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The 1915 Gallipoli Campaign: the significance of a disastrous military campaign in the forging of two nations

Par Fabien Jeannier : Docteur en civilisation britannique, professeur d'anglais - lycée Aristide Briand, Gap
Publié par Marion Coste le 10/02/2016

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Cet article propose une genèse de la campagne de Gallipoli en rappelant ses différentes étapes et ses chiffres clés, mais aussi une analyse de l’impact qu’a eu cette débâcle militaire dans la construction identitaire de la Nouvelle-Zélande et de l’Australie.
Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22768446Picture 1: New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
New Zealand Free Lance: Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Introduction - The British Empire at War

The British government led by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914. Britain had guaranteed the neutrality and independence of Belgium since 1839 and Germany had not responded to the ultimatum to get out of Belgium by midnight on August 3rd. Matters of national defence and imperial influence were also taken into account: Germany was a threat to British interests and had been challenging British naval dominance. A victorious and hostile Germany would jeopardise Britain’s security and position in the world.

Britain could rely on the power and extent of its colonial Empire, which was to play a crucial role in the war by providing men and resources for the battlefields. A strong British imperial identity bound Britain and the Dominions of British settlements (Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa). It was underpinned by the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English components of Britain and it was fuelled by sustained pre-war British emigration to the Dominions, establishing strong cultural and familial links between Britain and the Dominions.

In 1914, the British Imperial Government was sole responsible for the foreign policy of the Empire, including declarations of war. Consequently, the government of Herbert Asquith did not need to consult any of the colonial governments when issuing its declaration of war. When the British government declared war on Germany, it did so on behalf of the entire British Empire, including the Dominions. Even though the latter had been granted the privilege of self-rule, they had no choice but to follow Britain’s lead, and could only control the nature and extent of their military contribution to the Imperial forces.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the first British colonial force to fight on the Western Front in March 1915. It was joined by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in March 1916. Soldiers from the Dominions were to play a major role in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 before distinguishing themselves on many more occasions until the end of the war in 1918.

This article focuses on the ANZAC’s first campaign of the First World War, the Gallipoli Campaign, which took place between April 25th, 1915 and January 9th, 1916 on the Gallipoli peninsula ((The Gallipoli peninsula is situated in Turkey. It forms one land side of the Dardanelles Straits, a historic waterway that links the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. The peninsula is only 10 miles at the widest point and is about 45 miles long. Cape Helles lies at the southernmost tip. The terrain is inhospitable for it is a rocky, scrub-covered area with little water. The hills are steep-sided and are cut into deep gulleys and ravines. Among the hills which lie along the spine of the peninsula, there are many peaks and valleys. The most important heights are the summits of Achi Baba and Sari Bair. There are a number of small sandy beaches at the southernmost tip and on the western side but there are no such beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula. To the north-west lies a flat area surrounding a salt lake. There are only a number of small settlements, of which Krithia in the south and Bulair in the north are the most important.)) and examines its genesis as well as and its key phases. This campaign is of great significance to New Zealand, Australia and the British Empire for at least two interrelated reasons. First, although it was a military disaster, it hugely contributed to the building of Australian and New Zealand national identities. Second, the feeling of national identity which emerged from blood sacrifice inevitably and undoubtedly led to a radical reassessment of British Imperial policy.

1. The Genesis of the Gallipoli Campaign

1.1 Political Negotiation

Mired in stalemate on the Western Front, the British war effort required new impetus in early 1915. British political leaders, the media, and the public called for action in order to break the deadlock. An attack on the Ottoman Empire, which had joined the Central Powers on October 29th, 1914, was suggested by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

Thus, within weeks of the outbreak of war, British attention turned east. It appears that British leaders were pursuing politically expedient military goals in Turkey. Secretary of the War Council Maurice Hankey, Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill advocated military operations against Turkey on the Gallipoli peninsula with two strategic objectives: ending the war early not only by creating a new front that the Ottomans could not cope with, but also by forcing Germany to split its army further, since the Germans would need to support the Turkish army. The operation aimed at driving Turkey out of the war by seizing control of Gallipoli and attacking Constantinople, and opening a route to Russia, whose support would be rewarded by the offering of the Turkish capital to Tsar Nicholas II. This diversionary expedition re-affirmed Britain's support for one of its main allies, Russia, by diverting Turkish troops away from fighting grounds in the Caucasus. It was thought that a successful campaign would bring the Ottoman Empire to its knees and encourage Balkan States such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania to join the war on the Allied side and attack Austria-Hungary from the south-east. In addition, it was hoped that it could persuade Italy to enter the war on the Allied side.

It meant attacking Germany by the back door. British leaders assumed that the Germans would leave their lines weakened on the Western or Eastern Fronts to assist the Turks, which would lead to greater mobility there.

At the end of August 1914, Churchill formally requested that Secretary of State for War and Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener organise a group of naval and military officers to plan for the taking of the Gallipoli peninsula. Representatives of the War Office and the Admiralty met and concluded that an attack on the Gallipoli peninsula was not a militarily feasible operation. Kitchener also disagreed with opening a second front as he was reluctant to divert troops from the continent.

Churchill had contacted Admiral Carden, head of the British fleet anchored off of the Dardanelles, to ask for his advice on a naval assault on Turkish positions in the Dardanelles. Carden was cautious and replied to Churchill that a gradual attack might be more appropriate and had a greater chance of success. Churchill pushed Carden to produce a plan which he could submit to the War Office, although he had himself written in 1911 that “it should be remembered that it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, and nobody would expose a modern fleet to such peril” ((Quoted by C. N. Trueman in "Gallipoli", The History Learning Site, 

Senior commanders in the Navy were concerned about the speed with which Churchill seemed to be pushing for an attack on the Dardanelles. They believed that long term planning was necessary and that Churchill’s desire for a speedy military operation was risky. Churchill, on the other hand believed that the Turkish forts in the Dardanelles were exposed and could therefore be easily destroyed, which would lead to a quick and victorious campaign.

Politicians and senior military officers continued to defend their diverging opinions into winter. The dynamic changed on January 1st, 1915, when Russia formally requested a “naval or military demonstration against the Turks to ease the pressure caused by the Turkish offensive driving through the Caucasus Mountains” ((Hart, Peter, Gallipoli, New York, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 14, quoted by Adams, Raymond, “The Gallipoli Campaign. Learning from a Mismatch of Strategic Ends and Means”, Joint Force Quarterly, n°79, 4th Quarter, October 2015, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-79/jfq-79_96-101_Adams.pdf.)). On January 15th, 1915, after many debates about the strategic direction of the British war effort, the War Council finally approved Churchill’s plan and aimed at launching the campaign in February.

This decision was based on the understanding that a naval attack on the Narrows would neither require a large force nor compromise British naval power in the North Sea. What is more, only older battleships would be used. Carden was given the go ahead to prepare an assault. The final plan would call for a combined force of six British and four French battleships, accompanied by a substantial naval escort, to push through the Dardanelles and fight to Constantinople. British troops in Egypt were put on alert.

1. 2 A British Strategy Underpinned by Flawed Assumptions

The British designed their Dardanelles plan on a series of flawed assumptions whose cumulative effect led the operation to disaster.

First of all, the British government’s plans were driven by inappropriate arrogance. The government was so confident in their ability to succeed and so contemptuous of Turkish fighting abilities that it did not consider sending any troops ashore on the Gallipoli peninsula to support the naval operations. Political leaders and military planners alike assumed the Turks were deficient in martial skills, grit and determination. It was believed that the Turks would be an easy target and that minimal force would be needed for success.

Churchill displayed far too much confidence in the ability of naval bombardment to destroy land targets. British war planners assumed that the battle fleet would easily breach the enemy’s coastal defences, sail directly to Constantinople, and take the Turkish Straits without requiring a landing force.

British arrogance was also embodied by two senior members of the government, Kitchener and Sir Edward Grey. Kitchener assumed that, once through the straits, with naval guns pointing at Constantinople, the fleet would “compel Turkey’s capitulation, secure a supply route to hard-pressed Russia, and inspire the Balkan states to join the Allied war effort and eventually to attack Austro-Hungary, thereby pressuring Germany” ((Gilbert, Martin, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900–1933, New York, Avon Books, 1997, p. 363, quoted by Adams, Raymond, op. cit.)). He also assumed that once the news of the arrival of the British fleet reached Constantinople, the entire Turkish army in Thrace would retreat, leaving Turkey to British control. As for Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he argued that once the fleet moved through the Dardanelles, “a coup d’état would occur in Constantinople, whereby Turkey would abandon the Central Powers and join the Entente” ((Ibid.)).

