The docks at Alexandria were crammed with vessels of every type from Ocean liners to Thames tugs. Emptying and repacking badly loaded ships went on round the clock. Ensconced in the Metropole Hotel, General Hamilton and his staff considered their options, and decided to take the southern part of the Gallipoli Peninsula in a coup de main. That is, an attack that relies on speed and surprise to attain its objectives. It was a sick joke. The element of ‘surprise’ had long gone. The Turks had been given five weeks warning and gifted a considerable amount of detailed information on Hamilton’s plan through unrestricted articles in the Egyptian Gazette. [1] Instructed by their German advisors, they trained, practised and created stronger and deeper positions with new banks of barbed wire, freshly dug trenches and underwater obstacles at possible landing sights. With every day’s delay the difficulty of the task and the impregnability of the peninsula increased. The military force should have been sent out and made ready before the naval attack began, but it had been ‘hopelessly botched up from the start and was bound to fail’. [2] Remember that phrase; bound to fail.

Sir William BirdwoodServing under Hamilton as divisional commanders were Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, an English officer who had overseen Anzac training alongside the pyramids in Egypt, Hunter-Weston of the 29th Division and Sir Archibald Paris of the Royal Naval Division. All three disliked Hamilton’s scheme, and Birdwood’s chief-of-staff, Brigadier-General Harold Walker, was absolutely ‘appalled’ by it. His military instincts were first class. General d’Amade, the man who divulged Gallipoli plans to the press, was Divisional commander of the 20,000 French troops. Before leaving Alexandria for Lemnos on 8 April, Hamilton wrote to Kitchener that his commanders could now see all the difficulties with ‘extraordinary perspicacity’ and ‘would each apparently a thousand times sooner do anything else except what we are going to do.’ He later added, ‘The truth is, every one of these fellows agrees in his heart … that the landing is impossible.’ [3] Despite this, Hamilton and his divisional commanders proceeded as instructed. It was ‘impossible’, but they did not insist it should be cancelled. Nor did Kitchener. As ever, what good sense these men possessed lost out to their obsequious obedience to the ruling class masters. And, as ever, tens of thousands of young men were sacrificed to the will of the elite.

Madras Harbour 1915By 20 April more than 200 ships were crammed into Mudros harbour, waiting to take the troops to Gallipoli in a multi-pronged attack. Many of the troops advanced in transport ships to within 3 kilometres of the peninsula. Then, in complete silence and total darkness, they descended wooden ladders into rowing boats, roped together in chains of four. Each chain was towed by a launch to within fifty to a hundred metres of the shore, cast off, and rowed by naval ratings as close to the beach as possible. The first heavily laden troops were timed to land just as dawn broke.

British troops were destined for five different beaches, labelled through S to X, around the toe of the peninsula at Helles. Additionally at V Beach an old coal boat, the SS River Clyde, which had been adapted to carry 2,000 troops in her hold, ran straight up onto the beach in front of the old fort at Sedd-el-Bahr. The modern day Trojan horse had been modified to disgorge troops rapidly through sally-ports cut in the hull. Some 25 kilometres further along the western shore at Z Beach near Ari Burnu, the Anzacs would land from rowing boats. Across the Dardanelles, at Besika Bay and Kum Kale, the French division would make a diversionary feint in an attempt to confuse the Turks. As the days passed on Lemnos, the majority of the invading force lived on the transport vessels, but constantly trained ashore or rehearsed rapid, silent transfers down the sides of the ships into rowing boats. The landing was scheduled for 23 April when the moon would wane leaving a pitch black night, but bad weather delayed it.

Gallipoli beach targets in April 1915

Between 23 and 24 April, 62,442 troops were transported to the Gallipoli Peninsula on 67 transport ships supported by an armada of warships, destroyers, and associated smaller craft. On V Beach at Helles at 06.22 on 25 April, the River Clyde nosed in and grounded herself. The sally-port doors swung open and the first men from the Munster Fusiliers and the Hampshire Regiment ran out into concentrated gunfire. ‘In seconds the gangways were blocked with dead and wounded whose blood stained red the water around the ship.’ [4] The beach, about 300 metres long and 8 metres wide, was strongly defended with three lines of wire entanglement running across the grass banks. Machine guns and pom-poms were concealed within the walls of the old fort and on the steep cliffs just to the west of it. Turkish infantry commanded the entire beach from the front and both sides. A few of what Hamilton referred to as ‘the forlorn hope’ from the River Clyde made it to the shore and found shelter under a small ridge, but as men kept running from the ship the Turks kept killing them. About 1,000 stayed aboard, safe but impotent until darkness fell. British battleships bombarded the shore defences, but achieved little.

