Stalled campaign led to Anzacs August push

Three months after Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli shore and charged inland, the campaign had stalled.


To the surprise of allied commanders, the little-regarded Turks had mounted a spirited defence of their homeland.

For them, this was jihad.

Australian War Memorial senior historian Ashley Ekins says soon after the Ottoman Empire threw in its lot with the central powers, the Caliphate declared this struggle a jihad.

“This was a foreign word to most people in those days. We know well what it means today. It was a holy war,” he said.

Allied troops paid in blood for every metre.

Yet Turkish forces had no more ability to expel the invaders than did Australian, New Zealand, British and other allied forces to break through their defences.

Attacks on Turkish positions in the Anzac sector on May 2 and in the British sector at Cape Helles on May 8 cost many lives, but gained little ground.

Turkey launched its major offensive to boot the Australians and New Zealanders back into the sea on May 19, leaving the ground strewn with about 3000 dead.

The Anzacs were precariously perched inside a 160-hectare beachhead under constant shellfire.

Turkish forces held the high ground and had reinforced their positions, in some places within metres of the Australian lines.

With the campaign at stalemate, British general Ian Hamilton settled on an ambitious plan to achieve the final breakthrough.

From this came bloody battles whose names are familiar to Australians – Lone Pine and The Nek – and New Zealanders – Chunuk Bair.

Ekins said the entire purpose of the August offensive, launched 100 years ago, was to seize high ground north of the Anzac sector.

“This was going to be the last throw of the dice,” he said.

“They will capture the high ground and the whole show will be won. There is a huge assumption that simply by doing that, you have driven the Turkish defenders back, they will be off the high ground and the campaign will be won.”

But there were still plenty more ridges between the Anzacs and and their ultimate objective – the Kilid Bahr plateau overlooking the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway linking the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara.

Once this feature was captured, it was believed the Royal Navy could then force its way up the Dardanelles, past formidable defences, where its appearance off the capital Constantinople would force Turkey out of the war.

What was envisaged in the August offensive was a complex series of attacks.

On the evening of August 6, two columns headed for key features on the Sari Bair Range, Hill Q and Hill 971.

To distract the Turks, Australian troops attacked at Lone Pine, a fight which covered the period of August 6-9. Later that night, the first of five British divisions, totalling 20,000 troops, started landing at Suvla Bay, a lightly defended sector eight kilometres north of Anzac.

Then on the morning of August 7, Australian troops launched a series of attacks all along their line. One such attack was at The Nek.

The last gasp of this offensive came with costly attacks on a position called Hill 60 on August 21 and 27. Success would have allowed the Anzacs to link up with the British force at Suvla.

But the offensive had essentially failed by August 10, leaving the Anzacs with a little more real estate and appalling casualties. Correspondent Charles Bean observed that by the morning of August 10, it had suddenly gone quiet.

There were some high points. A stupendous effort by New Zealand troops almost gave them most of the peak of Chunuk Bair. Australian troops took and held Lone Pine in what a participant described as “one of the greatest hand-to-hand fights in the history of the world”.

A low point was Suvla, where excessive caution by the elderly British general Sir Frederick Stopford gave the Turks three days to reinforce the high ground, from which they would not be budged.

Almost unknown to Australians, the final British offensive at Scimitar Hill – coinciding with the Australian attack on Hill 60 – was the largest battle of the entire campaign, involving the most troops and casualties.

Ekins said the whole of the August offensive was ill-conceived, with unclear objectives and insufficient troops.

Over-complicated attacks required co-ordination that was simply beyond the communications of the time.

British historian Robert Rhodes-James later wrote that the August offensive repeated all the mistakes of the original landing, but on a grander scale.

“It was now clear the game was up at Anzac,” Ekins said.

“The character of the war changes completely after the August offensive. There were no more major assaults above ground. The war goes on underground with extensive mining and tunnelling by both sides,” he said.

And there was growing consideration of what was once unthinkable – withdrawal.