2. Australia and New Zealand at War

Given the place that Gallipoli has in Australian and New Zealand history, it is easy to forget that the campaign was not entirely an ANZAC affair. In fact, the British and French army contingents on Gallipoli outnumbered the ANZAC in terms of men deployed and casualties. Troops from India and Newfoundland were also involved in the campaign.

On July 31st, 1914 in an election speech at Colac in Victoria, Australia, the Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher (ALP) had famously declared that “should the worst happen, after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling” ((See ‘To the last man’—Australia’s entry to war in 1914)). Both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher pledged full support to Britain and the outbreak of war in August 1914 was greeted in Australia with great enthusiasm.

On August 3rd, 1914 the government of Australia put together an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, named the Australian Imperial Force, to be composed of a Division and a brigade of Light Horse. The role of the Australian Imperial Force was to respond to the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire to British interests in the Middle East and to the Suez Canal. The troops arrived in Egypt in December 1914, where they resumed training, and remained there until their departure for the Gallipoli peninsula, along with troops from Britain, France and New Zealand.

Three more brigades were formed and sailed for Egypt in May and June 1915. By August, they had been joined by new artillery units from Australia and other ancillary units put together from the reserves in Egypt. They were formed into the 2nd Australian Division. In August 1915 the Division was sent to reinforce the garrison at Gallipoli, and withdrew from the peninsula on December 19th and 20th, 1915.


Picture 2: Politicians and a crowd, outside Parliament Buildings, upon the declaration of war with Germany.
Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972: Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-045239-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

In New Zealand, the declaration of war was announced to an enthusiastic crowd on the front steps of the Parliament in Wellington by Governor-general Lord Liverpool (Picture 2). New Zealand was ready for war and committed an expeditionary force on August 7th, 1914. In the week following the outbreak of war, 14,000 New Zealanders volunteered to join the expeditionary force. The main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), composed of 8,454 volunteers for overseas service, left New Zealand on October 16th, 1914. They linked up with an Australian brigade and together arrived in Egypt on December 3rd, 1914. They formed the New Zealand and Australian Division. After the Gallipoli Campaign, the New Zealand forces reconstituted as the New Zealand Division in February and March 1916 and went on to fight in various locations on the Western Front.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was commanded by a British officer, Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood and was a component of the new Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), which was composed of 75,000 men and was commanded by British Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Hamilton. The ANZAC consisted of the 1st Australian Division (commanded by Major-General William Bridges) and the composite New Zealand and Australian Division (commanded by Major-General Sir Alexander Godley).

3. The Campaign

Map produced by Geographx with research assistance from Damien Fenton and Caroline Lord. It originally appeared in Damien Fenton, New Zealand and the First World War (Penguin, Auckland, 2013)Picture 3: Gallipoli invasion map
(Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Aug-2014. Map produced by Geographx with research assistance from Damien Fenton and Caroline Lord. It originally appeared in Damien Fenton, New Zealand and the First World War (Penguin, Auckland, 2013)

British naval forces shelled the forts guarding the narrowest point of the straits, the Narrows, at the entrance of the Dardanelles, on November 1st, 1914, well before the official commencement of the Gallipoli Campaign. This operation was carried out a few days before Britain and France formally declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 5th, 1914. The bombings mainly aimed at punishing Turkey for siding with the Triple Alliance, but it had the undesired effect of alerting the Turkish defenders to the possibility of a military operation in the Dardanelles led by the British. As a result, the Turks focused on improving their defences, including by laying underwater minefields. This would give them the advantage when Allied troops landed at the peninsula in April 1915.

