamilton, the Commander-in-Chief, knew it was now impossible.

"Your news is indeed serious. But there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take at least two days to re-embark you. P.S. You have got through the difficult business, now you only have to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe," he wrote to them from the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, a safe distance offshore from Anzac Cove.

On the very first day the Anzacs were almost defeated by the terrain, a costly navigational mistake and their underestimation of a dogged enemy. The next 240 days would be long, gruelling and equally bloody.

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