Section 3: Gallipoli

Gallipoli: what happened on 25 April 1915?

It was at 4:29 am in the eerie pre-dawn on 25 April 1915 when a Turkish outpost signalled the alarm. Below, barely discernible on the dark waters off Ari Burnu, a small plateau jutting out into the Aegean Sea, steamboats towed rowboats carrying Australians to the Gallipoli shoreline. There are very few instances in which the deeds of ordinary people fashion a whole chapter in a nation’s history and forge a national identity. This first wave of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was doing just that. A minute later, the first boatloads reached the shingly beach and clambered out, under fire.

The plan

The landing at Gallipoli was one of the more imaginative strategies of the First World War. In eastern Europe the Germans had delivered a series of blows to the Russians who, fearing a second offensive by Turkish forces from the south, appealed to their allies for assistance. Hard-pressed by the Germans on the Western Front and with Egypt threatened by the Turks, the British and French could not afford for the Russians to collapse. They agreed to attack Turkey. Their objective was to wrest control of the Dardanelles and re-establish sea communications with Russia through the Black Sea.

An attempt by warships in February 1915 to break through the straits was defeated. A plan to land troops at Gallipoli was then drawn up. It was actually a series of landings, originally planned for 23 April, but pushed back by bad weather:

  • the main landing by British troops at Cape Helles, in the south, to seize forts and advance north
  • across the strait, on the Asiatic side, a landing by French troops to destroy artillery batteries before withdrawing and going to Cape Helles
  • at the northern end of the peninsula, near Bulair, where the peninsula is narrowest, a feint by British marines to confuse the Turks and
  • in the centre, the landing by Australian and New Zealand troops to block any Turkish troops retreating from the south and reinforcements coming from the north.

The plan was for the Anzac and British troops to link up for a final push across to the Dardanelles.

Figure 2: Unidentified men from the 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed towards Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Figure 2: Unidentified men from the 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed towards Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

The wrong beach?

Those who landed near Ari Burnu often commented on how they landed on ‘the wrong beach’. The boats landed about a mile north of the loosely planned landing site. The reason is unclear, but most likely the naval ratings taking the troops ashore were disorientated and simply veered left.

This error gave the men a fighting chance. Had they landed on the ‘correct’ beach near Gaba Tepe, there would have been a slaughter (as at ‘Y’ Beach, one of the British landing sites at Cape Helles). Boats would have been shot up, and on the beach men would have been caught in barbed wire entanglements, against well-sited machine-guns. At Ari Burnu, the first wave came under fire from some of the 200 Turks in position at that time; some boats landing later were shot up, suffering heavier casualties. Most of the casualties on that first day occurred as men scrambled up the brush-entangled gullies leading off the beach, and over the ridges.

A long and terrible day

The objective was Gun Ridge, the third ridgeline inland from the beach. Troops pushed up and over gullies, ravines and spurs. It was hard-going under fire, and they broke into smaller groups to advance over tracks or through undergrowth. They crossed the first ridgeline, some reached the second and a few got to the third, but they were too scattered to hold on.

Figure 3: An excerpt from the 10th Infantry Battalion’s War Diary describing the landing at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915.

Figure 3: An excerpt from the 10th Infantry Battalion’s War Diary describing the landing at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915. The 3rd Brigade, which included the 10th Battalion, made up the screening force for the landing and was the first ashore. This excerpt includes the line ‘our landing was to be effected quite unopposed’. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

As the day wore on, the remainder of the ANZAC landed. There was confusion on the beach, as new troops and wounded men intermingled. ‘Stragglers’ (men separated from their units) were found at the beach or sheltering in the gullies, but officers led many of them back into action.

The Turkish local commander, Mustapha Kemal (later, Kemal Ataturk, President of Turkey) organised his force and counter-attacked. The Turks secured the high ground and pushed on. An evacuation of the ANZAC was suggested, but naval advice was that it would be impossible. With nowhere to retreat, the Australians and New Zealanders dug in. They fought tenaciously, with mounting casualties, to cling onto a small strip of land that came to be called Anzac.

The landing itself was a failure. The impossible had been asked of the men. There was no way that any troops could have landed, advanced four miles across hard terrain, taken a 45 mile stretch of ridgeline, and then withstood strong counter-attacks—all in the course of one day. What they did achieve was to secure a foothold and forge a legend.

The Gallipoli campaign cost the lives of more than 40,000 British Empire and French troops and 85,000 Turks.

Chronology of significant events during the remainder of the year

On 29 April 1915 HMAS AE2 was sunk in the Sea of Marmara. AE2 was the first submarine to penetrate the Dardanelles. For five days the AE2 carried out orders to disrupt Turkish shipping. When her torpedoes were spent and she was attacked by Turkish gunboats, the submarine was scuttled and her crew captured.

AE2’s commanding officer Captain Stoker was one of the subjects of the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal’s  Inquiry into unresolved recognition for past acts of naval and military gallantry and valour.  The Tribunal’s 2013 report recommended that no further action be taken, stating:

The Tribunal therefore concluded that on both process and merits, the case was properly considered at the time, followed due process correctly and that Lieutenant Commander Stoker was appropriately honoured with a DSO [Distinguished Service Order].

