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Gallipoli Battlefield


For nine months in 1915, British and French forces battled the Ottoman Empire - modern Turkey - for control of the Gallipoli peninsula, a small finger of Europe jutting into the Aegean Sea that dominates a strategic waterway, the Dardanelles. By opening the Dardanelles to their fleets, the Allies hoped to threaten the Ottoman capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul) and knock the Turks out of the war.

Among the British forces were the Anzacs - the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps - who landed on the peninsula on 25 April. The landing, like the Gallipoli campaign itself, was ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful: the peninsula remained in its defenders' hands.

The campaign was a costly failure for the Allies: 44,000 British and French soldiers died, including over 8700 Australians. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders - roughly one-quarter of those who fought on Gallipoli. Victory came at a high price for the Turks: 87,000 men died in the campaign which became a defining moment in Turkish history.

The Gallipoli campaign was a relatively minor part of the First World War (1914-18), but it has great significance for New Zealand's history and it has become an important symbol of its national identity. The campaign was the first time that New Zealand stepped on to the world stage, and the New Zealanders made a name for themselves fighting hard, against the odds, in an inhospitable environment.

New Zealand marks the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings each year on Anzac Day - 25 April - remembering not only those who died there, but all who have served the country in times of war. The Gallipoli battlefields are now part of the 33,000 hectare Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, or the Peace Park.

Anzac Cove

The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps landed at a small bay (now known as Anzac Cove) north of Kabatepe on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915. Their objective was to seize part of the Sari Bair range to cover their advance across the peninsula to cut the Turkish supply lines and threaten Turkish forces fighting further south at Cape Helles.

The Anzacs were never meant to land at the cove, with its steep hinterland of rough gullies. They should have landed on a much longer beach and on a wider front, but it seems that a navigational blunder put the troops ashore in the wrong place.

Australian troops went ashore first, and the New Zealanders followed from late morning, pushing inland to join Australians who had reached the second ridge (and in some cases to the third ridge) - about 2 km from the bay. They struggled in the rugged terrain, and found themselves under increasing pressure from the Turkish defenders.

By the end of the day the situation was so bleak that proposals were made for the evacuation of the troops. But this was impracticable, and the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, urged the Anzacs to dig in. This they did, establishing a tenuous line of outposts along the second ridge. The troops depended on supplies landed at Anzac Cove, which was the hub of the Anzac effort.

For many years Anzac Day ceremonies were held at Ari Burnu Cemetery on the northern point of Anzac Cove. The number of people attending grew so large that an Anzac commemorative site was created a few hundred metres to the north, facing North Beach. It was opened on Anzac Day 2000.

Hill 60

The attacks by the Anzacs on Hill 60 were the last throw of the dice for New Zealanders in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

Brigadier-General Andrew Russell, commander of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, dubbed Hill 60 'an abominable little hill'. This relatively insignificant feature on the edge of the Suvla plain just north of the Anzac area was the site of a number of attacks by units of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade in August 1915.

The first attempt to take the hill from its Turkish defenders was made by men of the Otago and Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiments on 21 August as part of an unsuccessful general attack at Suvla that left 5000 casualties on the Allied side. The New Zealanders succeeded in seizing part of the Turkish trench system but could not dislodge the Turks from the hill. Six days later, the remnants of the whole brigade (about 300 men, down from the 1865 who landed in May) made another daylight attack that extended the line but again failed to capture the target.

The British historian Robert Rhodes James later wrote that 'For connoisseurs of military futility, valour, incompetence and determination, the attacks on Hill 60 are in a class of their own.' Many of the New Zealand casualties in this fighting are recorded on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in Hill 60 Cemetery.

Chunuk Bair

One of New Zealand's epic stands on the Gallipoli peninsula was in the heat of August 1915 at Chunuk Bair, one of the three high points on the Sari Bair range. These were the main objectives of the Anzacs' offensive of early August 1915 when they tried to break out of the stalemate with the Turks in the Anzac sector.

The New Zealand Infantry Brigade advanced up Chailak Dere and Sazli Beit Dere during the night of 6-7 August to capture Chunuk Bair. Earlier, their way had been opened by the New Zealand mounted rifles units and the Maori Contingent, which had captured key points (including Old No 3 Outpost and Table Top) guarding the valleys in daring night assaults.

The attack had fallen behind schedule and the New Zealanders were still a kilometre short of the summit when dawn broke on 7 August, sheltering at a position below Rhododendron Ridge that would become known as The Apex.

In a mid-morning attack the Auckland Battalion suffered heavy casualties to reach the Pinnacle, 200 m from the summit. When ordered to follow suit, the Wellington Battalion's commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to sacrifice his men in a futile attempt, insisting that the attack be mounted that night.

In the pre-dawn darkness of 8 August the Wellington swiftly moved up Rhododendron Ridge on to the summit, which almost inexplicably had been abandoned by its Turkish defenders. When the sun rose, Malone and his men, assisted by some Auckland mounted riflemen and British troops who also reached the summit, engaged in a desperate struggle to hold off the Turks.

The Otago Battalion and Wellington Mounted Rifles relieved the Wellingtons during the night of 8-9 August only to endure a similar ordeal all through the long summer day. They, too, were relieved during the night of 9-10 August by two British battalions, which almost immediately succumbed to a massive counterattack launched by the Turkish commander, Mustafa Kemal.

The summit was lost, but the New Zealanders stemmed the Turkish flood down the seaward slopes of the hill. The Apex was held until the end of the campaign.

Cape Helles

The main Allied landing on the Gallipoli peninsula was at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915. Unlike the landing at Anzac Cove, this was successful, but the way northwards was soon barred by hastily summoned Turkish reinforcements.

An attempt to take the small village of Krithia (now Alçitepe), earlier entered by landing troops but abandoned in a typical Gallipoli muddle, failed. A new attack was planned in early May.

To bolster the attacking forces, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and an Australian brigade were redeployed from Anzac to Cape Helles. Unimaginative daylight attacks on 8 May had predictable results. At heavy cost in lives the New Zealanders pushed forward a few hundred metres, but the Turks fought off the attack with relative ease. The village of Krithia was still firmly in their grasp when the Anzacs were withdrawn and returned to the Anzac area.

In three days, the Allies had advanced about 500m, with 6500 casualties, 800 of them New Zealanders. Some New Zealand artillery units continued to operate in the Cape Helles area until the middle of August 1915. The stalemate at Cape Helles ended on the night of 8-9 January 1916 when the Allies were evacuated.

The Cape Helles Memorial, a 33-m high cenotaph commemorates the British Empire's part in the Gallipoli campaign. All British ships, military formations and units - including the Anzacs - are recorded. Inscribed on the wall surrounding the memorial are the names of 20,763 men who have no known grave.

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