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Australia and World War I
The Anzac Legend

Sample Answer

What was the role and involvement of Australian servicemen in the Gallipoli Campaign?

The Gallipoli campaign and the Anzac legend which emerged from it have had a significant impact on ideas about Australia's national identity.
Although a military defeat, the bravery and sacrifices associated with the eight month struggle have had a profound effect on how Australians view this period. For many people, both then and now, the participation of Australian soldiers in the Gallipoli campaign was the symbol of Australia's coming of age as a nation.

The Gallipoli Campaign was the first major campaign Australians fought in as a nation. The experiences on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey formed the framework for a view of the characteristics which identified the 'true Australian'. It also reinforced the 19th century image of the unique attributes of the Australian 'bushman'. Australians could be recognised by their willingness to endure hardship, their bravery and resourcefulness, their spirit of independence and their reluctance to unquestionably accept the authority of others.

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Gallipoli: Australia's ‘Baptism of Fire’

The British Plan

By Christmas 1914, the British Government had begun searching for a way to break the stalemate on the Western Front. Winston Churchill, head of the British Navy, wanted to use warships to weaken Germany by attacking and defeating Turkey, Germany's new ally. The plan was to:
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Map showing the proposed route of the naval campaign in the Dardanelles and the benefits the Allies hoped to gain from it

  • move British and French battleships through the Dardanelles and attack Turkey's capital, Constantinople (Istanbul)
  • force Turkey out of the war and open up a supply route for Britain's ally, Russia
  • use only infantry (ground troops) to destroy the Turks' land-based guns that threatened the British and French fleets.
The plan offered the additional advantage of opening up a new front from which to attack Germany's other main ally, Austria–Hungary.
The naval assaults in February and March 1915 failed, as British and French ships suffered severe damage from mines and shellfire. British military authorities decided instead to attempt a series of land invasions at various points along the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The attackers would comprise British, Anzac and French troops and they would destroy the forts and mobile artillery that protected the Dardanelles Strait. The invasion began on 25 April 1915 with British and French forces landing at five beaches (named S, V, W, X and Y) around Cape Helles and also on the opposite shore of the Dardanelles. The Anzacs were to land at GabaTepe and Ari Burnu and prevent Turkish troops retreating from the south and Turkish reinforcements arriving from the north. The campaign began badly because:
  • the failure of the naval bombardment had alerted the Turks to the likelihood of a land attack
  • the Turks then had six weeks' advance warning to prepare their defences
  • by the time the Allied troops landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915, the Turks, under German General Liman von Sanders, had organised reinforcements, strengthened defences, laid mines, constructed trenches and established themselves on the high ground around both sides of the Gallipoli Peninsula and further inland
  • on a number of beaches, troops left their landing craft to face an unrelenting barrage of Turkish machine-gun fire.

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Map of the southern section of the Gallipoli Peninsula showing the main locations of the Gallipoli campaign to August 1915

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Click here to view the ABC 3D documentary site about the WWI Anzac Landing at Gallipoli, Campaign Overview, Profiles of soldiers and firsthand accounts.

Australian Experiences of the Gallipoli Campaign

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A photograph showing troops landing at Anzac Cove during the Gallipoli campaign

On 25 April 1915, 16 000 Anzac troops landed two kilometres north of the intended position at GabaTepe. Turkish forces were located at the top of the steep cliffs that fringed the tiny landing beach, later known as Anzac Cove. With artillery at both ends of the beach, the Turkish forces were ideally located to gun down the invaders and trap them between the sea and the virtually unscaleable cliffs.
By nightfall of the first day, the Anzacs had advanced about 900 metres at a cost of about 2000 casualties, including 621 dead. Over the next week, another 27 000 soldiers landed at Anzac Cove, where they tried to maintain control of the beach and construct trenches — all under the constant barrage of Turkish fire from distances as close as 30 metres.
Soldiers armed with entrenching tools and sandbags hastily constructed the trenches and dugouts that would provide them with some protection. The task was difficult because the men mainly had to lie on their stomachs, using the entrenching tool without its handle. Standing up to dig normally would have made them easy targets for the Turks.
Over the following weeks, dugouts appeared all over the hillsides above Anzac Cove. These were the places where the Anzacs ate, slept, wrote letters home, darned holes in their socks, smoked cigarettes and waited until they were called to active duty.

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May 1915
On 19 May 1915, 42 000 Turks advanced in an attempt to break through Anzac lines. They were unsuccessful, and both sides paid a huge toll in the number of dead and wounded. The Turks and the Anzacs agreed to stop fighting for a few hours so they could bury their dead and collect the wounded from no-man's-land.
In June and July 1915, the main fighting involved British attacks — for limited gains — and Turkish counter-attacks in the Cape Helles area. Both sides suffered the high casualties that were to become a feature of trench warfare.

