In a Word: Gallipoli
Its name is derived from the Greek Kallipolis, meaning “beautiful city”. Today, the peninsula of Gallipoli is part of northwest Turkey.
We will hear a lot about it this year and not least this week as President Michael D Higgins will visit there to remember the approximately 3,000 Irishmen who died at Gallipoli 100 years ago in one of the most disastrous Allied campaigns of the first World War.
The peninsula and the Dardanelles strait, known in ancient times as Hellespont, was always of great strategic importance as the gateway to Istanbul and the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.
As well as being the scene of one of the Allies’ greatest military disasters of the first World War, it was also one of the Ottoman Empire’s most costly victories. But winning there paved the way for the creation of modern Turkey under Atatürk who, as Mustafa Kemal, led Ottoman forces at Gallipoli.
It began with an Allied attempt to push through the Dardanelles and capture Constantinople (now Istanbul). This was to relieve pressure on Russia’s Caucasus front and open an effective supply route to Moscow.
The German Empire and Austria-Hungary had blocked Russia’s land trade routes to Europe and no easy sea route existed.
The Dardanelles was selected for a combined naval and military operation and this was strongly backed by Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
On April 25th, 1915, as part of an allied force of British and French troops, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) landed at Suvla Bay at the western end of the peninsula (today officially called Anzac Cove). Small beachheads were secured with difficulty. The date is since known as Anzac Day.
The campaign, which lasted from April to December 1915, cost approximately 130,000 deaths, including approximately 70,000 Turks, 44,000 British (including the estimated 3,000 Irishmen) and French, as well as more than 10,000 Anzacs troops.
Allied failure at Gallipoli was a disaster for Russia, leading eventually to civil war and the Bolshevik revolution. Anzac deaths there proved something of a “founding myth” for an independent identity in Australia and New Zealand, and indeed modern Turkey. In 1934, Atatürk wrote a tribute to the Anzacs killed at Gallipoli. Inscribed on a memorial in Anzac Cove it reads: “You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace . . . ”