ANZAC - What Is It?
ANZAC - Australian New Zealand Army Corps
NO RECITAL OF THE DEEDS of the men of the Australian Infantry Force can begin anywhere but on the blood-stained beaches of Gallipoli, where on that never-to-be-forgotten April 25, 1915, the flower of both Australia’s and New Zealand’s manhood flung themselves into one of history’s most gallant military adventures.
There is no denying the invasion failed. When the time finally came to evacuate, nearly eight thousand Australian dead were left on Gallipoli. They died after prodigies of valor in the first great battles this nation fought — and they gave their lives for big stakes.
Had Gallipoli succeeded, it would have been a military master-stroke with incalculable results. However, it has been said it was certain to fail from the beginning. Those men of Anzac, then, embarked on an impossible operation. Yet they very nearly pulled it off. They failed — but for all time Australia will honor them because it was a glorious failure.
Dawn on that first Anzac Day saw the Diggers jumping from their boats into waist-deep water and scrambling over the narrow, gently-sloping beach of Anzac Cove.
Waiting for them in the dark hills rising from the shore were thirty-six thousand well-trained Turks backed by more than one hundred field guns.
From the heights, the first flashes of rifle fire stabbed at the Australians who made up the initial assault wave of fifteen hundred men. The water was churned and whipped into foam by the hail of bullets, and many of the invaders died in the boats or in the water before their feet grated on the shore.
The rest had a thirty-yard dash across the sand to the shelter of a low cliff. There they formed a line, their bayonets glittering in the pale glimmer of the dawn, while behind them fresh waves of boats were coming in all the time. At a word of command the line began to move forward.Clinging to roots, digging footholds with their bayonets, they stormed up the cliff.
Beyond were line upon line of low hills and ridges, seamed by gullies and jagged, stony water-courses and hiding the well-entrenched and waiting Turks.
From there came ever-increasing machine gun and artillery fire. Although eight thousand Australians were ashore by 7.30 a.m., and the whole twelve thousand infantry of the 1st Australian Division by early afternoon, the withering hail of Turkish shrapnel that descended upon them pinned them down to the beach and a small area on top of the cliff where the first Anzacs had dug in. Held down by the enemy guns, they were nowhere more than a few hundred yards in from the beach — and with a counter-attack obviously coming at any time, their chances of holding what they had did not look bright.
The counter-attack came at 3.30 p.m. and gradually mounted in intensity as the Turks threw in everything they had at the thin Anzac line. They streamed down shoulder-to-shoulder from their strong-points on the heights. The Diggers met them with rifle fire, and when that did not stop them they hurtled out of their hastily-dug trenches and fought with their bayonets in hundreds of fierce and blood-curdling melees until the Turks had had enough and dropped back to their own defences.
Down to the beach streamed the Australian wounded for medical attention. Anzac Cove was then a crazy turmoil of death and confusion. Heaped everywhere were cases of stores, equipment and ammunition. More troops were still coming ashore, but the unceasing hail of shrapnel took heavy toll.
The Landing - ANZAC Cove
In the casualty stations the wounded from the heights lay everywhere, many of them shell-shocked from the Turkish barrage which was estimated to have reached a peak of fourteen hundred shells per hour landing on the Anzac beachhead. From the front on the heights came word that the enemy onslaughts were continuing and threatened to overwhelm the Australians at any time and push them all back into the sea.
The position seemed critical and after consulting with General Bridges, Commander of the 1st Australian Division, General Birdwood, the Anzacs’ Commander, sent an urgent message to the G.O.C., Sir Ian Hamilton, on board the British battleship Queen Elizabeth, that an immediate evacuation of the whole force might be necessary once darkness fell.
Sir Ian Hamilton consulted with Royal Navy officers. They told him it would take at least two days to pick up the Anzacs. It would be impossible to take them off that night. Accordingly Hamilton wrote back to Birdwood: "There is nothing for it but to dig yourself right in and stick it out. Make a personal appeal to your men to hold their ground."
General Birdwood knew there was no need to make such an appeal to the Anzacs. They would stick it out to the last man if necessary. So there was no more talk of evacuation, but over the succeeding days as the Turkish offensive mounted to a new peak of ferocity and casualties mounted alarmingly, it did seem that they might eventually reach the last Digger.
However, from the point of view of casualties the Turks were even harder hit. At the end of a fortnight they had lost twenty-five thousand men as against the fourteen thousand Anzacs who were out of it through death, wounds or sickness. Still the enemy kept up the pressure and on May 19, three and a half weeks after the landing, came the bloodiest conflict of all.
The Anzacs were then in a clearly defined triangle, with its base on the sea and its apex Quinn’s Post on the slopes of the ridge known as Sari Bair, about a thousand yards from the shore. Mustafa Kemal, the enemy commander, who as Kemal Ataturk was to found modern Turkey, had received reinforcements and was able to concentrate thirty thousand troops for a do-or-die thrust at the Australian position. Their principal objective was Quinn’s Post because directly behind it was a cliff which fell away into an indefensible gully. The Turks had only to get past Quinn’s Post and they had driven a wedge right into the middle of the Anzac bridgehead.
Even with thirty thousand fresh troops, however, they could not do it. Their blood drenched the ground in front of the Australian trenches and their dead were piled up in mounds. Once about hundred Turks, hurling an avalanche of bombs, got into an Australian trench in the Quinn’s Post area. It took the Diggers two hours of hand-to-hand bayonet combat and neverceasing counter-attacks to get them out. Only seventeen still lived when they gave up the trench and fled back to their own lines.
By the next day the Turks realised they were not going to get past Quinn’s Post. Accordingly, under a flag of truce they approached the Australians and asked for a cease-fire to bury their dead. This was agreed to for nine hours, and during that period they removed an estimated five thousand bodies. One minute after the cease-fire period, both sides were at it again hammer-and-tongs and before long there were several hundred more dead Turks littering the recently cleared area in front of Quinn’s Post.
So it went on over many more months of bloodshed on Gallipoli until it became obvious that it was a stalemate. The Turks would never conquer the Anzac positions but likewise the Australians and New Zealanders would never break through the defenders’ lines and achieve the objectives that had brought them to the peninsula.
My Family Members who served overseas on Active Service In World War 1.
Grandfather -: Pte Herbert Maxwell GRAYSTONE, Service Number 2038, 60th Btn., AIF, from Mildura VIC (Wounded)
Uncle - Private Harry GRAYSTONE, Service Number 6344, 22nd Btn., AIF from Castlemaine VIC (Wounded)
Uncle - Gunner Leonard GRAYSTONE, Service Number 4820, 11th FAB, AIF, from Mildura VIIC
Grandfather - John Stewart British Army 5th Btn (Renfrewshire) Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Wounded)
Uncle - George Stewart (British) Royal Navy.