25 April 1915: The bloodbath begins

At 4.30 this morning the first ANZAC troops began landing at Z Beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They were not strongly opposed, as von Sanders’s strategy was to keep a light screen around the coast until it was clear where the Allied landings actually were, then feed in his central reserves. Through the day, the landings and the advance at Z Beach became more and more chaotic and the Turkish defence ever fiercer. By nightfall the situation for the Anzacs was critical. Their commander, General Birdwood, even contemplated taking the force off again. Hamilton, however, told him there was ‘nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out’. The landing had been a failure and the Anzacs were confined to an incredibly narrow bridgehead for the next eight months.

At Y Beach the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (to whom George would eventually be attached) scaled sheer cliffs in the semi-dark and at first met no resistance. However, they did not dig in, nor did they advance until the afternoon. It was then a similar story to Z Beach. They became desperate for reinforcements, which did not arrive, and ‘all night the Turks pressed hard all along the overstretched line’ (Peter Hart).

At X Beach the naval support was highly effective, the Royal Fusiliers pushed on to their objective, which they had captured by noon, but they were forced almost back to the cliffs by a Turkish counter-attack in the afternoon.

At W Beach, the Turkish defences had not been effectively shelled by the navy and the Lancashire Fusiliers were mown down as they came ashore or lay by the wire waiting for it to be cut. The situation was saved by an outflanking attack, but even so Turkish reinforcements prevented the British troops from achieving their objective of joining up with the main landing force at V Beach.

It was at V Beach that the biggest disaster occurred. This was the most strongly defended point at Cape Helles. As the River Clyde, containing two thousand men, grounded to the left of Sedd el Bahr Fort just after 6.00 a.m., followed by open rowing boats containing the Dublin Fusiliers, a storm of fire broke out from the castle and Turkish trenches. The first assault force was practically shot to pieces or drowned before reaching land. The landings from the ‘Trojan Horse’ of the Clyde had not been thought out or rehearsed in detail and turned into fiasco and mass slaughter. The sea was red with blood. Two platoons were successfully landed to the right of the castle, advanced on the village, but were beaten back. The landing force suffered about 1000 casualties in the course of the morning and the attempt to disembark the rest was called off until nightfall.

The map tells a terrible story of failure. It had been thought a reasonable objective to join up the forces at Y, X, W, V and S Beaches and take the commanding height of Achi Baba, five and a half miles from Helles, on the first day. The Expeditionary Force never reached Achi Baba or Mal Tepe in the entire course of the campaign.

Gallipoli Landings 25 April Map

(Figure from the official history, Crown Copyright 1928)

As with my post yesterday, I feel the less I comment on the Gallipoli campaign the better. No-one, probably, has put it better than Nigel Steel, Principal Historian for the Imperial War Museums, in his interview ‘Gallipoli Dissected: What Did Britain Get Wrong?’ at http://www.historyanswers.co.uk, and Peter Hart in Gallipoli (Profile Books, 2013).

My biography of George Calderon has grown into an examination of the Edwardian ethos or mindset. I will merely say, then, that for me the Gallipoli campaign exemplifies the very worst about the Edwardians (naive over-confidence and arrogance) and something of the best (individualism and courage).

Next entry: 26 April 1915

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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