The overall campaign was organised and planned by Hamilton, who decided to focus his attack on Cape Helles at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, where British forces would land at five separate beaches. At the same time, French colonial troops would launch a diversionary attack at Kum Kale on the Asiatic side of the Straits. The ANZAC, under the command of Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, would make a separate landing midway up the peninsula, near Gaba Tepe (Kabatepe), in order to secure key points in the Sari Bair Range and then take Mal Tepe, a hill overlooking the main road running from north to south down the peninsula. This would allow them to prevent Ottoman reinforcements from reaching Helles. The invasion would be a tough task for Hamilton’s force as the MEF had had little time to prepare for the landings. While senior British generals such as Lord Kitchener still had doubts about the MEF’s military capabilities, they felt it would be good enough against a ‘second-rate’ opponent like the Ottomans.

3.1 The Key Phases

The Naval operations - February and March 1915

On February 19th, 1915, Admiral Carden launched the attack on Turkish positions in the Dardanelles while British and ANZAC troops were put on standby in Egypt. The final attack on March 18th was almost successful but saw the Anglo-French forces run into an unexpected line of twenty Turkish mines. Three battleships were sunk, which put an end to the prospect of a swift victory and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by means of a naval assault alone. The setback caused the British War Council to delay further naval action and call for an amphibious assault. However, British commanders needed another 38 days before being able to embark, transport, and land military forces at the peninsula. This gave the enemy time to strengthen Gallipoli’s defences.

The First Landing – April 25th, 1915 

The Allies dispatched a ground force which landed at the Gallipoli peninsula at dawn on April 25th, 1915 (Picture 4). It was to capture Kilid Bahr plateau, west of the Narrows, from where they would be able to destroy Ottoman defensive positions on both sides of the strait, allowing the naval operation to proceed.

The beach at Kapa Tepe, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. McKenzie, Fiona, fl 2004 :Photographs relating to Charles and Christina Andrews.

Picture 4: The beach at Kapa Tepe, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey.
McKenzie, Fiona, fl 2004: Photographs relating to Charles and Christina Andrews.
Ref: PAColl-8147-1-08. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Hamilton decided to make two landings, placing the British 29th Division at Cape Helles (where they would do five separate landings, three of which turned out to be largely unopposed) and the ANZAC north of Gaba Tepe. The French would launch a feint – a fake landing at Besika Bay, while making a proper landing at Kum Kale to protect the 29th Division. Neither landing went according to plan. They were quickly contained by determined Ottoman troops, and neither the British nor the ANZAC were able to advance. By May, the British had sustained 20,000 casualities in Helles, including 6,000 fatalities.

The 1st Australian Division spearheaded the attack, with the first wave of troops landing before dawn. A navigational error caused them to disembark about two kilometres north of the intended landing site in a narrow bay (later known as Anzac Cove) just south of the Ari Burnu headland, a particularly rugged stretch of the Gallipoli coastline. They were faced with steep cliffs which they had to climb to get off the beach. To make matters worse, Anzac Cove was a tiny beach and quickly became very congested. The fighting was bloody and costly. The Turks in this area were led by the then unknown Colonel Mustafa Kemal. Lieutenant-General Birdwood asked Hamilton for permission to withdraw his troops. Hamilton refused. They established a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach.

Troops from all sides displayed great bravery and endured a lot of suffering. The Ottoman defenders were largely successful while the Allies failed to seize opportunities to achieve their objectives. The Ottomans had artillery supremacy throughout the first day and this enabled them to bombard heavily the ANZAC positions without fear of retaliation from the Allies who never hit their mark.

The failure ((See Harvey Broadbent’s detailed analysis of Gallipoli’s first day.)) on the first day can be put down to a number of differing reasons, which include initial flawed planning and insufficient troops, the landing in darkness, the slowness in getting (insufficient) artillery ashore, inaccurate maps, the underestimation of the Ottomans’ troops fighting abilities and determination, as well as the military skills of their commanders, the difficulties of the terrain and the capacity of the Ottomans to use it to their advantage.

By the end of April 25th, the assault became a stalemate which was to last for the next eight months. Trench warfare quickly took hold at Gallipoli, mirroring the fighting of the Western Front. It was particularly intensive at Anzac Cove. The casualties sustained in both locations were heavy and the living conditions in the trenches worsened over the summer: sickness spread, vast swarms of flesh flies appeared and the food quickly became inedible.

