Gallipoli: a quick guide to frequently asked questions and general information

Anzac Day 2017

31 March 2017

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David Watt
Foreign Affairs Defence and Security Section

Why did the Anzacs land at Gallipoli?

The Dardanelles campaign happened in part because the fighting in Western Europe had reached the first of a long series of stalemates and in part because, in the east, 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. The British and French agreed to attack Turkey. Their objective was to wrest control of the Dardanelles and re-establish sea communications with Russia through the Black Sea and end the Ottoman Empire’s role in the war.

The Anzacs were part of the British-French force attempting to capture the Dardanelles and were selected because their training had progressed and being based in Egypt, they were readily available.

What was the plan?

The main landing by British troops at Cape Helles, in the south, was intended to seize forts and advance north across the strait (see Figure 1). On the Asiatic side, the purpose of the landing by French troops was to destroy artillery batteries before withdrawing and going to Cape Helles. Simultaneously, at the northern end of the peninsula, near Bulair where the peninsula is narrowest, there was to be a feint by British marines to confuse the Turks. The landing by the Anzacs in the centre was meant 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.

In total, the combined British and French force comprised around 78,000 men, the adequacy of which had not been seriously considered by the War Council in London. The Australians and New Zealanders together numbered approximately 25,000.

Did they land on the wrong beach?

The Anzac forces landed about a mile north of the loosely planned landing site. The reason is unclear and has been much debated over the years. Most likely, the naval ratings taking the troops ashore were disorientated and simply veered left.

The mistake was probably fortunate. Had they landed on the ‘correct’ beach near Gaba Tepe, there would have been much higher casualty rates. Troops landing 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. 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. Initially, at least, there were no machine-guns.

Figure 1:  map of the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Straits of the Dardanelles showing the site of the landings and the ground held by British forces April 1915–January 1916.

Figure 1: map of the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Straits of the Dardanelles

Source: Department of Veterans’ Affairs website Gallipoli and the Anzacs

Who was first ashore?

We can never know for certain (see Figure 2). An article by Peter Burness in the Australian War Memorial’s Wartime magazine discusses the claims of three men. CEW Bean, official historian, concluded it was possibly Lieutenant Duncan Chapman, 9th Battalion. The Queenslander wrote home: ‘I happened to be in the first boat that reached the shore, and, being in the bow at the time, I was the first man to get ashore’. One of his men later confirmed this. Chapman was killed at Pozieres, France on 6 August 1916.

How many Australians died on the first day?

We do not really know. In fighting after the landing, the details of many men’s deaths were sketchy. First to Fall, a CD-ROM by the Australian Defence Force Academy, names 621 men. The Roll of Honour lists 752 men as having died on 25 April 1915, although some of these are deaths are administratively classified as ‘on or about’ 25 April, and could have been later. The War Office’s Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914–1920, provides a figure of 860 deaths from all causes between 25 April and 30 April.

Figure 2: unidentified men from the 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed towards Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915.

Figure 2: unidentified men from the 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed towards Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915.

Source: courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

When did the Gallipoli campaign end?

The evacuation of Anzac and Suvla was completed on 20 December 1915, a few days short of eight months after the landing. The campaign ended on 9 January 1916 when British forces completed the evacuation of Cape Helles.

What other nationalities were at Gallipoli?

The First World War was fought by competing empires, albeit empires in decline, and inevitably the men who fought came from different parts of the globe. The British-French force included men from these countries and their colonies. The ‘French’ included people born in France but also Senegalese, as well as other colonial troops. The ‘British’ included Englishmen, Irishmen, Welshmen, Scots, Indians, Gurkhas, Australians, New Zealanders and Newfoundlanders.

The ‘Turks’ were mostly Turkish, but many were from other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, journalist Robert Fisk points out that two-thirds of the 19th Division, the first to face the Anzacs, were Syrian Arabs.

Books which tell something of the Turkish story of Gallipoli include:

  • H Broadbent, Defending Gallipoli: the Turkish story, Melbourne University Publishing, Carlton, Victoria, 2015.
  • K Fewster, V Basarin and HH Basarin, Gallipoli: the Turkish story, Allen and Unwin, 2003.
  • E Erickson, Gallipoli: the Ottoman campaign, Pen and Sword, 2010 (reprinted 2015).

Where else at Gallipoli did the Anzacs serve?

In early May, the 2nd Infantry Brigade and New Zealand Infantry Brigade re-embarked and sailed to Cape Helles. They were thrown into the Second Battle of Krithia. More than 1,800 Anzacs (about a third of the two brigades) were killed or wounded there. The survivors returned to Anzac. In August, the RAN Bridging Train landed at Suvla, north of Anzac, building wharves after the British landing there.

Why wasn’t Simpson decorated?

