A Beginner's Guide to ANZAC

What was the ANZAC Campaign?

Being no stranger to most, if not all, Australians and New Zealanders, the ANZAC campaign at Gallipoli is not necessarily familiar to a lot of other nations. It was a campaign that waged on for eight months in 1915 on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now modern day Turkey - back then it was the Ottoman Empire. The campaign was fought between the Ottomans and Allies, which included thousands of Australians and New Zealanders.

Why did it take place there?

The Ottoman Empire entered the war in November of 1914 on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria). Their introduction into the war had a significant impact on the strategic situation in the war, particularly with regards to the Middle East. At this point in time the British held the Suez Canal – a vitally important shipping route between Europe and Asia, so with the Ottoman’s now on board with the enemy a direct threat was felt.

Why were the Australians and New Zealanders involved?

With both countries part of the British Empire, when Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, both countries were now essentially at war too. Recruitment campaigns for soldiers soon followed with an enormous amount of solidarity felt across the Empire including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even South Africa. The feeling was very much one of intense patriotism with Great Britain considered the ‘mother country’. The Australian Prime Minister at the time, Andrew Fisher, is said to have declared that Australia would rally to help “to our last man and our last shilling”.

How many went to war?

Out of Australia’s population of nearly 5 million, just under 10% (416,809) of Australian men followed their rite of passage into World War I. A similar percentage of New Zealand men also went with about 100,000 out of a 1.1 million population. These nearly half a million men became known as the ANZACs – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

Australian troops in Egypt - ANZAC Day
Australian troops at Mena Camp, Egypt, December 1914

Why did they go to Egypt first?

Most of the ANZACs were not sent to Europe first, as they had expected, but to Egypt for their initial training. The British made this decision in order to increase the amount of forces guarding the Suez Canal. This turned out to be a smart move when in February 1915 the Ottoman army led by Djemal Pasha attempted to seize control of the canal. Australian and New Zealand expeditionary forces helped the 30,000 Indian troops already in place to stop an attack – it is believed the Ottomans lost 2,000 to the Allies 150.

Why were they fighting in Turkey?

The Allies were intent on capturing Constantinople - modern day Istanbul and the Ottoman capital, so they could essentially knock the Ottoman’s out of the war. The Dardanelles Strait, which is on the other side of Ari Burnu (original name of what is now ANZAC Cove), was a strategic stretch of water that connects Europe with the Sea of Marmara where Constantinople stood. If the Allies were able to capture Constantinople then not only would that end the Ottoman’s involvement in World War I but it would also give the Allies a supply line to Russia and access to new areas in which to confront the Central Powers.

Graphic map of Dardanelles Operation - ANZAC Day
A graphic map of the Dardanelles operation during the Gallipoli campaign

Were they supposed to land at ANZAC Cove?

No. The intended landing point was actually Gaba Tepe. How the landing worked was that the front line forces would be in what were known as landing boats, which carried between 30 and 90 men at a time. These would be towed by bigger ships that would moor offshore as the smaller boats went in towards the beach to land. The landing was made even more challenging by the time of day, which was about 4am and in Turkey in April was pitch black. This, coupled with further navigational errors, caused the ANZACs to land a few kilometres north of Gaba Tepe at Ari Burnu (Anzac Cove).

What happened when they arrived at Anzac Cove?

Unfortunately the Ottomans were ready and waiting. They first spotted the silhouettes of the ANZAC’s ships in the distance at about 2am. Later on when the ANZAC troops got closer the Ottoman’s lit their light beacons and an exchange of machine gun and rifle fire broke out. It is estimated that 16,000 soldiers landed at ANZAC Cove on the 25th April and 2,000 of those were wounded or killed in that single day.

The Lone Pine memorial in the run up to ANZAC Day

Why are there memorials at Lone Pine & Chunuk Bair?

Lone Pine

About 1.5km from ANZAC Cove was the site of a number of battles. It was initially the fierce battleground between 25th April and 3rd May when the ANZACs were pushing inland. However it is most notably the location of the Battle of Lone Pine that took place between 6th-9th August 1915. This battle saw Ottoman casualties and losses (5,000-7,000 troops) far outweigh that of the Australians (2,277 troops), however, the battle was seen as a disaster for the Australians had only 4,600 men fighting this battle and lost almost half in the 4 days. They also only gained roughly 150 metres in land.

Today the area is an Australian Memorial and Cemetery home to 1,167 graves as well as the solitary ‘Lone Pine’ tree. At the time of the Gallipoli campaign the area was full of these Aleppo Pines (Pinus helepensis). Just before the Battle of Lone Pine the Ottomans chopped down all but one of these trees and used the pine logs as roofs for their trenches. The battle saw a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the Ottoman trenches where the Australians successfully gained control.