On 15 May the Commander of the First Division AIF, Major General WT Bridges was shot in the leg by a sniper. He was evacuated immediately but died on 18 May while being transported to Egypt for treatment. His body was returned to Australia and his grave overlooks the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

On 18 May the Turks launched a major counter-attack, but by this time the Australian and New Zealand troops had had time to prepare proper defensive positions and the resultant slaughter of the Turkish forces is thought to have left 10,000 men dead or wounded. The stench of the dead bodies was so great that on 24 May a formal truce was declared to allow the Turkish dead to be buried. This was the last time that the Turkish forces attempted a major counter-offensive.

With the failure of the May counter-attack things quietened down until August, when British troops landed at nearby Suvla, and the Anzacs and Gurkhas made supporting attacks at Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and the Nek.

In The August offensive at Anzac Robin Prior takes a new look at the strategy underlying the series of attacks at places such as Lone Pine, Nek, Chunuk Bair, Hill Q and Hill 971 (Wartime, vol. 47, 2009).

The Battle for Lone Pine began on 6 August. The Lone Pine operation was planned as a diversion to draw Turkish reserves away from a major British attack to be launched at the northern end of the Australian and New Zealand position at Gallipoli. The Australians suffered more than 2,200 casualties at Lone Pine and the Turks over 5,000. Historian Peter Burness describes the battle and sets it in context in this article in Wartime.

Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery at Lone Pine. They are: Alexander Stewart BURTON, William DUNSTAN, John (Patrick) HAMILTON, Leonard Maurice KEYSOR, Alfred John SHOUT, William John SYMONS and Frederick Harold TUBB.

Figure 4: Lieutenant (later Captain) William Symon’s Victoria Cross citation, for action during the Battle for Lone Pine.

Figure 4: Lieutenant (later Captain) William Symon’s Victoria Cross citation, for action during the Battle for Lone Pine. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

Figure 5: Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick assisting an unidentified soldier, Gallipoli, circa May 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Figure 5: Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick assisting an unidentified soldier, Gallipoli, circa May 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Simpson and his donkey are still the subject of vigorous discussion. In ‘The donkey vote; a VC for Simpson—the case against’, Graham Wilson argues that ‘Simpson was no braver than any other man on the Gallipoli Peninsula’, and that the campaign to have Simpson posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross or an Australian Victoria Cross is ‘impossible and inappropriate’ (Sabretache, December 2006). Wilson later expanded his views in a book, Dust donkeys and delusions: the myth of Simpson and his donkey (Big Sky Publishing, 2012). In ‘The man with the donkey: hero or fraud’, Dr Tom Curran challenges critics who have refuted aspects of the story of Simpson (Sabretache, December 2008).

The Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal considered the merits of the case for awarding Simpson a Victoria Cross as a part of its 2013 Inquiry into unresolved recognition for past acts of naval and military gallantry and valour. In recommending that no action be taken the Tribunal noted:

Some submitters suggested that Simpson deserved a VC because he represented what it means to be Australian, and there was strong community support for such recognition. While this might be a popular proposition, the VC can only be awarded for valorous conduct in the presence of the enemy. The Tribunal found that Simpson’s initiative and bravery were representative of all other stretcher-bearers of 3rd Field Ambulance, and that bravery was appropriately recognised as such by the award of an MID.

How many Australians died at Gallipoli?

We do not really know. The estimate provided by the Australian War Memorial is 8,141 but this number has varied somewhat over the years and slightly different figures are cited in other sources.

The 8,141 figure is drawn from the War Office’s Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914–1920. This figure is for deaths up to 16 January 1916 and might not include deaths after this date which resulted from wounds received before the evacuation. On page 239, Australian deaths are given as 362 officers and 7,779 other ranks (a total of 8,141), but on page 286 a table of month-by-month deaths is stated as adding up to 371 officers and 8,338 other ranks (a total of 8,709). Examination of the War Office table reveals that staff got their tallying up wrong. The monthly deaths actually add up to 359 officers and 7,800 other ranks, which equals 8,159. Robin Prior in his book Gallipoli: the end of the myth (University of New South Wales Press, 2009) quotes the British Official History figure of 7,825 killed.

Given that the War Office’s lower number and the corrected sum of monthly deaths are close, that Australian official medical history statistics are reasonably close, and that the Roll of Honour for this period would be close too once unrelated deaths (from illnesses and accidents in Australia, at sea or in Egypt) are taken into account, then a revised estimate of the number of Australians who died in the Gallipoli Campaign could be around 8,150.