The first to come in on tows at V Beach were the Dublin Fusiliers commanded by Brigadier-General Napier. Officers on the River Clyde screamed at him to go back, but Napier carried on and he and his staff died before they reached the shore. ‘The beach was the scene of sustained butchery, and only forty or fifty men managed to get to the low cliffs and dig themselves in.’ [5] ‘Few survived the first minute. Most did not even leave the boats, which drifted helplessly away with every man in them killed.’ [6] Air Commodore Samson flew over V Beach that morning and later reported that the calm blue sea was ‘absolutely red with blood’ for a distance of some fifty yards from the shore. In a scene reminiscent of the Western Front, bodies lay entangled in the impenetrable wire.

Lancashire Fusiliers at Gallipoli 1915

A small group of Lancashire Fusiliers reached the the grass ridge. Some died on the barbed wire entanglements, but others managed to ‘hack and tear’ a passage. Unable to fire their sand-blocked rifles, they fixed bayonets, charged up to a Turkish trench, and drove some defenders off. Six fusiliers were later awarded the Victoria Cross for their gallantry on the beach that morning; the very beach which the Marines had walked over in perfect safety two months previously. [7] When the 29th Division was counting its dead in the thousands, someone made a remark to Hunter-Weston about the causalities. ‘Casualties?’ he snapped, ‘What do I care for casualties?’ [8] All three brigade commanders at Cape Helles died in action, and the two colonels who replaced them were killed instantly. With no senior officer or tactical headquarters onshore, the men struggled through bewildering chaos.

General Hamilton had ordered a landing at an isolated spot four miles along the coast at Y Beach to attack the Turks from the rear and 2,000 men from the Plymouth Battalion and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers landed unopposed. Their orders were to march across the tip of the peninsula, attack the defending forces and join up with the main force at Helles. Without a shot being fired, they climbed a 200 foot cliff, and stopped. The troops were ordered to brew tea and rest. They could have headed south at will and encircled the enemy position at Sedd-el-Bahr and Teke-Burnu, where, less than an hour’s march away, their comrades were being slaughtered. Two Colonels headed the main force at Y Beach but were unsure which of them was in charge. Neither had been given clear instructions and understood they were to stay there until troops from the southern landings joined them. Throughout the day they requested information and instructions from Hunter-Weston, but received none. Neither Colonel felt that he could take matters into his own hands.

Passing Y Beach on the Queen Elizabeth, General Hamilton saw the British troops  ‘quite peacefully reposing…probably smoking’, [9] but declined to pour more troops through that undefended beach without Hunter-Weston’s consent. When he eventually replied, Hunter-Weston refused. For eleven undisturbed hours these troops sat on the cliffs at Y Beach without digging in. The Turks arrived in force and by the following morning there were over 700 casualties. The navy evacuated the survivors, [10] without the permission of an incensed General Hamilton. He was shocked to witness ‘loose groups’ of ‘aimless dawdlers’ on the shore and could not understand why, having dug themselves in, they had failed to establish a bridgehead. [11 ] Incredibly, they had not been ordered to ‘dig themselves in’ and suffered the consequence

W Beach was a death trap of land mines, sea mines and wire entanglements concealed under the surface. Further entanglements stretched along the length of the beach close to the water’s edge. Machine guns were concealed in holes cut in the cliff face, with pom-poms and more machine guns further back. When the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers reached the shore, a terrible fusillade broke out. ‘Some were caught by the barbed wire under the sea, others, passing over their comrades bodies, hurled themselves on the wire stretching along the foreshore and literally hacked their way through. A long line of men fell at this point under the enemy’s withering rifle and machine-gun fire as if cut down by a scythe.’ [12] Some Lancashires clawed their way to the higher ground and were able to fire on the Turks. Their resistance weakened, but not before the fusiliers suffered 553 casualties out of the 950 who had landed. Survivors bravely struggled to give what help they could to the wounded, ‘many of whom were lying helpless under the weight of of other wounded and dead on top of them.’ [13]