‘The man with the donkey’ actually was decorated. Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance, was killed on 19 May 1915 and posthumously Mentioned in Despatches for his transporting of wounded men (The London Gazette on 5 November 1915, and in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 27 January 1916). This honour was rare. Other than the Victoria Cross, it was the only honour able to be granted to a man killed in action. Of the 60,000 Australians who died in the Great War, only about 220 were accorded this honour.

Simpson’s medals are held by the Australian War Memorial. They include his Victory Medal, with the Mentioned-in-Despatches rosette on its ribbon. 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’, Tom Curran challenges critics who have refuted aspects of the story of Simpson (Sabretache, December 2008).

The Defence Honours and Awards Appeal 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.

What else happened 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.

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 (the only person to receive this treatment until the Unknown Soldier in 1993) 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.

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 look at the strategy underlying the series of attacks at places such as Lone Pine, Nek, Chunuk Bair, Hill Q and Hill 971 (Wartime, 47, 2009).

A timeline can be found on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website Gallipoli and the Anzacs.

Lone Pine

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 from Wartime. Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery at Lone Pine. A total of nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians during the Gallipoli campaign. A list of these men and numbers of other honours awarded to Australians during the Gallipoli campaign can be found on the Australian War Memorial’s website.

The Nek

On 7 August, units of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade fighting as infantry, attacked the Turks at the Nek (also known as the Battle of Sari Bair) with horrific results. The pre-attack artillery bombardment had ceased seven minutes early and New Zealand troops, who were scheduled to attack from a different approach, were unable to do so. The result was that 234 men of the 600 strong force lay dead and little was achieved.

The fighting at Hill 60 on 21 and 27 August in which Australian troops gave support to a larger British assault was the last major action of the Gallipoli campaign. The all-too-obvious stalemate of the campaign and the deterioration of the weather as winter approached convinced the high command that it was time to evacuate the troops. The evacuation is universally regarded as the best planned part of the whole venture thanks to the work of Major-General Birdwood’s Chief of Staff, Brigadier General CBB White. The evacuation of Anzac and Suvla began on 7 December and was completed by 20 December.

How many Australians died at Gallipoli?

The estimate provided by the Australian War Memorial is 8,141 but, as is the case with virtually all casualty figures, 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 it is stated in a table of month-by-month deaths that there were 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 (UNSW Press, 2009), quotes the British Official History figure of 7,825 killed.

British casualties were around 120,000. The French incurred 27,000 casualties and a Turkish figure, while uncertain, is thought to be over 220,000.

Reading about the campaign

  • a summary of the Gallipoli campaign from The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History—includes maps
  • an excerpt of Denis Winter’s book 25 April 1915—the Inevitable Tragedy (published on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website ‘Gallipoli and the Anzacs’)
  • a brief summary of the Gallipoli campaign from the 1990 media kit issued to assist Australia’s 75th anniversary official commemorative visit
  • the 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 website, developed by the Gallipoli Association, details 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. The first-hand reports on the Anzac landing at Gallipoli by the British war correspondent, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, 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 The Story of Anzac, Volume 1 of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, CEW Bean provides a thorough overview of 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.

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.

In her book Guns and Brooches: Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War (Oxford University Press, 1992), Jan Bassett 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.

A general history of the medical aspect of the campaign can be found in: M Tyquin, Gallipoli: the Medical War: the Australian Army Medical Services in the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915 (UNSW Press, Kensington, 1993).

Gallipoli—legend versus reality

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

Other articles include the following:

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).

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 (The 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 (The 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 (The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 April 2002).

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

R Colon, Air Effort over Gallipoli: a Brief Look at the Air Campaign over the Dardanelles, website, 2008.

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 (UNSW 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.

J Grey, The War with the Ottoman Empire, the Centenary History of Australia and the Great War Volume 2, (Oxford University Press, 2015) contains two chapters covering Gallipoli and sets them in the context of the campaigns in Egypt, the Sinai, Palestine and Syria.

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 on the Australian War Memorial’s website.

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, 25, 2004).

Gallipoli—geography, then and now

  • short descriptions of points of significance on the Gallipoli Peninsula, including Lone Pine, the Nek and Hill 60, Quinn’s Post, Gaba Tepe and many others
  • a relief map of the Gallipoli Peninsula showing the main features in 1915
  • Google map of Gallipoli, with an option to view satellite imagery revealing the contours of the coastline
  • the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES) have developed the Gallipoli and the Anzacs website which includes information about the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, visiting Gallipoli today, and the Anzac Commemorative Site, which was built at Gallipoli with the cooperation of the New Zealand and Turkish governments.
  • North Beach Gallipoli 1915 is a Department of Veterans’ Affairs publication which describes the Anzac Commemorative Site as it was in 1915.
  • a map showing the landing beaches can be found on the website.
  • Anzac Battlefield: Gallipoli Landscape of War and Memory is an account of an extensive survey of the battlefields. It contains descriptions, maps, photographs and the history of the changes to the geography of Gallipoli after the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2016).


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