The campaign

  • a summary of the Gallipoli Campaign from The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History—includes maps.
  • a brief summary of the Gallipoli Campaign from the 1990 media kit issued to assist Australia’s 75th anniversary official commemorative visit.
  • Gallipoli and the Anzacs website—commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and developed by the Board of Studies, NSW. Contains new and historical material on Gallipoli.
  • the Epitaphs of Gallipoli, a website developed by the Gallipoli Association detailing the headstone inscriptions of Australian and New Zealand soldiers with known graves on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

First-hand accounts of the Gallipoli Campaign

CEW Bean’s first report of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli was published in the Commonwealth Gazette on 17 May 1915. At this point Bean was the official press representative with the Australian Expeditionary Force.

Figure 6: On 17 May 1915, CEW Bean’s first report from Gallipoli was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.

Figure 6: On 17 May 1915, CEW Bean’s first report from Gallipoli was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

British War correspondent, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s first-hand reports on the Anzac landing at Gallipoli praised the courage of the ‘raw’ Australian and New Zealand troops. Ashmead-Bartlett became frustrated and disillusioned with the course of the campaign, and with the difficulties placed in the path of his reporting. In concert with the Australian journalist, Keith Murdoch, he attempted to circumvent the military censorship imposed by General Sir Ian Hamilton. Murdoch left Gallipoli with Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter to British Prime Minister Asquith which contributed to the withdrawal of troops from the Peninsula and the downfall of Sir Ian Hamilton.

In ‘Anzac: nationhood, brotherhood and sacrifice’, chapter four of Bill Gammage’s The broken years: Australian soldiers in the Great War, the author has used first-hand accounts of the Gallipoli Campaign by Australian soldiers to explore their attitudes to the war; to the fighting; to their British allies and their Turkish opponents; and to the death of comrades.

In this extract from The story of Anzac, volume 1 of the official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918, CEW Bean, the official historian, summarises the course of the Gallipoli campaign from the landings to the end of the first phase in early May 1915 when the advance of the British forces at both Gaba Tepe and Cape Helles had been brought to a standstill. Bean discusses Australian successes and failures in the early phase of the campaign up to Sir Ian Hamilton’s decision that the next thrust of the battle should be at Helles rather than at Anzac.

Australian women served as nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service. The women served on hospital ships close to the shore at Gallipoli and also on the Greek islands of Lemnos and Imbros as well as back in Alexandria. Like the men, for most of these women this would have been their first experience of war and they worked with inadequate conditions and equipment.

Jan Bassett, writing in her book Guns and brooches: Australian Army nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War (Oxford University Press, 1992) quotes Sister Ilma Lovell about conditions on the hospital ship Formosa off Suvla Bay in early August 1915:

We were receiving wounded all night and terrible wounds they were—the majority of them were fly blown and septic. All were operated upon on admission and the little theatre was kept busy all night—limbs, had they been able to have been treated before and would have been saved, had to be amputated.

Gallipoli—legend versus myth

An article by Robert Manne, ‘A Turkish tale: Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide’, explores possible connections between the two events (Monthly, February 2007, pp. 20–28).

The following articles are from Wartime, a journal published by the Australian War Memorial:

In ‘The first casualty’, Les Carlyon argues that the truth bears more eloquent witness to the heroics of Gallipoli than the myths that have grown up around it (Bulletin with Newsweek, 7 August 2001).

‘The lure of Gallipoli’, by Les Carlyon, is an article on the myth, the pride and the nostalgia evoked by the campaign and its commemoration (Australian Women’s Weekly, 1 August 2001).

In ‘A terrible beauty’, the final chapter of his book, Gallipoli, Les Carlyon summarises the importance of Gallipoli and sketches the fates of a number of the key protagonists.

In ‘When myth makers go over the top’, Ray Cassin argues that the prominence of the Gallipoli myth has served to obscure the sacrifice of soldiers who served in other campaigns (Age, 24 June 2001).

In ‘The last Anzac: the fatal shore that defines a nation’, Tony Stephens discusses where Gallipoli ranks in Australia’s historical picture (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2002).

In ‘First casualty’, Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson give a summary of the Gallipoli Campaign and correct ten myths about it (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 April 2002).

‘Exploding the myths of Gallipoli’ by Ashley Ekins (Bulletin with Newsweek, 27 April 2004, pp. 30–33.)

In ‘The wrong place’, WF Refshauge examines the continuing debate about whether the original landing at Anzac Cove was made at the wrong place (Sabretache, September 2007).

In Gallipoli: the end of the myth (University of New South Wales Press, 2009), Robin Prior provides some forceful commentary on the planning and conduct of the campaign, reaching the conclusion that, even if it had been successful, the Dardanelles Campaign would not have shortened the war.

Gallipoli—military resources


Gallipoli biographies contains brief sketches of the most prominent officers and ordinary soldiers who were involved in the campaign. The Australian War Memorial’s online encyclopaedia provides links to a number of Gallipoli biographies including those of CEW Bean and John Simpson Kirkpatrick (the man with the donkey).

Brief biographical details of Mustapha Kemal (later known as Ataturk) are available here.

In ‘First Anzac heroes’, Barry Clissold discusses the men who were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Gallipoli and how they ‘set a high standard of courage for a young nation in its first major engagement’ (Wartime, no. 25, 2004).

Gallipoli—geography, then and now


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