Location of the ANZAC Landing,
a question that will not die
-In the predawn darkness, around 4:30am on 25 April 1915, Colonel (temporary Brigadier-General) Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan’s 3rd Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Since that time the location of the landing has been the subject of controversy. In the immediate post-war period, the failure at Gallipoli was blamed on the landing of the Australian assault troops on the wrong beach. However, more recent research, using initially restricted documents, has given us a clearer picture. Historians are now debating whether the boats landed not on the wrong beach but, bunched and confused, on a small portion of the right beach.
Image: This map of the Dardanelles was widely distributed in NSW during the war. It shows the initial landing site at Ari Burnu and the British and French landing site around Cape Helles. Anzac Memorial Collection.
The landing was initially intended for St George’s Day (23 April) but inclement weather caused the operation to be postponed. The delays led to modifications of existing orders at every level. Reviewing orders that were issued and rescinded, issued and modified or were conceived but never issued, confirms the background to the confusion.
Commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, General Sir Ian Hamilton, surveyed the site for the ANZAC landing from the sea. The obvious priority was the high ground near the centre of the peninsula. To get to the heights a suitable beach had to be found nearby and known Ottoman fortifications taken or destroyed. The landing area he chose was a 3km wide stretch of shoreline, extending south to north, from halfway along the beach north of the known entrenchments and gun positions on the Gaba Tepe promontory, past a small and shallow cove, to a bend in the beach that ran east and then north from the Ari Burnu point. That spot was noted on British maps as Fisherman’s Hut.
Hamilton left detailed planning to his subordinate commanders. The two divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were commanded by Lieutenant-General William Birdwood. Birdwood chose to land his ANZACs in the dark without a preceding bombardment in an attempt to maximise the element of surprise. The Australian Division, commanded by Major-General William Throsby Bridges, would lead the way followed by the NZ&A Division. Bridges selected his 3rd Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan, as the covering force. They would be followed in by the Victorian 2nd Brigade commanded by Colonel James McCay. The 2nd would land to the right of the 3rd. The Division’s final Brigade, the NSW raised 1st, commanded by Colonel Henry MacLaurin, would follow both, consolidate their gains and push onto the high ground. At every level they were aware that the finite number of landing craft would affect the number of men that could come ashore at any one time.
The covering force for the ANZAC landing comprised the four battalions of the 3rd Brigade. Their Brigade War diary records that between 21 and 23 April plans were made to land the Brigade in company-sized groups, dispersed across a section of shoreline approximately 1.5km wide. Once ashore they were to fan out and head inland over hills and gullies to consolidate a line of outposts on the third ridge, spreading from the Gaba Tepe promontory in the south to the high feature known as Baby 700 in the north. On the way they were to neutralise the guns at Gaba Tepe and a battery known to exist on the 400 Plateau.
The section of shoreline the 3rd Brigade nominated on their maps was half the width of that considered by General Hamilton. Their right flank would land where Hamilton recommended, the middle of that beach north of Gaba Tepe, but their left flank would arrive at the top end of the same beach. They did not intend to extend to the little cove. A small force from the 7th Battalion, from the 2nd Brigade, would secure their right flank with a landing close to Fisherman’s Hut.
By mid-morning the covering force would have been reinforced by two more brigades. The 2nd would land in the little cove north of the 3rd. The 1st would land after sunrise to consolidate the line and occupy the high ground in the middle of the peninsula.
Reality is a hard teacher. Amphibious landings rarely go to plan. From the Trojan War to D-Day troops coming from the sea hardly ever step ashore exactly where they had intended to. The ANZAC landing was no exception.
Instead of a broad front the steam pinnaces, each towing a string of three rowboats packed with infantry soldiers, consciously or unconsciously drifted together as they made the journey from the troopships to the shore in the darkness. Casting off and rowing ashore the troops landed in tightly packed groups across a front barely 800m wide. The first boats had grounded on Ari Burnu point while the others swept past them to the right and the left, some into the little cove, others along the beach behind the point. Creeping forward through the lightning gloom they encountered terrain much more rugged than they had expected and undergrowth so dense that it denied any attempt at communication and mutual support between dispersed sub-units. The following brigades landed immediately behind the covering force adding to the crowding and confusion.
By the time the main body got to the second ridge coordination was already breaking down. Some of the more intrepid teams or individuals pushed onto the third ridge but by then Ottoman opposition was intensifying. With the arrival of enemy reinforcements, the small groups of Australian soldiers who had made their way to the third ridge were mopped up, overrun and annihilated.
The company that landed near Fishman’s Hut were pinned down at the water’s edge and slaughtered in their landing boats.
By mid-morning the Australian divisional commander was still aboard a warship off the coast. The three brigade commanders met on the second ridge, above the little bay that has gone down in history as Anzac Cove, and, in the face of stiffening opposition, decided to dig in and await further orders. The covering force did not deploy across a broad front and establish a screen of outposts. The second and third waves did not push for the high ground. As the enemy consolidated, the landing force lost all momentum and so could not advance. There was no plan to withdraw in the event of the landing failing, as the Royal Navy did not have the capacity to extract the ANZAC force under fire, and so a stalemate evolved.
For the next eight months the perimeter of the ANZAC Beachhead did not substantially change. The Australians and New Zealanders could not go forward and the Ottoman Turks could not sweep the invader back into the sea. Both sides endured dreadful siege conditions until a few days before Christmas when a meticulously executed covert operation allowed the evacuation of the ANZAC beachhead without the loss of a single soldier.
On reflection, and with the luxury of hindsight, whether Anzac Cove was the right or the wrong beach is probably less of a contributor to the failure of the campaign than indecisive leadership in those essential first hours after hitting the beach. An amphibious landing in France 29 years later makes an interesting comparison. At dawn on June 6, 1944, Brigadier-General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, assistant commander of the 4th US Infantry Division, on discovering that the assault wave had come ashore over 1,800m from their designated site, codenamed Utah Beach, made the immortal statement “We’ll start the war from right here” and led his men inland with such determination that they penetrated the German beach defences and forced the enemy to retreat, earning Roosevelt the Congressional Medal of Honour. We can only wonder at the outcome of the Gallipoli campaign if the Australian divisional commander had come ashore or his brigade commanders had shown such initiative on that chaotic Sunday morning in April 1915 on a ridge above a Turkish beach.
Recommended further reading
- Bean, CEW Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 18: Vol.1 The Story of Anzac Angus & Robinson, Sydney, 9th Ed 1939; first published 1921.
- Winter, D 25 April 1915: the Inevitable Tragedy, Queensland University Press, 1994.
- Coates, J Atlas of Australians at War, Oxford University Press, 2001.
- AWM4 Subclass 23/3 – 3rd Infantry Brigade, War Diary August 1914 to June 1915.
The Anzac Memorial has a wonderful and rare collection of photographs from Gallipoli which were taken by 256 Driver Charles Hargraves. Hargraves, a twenty-seven-year-old clerk from Waverley was an early volunteer and enlisted with the AIF on 23 August 1914. He served in the Australian Army Service Corps on Gallipoli, making sure that the men on the front line were provided with sufficient food, ammunition and other vital supplies. After the evacuation of Gallipoli in December 1915, he was sent to France and survived the horrors of the Western Front. He returned to Sydney in October 1918.
These photographs from the collection show the ruggedness of the terrain at Anzac Cove, the landing of goods for the troops and the makeshift living conditions that had been established by June 1915.