V early start this morning because the bus picked me up at 6.30 for my trip out to Gallipoli (only 3 of us on this largish bus, so not overly efficient!). The bus trip took us just under 5 hours and I spent most of this fast asleep so I can’t really comment on the surrounds! We did stop about 8am for some brekky at a road side stop (more Karsali—cheese—toast for me!) and some snacks before we continued our drive out to Gallipoli.
We finally arrived just after 11.30 and sat down to watch a doco on the Gallipoli campaign before we sat down for some lunch. During lunch we were joined by at least 15 others and drove out to the peninsula. The peninsula itself is one big memorial with at least 20 odd memorials in evidence. Our first stop on our trip was to ‘Brighton’ beach. This was the supposed landing site for the campaign and is relatively flat. Unfortunately on the night of the campaign this beach was missed (the current’s floated the boats further north) dooming the Gallipoli campaign.
As a quick reminder, the campaign was a three pronged approach- the French and British from the south and the ANZAC’s from the west. On the night of the attack the boats floated off course and instead of landing on Brighton beach the ANZACs arrived further north at ANZAC cove. The difference in placement is probably less than a km but the difference in terrain is marked. Brighton beach has a gentle slope that once you have climbed finds you directly on the edge of the ridge line, up towards Chunuk Bair (the highest point on the peninsula). ANZAC cove is quite small, and the terrain rises very quickly and once you have gained one ridge you just find yourselves climbing the next ridge line.
Today the cove is covered in moderately thick dark green shrub like vegetation, the rocky cliffs reflect a yellowy colour and the soil is a sand/ rock mixture. I can only wonder what it would have been like for all of those men in their early twenties who had to jump out of row boats into hip deep water at 4am in the morning carrying in excess of 30kms on their back.. It must have been daunting. I guess even more so as they wouldn’t have been able to see the shore line or the terrain ahead and although on the first morning the Turkish defence was marginal there would have been machine gun fire.
The other side to the Gallipoli story is the Turks. The Gallipoli battle is one of the main turning points in modern Turkish history. The battle was led by Ataturk (the first and very revered president of Turkey) and on that first day there were less than two hundred soldiers who were defending that part of the Gallipoli peninsula. These soldiers virtually threw away their lives to protect the peninsula and managed to only give the ANZACs the first ridge on that first day. Ataturk forced his troops to march day and night on that first day to relieve the soldiers and is famously known to tell his men to die to save Turkey rather than running away. The Turks revere the Gallipoli campaign probably more than the ANZACs do.. for every 1 foreign tourist who visits the battlefield over 40 Turkish tourists make the pilgrimage to honour their dead! It is one of the key defining battles that forged modern day Turkey and is therefore recognised by the millions of Turkish visitors each year.
The goal of the allies was to take the Gallipoli peninsula and knock out the defences on the small sea passage on the eastern side of the peninsula known as the Dardanelles. This passage is the gateway from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea in Russia. Keeping this sea passage clear to ally supply ships was key to keeping munitions and food supplies flowing into Russia (as the other ports were either controlled by Germany or locked in ice). The allies falsely thought that the Turkish army would capitulate if a strong force was sent to attack. However, The Turks were fighting for their sovereignty. Once the peninsula fell to the allies, the allies would be able to sweep up the Dardanelles and attack Istanbul and knock out the heart of the Ottoman Empire.
Obviously the battle goes down in Australian history and we know the rest of the story, the allies ground out this battle for more than nine months before they finally decided that taking the peninsula would be impossible and the troops were withdrawn for the Western Front. For me it was quite sobering to actually have the story of Gallipoli recounted to me whilst wandering around the many memorials. My memory of the battle is now much richer, because in walking the field you can actually see the trials our soldiers would have endured and how absolutely pathetic it was to try and take this part of Turkey with a land army that fights by digging trenches and then ‘going over the top’ to attack troops that always hold the higher ground!
From ANZAC cove we drove upwards through the ridges to the Australian memorial at Lone Pine. All of the memorial’s here on the Peninsula are built on exactly the spot where a major offensive for that country occurred. So the Lone Pine memorial is built on the actual no man’s land ground that the Aussies time and time again ran across to try and grab the Turkish trenches. Thousands died on this small patch of ground trying to knock out the Turkish trenches.
From Lone Pine we drove up the road that leads to Chunuk Bair. This road is symbolic because it exactly follows the no man’s land between the Turks and the ANZACs. At one point we stopped to actually see the trenches, the two front lines are less than twenty meters apart! On the way up to the summit we stopped off at the war memorial for the Nekk. This is the location of the famous light horse charge over the top and towards the Turkish lines. This charge occurred towards the end of the campaign after the British commanders decided to launch another offensive to Chunuk Bair. The idea was that another fresh group of British soldiers would land at Suvla Bay and would then charge at the front from the north west and hopefully break the line. In order to distract the Turkish troops (so that they wouldn’t see the force land) it was decided that all of the troops at all of the battle lines would charge together from the Ally trenches over to the Turkish lines. This ended in thousands of troops dying and unfortunately the British forces did not move fast enough from Suvla Bay and so the whole offensive again collapsed.
The NZ offensive was actually very successful and for two days the NZ troops held the summit of Chunuk Bair but without the fresh British troops they were unable to hold the summit and had to back track to their old trenches. All in all the ‘final push’ to end the Gallipoli campaign was a complete disaster and just cost the ANZACs more troops! After this disaster the British chiefs decided to pull out all of the troops and the peninsula was successfully evacuated.
On our way back to Istanbul I had some time to reflect and all in all my trip out to Gallipoli was a great way to end my trip here in Turkey. I’ve still got a day tomorrow up my sleeve to go and see Topgapki Palace but I’m happy that my last real day in Turkey was out seeing the peninsula and getting some sort of idea what the terrain was like almost 100 years ago.