Often Anzac Day makes much of questioning ‘‘The Dardanelles’’ — some Turkish coastline no-one had heard of where 113,000 men died in 11 months.
‘‘Let the Russian flag wave freely over the Dardanelles . . .’’ Tsar Nicholas II said during a visit to his Caucasian campaign in December 1914.
To strategists in Moscow and Istanbul, the Dardanelles were everything — and strategists in London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna knew it.
After the Black Sea raid in October 1914, Russia invaded Turkey, and Turkey’s counter-invasion enabled the Russians to invoke British and French obligations under the 1907 Triple Entente.
A response was warranted, but Anglo-French war offices were reluctant to complicate their workload and pull resources from the conflict on France’s Western Front.
Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, saw the commitment as an opportunity: Let the Dardanelles, the coveted bottleneck between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean becontrolled by neither Turkey nor Russia, but by the Royal Navy.
British battleships might bombard the enemy’s underbelly from Istanbul to Odessa to open new fronts, blockade trade from the East to support the Allies instead and access the vast breadbasket and fossil-fuel deposits of Eurasia.
It might inspire neutrals to join the Allies and, like the Suez, the idea had major postwar implications.
But support was grudging and budgets restrictive. Sent were 16 second-rate warships transporting a cobbled mix of fighting units including spares, latecomers and untested troops.
Delays, mistakes and dubious political support took their toll, surprise was lost and Turkey fortified the Dardanelles before the Gallipoli campaign began on February 19, 1915.
The first wave of New Zealanders ashore at Gallipoli over two days in the following April were the Infantry Brigade-strength 4055 from a total New Zealand contingent of about 16,000.
One hundred and forty-seven of them were killed on the first day, April 25.
They were among 489,000 Allied troops ultimately pitched against 315,500 Turks in a near-mythic landscape where steep, rugged bluffs leaped up from narrow beaches.
Better intelligence-gathering, communication and co-operation might have turned a long-shot into a surprise victory but troops were lost and scattered, unsupplied and unsupported.
Advantage was lost and then the initiative, and some commanders recommended withdrawal by the end of the first day.
They were ordered to ‘‘dig-in’’ and the Anzacs became known as ‘‘diggers’’ for being the first in the campaign to resort to extensive entrenchment.
For Turkey it was desperation.
Already stretched against Russia, Britain and Arabia, the ‘‘sick old man of Europe’’ eventually emptied prisons and shanty-towns for men who sometimes fought without pay, training or boots.
This all-in defence of their invaded hinterland helped form the founding narrative of modern-day Turkey.
Allied withdrawal came after almost a year on January 9, 1916.
More than 113,000 men had been killed, and many more were wounded and evacuated with disease.
The Allied campaign was defeated, New Zealand’s 3431 dead represented almost a quarter of this country’s contingent and the war was far from over.
New Zealand’s first Anzac Day was observed as a half-day holiday on April 25, 1916, to mark the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.