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F + 2 : Gallipoli Day

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

Another early day - coffee at 7 am - we would lift anchor a few minutes later to sail to the ANZAC Cove where Serhan, our guide and former Turkish Marine Lieutenant, was waiting.

Early Morning Sun on the Casa dell' Arte today

The Gallipoli Campaign was one of the most bloody engagements fought in the First World War. With roughly half a million soldiers participating on both sides and casualties in the range of 40 - 50%, it resulted in a stalemate and eventually the withdrawal of the British and French Forces. The stakes were high for both sides. Churchill, the first Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, wanted to occupy Istanbul and open a direct link to allied Russia. The Central Powers had to keep Turkey in the war to achieve their war goals. See my blog F - 106.

Our Guide Serhan giving us a lecture on WW1 and the

decisions that led to the Gallipoli Campaign

We planned to visit the landing site of the Australian and New Zealand Corps (ANZAC) in the morning and the beaches where the British and the French landed in the afternoon.

The ANZAC Cove where troops landen on 25 April 1915

Seeing ANZAC Cove, we did not envy the troopers who had to land on these rocky shores in the early hours of 25 April 1915. The cove was chosen because it was lightly defended by a single Turkish platoon only. But the landing soldiers had to climb up a steep cliff to reach their objectives. The gamble almost paid off. Had it not been for Lt Col Kemal Ataturk who ordered his troops to defend hill 971 with bayonets after they run out of ammunition, the ANZAC troops would have taken their objective. It would have allowed them to cut off the rest of the Gallipoli peninsula. But they came only close.

The beautiful cemetery at ANZAC Cove gives you time for reflection

Down at the serene ANZAC cemetery, we were moved by a quote from Kemal Ataturk from 1934, chiselled into a giant lime stone rock: "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 Jonnies and the Mehmet 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."

The Hill they tried to reach is now the place of an ANZAC

Memorial and a Statue of Kemal Ataturk

For one day though, New Zealander captured Hill 971 though - but lost it again within 24 hours after a Turkish bayonet counter attack. The goal of cutting off the peninsula was never achieved. A second landing at Suvla beach on 6 August 1915 did not change the situation either. The defences could not be breached. The Turkish soldiers would not yield ground even though they were under-equipped and lacked artillery. On the shores of Gallipoli they fought for their home country.

View on Suvla Bay from Hill 971. To the right are Turkish infantery trenches

In the afternoon we visited the main Turkish War Memorial close to Seddulbahir. Only erected in the 1990s, it was of a different kind. More grandiose - the statement of a winning nation Turkey was late in building war memorials. They were no priority when Ataturk reformed the nation. The survival of the young Turkish Republic was more important. When Turks became more affluent, got cars and started to travel, they discovered that the British, Australians and New Zealand had built war cemeteries during the time of the occupation of the Straits (1919 - 1923) There there was no Turkish equivalent. A crash program was initiated to honour the Turkish war dead and completed under President Erdogan.

The Stelas in the Turkish War Cemetry give you names

and which provices the soldiers were from. Most came

Istanbul, Thrace and Asia Minor but there are at least 1/3

from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula is more open than the rough and steep part where the ANZAC troops landed. Rolling hills dominate the landscape. Farmers plant sun flowers and wheat - we saw them on their tractors preparing the crops for the upcoming harvest. Our guide Serhan compared these fields to Belgium or northern France - the fighting here was similar. Not having enough howitzers, the British Infantry could not dislodge the Ottomans in their trenches. As on the West Front, the lines remained static with a large no-man-land in between. It was a bloody slug fest.

View on V Beach today - the sound of happy children on the beach is almost surreal

Some of the landings went smooth on 25 April 1915 and British Infantry could push inland quickly. Others were an unmitigated disaster like the landing on V Beach north of the Ottoman Seddülbahir Fortress. Here a company of Turkish Rifle Infantry had dug in on all sides of the beach and showered the landing 2nd Hampshire and Munster Fusiliers with withering fire. It was carnage of unseen proportion. Almost nobody survived. The heavy losses on V Beach were one of the reasons why Churchill - later in World War II - was so obsessed with every detail of the landing in Normandy. He did not want to see a repetition of the carnage of 1915.

This photo taken during the landing by a Turkish photographer shows the few survivors who huddle behind some natural cover on V Beach

Our last visit was to the new Submarine Museum which exhibits the underwater excavation of the HMS Majestic, the British battleship sunk by a German submarine that was able to slip through the protecting torpedo nets. On the 27th of May 1915 the British battleship sank within 7 minutes after its boilers exploded.

The sinking HMS Majestic on 27 May 2015 - it was on a mission to provide artillery support to the British Infantry fighting in Gallipoli

The HMS Majestic lies in 20 meters depth and is one of the few battleships which have not been salvaged. Turkish Underwater archeologist meticulously documented the ships grave. The new Museum housed in Gallipoli's old light house exhibits artefacts, underwater plans of the ship and shows videos of the archeologic mission. It is amazing how much of the ship's structure survived for more than 100 years. It has become the home of a rich marine fauna and flora.

Turkish divers documenting the site where HMS Majestic found its final rest

As the temperature climbed above 35 C it was time to return to the Casa dell' Arte. Our boat had dropped us closed to ANZAC cove and sailed south to pick us up again from the pier next to the Seddülbahir Fortress. Colloquially called "Old Castle", it was built in 1659 by the Ottomans during one of the many Ottoman-Venetian wars. Its purpose was to protect the Dardanelles from Venetian raids. The fort was continuously upgraded over the centuries. On the 19 Feb 1915, at the beginning of the naval campaign, it was heavily bombarded by the Royal Navy and completely destroyed. The fort is now being restored and is closed.

The "Old Castle" seen from the brdige of Casa dell' Arte

Crossing over to the Turkish Island of Bozcaada where we could stay for the night and resupply took only two hours. We run out of fresh vegetables and red wine - the last bottle was corked. We hoped to unfold our sails for the crossing but the strong south wind would not have it. We had to motor.

The contours of Bozcaada are already visible on the horizon.

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