The story of the landings on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 is a familiar one to Australians, commemorated each year on the anniversary and revered as a nation-building event. Yet much of the Gallipoli campaign – and in particular the major battles that took place in August – is not understood. In a new book, a group of distinguished international historians set to challenge some of the long-held misconceptions of the campaign by presenting fresh insights into that pivotal offensive.
“In Australia we focus on Anzac Day and the battles of Anzac Day, but the major battles of the campaign were really in August, when the allies made a last ditch effort to break the deadlock that had lasted since the landing,” says Ashley Ekins, editor of Gallipoli: A ridge too far.
“They brought in five fresh divisions from Britain and new troops from Australia. But every single attack resulted in heartbreak and failure. That’s the story that’s told here.”
The allied troops that landed on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli on 25 April expected to fight a swift campaign, and to win. The aim was to capture the Turkish capital, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), and knock Turkey out of the war in a master stroke. But the steep terrain of the peninsula and strong Turkish defences made it impossible for the allies to penetrate far inland, so they dug in and resisted enemy attempts to force them back to the beaches.
After months of stalemate, the allies planned a series of assaults to break the military deadlock and achieve a decisive victory. The fighting was fierce and bloody, and the casualties mounted on both sides. The August offensive resulted in the largest battles of the eight-month-long campaign, but it did not lead to victory. The allies finally evacuated the peninsula in December. More than one million men on both sides had been involved in the campaign, and half of them became casualties – killed, wounded, or wasted by disease. Almost 9,000 Australians died.