Discover more about Gallipoli
By early 1915, the war on the Western Front had reached a stalemate. In responce to a request for aid from its ally, Russia, the British government sanctioned a plan to attack the Ottoman Empire, which was fighting alongside the Central Powers against both Russia on its northern frontiers and British-led forces in the Middle East. By sending Allied warships through the narrow straits of the Dardanelles to attack Constantinople (now Istanbul), it was hoped that the Ottomans could be forced out of the war, creating a new supply route to Russia and helping to secure the valuable oilfields of the Middle East.
In February and March 1915, British and French ships attempted to subdue the forts which guarded the Dardanelles and force their way through the narrows, but minefields and powerful shore batteries proved insurmountable. After the loss of three battleships on 18 March, the naval assault was abandoned. It was decided that a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton, would land on the Gallipoli peninsula to eliminate the forts and take control of the straits, enabling Allied warships to reach Constantinople.
British servicemen bound for Gallipoli, c. April 1915. IWM Q103294.
On 25 April 1915, soldiers of the British 29th Division and the Royal Naval Division landed on five beaches around Cape Helles, while the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) came ashore further north in an area later named Anzac Cove. Their aim was to sweep across the peninsula to the high ground overlooking the Dardanelles. Determined Ottoman resistance, advised by German officers, prevented either force from advancing beyond their footholds and trench warfare became unavoidable. In the Helles sector, heavy fighting took place involving British, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian Army units, particularly near the village of Krithia and at Gully Ravine. Anzac Cove became a siege, with Ottoman artillery and snipers a constant menace, and vicious close-quarters combat on the ridges high above the beaches. Ottoman troops mounted several major counter-attacks in an attempt to dislodge Allied forces across the peninsula, suffering heavy losses of their own. In the oppressive heat, with rampant sickness and disease, casualties on both sides began to mount.
A renewed Allied offensive began in August 1915. On the slopes of Chunuk Bair, forces of the British Empire, led by New Zealand troops, attempted to break through enemy lines and open the way across the peninsula. In support, Australian forces attacked at Lone Pine and the Nek, while reinforcements landed to the north of Anzac Cove at Suvla Bay. The offensive failed, and after weeks of heavy casualties and with the onset of a harsh winter, the campaign was abandoned and plans for evacuation were drawn up. On 9 January 1916 the last Allied soldiers left the peninsula.
Royal Fusiliers returning from the trenches through Gully Ravine, Cape Helles, 1915. IWM Q13315.
Men from across the former British Empire fought at Gallipoli: from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, from Newfoundland and Nepal, from undivided India, and from Australia and New Zealand. Although most of the Ottoman forces were Turkish soldiers defending their homeland, men from throughout the Ottoman Empire, from as far afield as Baghdad, Beirut and Bulgaria served alongside them.
Almost 36,000 Commonwealth servicemen are buried or commemorated on Gallipoli, including nearly 25,000 members of British forces, over 7,200 of Australian units, more than 2,300 of New Zealand forces, and more than 1,500 members of the Indian Army. Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers are estimated to have suffered wounds or sickness, and thousands died after being taken elsewhere for treatment. The French cemetery overlooking Morto Bay is the final resting place of some 3,200 men along with as many as 12,000 whose remains are held in four ossuaries. Ottoman casualties are estimated by the Turkish authorities to number between 250,000 and 300,000, of whom at least 87,000 were killed.
Surgery in progress at a Casualty Clearing Station, Gallipoli, 1915. Surgeon is removing a bullet from the patient's right arm. IWM Q13316.
The campaign had a profound impact across the British Empire. It became particularly meaningful for Australia and New Zealand, whose forces suffered heavy losses for the first time and would go on to play an important role on the Western Front. The anniversary of the landings on 25 April quickly became a significant date of commemoration known as Anzac Day. For Turkey, the Battle of Çanakkale had a significant legacy in the newly-formed post-war state led by Mustafa Kemal, wartime general and hero of the campaign who would become known as Ataturk, 'the father of the Turks.'
During the fighting on Gallipoli, many battlefield burial grounds were created, where soldiers laid to rest their fallen comrades. Evacuating the peninsula meant leaving behind these graves and makeshift cemeteries. It was not until after the end of the war that a Graves Registration Unit was able to begin the process of finding and marking the graves and searching for those left unburied. Once this was completed, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission began the task of constructing permanent cemeteries and memorials. Many were built on the sites of the original burial grounds, but those graves in smaller, more isolated sites, or in locations impossible to maintain were moved into new plots in existing or newly-created cemeteries.
Designed by lead architect Sir John Burnet, they reflect the difficulties of terrain and weather and appear very different to those on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Distinctive 'ha-ha' stone walls were used to protect the sites from flash floods. Rather than the usual Cross of Sacrifice, a wall at the rear of each cemetery carries a cross and stone markers on low pedestals were used. Unlike on the Western Front, the many thousands of unidentified burials were not marked. Memorials to the missing - those with no known graves or who had been lost or buried at sea - were created at several sites to commemorate by name some 27,000 Commonwealth servicemen.
Many Turkish memorials stand on the peninsula. Inscribed on several are the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, spoken in 1934:
Those heroes that shed their
blood and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well.