By April 29th, the battle of the landing was over. The Ottomans had failed to throw the invaders back into the sea: New Zealanders and Australians had managed to establish a beachhead at Anzac Cove while the British and French had established a tenuous foothold on the peninsula. However, the British commandment unsuccessfully tried to break the stalemate by launching a series of attacks in the following weeks and months. Driven by political considerations, the British leaders decided to send Hamilton additional forces.

The August Offensive

Read, James Cornelius, 1871-1968. Soldiers occupying a trench during the Gallipoli campaign. Read, J C :Images of the Gallipoli campaign.

Picture 5: Read, James Cornelius, 1871-1968. Soldiers occupying a trench during the Gallipoli campaign.
Read, J C: Images of the Gallipoli campaign. Ref: 1/4-058130-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Beginning on August 6th, the August Offensive was a major attempt by the Allied forces at Gallipoli to break the deadlock. The offensive involved 63,000 Allied troops, with a fresh landing at Suvla Bay, north of Anzac Cove. The offensive failed as Turkish troops, led by Mustafa Kemal, counter-attacked. The battles fought by Australians and New Zealanders at Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and The Nek are remembered for their ferocity. Of the 4,600 Australians soldiers involved in the Battle of Lone Pine, 2,277 were killed or wounded, and seven Victoria Crosses were awarded for valour. On August 8th, 1915, the ANZAC launched another assault on Chunuk Bair. It was the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces’ most significant action in the Gallipoli Campaign, making it a key date in New Zealand’s history. After three weeks of fierce fighting, the August offensive unsuccessfully came to an end and the stalemate continued for the remainder of 1915 (Picture 5).

The evacuation – Suvla Bay, Anzac Cove and Cape Helles

The failure of the August Offensive seemed to jeopardise the future of the campaign. For the British authorities, Gallipoli had become an embarrassing quagmire. Herbert Asquith’s government turned down Lieutenant-General Hamilton’s request for more men. The latter was replaced mid-October by Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Munro.

To make matters worse, the Central Powers’ occupation of Serbia had created a direct rail link between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. The Ottomans could now receive heavy artillery from Germany and Austria. The strength of the Ottoman Fifth Army was also increasing. With 315,000 soldiers, it now easily outnumbered the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces’ mere 134,000 men. Munro unsurprisingly recommended evacuation. The deteriorating conditions, combined with the Ottomans’ growing strength, finally convinced the British to order the evacuation of Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove on November 22nd, 1915.

The evacuation of Anzac Cove began on December 15th. 36,000 troops were successfully shipped out over four nights and no casualties were sustained. Suvla Bay was evacuated on December 20th and the evacuation of British and French forces from Cape Helles successfully took place on January 8th and 9th, 1916. The disastrous campaign thus ironically ended with two military successes. As the evacuation of the troops was carried out under cover of a comprehensive deception operation, the Turks were unable to inflict more than a very few casualties on the retreating forces.

The Gallipoli Campaign achieved none of the goals set by British political leaders. The Allies ultimately failed in their attempt to seize the Dardanelles, force Constantinople’s surrender, and open a link with their Russian ally.

Formal portrait of Kemal Pasha, c 1919

Picture 6: Formal portrait of Kemal Pasha, c 1919. 

Strategic mistakes resulting from political expediency determined the outcome of the campaign. The failure of the Gallipoli Campaign is the result of a striking discrepancy between strategy and means allocated to the naval and ground forces ((See Raymond Adams’s detailed analysis of the mismatch between strategic ends and means.)). Essentially, the Allies did not have enough men available at the crucial moments. Hamilton launched the campaign with five divisions against a roughly comparable Ottoman force operating on familiar territory. This parity continued throughout the campaign, with 13 Allied divisions eventually facing 14 Ottoman divisions. The British government’s lukewarm commitment to Gallipoli before July 1915 meant that the Allied build-up was always too little, too late. Unimaginative leadership also played a part in the Allied failure: many men were sacrificed in futile attacks at Anzac and Helles. On the Turkish side, the inspired leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Picture 6) played a key role in sustaining courage and determination.