After the battle, Lance Corporal Benjamin Smith, who lost his brother here, gathered a number of pine cones from the trenches, which he later sent home to his mother in Australia. Thirteen years later she planted some of the seeds and from which just two seedlings flourished. She donated the first seedling to the city of Inverell where it was planted in Victoria Park, and the second she gave to the Department of the Interior in Canberra. They planted it at the Australian War Memorial in the capital where it now stands 20 meters tall. A seedling from this tree was later donated to the Turkish government in order to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Lone Pine and this is the tree that currently stands at Lone Pine in Gallipoli.

Chunuk Bair memorial - credit Jorge Láscar via Flickr
Chunuk Bair memorial at Gallipoli. Photo credit: Jorge Lascar via Flickr

Chunuk Bair

The battle of Chunuk Bair, part of the August Offensive, was without doubt the most significant battle that the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces took part in. Chunuk Bair was one of the three highest points on the peninsula and it was the New Zealand forces objective to capture it. The plan was to capture it at dawn on the 7th August 1915, however, on their approach they fell behind schedule. By mid-morning that day the Auckland Battalion launched an attack where they suffered heavy casualties on their approach to the Pinnacle (some 200m from the Chunuk Bair summit). The Wellington Battalion were ordered to follow suit but given what had happened to the Auckland Battalion, their commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, refused to sacrifice his men in such a fashion. Instead they moved on in the pre-dawn darkness of 8th August and managed to swiftly move up to the summit.

They were surprised to find that, for the most part, the Turks defending the summit had largely disappeared. Noticing their mistake the Turks tried to attack at sunrise and the Wellington Battalion, assisted by the Auckland Riflemen and some British troops, began a fierce struggle to defend it from the attacking Turks. They were relieved later by the Otago Battalion and Wellington Mounted Rifles who managed to keep hold of the summit until the 10th August when a couple of British Battalions took over. It was then that Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal famously said to his troops - “There is no doubt we can defeat the enemy opposing us … When you see the wave of my whip, all of you rush forward together”. With this he launched a massive counterattack, which the British succumbed to and the summit was lost.

The remaining New Zealand troops were steadfast in stopping the Turks from flooding down the seaward slopes of the hill and as a result the Apex that continued up to Chunuk Bair was held by the ANZACs until the end of the campaign. The New Zealanders and British lost around 6,000 men between the 7th and 19th of August and the Ottomans lost 9,200. Today the area is home to the New Zealand National Memorial and the Ataturk Memorial.

When did the ANZACs leave the peninsula and when did the Anzac Campaign end?

On the 13th November 1915 Field Marshall Lord Kitchner, the Commander in Chief of the British Army, arrived at Gallipoli. After two days spent here he recommended to the British War Cabinet that the area be evacuated. He’d realised that without considerable increase in resources there was no way the troops could make any gains against the Turkish trenches. Adding to this the fact that winter was coming, and Gallipoli was famed for its fierce winter storms, it was definitely time to start planning an exit strategy.

It was decided that a three stage evacuation procedure was necessary. The preliminary stage involved men and equipment being taken off just like if a garrison was preparing for a purely defensive campaign over the winter. Kitchner was also keen to get the ball rolling whilst waiting for Cabinet approval back in London. Once this came through the intermediate stage could begin. This stage would involve removing as many ANZAC troops as possible, leaving just enough to be able to hold off a potential Turkish attack for up to a week. These two stages saw the troops deplete from 41,000 to 26,000 men.

The first two stages were very much on a need-to-know basis and it was apparently not until the second week of December that regular soldiers realised a full-scale evacuation plan was underway. There was a mixed reaction to the news - some soldiers were happy to leave the area but some felt very sad to be leaving so many of their fallen comrades behind. Many of troops tended to the small cemeteries on the peninsula in their last days at Gallipoli. These final troops left over the nights between the 18th-20th December 1915. At 4:10am on 20th December the last ANZAC left North Beach – his name was Colonel J Paton from Waratah, Sydney. The evacuation was a huge success and they managed to leave with hardly any casualties and without the Ottoman Army realising what they were doing.

seating at cove
Seating at ANZAC Cove in preparation for the dawn memorial service

Visiting Gallipoli today

It's possible to visit the numerous memorials and graveyards of Gallipoli year-round though many veterans and their families, as well as those who are keen to mark the occasion for their own personal reasons, time their visit with the anniversary of ANZAC - the 25th April. We offer a range of specially crafted tour itineraries to Gallipoli each year - some that focus solely on the ANZAC Day memorial services and others that include further touring of Turkey.

ANZAC Day Trip Styles