For nine months in 1915, British and French forces battled the Ottoman Empire – modern Turkey – for control of the Gallipoli peninsula, a small finger of Europe jutting into the Aegean Sea that dominates a strategic waterway, the Dardanelles. By opening the Dardanelles to their fleets, the Allies hoped to threaten the Ottoman capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul) and knock the Turks out of the war.
Among the British forces were the Anzacs – the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps – who landed on the peninsula on 25 April. The landing, like the Gallipoli campaign itself, was ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful: the peninsula remained in its defenders’ hands.
The campaign was a costly failure for the Allies: 44,000 British and French soldiers died, including over 8700 Australians. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders – roughly one-quarter of those who fought on Gallipoli. Victory came at a high price for the Turks: 87,000 men died in the campaign which became a defining moment in Turkish history.
The Gallipoli campaign was a relatively minor part of the First World War (1914-18), but it has great significance for New Zealand’s history and it has become an important symbol of its national identity. The campaign was the first time that New Zealand stepped on to the world stage, and the New Zealanders made a name for themselves fighting hard, against the odds, in an inhospitable environment.
New Zealand marks the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings each year on Anzac Day – 25 April – remembering not only those who died there, but all who have served the country in times of war. The Gallipoli battlefields are now part of the 33,000 hectare Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, or the Peace Park.
The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps landed at a small bay (now known as Anzac Cove) north of Kabatepe on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915. Their objective was to seize part of the Sari Bair range to cover their advance across the peninsula to cut the Turkish supply lines and threaten Turkish forces fighting further south at Cape Helles.
The Anzacs were never meant to land at the cove, with its steep hinterland of rough gullies. They should have landed on a much longer beach and on a wider front, but it seems that a navigational blunder put the troops ashore in the wrong place.
Australian troops went ashore first, and the New Zealanders followed from late morning, pushing inland to join Australians who had reached the second ridge (and in some cases to the third ridge) – about 2 km from the bay. They struggled in the rugged terrain, and found themselves under increasing pressure from the Turkish defenders.
By the end of the day the situation was so bleak that proposals were made for the evacuation of the troops. But this was impracticable, and the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, urged the Anzacs to dig in. This they did, establishing a tenuous line of outposts along the second ridge. The troops depended on supplies landed at Anzac Cove, which was the hub of the Anzac effort.
For many years Anzac Day ceremonies were held at Ari Burnu Cemetery on the northern point of Anzac Cove. The number of people attending grew so large that an Anzac commemorative site was created a few hundred m