Today in History: 25th of April 1915 – ANZAC Soldiers Land on the Shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula

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Lieutenant General William Birdwood commander of the ANZAC Corps on Gallipoli.

Each year on Anzac Day, New Zealanders and Australians mark the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings of 25 April 1915. In the early morning of 25th April 1915 – thousands of young men, far from their homes, landed on the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula, now knowns as Turkey. The objective was to capture the capital of the Ottoman Empire – an ally of Germany.

11th Battalion Australian Imperial Force and 1st Field Company Australian Engineers on HMS London sailing 24th April 1915 from the Greek Island of Lemnos for the landing on Gallipolipoli. Images: British Wars.

British and French forces made the main landing at Cape Helles on the tip of the peninsula, while General William Birdwood’s Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (commonly known as Anzacs) landed 20 km north. New Zealand troops, who were part of the New Zealand and Australian Division under Major-General Alexander Godley, followed the Australians ashore on the first morning of the assault.

Arriving on the shores of Gallipoli, the Anzacs were greeted by fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. The Anzacs plan to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for a lengthy eight months.

Anzac Beach, Gallipoli. 1915. The beach packed with Aust & NZ soldiers and supplies with more arriving in small boats. Photo: Peninsula Essence.

In the face of vigorous Ottoman Turkish defence, no significant Allied advance proved possible. The fighting quickly degenerated into trench warfare, with the Anzacs holding a tenuous perimeter. The troops endured heat, flies, the stench of rotting corpses, lack of water, dysentery and other illnesses, and a sense of hopelessness.

An attempt to break the stalemate in August failed, though not without a stirring New Zealand effort that briefly captured part of the high ground at Chunuk Bair. In this assault, men of the Maori Contingent, recently arrived from garrison duty in Malta, took part in the first attack by a Māori unit outside New Zealand. With the failure of the August offensive, the stalemate resumed.

Ultimately, the Allies cut their losses, evacuating all troops from Gallipoli by early January 1916. More than 130,000 men had died during the campaign: at least 87,000 Ottoman soldiers and 44,000 Allied soldiers, including more than 8700 Australians. Among the dead were 2779 New Zealanders, nearly a sixth of those who had landed on the peninsula.

News of the landing on Gallipoli and the events that followed had a profound impact on Australian and New Zealanders back home. The Anzacs were courageous and although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of the soldiers left a powerful legacy.

Today, over 107 years later, Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand as well Samoa and other Pacific Islands as a day that broadly commemorates all, “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”.

Anzac day in Samoa, commemorates not only the fallen Australian and New Zealand Soldiers on the battlefields, but also the Samoan Soldiers that served in the World Wars and Soldiers now currently in UN peacekeeping operations in conflict zones around the world. It used to be a public holiday in Samoa until 2008 when it was done away with in efforts to minimise public holidays for Samoa – which had introduced holidays for Mother’s Day and another one for Father’s Day.