3.2 The living conditions on Gallipoli

The area occupied by the New Zealanders and Australians at Anzac Cove was tiny – less than six square kilometres – and the lack of natural water sources led to constant water shortages. Water, food, ammunition, and other supplies arrived at Anzac Cove on ships and were unloaded on the beach with great difficulty. As a consequence, life for the soldiers on Gallipoli was extremely tough and they had to endure extreme weather and primitive living conditions.

Temperatures soared over the summer, while the winter months brought cold rain, snow and icy winds conducive to hypothermia. A huge storm at the end of November flooded trenches and caused many deaths among the exposed troops. Low food supplies, water shortages and exhaustion contributed to a general deterioration in the men’s health and reduced their resistance to diseases. With up to 25,000 men packed into such a cramped space, sanitation was also a problem: body lice became endemic, diarrhoea, dysentery and enteric fever (typhoid) spread and the unburied bodies attracted swarms of flies.

4. The Forging of Two Nations and Remembering Gallipoli

The Gallipoli Campaign ensured that the Western Front was given precedence over all other theatres of military operation for the rest of the war. Its failure prompted Churchill's resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty on November 15th, 1916 and the creation in July 1916 of a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry into the expedition, which shed light on the flawed assumptions that had presided over the planning of the campaign.

After the Gallipoli Campaign, Australian and New Zealand forces regrouped in Egypt where they rested and resumed training before leaving in April 1916 to fight on the Western Front. Some units stayed in Egypt where they helped preserve British interests in the Middle East.

4.1 Total casulaties

The ANZAC and the Allies

Figures vary according to sources. However the following figures seem to be generally accepted and give a fairly accurate idea of the extent of the cost in human lives. Roughly half a million Allied soldiers took part in the Gallipoli Campaign ((See "Gallipoli: Why do Australians celebrate a military disaster?" on the BBC website.)). The number of soldiers wounded or killed among British (and Dominions) and French forces amounted to around 141,500 (114,500 and 27,000 respectively). About 34,150 British and Dominions soldiers and an estimated 10,000 French soldiers died during the campaign ((See "Gallipoli casualties by country" on the New Zealand History website.)). There were also 4,599 among Indian troops, including 1,358 deaths and 142 casualties among soldiers from Newfoundland, 49 of whom were killed.

For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict in terms of casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted: over 61,522 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. It is estimated that 664 Australian officers and 17,260 men were wounded and 8,709 were killed during the Gallipoli Campaign. The whole Gallipoli operation therefore claimed around 26,000 Australian lives ((See "Australian fatalities at Gallipoli" on the Australian War Memorial website. )).

During the First World War, 18,500 New Zealanders were killed, 12,483 of whom died on the Western Front, and around 50,000 were wounded. 2,779 were killed during the Gallipoli Campaign, which amounted roughly to one-fifth of the New Zealanders who were involved in the campaign. About 3,100 of the 14,000 New Zealanders who served on Gallipoli landed in April and more than 4,852 were wounded during the whole campaign. New Zealand casualties therefore totalled around 7,500 men.

The Ottoman Empire

Even though the number of Turkish casualties has been disputed, it is clear that victory came at a high price for the Ottoman Empire, which may have lost up to 87,000 men during the campaign. Another 165,000 were wounded, out of a total of 400,000 soldiers involved. Many Turkish army divisions had to be rebuilt from scratch in 1916. Total casualties may have amounted to more than 250,000.

All in all, by the time the Gallipoli Campaign ended, more than 130,000 men had been killed and 262,000 wounded. In total, there were just under 400,000 casualties during the campaign.

4.2 The Significance of the Campaign

The Gallipoli Campaign was a relatively minor event during the First World War. Despite the huge number of fatalities, Gallipoli had very little impact on the outcome of the war. Nevertheless, it has gained great significance for Turkey, New Zealand and Australia.

In Turkey, the campaign marked the beginning of a national revival and the emergence of Colonel Mustafa Kemal as a leading and inspirational figure. The Ottoman hero of Gallipoli would eventually become Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding President of the Turkish Republic. Gallipoli can therefore be considered as a defining moment in the history of the country for it led to the foundation of modern Turkey.

