Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not just ANZACs

By the end of 1914, the Western Front was at a stalemate and casualties were mounting. With both sides digging in for the long run, Allied political and military leaders began to look for other ways to achieve a breakthrough. In January 1915 Winston Churchill, who was The First Lord of the Admiralty, tabled a plan for a naval attack on the Dardanelles Strait which would neutralise Turkey and enable the Allies to take Constantinople. This would ensure control of the Bosphorus, would take out one of Germany’s allies, and potentially give the Allies a way to attack Europe through the back door.

Extent of Royal Naval advancement into Dardanelles
Also, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force landings at Cape Helles
An intelligence report compiled in September 1914 had already indicated that the Strait was heavily fortified and that armaments had been modernised.  The report also advised that the Gallipoli Peninsula was “likely to prove extremely difficult” and that it would be “unjustifiable” to attack with less than 60,000 men. The following year, Churchill’s suggested attack was for a naval bombardment of Turkish fortifications on both the European and Asiatic shores of the Dardanelles Strait. It was anticipated that there would not be great loss, except for those sustained in sweeping for mines, and that the greatest difficulty would be in getting through the narrows – a long, narrow section of the strait, around the Çanakkale area.

On February 19, the naval bombardment began. The campaign had mixed success – some Turkish fortifications were destroyed, but minesweepers had difficulty against the strong currents in the Strait. On March 18, eighteen battleships entered the Strait: three were sunk, three crippled, and 700 men were killed. The day was a disaster for the Allies but considered a victory for the Turks, as Britain, rulers of the sea, essentially withdrew from the Dardanelles. Churchill wanted to continue the attack, but the First Lord of the Sea refused to send further resources to the area, claiming that fighting in the Atlantic was top priority, and he ordered all battleships to withdraw. Naval operations continued on a much smaller scale over the following months, though the ships still struggled against the currents and gains were few. (Excitingly, two submarines – one Australian – made it through the Narrows. Here’s an article from the Australian Anzac Site if you’re interested in reading further.)

As I mentioned in previous posts, the naval victory is a BIG DEAL to the Turks.
I am surprised that the naval aspects of the campaign are not very well-known -
they feature big battleships, submarines, and lots of guns. Definitely not boring!

So why all the background? Personally, I feel that the naval attack – the original campaign – has largely been forgotten about. Attention, instead, has focused on the ground attack on the Peninsula, mainly due to the extremely high casualty rates there. In addition to this, there has been perhaps an overemphasis on the role of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. For Australia and New Zealand, still getting on their feet as countries, the proportions of men killed or injured was high in relation to total population. We also know that the ANZAC story had an effect on nationhood, and helped to develop the identities of Australia and New Zealand as separate from simply being colonies of the Empire. There is good reason for attention to be focused on the ANZAC efforts, but at the same time, we should not forget about the involvement of British and French troops in the Campaign.

While at Gallipoli, we wanted to explore some of these lesser-mentioned aspects of the Campaign - the original naval attack and the British landings at Cape Helles. When we left Eceabat, we drove south and explored some of the terrain that the British fought on during their nine months on the Gallipoli Peninsula. We also visited the Helles Memorial, which serves as a Commonwealth memorial for the whole Campaign, as well as commemorating missing servicemen, and those who died in the naval attack.  Our visit to the area felt like a fitting end to our Gallipoli trip – bringing most of the strands together. (In future, I would like to explore more of the French involvement in the Campaign – though I doubt we'll ever get to Kum Kale to see the shores on which the French landed on April 25, 1915.)

The first stop on our tour was Kilitbahir. We had spotted this fortress when returning by ferry from Eceabat, and decided to hunt it out. We learnt that it was called Kilitbahir Castle, and was built in 1452 by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror, as a means of guarding the Narrows. A twin fortress was built at Çanakkale.
It was easy to spot, though we were disappointed to find it was closed for restoration work. 

Kilitbahir Castle
Restoration work

We were excited to discover these fortifications beside it. With the help of Frenchman Baron de Tott, Fort Namazgah was constructed during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774. It was expanded over the next 100 years, as it was recognised that this was a key place to protect the Strait from future enemy attacks.
During the Dardanelles Campaign, only two of the guns at the Fort were used, as the others were of too short a range to reach the Allied battleships.

In 2005, the site underwent massive restoration and it was reopened on 18 March 2006, in celebration of the end of the naval battle of 1915.

