The Birth Of A Nation

Posted on Thu 04/24/2008 by



The nets were dropped over the sides of the ships as the large rowing boats pulled alongside.
In the dark, fully laden soldiers went over the side and moved down the nets into those boats.
It was around 3 AM, and it was a Sunday morning.
The boats were towed a short way by motorised launches, each launch towing four or five boats full of troops, the boats in line astern. They made their way slowly towards the shadowy peaks on the horizon. The slow, motorised launches could not venture too close, so the boats were cast adrift and strong hands manned the oars for the remainder of the journey. The landing was timed for 4.15 AM, around dawn. Strong currents caused some boats to drift away from the intended landing place, beaches with flat ground in front of them.
At 4.15 AM the first boats rolled ashore, and as the soldiers dropped onto the sand and some into the water, they were faced by steep cliffs, some right up to the edge of the narrow beach. The large numbers of boats had become separated over a few miles of shoreline. Luckily the opposing side thought the landing was going to be in a different place and had massed their forces there. The cliffs above the beaches were sporadically defended, but they had the advantage of the high ground.
Still in the lightening dawn, soldiers with rifles on a beach were cut down in droves by machine guns fired from the high ground.

The date. April 25th 1915.
The place. An insignificant little Turkish place called Ari Burnu on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, now forever known as ANZAC Cove.
The tiny nation of Australia grew up on that day.

A small force of Australian and New Zealanders, untried in combat took on the seasoned might of the Turkish Army under guidance from a small outpost of German Field Officers.

In England, a young Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty. With his First Sea Lord, they developed a plan to secure the Dardanelles, a narrow sea lane from the Aegean Sea (off the Mediterranean Sea) and on to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) the Capital of Turkey, and thus securing the sea lanes as a route to supply a closer land bridge to Germany.
The Naval exercise ended in disaster as numerous capital ships were lost in that narrow sea passage, shredded by shore mounted fortifications firing down on them in the Narrows.
So, a plan was developed to land an Army on the peninsula to cross to other side, meet up with the force from the South. and then take out those fortifications protecting that sea lane.

The main landing was to be at Cape Helles the ‘point’ of the peninsula, and this was where the vast bulk of the defending Turks were gathered. This landing force was to be English troops in their tens of thousands.
A small diversionary force was to land further up the peninsula and cross over, hooking up with the successful huge British force, and then on to take the forts.
The English were cut down in their thousands and barely advanced more than a couple of miles.
The diversionary force was named ANZAC, an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a hastily raised force of green and untried men thrown into uniform and given rifles and rudimentary training.

They landed along the peninsula and the fighting ensued.
Ironically, the furthest distance gained in the whole campaign was made on that very first day by a small group of men, but because of their size, could go no further.

The Turks were led by a young Mustafa Kemal Pasha, later to become Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, a Turkish Officer willing to go against what the German Officers told him, and thus he did everything he could to protect what was, after all, his own Country.

The ANZAC force fought bravely under terrible conditions along ridges and in deeply wooded and steep valleys.
They never did get across Chunuk Bair, the big mountain, and stayed virtually where they were, but did prove themselves to everyone who could see that they were something to be reckoned with as a military force. Legends were made, and a Country was born.

You may wonder why Australian soldiers were known by the affectionate name of ‘Diggers’.
That started here at Gallipoli when the Australian officers exhorted their men to dig trenches and foxholes at every opportunity, so they would not be exposed. Whenever groups of Australians were to be found, there were always groups of men digging with the obligatory small shovel, as much part of every soldiers equipment as their rifle.

At Cape Helles, it was an absolute unmitigated disaster. The battle there was fierce, with both sides suffering enormous casualties. Both sides became bogged down, with no one going anywhere.

In August, a new ‘push’ was planned. Tens of thousands of English soldiers landed at Suvla bay, to the Northwest of the ANZAC encampments, and the Australians mounted a ‘feint’ and were directed to Lone Pine where the fiercest fighting of the campaign took place.
At Suvla Bay, the English were decimated barely moving a mile. Some elements of the New Zealand force actually made it a long way inland and were actually at one of the high points of the peninsula looking down on the fortifications but they were only a very small group of men.
At Lone Pine, brutal hand to hand fighting ensued and over the three day time frame of the battle, seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross, to add to the two others already awarded, one before and one after this Lone Pine battle. The VC is the highest award for bravery, similar to your Congressional Medal of Honour.

