In honour of the Royal Newfoundland Regt:
The Gallipoli campaign began in February, 1915. It’s overall aim was to open a year round sea route to Russia so that the industrially powerful western allies could provide arms and munitions to Imperial Russia’s massive but poorly equipped army. It was hoped that once properly equipped, the Russians would be able to apply more pressure on Kaiser’s army and together the Russians and Western Allies would achieve victory. The arctic route was only open for a few months, the Baltic route required forcing a passage through the Danish Strait, guarded by the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet and practically in Germany’s back yard. The only other option was through the Mediterranean via the Black Sea. Standing in the way was the Ottoman Empire, who had allied with the Germans. The Turks had no navy, however the Dardanelle passage which linked the Black and Mediterranean Seas was heavily fortified and defended by artillery.
Nonetheless it was decided that these forts and antiquated Turkish guns were no match for the big guns of the Royal Navy’s sleek new Dreadnoughts (the first “modern” battleships). Centuries earlier, Nelson warned of the folly of ships made of wood attacking forts made of stone – and the early attempts to force a passage proved that advice applied equally well to ships made of steel. Unknown to the British the Germans had supplied the Turks with modern heavy artillery and trained them well in their use.
So the decision was made to initiate a land campaign to capture the heights above the Dardanelles. This task was assigned to the newly formed Australia - New Zealand Army Corps – the ANZACS. It was a logical choice, these troops were used to the heat, and had to sail through the Med to get to Europe anyway.
The first landings were made on 25 April, 1915. They were initially successful, easily capturing the heights immediately behind the beach. From there, things quickly went bad. Whether by design or luck, the site of the initial landings (ANZAC Cove) was in a blind spot of the main fortifications. Once the ANZACs crested the small ridge at the beach they came under fire from the main Turkish defences.
The carnage which followed would typify military operations during the Great War…sluggish leadership, poor communication and poorly coordinated frontal assaults against prepared defences resulted in a bloodbath which squandered the youth and legendary courage of the Australians with no appreciable gain.
One last desperate attempt to break out was launched in August. It was timed to coincide with a second landing a few miles away at Suvla Bay, intended to out-flank the forts and distract the defenders. At enormous cost, the ANZACs successfully took the heights at Lone Pine (Aus),
but a courageous and desperate final assault by the New Zealanders at Chuknutt Bair fell short of their ultimate goal of breaking the Turkish main defensive lines.
Rightly so, Gallipoli is known as an ANZAC battle. What is less known is that they had some very good company:
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was dispatched to support the Gallipoli Campaign in September. They landed at Suvla, after the August offensive had stalled. Here they had their first taste of battle in a successful assault to capture a small height of land thereafter named “Caribou Hill”. Their most significant contribution was they were assigned the task of providing a rear guard to cover the withdrawal of the Allied forces once the campaign had been abandoned. In all, the Newfoundlanders lost 39 dead and 74 wounded in their four months at Gallipoli. 22 are buried in at Gallipoli; the rest died at sea on a medical ship or in hospital following the battle.
Epilogue - although not militarily defeated at Gallipoli, the war ruined the Turkish Empire. The Ottomans were one of the last old-world autocratic empires. The defeat and economic ruin which followed proved their undoing. In the years following the war a nationalist revolt led by young army officers deposed the Ottomans and brought Turkey into the modern era. The leader of this movement was a young Colonel, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. In 1915 he had been a regimental commander at Gallipoli. Ironically, although the western Allies had been the enemy, he recognized that the key to Turkey's future was to do away with the old regime and embrace western industrial, economic and social systems.
As a sign of his repsect and admiration for his former enemies, it was on his order that the Allied war cemeteries were created and maintained.