Fort Namazgah

Ruins at the Fort

The surrounding village
We did not stay and look around for long, as there were four tourist buses at the Fort and we wanted to beat them to the next sites. It turned out there were myriad other buses around the Peninsula, though they seemed to be Turkish tours and they did not visit the Allied memorials, so it was not as busy as we had feared.

Soon, we arrived at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s memorial at Cape Helles. It was truly beautiful, and in an amazing location – overlooking the Dardanelles, the Aegean Sea, and the Gallipoli Peninsula. Encompassing all theatres of the Campaign. The memorial is beautiful, again the contrast of white sandstone and marble, blue sky, green grass, and azure sea. Around the outer wall are the names of 20,000 men who are ‘missing’, including those who perished at sea. In the centre are plaques commemorating the corps at Suvla, Anzac, Helles, and those on Royal Navy battleships. It is here that you fully comprehend the scale - and the casualties - of the Gallipoli Campaign. 

Looking west

Apart from their landing at Suvla Bay, and support to the ANZACs at Anzac Cove, the British made five landings around Cape Helles, the southernmost point of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Terrain was similar to Anzac Cove, and the men faced heavy Turkish fire from entrenchments at the top of cliffs overlooking the beaches. However, they soon made gains – though the frontline remained largely static over the following nine months.
Landings took place at beaches nick-named S, V, X, W, and Y.  At S, X, and Y beaches, British forces were “virtually unopposed” but gains were not capitalised on, due to communications failures and possibly a lack of understanding of how important it would be to press forward while Turkish resistance was low.

At V and W beaches there were heavy losses, and many troops were killed by entrenched machine gunners. At ‘V’ beach, a boat was grounded to act as a landing aid but this was a prime target for Turkish snipers at the top of the cliffs, and few men made it ashore alive. Of the first 200 soldiers to leave the ship, only a tenth made it ashore. Overall, casualties at the beach stood at about 70%. 

Over the next few months, the focus would be on taking the small village of Krithia – ground that was supposed to have been captured in the initial assault of April 25. A small number of ANZACs were sent to assist the British units, and on May 6 another attempt was made on Krithia. The plan was dangerous – a frontal assault in broad daylight – and over the next two days the men made gains of only 500 metres, with 6,500 casualties, including 800 New Zealanders.

During May, 20,000 of 70,000 men were wounded, of which 6,000 were killed. The medical facilities were overwhelmed by the casualties, and many troops waited days to be evacuated from the Peninsula. In June and July, the pattern continued: heavy bombardment, small gains, and “horrendous” losses of close to 30%. The Turks also sustained heavy losses, but merely retreated, dug in, and awaited further attacks. 

In August, another offensive was launched at Helles, designed to draw attention away from the ANZAC offensive at Lone Pine/Chunuk Bair.  Once again, the action at Helles was a “costly failure”. After this, no new offensives were launched and the units at Cape Helles were evacuated in early January 1916, bringing an end to the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.

On our way up the coast, we came across quite a bit of Ataturk memorabilia and reminders of the fighting, such as guns and emplacements. The naval victory, and Ataturk's subsequent creation of the nation of Turkey, really are very important to the history of the Peninsula, and we felt they had definitely retained a special place there. 

More emplacements
Finally, we reached ANZAC Cove, and were able to take our photo with the famous sign. What a lovely way to end our pilgrimage to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

 Thanks for having us, Turkey. We had a wonderful time.

[I hope you've enjoyed learning a bit more about the Gallipoli Campaign, and especially the non-ANZAC experiences. If you want any further information, I found these websites very useful and they're well worth a visit:


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anzac Day

After our visit to Çanakkale and Troy on April 24, we took the ferry back across to Eceabat and headed for Anzac Cove. On the night before the Dawn Service most people head to the site and try to get a spot on the grass or in the stands so they can spend the night there and be ready for the dawn. We planned to take our sleeping bags and lie down on the grass and try to get some sleep, so we knew we would have to get there early. 

Security was heavy, and we passed numerous jandarma checkpoints along the road. We arrived at the south end of the National Park at 2pm, but were told by some helpful Aussie marshals that we should turn around and approach Anzac Cove from the north as we would be able to get closer to the site that way.

As close as we could get to Anzac Cove.
You can see the red seating for the Dawn Service
We followed a narrow rural road for 45 minutes, getting waved through jandarma checkpoints every 5-10 minutes, until we reached the north entrance to the national park. And were promptly told by the final jandarma to turn around and go back whence we came....