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A photograph taken at Gallipoli on 24 May 1915 showing burial parties burying Australian and Turkish dead during the armistice (agreement to stop fighting)

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An extract from the recollections of James Donaldson

August 1915: Lone Pine and The Nek

Lone Pine

In August, the British, under regional commander Sir Ian Hamilton, decided to try a new tactic to break the deadlock. Anzac troops were to attack the Turkish strongholds at Lone Pine and the Nek in the hope of distracting attention from Allied troops landing at Suvla Bay and Allied attacks at Sari Bair. The aim was to gain control of Sari Bair and link the Anzac front with Suvla Bay.
At Lone Pine, the Australians surprised the Turks by emerging from underground tunnels which extended to about half-way between their own lines and the Turkish lines. However, they became easy targets for Turkish gunfire until they found a way into the Turkish trenches, which were covered with logs and earth.
The Anzacs succeeded in taking Lone Pine but at a huge cost to both sides. Over four days of bitter hand-to-hand fighting (from 5.30 pm on 6 August until 10 August), the Anzacs suffered 2300 casualties and the Turks suffered 6000. Seven Australians gained Victoria Crosses as a result of this action.

The Nek

The attack at the Nek was even worse. In the early hours of 7 August 1915, hundreds of men from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade went ‘over the top’ of their trenches in four effectively suicidal charges against the Turkish trenches at ‘Baby 700’, only 27 metres away. The attack failed for a number of reasons:
  • New Zealand troops were meant to attack at the same time from Chanuk Bair, which leaders believed they could capture the night before. This would mean they would be attacking from the rear of Turkish troops at Baby 700. However, it was 8 August, 24 hours later, before the New Zealanders even got to Chanuk Bair.
  • Allied artillery shells from a preliminary bombardment overshot their targets.
  • A seven-minute gap between the end of the artillery bombardment and the beginning of the infantry attack meant that the Turks had warning of what was to come and enough time to prepare for it.
With the New Zealanders unable to attack from behind Turkish lines, there was no reason to begin what would become a frontal attack on heavily defended Turkish positions. Not having received any counter-instructions, the first and second waves of the Light Horse went ‘over the top’ and faced relentless machine-gun and rifle fire from the Turkish trenches.
Major Antill, second in charge of the Brigade, was convinced that some Australians had reached the Turkish trenches. He insisted, despite protests from another of the Light Horse commanders, that a third wave go over the top as well. This had better results only because the soldiers knew they had to hit the ground as quickly as possible.
Colonel Hughes, commander of the 3rd Light Horse, then cancelled the attack. This was too late for the fourth wave, who had already left their trenches. In a forty-five minute period, there were 372 casualties among the Light Horse, of whom 234 died.

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Detail from The charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek, 7 August 1915. This was painted in 1924 by George Lambert (1873–1930).

The most tragic feint attack, at once the most gallant and the most hopeless, was made by the 8th and 10th Light Horse Regiments against the Turkish trenches at The Nek. The Nek was a ridge 50 yards wide at the Anzac line, narrowing to about 30 at the Turkish front. The opposing trenches on it were about 20 yards apart, and at least five Turkish machine guns covered the intervening ground. Four lines of the light horse, each of about 150 men, were to seize the enemy front line and the maze of trenches and saps behind it, on Baby 700. They would be preceded by a naval and artillery bombardment, and were to attack at two minute intervals. The light horsemen were eager and confident, for this was their first great battle, and they expected to break from the interminable trenches into the open. Sick men hid or escaped from their doctors to be in the charge … At four in the afternoon of 6 August the artillery began a gentle bombardment. It intensified early on the 7th, but at four twenty three a.m., seven minutes before time, it ceased. The light horsemen stood still in the silence. In the enemy trenches soldiers cautiously emerged from shelter, lined their front two deep, fired short bursts to clear their machine guns, levelled their rifles, and waited.
At four thirty precisely the first line of the 8th Light Horse leapt from their trenches. As their helmets appeared above the parapet, an awful fire broke upon them. Many were shot, but a line started forward. It crumpled and vanished within five yards. One or two men on the flanks dashed to the enemy's parapet before being killed, the rest lay in the open. The second line saw the fate of their friends. Over their heads the Turk fire thundered undiminished, drowning out any verbal order … Beside them lay dead and wounded of the first line, hit before they cleared the trench. But they waited two minutes as ordered, then sprang forward. They were shot down. The 10th Light Horse filed into the vacant places in the trench. They could hardly have doubted their fate. They knew they would die, and they determined to die bravely, by running swiftly at the enemy. ‘Boys, you have ten minutes to live,’ their commanding officer told them, ‘and I am going to lead you.’ Men shook hands with their mates, took position, and when the order came, charged into the open. The bullets of their expectant foe caught them as before, and tumbled them into the dust beside their comrades. Moves were made to halt the fourth line, but too late, and these men, too, climbed out to be killed. It was now a little after five fifteen a.m. Two hundred and thirty-four dead light horsemen lay in an area little larger than a tennis court … One hundred and thirty-eight others were wounded … ‘It was heroic,’ wrote one who watched them, ‘it was marvellous … yet it was murder.’
Bill Gammage, The Broken Years, ANU, Canberra, 1974, pp. 73–5.
An extract from historian Bill Gammage's The Broken Years, in which the author describes the consecutive charges of the Light Horse regiments at the Nek on 7 August 1915

