The legend of the ANZAC was born from the courage and bloodshed of brave young men from Australia and New Zealand on the shores, steep cliffs, ravines and hills of Gallipoli in 1915. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) along with British and French forces faced stiff opposition from the Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire during the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula which began at dawn on April 25th, 1915.
Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the rugged and mountainous western side of the peninsula at Ari Burnu (later to be known as ANZAC Cove), British forces landed at Cape Helles and French colonial forces made a diversionary landing across the straits at Kum Kale. The intent was to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war but the Turkish were well prepared and were able to hold off the attacks leaving the Allied forces clinging to just small gains.
Trench lines were quickly established after the landings and despite fierce fighting and major attacks at Lone Pine and surrounds, the Allies failed to break through Turkish lines and they in turn failed to push the Allies back into the sea during their attacks. By early May 1915 at best, the ANZAC forces held a territory that was just 0.5 kilometre wide and 1.5 kilometres from north to south and apart from some further territory gains in August offensives, this was held until the end of the campaign!
A tough and rugged stalemate was in place throughout the rest of 1915 and on top of the fighting they experienced harsh weather in the form extreme summer heat, heavy autumn rain and a freezing winter to boot, along with dysentery and even frostbite! The most successful stage of the Gallipoli campaign was ultimately the stealthy Allied withdrawal of 105,000 troops on December 19th and 20th, 1915 with only limited casualties from the Gallipoli Peninsula (the last British troops left Cape Helles on January 8th, 1916).
The Allies had bluffed the Turks into thinking men were still stationed there and slipped away in boats under the cover of darkness (they used drip rifles – self firing guns with a dripping water mechanism to pull the trigger – and other diversions). Sadly though casualties on both sides during the campaign were high.
Some 480,000 Allied forces participated in the campaign with 141,000 becoming casualties, including around 44,150 dead – Australia suffered 8,709 deaths and New Zealand lost 2,779 men (this amounted to approximately 15% of total casualties for the entire war from 1914-1918 for both nations, which was sadly a huge loss of life at the time for both countries with such small populations – Australia <4.9M and NZ 1M people in 1915, plus these were the nations first heavy losses of life in the war). What may surprise some is that 21,255 troops from Great Britain (including Irish troops) and 10,000 French troops died in the campaign (for the British this was approximately 2.8% and for the French approximately 0.7% of total casualties 1914-1918). Heavy Allied losses to say the least!
Over 500,000 of the tough Turks fought at Gallipoli and they suffered around 251,000 casualties defending their homeland, including anywhere from 65,000 to 86,000 dead! It was a brutal campaign for both sides.
The Gallipoli campaign and the ultimate sacrifice made by so many, so far from home, along with the ANZAC fighting spirit and heroism against the odds had a profound impact on these then young nations, and we have commemorated them on that date as a national day of remembrance ever since. Lest We Forget.