The official system was that most of the tour buses would approach Anzac Cove from the south, drop their passengers off, turn around and follow the loop road by which we'd come, and then park along the side of the road leading in to Anzac Cove from the north. The other portion of buses drove straight to the north end and let their passengers off there. (The next day, the buses would drive south through Anzac Cove and then head up the hill to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair - the Aussie and Kiwi memorials - to pick up their passengers there). We wanted to make sure we were well out of the way of the jandarma and the potentially long line of buses, as they were to park along the road for the next 9 hours, so we drove back up the coast a bit further and pulled into the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery. We paid our respects to the many men buried there, and set off on the 3km walk to the northern entry point. When we finally arrived about 3pm, there were already a hundred or so Aussies waiting to enter. We soon discovered that the jandarma were not opening the gates to Anzac Cove until 6pm, so it was going to be a long, hot wait.

The bottom arrow shows the beginning of the anticlockwise loop road (which eventually becomes the top arrow)
The arrow in the middle is pointing to Artillery Road.

Finally, at 6pm, the gates opened. We soon discovered that everything was to be done in tour groups, and we were the only people there who had travelled in by ourselves... Eventually we pinned down the head Aussie marshal who escorted us through the entry gates and into the site. He also introduced us to the first Kiwi marshals we'd seen, who were amazed that we had walked in by ourselves, shaking our hands in awe like we were celebrities! (By 3pm the next day, we had met only one other group of people who had travelled in by themselves. It didn't take long to realise that everything was much easier if you were in a tour group, especially as those in tours didn't have to do the 8km walk back down from the top of the hills. So if you're thinking of travelling in independently - it can be done, but I'd recommend you join a small tour instead.)

After chatting with the Kiwis for a moment more, we entered the queue for the security checks and were soon on our way to Anzac Cove.

Walking the final few kilometres south to the Anzac Commemorative Site

We managed to find a good spot at the back of the grass, and we set our our sleeping bags and made friends with our neighbour. He was with a Contiki tour and was unimpressed at the less-than-appropriate party attitude of those on the tour so had found his own spot to set up camp. He was a military enthusiast so there was much to talk about.

Soon the sun started to set and the long night began.

The front half of the site - there were about this many people again behind us
Once the sun had set, the floodlights came on and the video screens began to play clips from documentaries, films, historians, and the like. It was all very interesting, though hard to catch a moment of sleep with the bright lights and extremely loud audio.
The Sphinx and moon looking down on us
Trying to get some sleep
It was a long hard night, though the material playing on the screens was quite interesting, and the occasional slot from the NZ Military Band and Mark Hadlow was very welcome. (Who knew he was in the Navy??) It got a bit more cramped at 2pm when another whole swathe of people arrived, and I found myself sliding down a hole. No more sleep for me!

Soon, - I lie - hours later, the Dawn Service began. The atmosphere was electric. We stood there solemnly, chilled through, as the beautiful orange moon slowly set in the sky behind the stage. I tried to picture the ANZACs, moored out beyond the horizon, waiting for the moon to set so they could begin their mission. Finally setting off in near total darkness, boats drifting north with the current, men shivering with cold and nerves. Rowing towards us, rowing into the toughest challenge of their lives.

During the service there were readings, hymns, prayers, and greetings from official parties. Finally, as the flags were lowered and we bowed our heads, the bugler played the last post. After this, with the sun slowly rising over the range behind us, the haunting tones of the bagpipes filled the air. We thought of the second wave of Australians coming ashore in daylight to be met by now reinforced Turkish fire. The waves of Australians and Kiwis that kept arriving during the day, some never making it up the beach. The next eight months spent on the very ground we stood on, with so many of our countrymen never to make it off these shores.
As we reflected, the piper piped.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

And over it all, the Sphinx (and the jandarma) stood watch.

After the service, we prepared for the 8km walk up to Chunuk Bair. It was lovely and cool, the perfect time to begin a tough walk on little sleep.

The first part of the walk was south along the main road into Anzac Cove. After walking for a few kilometres, we came to a sign pointing to a rough track - Artillery Road. This was a steep track created by the Allies in 1915, to enable them to get reinforcements up the slopes of Bolton's Ridge. The Australian Field Artillery also had a number of batteries instilled along the surrounding hills, which is where the name came from. In preparation for the August Offensive, the track was widened and extended up to the top of the ridge, near Lone Pine. 