In New Zealand and Australia, the Gallipoli Campaign played an important part in fostering a sense of national identity, even though both countries fought on the other side of the world in the name of the British Empire. Those at home were proud of how their men had performed on the world stage, establishing a reputation for fighting hard in difficult conditions. The daily lists of fatalities printed in the newspapers back home became a source of pride, as well as sorrow.

After Gallipoli, New Zealand and Australia took greater pride in their distinct identity, and had a greater confidence in the international contribution they could make. The campaign showcased the endurance, determination, bravery, tenacity, practicality, ingenuity, loyalty to the King, initiative and sense of 'mateship' of their soldiers. These qualities would later be known as the “Anzac spirit”. Moreover, the mutual respect earned during the fighting formed the basis of the close ties between Australia and New Zealand.

Anzac Day in Australia and in New Zealand grew out of this pride. Although the campaign was a military failure, Anzac Day reminds Australians and New Zealanders of a very important episode in the history of their country and of their country’s first significant engagement of troops in the First World War. First observed on April 25th, 1916, the commemoration of the landing has become a fundamental part of the fabric of national life – a time for remembering not only those who died at Gallipoli, but all New Zealanders and Australians who have served their country in times of war and peace.

Shortly after the Armistice with the Ottoman Empire in October 1918, British and Dominion Graves Registration Units landed at Gallipoli and began building permanent cemeteries for the dead of 1915-1916. During the 1920s, the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) completed a network of Anzac and British cemeteries and memorials to the missing. In 1925, the New Zealand government unveiled a New Zealand battlefield memorial on the summit of Chunuk Bair. The battlefields are now part of the 33,000-ha Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, or Peace Park. An Australian Cemetery and memorial was erected at Lone Pine, the site where Australian soldiers took part in the Battle of Lone Pine, one of the bloodiest and hardest fought actions of the campaign.

Today there are 33 Commonwealth war cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula and two memorials which record the names of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died there with no known graves. There are nearly 500 civic First World War memorials in New Zealand, most of which were erected in the 1920s. Until that time, the Anzac Day ceremonies took place in public buildings or churches, and sometimes had a strong religious focus. The decision to move the ceremonies to war memorials toned down the religious message and promoted values such as remembrance, service and sacrifice.

There is also no doubt that the participation of the Dominions in the war in general and the Gallipoli Campaign in particular was instrumental in pushing for a radical change in the relationships between Britain and its Dominions of white settlements. It eventually led to the Balfour Report and the Statute of Westminster (see selective chronology). It strengthened the feeling of belonging to an imperial family while accentuating the specific character of countries which had sealed their nationhood with a blood sacrifice. The Dominions’ unfaltering involvement in the war earned them independent representation at the Peace Conference and prompted them to build a national monument on the battlefields, in Gallipoli as well as in the north of France.

Listen to an extract from 'Today in History', a 1950 radio documentary outlining the beginning and significance of the Anzac tradition (1m36).


This article’s ambition is to provide an informed overview of the Gallipoli Campaign by putting together some of the essential issues about the campaign and its legacy for teachers who would be interested in preparing classes on this particular topic. It is largely indebted to a variety of online sources whose list is available here. This list is mainly composed of very comprehensive Australian and New Zealand websites whose remit is to expose the national histories of New Zealand and Australia to a large audience. Although there is no doubt about the quality of the content of these sources, one should bear in mind that they may miss out some of the potential controversies that tend to emerge from diverging analyses of historical facts. To the above-mentioned list, the following reference must be added:

Adams, Raymond, “The Gallipoli Campaign. Learning from a Mismatch of Strategic Ends and Means”, Joint Force Quarterly, n°79, 4th Quarter, October 2015, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-79/jfq-79_96-101_Adams.pdf

Mioche, Antoine, Les Grandes dates de l’histoire britannique, 2ème éd., Paris, Hachette Supérieur, 2010.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Fabien Jeannier, "The 1915 Gallipoli Campaign: the significance of a disastrous military campaign in the forging of two nations", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), février 2016. Consulté le 14/04/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/civilisation/commonwealth/the-1915-gallipoli-campaign-the-significance-of-a-disastrous-military-campaign-in-the-forging-of-two-nations