The landing at ANZAC


Hindsight is a wonderful thing but when people are acting in the heat of the moment?people are forced into making?decisions?that?can?lead to?brutal and unforgiving repercussions.

While there were many reasons for the disaster which became known as the Dardanelles campaign, the protracted, horrific and sedentary nature which came to typify its land campaign were decided on the very first day.

Many attempts were made during the following eight months to break out of the deadlock which had emerged from the initial landing but none proved successful.

An analysis of the first day?s events reveals several key decisions that significantly determined the eventual outcome of the overall battle and condemned close to 600,000 men to either death or a lifetime of pain and abject misery.

The landings themselves begin at approximately 4.35am?when the first troops of Australians begin to make their way inland. Instead of a largely flat plain they?are met with steep gullies and sharp ridgelines leading up to the Sari Bair range. “This was bastard country” one of the men involved was later to remark. What had not been countered for was the effect of the offshore current on the landing craft, resulting in?a slow northward drift?which ultimately places the landing location on the wrong beach.

At 7:20am Mustapha Kemal, commanding the Turkish 19th Division orders the 57th Infantry Regiment and a battery of mountain guns up to the summit of Hill 971 the highest point in the area. He very quickly surmises that this high ground would prove crucial in the coming battle.

At the same time Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Sinclair-Maclagan, commander of the 3rd Australian brigade and unaware of the overall situation developing on his left flank, persuades Colonel James McCay commanding the 2nd Australian Brigade, to reinforce him on 400 plateau. This constant southward migration of reinforcements towards 400 plateau was to continue throughout the morning and into the early afternoon and was in accordance with achieving the first day?s strategic?objective, which had by now become largely redundant due to the misplaced landings.

At 10 am the first units of reinforcements arrive who are mostly New Zealand troops and they are immediately ordered to scale the hills and engage with the enemy who is now descending down the ridgeline from Hill 971, attacking the?depleted Australian defenders?on Baby 700.

This new wave of ANZAC forces?are met by the newly arrived commander at Baby 700 Mustapha Kemal who, after seeing his men retreating orders them to stand their ground. When informed that his troops have no ammunition he tells them to lie down on the ground and point their rifles at the advancing ANZAC troops who also proceed to take cover in a similar fashion amongst the scrub.?Unaware that they outnumber the defending Turkish soldiers and that these troops?are also low?on ammunition the ANZAC forces pause. The intervening time gained by this lull allows Kemal to bring in more troops and munitions including the mountain battery which now begins to wreak havoc. The struggle for Baby 700 continues throughout the afternoon and ground is gained and then given up by both sides.

By late afternoon it is becoming increasingly obvious that the landing has not achieved the breakthrough which had been planned and senior commanders are actively discussing the practicalities of withdrawal. This mood of uncertainty plays into the mind of Lieutenant-General Bridges who delays the landing of further artillery, fearing they will be lost to the enemy if an evacuation is ordered.

A note is sent to Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Hamilton aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth requesting immediate evacuation of the beaches. He is placed in an unenviable position. While he understands his officers reasons for requesting withdrawal he also fears the further casualties such a move might initiate. There is also the small matter of the gentlemen back home in London who desire a victory?to enhance their own?political careers.

His response is as follows:

“You have got through the difficult business. All you have to do now is dig, dig, dig until you are safe.”

After eight more months of difficult business and digging, this request for evacuation would finally be heard and assented to and ironically occur without the loss of a single life.