By late August 1915, some British military strategists were beginning to consider that they had little chance of defeating Turkish troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. At the same time, campaign leader Sir Ian Hamilton's largely optimistic reports failed to indicate just how bad the situation was. This changed when Australian journalist Keith Murdoch arrived in London from Gallipoli in mid-September.
Murdoch smuggled out of Gallipoli a letter which English journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett had written to inform the British Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, of his concerns about the continuation of the campaign and especially about Hamilton's performance. When military officials confiscated Ashmead-Bartlett's letter, Murdoch recorded his own version of it. Asquith and his ministers read this account, accepted it unquestioningly and in mid-October dismissed Hamilton.
The new commander, General Sir Charles Munro, advised evacuation rather than continue with what he predicted would be a 30–40 per cent casualty rate.

Dummies were used by the Allies to give the impression that the area was fully manned during Evacuation.

December 1915: Evacuation

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Allied troops began withdrawing from Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay in early December 1915. They devised a number of tricks to prevent the Turks realising that they were moving out:
  • Australian troops maintained silence for long periods of time. When the Turks noticed all was quiet, they then opened fire.
  • They also organised a method whereby water dripping into a pan attached to a trigger would make a rifle fire itself.
By 19 December, the Anzac evacuation was complete, with only two casualties. It was the most successful stage of the entire campaign. By this time, there were 26 000 casualties among the Anzac troops, including about 10 000 deaths.
The last of the Allied forces to be evacuated were British troops on 9 January 1916.

Living Conditions

Conditions at Gallipoli tested everyone's endurance. By mid-year, the weather had become hot and there were plagues of disease-carrying flies and fleas. Supply ships brought in water from Egypt, but there was never enough. By October, soldiers were beginning to experience the bitter cold, mud and ice of a Turkish winter.

I wrapped my overcoat over the tin and gouged out the flies, then spread the biscuit, held my hand over it and drew the biscuit out of the coat. But a lot of flies flew into my mouth and beat about inside. I nearly howled with rage.
Quoted in B. Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, ANU, Canberra, 1974
Australian soldier Ion Idriess describes the difficulties of eating during summer at Gallipoli. Idriess later became the successful author of 47 books:
Troops who had arrived in peak physical condition soon suffered dysentery, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis and infestations of lice. It was virtually impossible to keep clean. Toilets were open pits. Corpses lay rotting in no-man's-land between the opposing trenches because it was unsafe to try to retrieve them for burial. Wounded men lay for hours awaiting medical attention. During some weeks in the Gallipoli campaign, as many as 20 per cent of the men were sick from diseases relating to poor hygiene.
The Turks were never far away — as close as 30 metres in some places. Hand grenades, sniper fire, mortar bombs and shell blasts were constant threats to the Anzacs. The casualty rate was generally 23 per cent. It was difficult to escape either physically or psychologically from the war. However, soldiers were willing to risk the dangers of enemy fire in their quest for some light relief and the opportunity to feel cool and clean. They relaxed by swimming and playing cricket on the beach.

One shell today hit a man in the water and took off his arm — at least it was hanging by a thread and he came out of the water holding it. It didn't stop the bathing.
From C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac: Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18, Australian War Memorial.
An extract from the writings of Australian journalist and historian C. E. W. Bean, on 23 June 1915. Bean was official war correspondent for the AIF. He arrived at Gallipoli with the troops on 25 April 1915.


Gallipoli Landing - from Anzac Miniseries 1985
N.B. The Anzac landing was at 4.15 and in darkness. For obvious reasons this re-enactment was filmed in daylight.

Gallipoli (movie) 1981
Ending describes the battle of The Nek

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The Creation of the Anzac Legend

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