Allies retreat from Gallipoli disaster
Monday December 20, 1915
In a laconic, single-sentence communique, the War Office in London this afternoon revealed that the ill-fated Gallipoli expedition had been abandoned after 10 months of bad luck, muddle, indecisiveness - and outstanding heroism by British, Australian and New Zealand troops.
The final act of evacuating some 90,000 men, with 4,500 animals, 1,700 vehicles and 200 guns was carried out with great skill and ingenuity, under the very noses of powerful Turkish forces. Not a single life was lost. Some 30,000 beds had been prepared for the wounded in Mediterranean hospitals, but these were not needed.
The evacuation was carried out at night-time. During the day, however, ships riding at anchor under Turkish observation could be seen disembarking troops and unloading guns and stores. The trick was that more men and materials were evacuated during the night than had been ostentatiously brought ashore during the day.
In the last stages, at Anzac Bay, when it seemed the Turks could not fail to hear what was going on, a destroyer trained its searchlight on the enemy's trenches. While the Turks concentrated their fire on the destroyer, the troops were lifted off the beaches.
As the last men were leaving, having set thousands of booby traps, a huge landmine in no-man's-land was exploded. The Turks, thinking the Australians were attacking, began a furious barrage of fire that lasted 40 minutes.
It was a better end than might have been expected to a sorry story that began when the Russians appealed to Britain and France for munitions. Ministers and military men in London agreed to let the Royal Navy try to get to Russia's Black Sea ports by forcing the passage of the Dardanelles; they also decided a back-up force of land troops would be needed.
Kitchener said he could not spare the men from the Western Front. Three weeks later he changed his mind and said he could send a division to join Royal Marines and troops from Egypt.
But by the time the combined land and sea operation was mounted at the end of April, a full two months after the navy had first bombarded the Dardanelles forts, all advantages of surprise had been lost and the Turks had heavily reinforced their positions.
When Bulgaria came into the war a clear route was opened for Germany to keep Turkey supplied. Britain decided to pull out and use the men, as today's announcement says, in "another sphere of operations".
The Commons has been told the casualties were 25,000 dead, 76,000 wounded, 13,000 missing and 96,000 sick admitted to hospital.
How it Strikes an Australian
Getting away the guns.
The following is by the well-known Australian who was at Anzac and Suvla not long ago
Tuesday December 21, 1915
The feeling of all who have been at Anzac and Suvla must be one of relief, tempered of course with sorrow at the thought of the magnificent achievement without material gains. Next comes the wonder that the withdrawal was accomplished with so little loss. I am informed on the best of authority that the official statement that the losses were insignificant can be taken in the strictest sense of the words. We have sustained hardly any loss.
The bringing off of the guns was a wonderful feat. At Anzac they were built into the trenches far advanced. At Suvla they were assembled for the most part under the lee of the Chocolate Hills. How were they brought off? One has to think that the Turks preferred not to be massacred. They preferred to let us go to some extent unmolested rather than face our machine-guns. They have had frightful losses. To them the campaign will ever be associated with sadness and horror. Of course they have taken our rearguards. But they have not rushed our positions until the guns and stores were removed.
When I was on the Peninsula there were great piles of provisions. Since then winter stores of every description have been moved in. The material left behind and destroyed must have been great, no matter what amount was taken away. You cannot remove three weeks' supplies of provisions for many tens of thousands of men when they have been placed up such hills and along such gullies as the exposed holders of Gallipoli.
What Australia will feel
As an Australian I have no doubt that the people of New Zealand and Australia will meet this crisis with the same spirit as that in which the heroes of Anzac faced the grim fights in the hills of Gallipoli.
The withdrawal was proceeding for ten days. We have left full twenty thousand graves - too few marked by our little wooden crosses, for we have not known where many of our men fell. We have left a place which however much associated with glory, will always be thought of by those who suffered - and they were everyone who landed on the beaches - with feelings of sorrow. The sufferings there in body and mind were inescapable.
Food could be nothing else than monotonous - deadly monotonous; there was danger everywhere, though that was thrilling enough; and there was dysentery and weakness and a mental atrophy inseparable from such continuous, unrelieved trench work as was necessary on a shore where there was not enough room for handling men. There is satisfaction in the thought that Australia and New Zealand appear to have written their names not only indelibly on that inhospitable, barren shore, but on the heart of every Englishman.
How it must have been done
The withdrawal must have been done from Anzac. We linked up Suvla with Anzac a few days after the Suvla Bay landing and the great advance from Anzac which reached the shoulders of the dominating ridges of Hill 971 and Chanuk Bair. A dry system of trenches along the front and a safe sap road along the beach provided a way whereby the Suvla troops could be sidled along to Anzac and there embarked under the shelter of the high cliffs.
Our deepest point was two miles and a few yards inland from the point at Suvla Bay. That would present difficulties. But I think the greatest fight, if any real charge was made by the Turks, would be at the sacred spot of Quinn's Post, where the real key of Anzac was and where on the first days so many desperate and critical duels between the fanatical Turks and the indomitable Australians took place.
Depend upon it, Australia does not regard this as a tragedy. It is merely an incentive to find victory another way. We shall complete the work of the heroes who lie buried there, but though in unknown graves in these grim hills they will never be forgotten in their distant villages and cattle stations on the vast spaces of Australia.