So then, the campaign wore on into the Winter, and neither side could gain any advantage, a classic stalemate.

So, what of an exit plan then.
For the Australian part of it, a couple of Australians dreamed it up, and it was put into place in January of 1916, eight and a half months after the initial landing.

Rifles were propped up in the Australian lines, facing out over the parapets of the deep trenches. A string was attached to the trigger, and then connected to an empty can. Small hessian wicks were placed into bottles and billy’s filled with water. The water would seep down the hessian, and drop into the can. When the weight reached a certain level it would pull the trigger, giving the impression soldiers were still there firing across the parapets. This went on day and night as the troops were evacuated. During the dark of night, Australians with their equipment and packs walked silently down to the beaches, got into the row boats and were transferred to the troop ships off shore.
The whole force was evacuated without a casualty over three nights, and the Turks had no idea they were even gone.
All up, just under 9,000 Australian men died at Gallipoli along with nearly 3,000 New Zealanders. The English lost nearly 22,000 at the ill-fated landings at Cape Helles, Suvla Bay, and the subsequent battles. The Turkish losses were 90,000 men.

The whole campaign, for what it was supposed to do was an unmitigated disaster. However, what it did do was to make people look at Australian soldiers not as an untried group of ex-convict farmers, but as a strong and able fighting force, now proven in the heat of the moment.
The men went from Gallipoli back to Egypt, where they underwent training for other fields of battle. Australians at the time were positively notorious for disliking training. To a man, they just wanted to be chucked in at the deep end and then to fight their way out.
They went to France from here and fought for a further two and a half years in the trenches of the Somme.
The bravery of these men is now legend.

Each year, on the 25th April, in virtually every town and city on our Continent, at exactly 4.15AM, people gather to remember that morning in 1915, when men waded ashore, and Australia stood up on its own two feet.
After the solemn parade, there is a march around lunch time, and there will be thousands of such marches across the Country, some with only a few people, others in Capital cities having thousands marching, and taking hours to pass the saluting dais.
Sadly, not one of those ‘diggers’ who landed on that first fateful morning on the beaches of Gallipoli is left any more, but the day is one where all Australia gathers to thank all it’s members of the military both current and from all conflicts Australia has been part of. There is also a large commemoration at ANZAC Cove in Turkey, where thousands of Australians trek every year for the solemn service there on the site of that first landing, on a piece of soil that is sacred Australian land on a distant shore.

Being a retired member of the Royal Australian Air Force, I’ve marched in dozens of these marches in uniform and a few of them since my retirement, in civilian clothes, proudly wearing my medals.

This Friday morning, you Americans will wake to a work day. This Friday is the most solemn day on Australia’s calendar, more important even than Australia Day when, each year, we celebrate colonisation of Australia on the 26th January 1788.

This is a link to a site from the Australian War Memorial about . However, it barely scratches the surface of how on that day, Australia stood up for itself, and announced that it was a Nation in its own right.

Incidentally, a young Colonel at Gallipoli, John Monash, was a bridge building engineer before the War, and a part time soldier. After Gallipoli, he led his men in France, and made a distinct effort to get out of the English habit of throwing thousands of men to their deaths in useless battles, something the English Generals were apt to do. He meticulously planned each engagement down to a man. He was famed for getting results where all other Generals failed, so much so that he was promoted rapidly to Lieutenant General (the equivalent of 3 Stars), rising three senior ranks in only eighteen months, and he became the first soldier actually Knighted on the field of battle by an English King. He planned and then led all the major battles at the end of the war, and is probably instrumental in the early finish of that war.
Why I even mention him at all is because General Sir John Monash is the only foreign person to ever have control of a US fighting force, when Pershing (very grudgingly) allowed a battalion (1,000 men) to come under Monash’s control for the July 4th 1918 Battle of Hamel.

Link to Post on John Monash