Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Dardanelles / Gallipoli campaign of 1915 set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies, via the straits of the Dardanelles. The plan was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire and an ally of Germany.

This was the Operation Enduring Freedom (Iraq War) of its day; what had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. But while Operation Enduring Freedom actually achieved its tactical objectives, Gallipoli was a tactical and strategic defeat for Allied forces. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill is credited with developing the overall strategy; the campaign's failure led to Churchill’s demotion and contributed to the collapse of Prime Minister H. H. Asquith's government.

On 15 November 1915 Churchill resigned from the government, and, though remaining an MP, served for several months on the Western Front commanding the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, under the rank of Colonel. This is the equivalent of a Bush Administration cabinet-level Secretary – or a serving Congressman - participating in a front-line capacity in the battles of Fallujah or Rumallah.

The campaign began in February 1915 with a series of naval actions in which aging British and French battleships attempted to force the straits. These actions proved disastrous after mines sank two British battleships.

Commonwealth & French forces landed at Gallipoli on 25 April against fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. At the end of 1915 allied forces evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships.

In all, the Gallipoli Campaign cost the Allies 141,113 killed and wounded and the Turks 195,000. Over 11,200 Australian and New Zealander soldiers were killed and approximately 23,700 were wounded in Gallipoli, of which some 2000+ were permanently maimed (as attested in the patriotic song ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’).

The Australian and New Zealand casualty figures represented a significant percentage of the overall military-age population:
• Approximately 40% of the available men of military age of Australia and New Zealand (about 10% of the total population of both countries) served in World War I.
• Of the total casualties 1914-1918, almost 15% of all Australians and New Zealanders killed in action (KIA) during the First World War died during a six-month time period in a very small place called Gallipoli.

By direct comparison to the current American men-of-military-age demographic, this would represent an approximate figure of 600,000-plus KIA across any single six-month period 2003 to present, in an area of operations less than 7 miles wide by 25 miles long. I have always maintained that “body count math” is a sick science that absorbs defeatists, but this ratio certainly puts our current engagements into a perspective that even the most cynical critic of the current conflict must appreciate.

References –
website, Australian War Memorial,
website, New Zealand History Online,

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