War History: Nondescript beach at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli will forever be linked to landings

King George V inspects the 29th Division in March, 1915

King George V inspects the 29th Division in March, 1915 - Credit: Archant

Back from Gallipoli, Mike Peters continues his look back across a century to the events of April, 1915.

The core of the landing force consisted of General Sir Hamilton�s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force,

The core of the landing force consisted of General Sir Hamilton�s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, an ad-hoc formation pulled together specifically for the expedition to seize the Dardanelles - Credit: Archant

Galloway’s resident military historian explains the plan for the amphibious landings in the Dardanelles straits.

Two weeks ago, services of commemoration were held all over the world to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli peninsula. Most were linked to the landing at Anzac Cove. That small, nondescript beach is forever linked to the Australian and New Zealanders who landed as part of a much larger allied force.

Traditionally the two nations that formed the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) commemorate their national moment with dawn services every year. The Anzac tradition goes from strength to strength; we even had an Anzac Day parade in Ipswich this year. Almost immediately after the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the campaign and its Anzac chapter began to develop its own tragic, even romantic, place in the folklore of both southern hemisphere nations. There is, however, so much more to the story of the first day at Gallipoli.

The operation involved the landing of a multinational army of over 80,000 troops under the command of British general Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton.

Finding troops to make up the force had been problematic; most Anglo-French commanders were reluctant to release any units from the Western Front. Therefore, the core of the landing force consisted of Hamilton’s Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, an ad-hoc formation pulled together specifically for the expedition to seize the Dardanelles.

The MEF consisted of the regular but as yet untried 29th Division, the Royal Naval Division, made up of sailors and Royal Marines with some army support, and the two divisions that made up the ANZAC. In addition, Hamilton had the exotically-titled French Oriental Expeditionary Force; initially, this comprised of just a single division of French colonial troops.

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Hamilton’s staff grappled with the problem of organising this force into assault waves that would fit onto the ships provided – further complicated as none of the units arrived on the ships they would land from.

The process took two weeks in Alexandria. Meanwhile, the Turks used the delay to further enhance their defences.

The Gallipoli plan was intended to make best use of allied naval firepower and the mobility provided by the Anglo-French fleet. Hamilton opted for a series of concurrent landings intended to confuse the Turks and enable him to get maximum numbers of troops ashore on the first day. The 29th Division was regarded by Hamilton as the most reliable unit in the MEF; accordingly, they were given the task of securing the five most important objectives: the beaches at Cape Helles and Sedd el Bahr, The “British” beaches were designated as ‘W’, ‘X’, ‘Y’, ‘V’ and ‘S’.

At the same time, as a subsidiary of the plan, the Anzacs were ordered to land 12 miles north of Cape Helles, north of Gaba Tepe. Hamilton’s intention was for the Anzacs to drive inland and strangle Turkish communications and supply lines to the defenders at Cape Helles.

While all this was happening, the “Blue Jackets” of the Royal Naval Division were to land at Bulair and the French would mount a diversionary landing at Kum Kale, on the Asian side of the straits. Hamilton ordered the French to attack any Turkish artillery positions on the Asian side that could disrupt the landings at Helles.

Much controversy still surrounds the availability of maps and intelligence to the MEF staff before the landings. Hamilton knew the beaches were small and the surrounding terrain extremely rugged. Observation from ships offshore revealed an array of wire entanglements and trenches. Hamilton recorded in his report that infantry redoubts and gun emplacements could be observed, but it was difficult to determine the full strength or depth of the Turkish defences.

Regardless of what lay in wait ashore, Hamilton knew the landing must go ahead. Trusting in the power of the Royal Navy and the superiority of the fighting men of the British and French empires over the waiting Turks, Hamilton and the allied armada sailed for the Dardanelles.

Next week we will follow the men of the MEF onto the hostile shores of Gallipoli.

• If you would like to visit the battlefields and see where the last stages of the Second World War were fought, visit www.travel-galloway.com/WW2Arnhem or visit a Galloway Travel Centre for information. You can also follow a battlefields feed on Twitter @GallowayBattles or find battlefield tour reports on the Galloway Travel Facebook page.

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