Anzac Cove after the bloody landingsFurther north at Z Beach, the Anzacs faced similar horrors. In the darkness an uncharted current had swept the boats about a mile north of the intended landing-place, and some of the attackers faced steep cliffs rather than the low sandbanks they had expected. Most were put ashore at a small cove south of Ari Burnu, which would later be known as Anzac Cove. Heavy Turkish rifle and machine gun fire broke out as the boats carrying the first wave of 15,000 troops were about thirty yards from the shore. Some died as they sat, others drowned under the weight of their packs when they slipped in the water and couldn’t recover. [14] ‘The humped shapes of dead men moved sluggishly in the wash of the surf, the blood in the water round them beginning to show pink as the sky lightened.’ Out on the transport ships ‘the second wave was standing ready to go in, waiting to swing down into the little boats as soon as the dead and wounded had been lifted from them.’ [15]

Men had to drag and claw their way up steep cliffs under remorseless fire, their dead and wounded mates hanging suspended from bushes. ‘Yet through the bewilderment of the beach and up and over the nearby cliffs, the movement forward did not stop.’ Small groups of Australians penetrated inland for a mile or more, but most of the others were still pinned to the beach. By mid afternoon 12,000 troops were ashore. They faced a defensive force of only 4,000, but the Turks held the heights and the Anzacs were unable to break through in any numbers. As more and more waves of men landed in the face of heavy fire, the beach became ‘a crowded shambles, so littered with lines of wounded that it was difficult to pick a way to the sea.’ [16] It appeared that against all the odds the Anzacs might break through, but Turkish troops held in reserve poured into the heights above and pushed them back. Birdwood went ashore that evening and held a meeting with two divisional generals who urged an immediate evacuation. When a message to this effect reached Hamilton in the middle of the night, he refused permission to withdraw, and urged them to ‘dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.’ [17]

wounded evacuated in filthy boatsOver 2,000 Anzacs were killed that day, with many more wounded. The two hospital ships provided to cover all the landings and were immediately overwhelmed. When wounded men were eventually taken off the beaches, it was to filthy and overcrowded ships with insufficient doctors or medical orderlies. They then faced a voyage of six or seven hundred miles without adequate treatment. ‘The wounded suffered dreadful privations and many who might have survived succumbed to the effects of gangrene or suppurating wounds before they got to a proper hospital in Egypt.’ [18] ‘That “baptism of fire”, as the men called it, was to set the pattern for the for the next eight months: the Turkish army would always look down from the heights onto the attackers below.’ [19]

The disastrous attack on the Gallipoli peninsula began as predicted. Youthful expectation was sacrificed without compunction or care. What did Hunter-Weston care about casualties? Nothing. What did the Secret Elite care about the terrible losses? That was never their concern. The truth of the matter, which has never been honestly addressed, is that the attack was ordered in the expectation of certain defeat. In reality, the thousands slain on that first day alone died, not for civilisation or justice, but for the Machiavellian plans of rich and powerful men at the heart of the British Empire.

[1] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, vol. 1, 31 March, 1915 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19317/19317-h/19317-h.htm#Page_127, ]
[2] John Hargrave, The Suvla Bay Landing, pp. 39-40.
[3] L A Carlyon, Gallipoli, pp. 119-122.
[4] John Laffin, The Agony of Gallipoli, p. 55.
[5] Ibid., p. 56.
[6] Robin Prior, Gallipoli, The End of The Myth, p. 101.
[7] Alan Moorehead, Gallipoli, pp. 142-3.
[8] Carlyon, Gallipoli, p. 120.
[9] Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, vol. 1, 25 April, 1915. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19317/19317-h/19317-h.htm#Page_127 ]
[10] Moorehead, Gallipoli, pp. 145-148.
[11] Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, vol. 1, 26 April, 1915 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19317/19317-h/19317-h.htm#Page_127
[12] Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, The Uncensored Dardanelles, pp.65-66.
[13] Laffin, The Agony, pp. 53-54.
[14] Prior, Gallipoli, p. 114.
[15] Kit Denton, Gallipoli, One Long Grave, pp. 28-29.
[16] Ibid., pp. 31-33.
[17] Tim Travers, Gallipoli, p. 101.
[18] Peter Hart, Gallipoli, pp.104-5.
[19] Patsy Adam-Smith, The Anzacs, p. 70.