Today, there is a fair amount of scrub and trees along the sides of the dirt track, and this provided much needed shade as the sun grew hotter. 

And we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed. This shot looks down to Shell Green Cemetery, the first place of rest on the long walk up Artillery Road. On December 17, 1915, Australian troops played cricket at Shell Green in order to divert Turkish attention while much of Anzac Cove was being prepared for evacuation.

Shell Green Cemetery
Looking south towards Lone Pine.
The end of Artillery Road is on the right, where the person in the red top is visible.
We finally made it onto the main road, just beyond Lone Pine, the Australian War Memorial. By that stage, we were 118 metres above sea level. After about 45 minutes of walking, we decided to turn off the main trail and pay a visit to The Nek.

On August 6, 1915, a new offensive began. British forces would land at Suvla Bay and march south to capture the high ground of Sari Bair while the New Zealanders would take the high ground at Chunuk Bair (part of the greater Sari Bair range). The landing at Suvla was unopposed, but British troops failed to make much ground up the Sari Bair range (Most simply because commanding officers failed to impress upon the men how crucial it was to capture Sari Bair within the first few hours of the Offensive - ask me if you want to know more!), and the New Zealanders, too, struggled - becoming lost in the unfamiliar terrain, desperately in need of British back-up. 

It was planned that by dawn on August 7 the New Zealanders would have captured Chunuk Bair and at 4.30am that morning, the Australians would launch attacks at Lone Pine and The Nek in order to distract the Turks. By dawn on August 7, the New Zealanders had not managed to capture Chunuk Bair, but it was decided to launch the Australian attacks anyway. The fighting was brutal: much of it took place in extremely close quarters - with trenches some 10 metres apart in places - including some hand-to-hand fighting actually inside Turkish trenches. At The Nek a naval bombardment of Turkish trenches started the attack. Unfortunately  the bombardment stopped early and this gave the Turks valuable minutes to prepare for the inevitable attack. Between 4.15 and 5.30am, four waves of Australian soldiers rushed out of their trenches and towards the Turkish trenches only metres away. 243 Australians were killed and 138 wounded in little more than an hour. 

This is The Nek - there are 316 unidentified men buried in a piece of land barely the size of a tennis court:

The views from The Nek were breathtaking. Another difficult-to-process juxtaposition of beauty and the horror of war.
Looking north towards Suvla Bay, where the British landed on August 6
We dragged ourselves away from this haunting place and continued our walk up the hill. The road grew steeper, the asphalt radiated even more heat, and our legs began to grow wobbly. It was a sort of baptism of fire, but we must have been fitter than we realised - and I suspect the Meindl walking boots helped a lot - and we finally arrived at Chunuk Bair.
These boots were made for walking

After a 2.5 hour wait, and once the VIPs and VVIPs had eventually arrived, the service began. I must admit, it was hard to concentrate with the Turkish media making a large amount of noise directly behind us. However, when they shut up long enough for us to hear the service, it was beautiful.

My friend Shay
Afterwards we placed poppies on the memorial, said goodbye to friends Shay, Jo and Regan, and - failing to find any offers of transport (other than suggestions to walk down Rhododendron Ridge - anyone have any info on this? Not that we're planning on going back to try it!) - began our long climb back down the hill.

Jo and I
From The Nek we had taken a picture of the long line of buses, snaking their way along the road south into Anzac Cove. Our car was parked right at the very end of those, and the only way to get to it was to walk back down, past Lone Pine, down Artillery Road, through Anzac Cove, some 11+ kilometres... But we made it!

Our car is pretty much off the right-hand edge of this picture...
We even made some friends on the way back down
The view back up to Chunuk Bair - giant Ataturk monuments are in white on the right,
the Turkish flag flies from a statue just beside the Chunuk Bair memorial

Just after 3pm we made it to our rental car. Dog tired, we drove back to Eceabat and to our B&B there. We collapsed, and slept so deeply that it eventually took me half an hour of concerted poking, prodding, shaking, and pinching to get Adam to wake up. 

What a day. A truly memorable experience, and we felt like true ANZACs for making the epic climb both up and down the tall range. Even though the walk was tough, we both agreed we had no regrets - it was all part of the experience. I'm so glad we got to go, I've been wanting to go since I was about 16 and this really was a dream fulfilled - another thing ticked off our bucket list!