In the power struggle that emerged during World War I, the Russians, who up until then were forced to sail through the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, aligned themselves with the British, hoping to gain a year-round, ice-free passage via the Dardanelles and into Europe's burgeoning commercial arena. For the Allies, control of Istanbul and the straits meant exposing the flanks of Germany and Austria-Hungary, cutting off their oil supply, and forcing Turkey out of the war (and maybe getting a little caviar from the deal as well).
The fact that Vice Admiral John de Robeck's head-on attack of the Dardanelles failed was as much due to Imperial British overconfidence as to Turkish good fortune. Assuming the enemy would crumble at the sight of the great Royal Navy, the admiral sent in a fleet of 16 ships, most of which were just shy of retirement and manned with inexperienced crews. On March 18, 1915, the battleship Queen Elizabeth led the fleet into battle. Four of the ships were damaged or sunk by Turkish mines. After 8 futile hours, shortly before the Turkish army would have run out of ammunition, the British Navy called it a day; however, they did not give up battle for the strait.
The resulting offensive lasted 249 days. The line of attack was simple: Secure the heights, destroy the Turkish defenses, and sail on up to Istanbul. If the current hadn't swept the Anzacs' landing boats a mile off course or if someone other than Mustafa Kemal had received the orders, then Turkey would probably be part of Greece right now and y'all would be reading another book. But tides were swift, communications were faulty, decisions were hasty, and watches were unsynchronized.
The death toll was numbing: Roughly 86,000 Turkish forces and more than 160,000 Allied soldiers perished in the campaign. A staggeringly high number of Allied casualties were Anzac men -- unfathomable losses for two countries with such small populations. Indeed, it's all but acknowledged that during the campaign, the Brits offered up the Anzac troops as cannon fodder; consequently, a trip to Gallipoli has become a grim pilgrimage of sorts for countless Australian and New Zealand tourists.
The entire peninsula is a national park. Turkish and Allied soldiers are buried side by side in 31 war cemeteries; several important monuments are grouped around two main areas. It's certainly possible to get to the highlights alone, but there's more to be gained by taking a tour. Tour groups are generally small and the information provided by the guides is informative and passionate; however, the real advantage of taking the tour is seeing the battlefields through the eyes of your Australian and Kiwi acquaintances.
Ari Burnu Monument & Cemetery (Ari Burnu Ani ve Mezarligi) -- Shortly after 4am on the morning of April 25, 1915, after a long and cramped night in the boats, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed -- 16,000 men in all -- in the dark, expecting to set foot on level ground. The steep cliff that confronted them instead must have come as a horrific surprise; nevertheless, they hauled themselves up and grabbed at anything stable enough to hold them. Not expecting anyone stupid enough to stage a landing at such an unforgiving spot, the Turks were ill prepared to defend the cliff, allowing large numbers of confused Anzacs to gain higher ground. There was no defense at all in the hills, and by 8am, 8,000 heroic men had scrambled ashore, with three soldiers arriving halfway up the hill to strategic Chunuk Bair, 1.6km (a mile) away from the landing site.
The Ari Burnu cemetery is located at the northern end of Anzac Cove. On Anzac Day, a dawn memorial service is held here.
At the northern end of Anzac Cove.
Burnt Hill & Monument (Yusufçuktepe Aniti) -- Also known as Scimitar Hill, Hill 70, and Green Knoll, this ridge was one of the objectives of the Sulva Bay landings in August 1915. Skirmishes went on for 3 days, during which time control over the hill went back and forth. The final day of the attack was a fiasco for the British troops, who suffered the largest number of casualties -- 5,300 -- of the entire Gallipoli Campaign.
Cape Helles Landings & Seddülbahir -- The Allied landing campaign was launched on two fronts: the beach at Kabatepe (which the Anzac boats overshot) and the village and medieval fortress of Seddülbahir at the toe of the peninsula. The Seddülbahir landings were carried out on five beaches simultaneously by British troops, but lacking the element of surprise and without even one cellphone among them, the advances were modest at best and fatal at worst.
After a violent bombardment of the village, and assuming that the beach (V Beach) was deserted, the 29th Division approached the shore. The Trojan horse-style landing was to have taken place using the cargo hold of the collier The River Clyde, which, once beached, would empty itself of soldiers. Like a scene out of Saving Private Ryan, the operation turned into a literal bloodbath, when the Turks, waiting in ambush, opened fire on the unprepared and vulnerable British army.
The landings on the other four beaches were more successful, and the troops dug in waiting for further orders. At Y Beach, a small cove with access to the cliff tops 60m (197 ft.) up, 2,000 men, a number equal to all of the Turkish forces on the tip of the peninsula that day, landed unopposed and unaware of the carnage taking place less than 6.5km (4 miles) away. The Turks finally attacked in the night, and these troops were authorized to withdraw.
Chunuk Bair Memorials (Conkbayiri) -- Atatürk's arrival on the scene marks a turning point not only in the Gallipoli Campaign but also in the history of Turkey as a nascent republic. Atatürk immediately recognized the importance of the high ground of Chunuk Bair as the key to the straits.
When Atatürk and his reconnaissance team reached Chunuk Bair, Turkish soldiers were fleeing oncoming Australians, who had gained the high ground during the fateful morning of August 25. Explaining that they had run out of bullets, the soldiers were ordered by Atatürk to lie in the grass, bayonets at the ready. Fearing an ambush, the Anzac soldiers took cover, providing the Turks with the precious time needed for reinforcements to arrive. Relentless New Zealand units briefly gained the summit, but due to a lack of reinforcements, the troops were either slain or forced back to a lower position.
The fateful hill, visited by thousands of pensive visitors each year, is where the main New Zealand memorial shares the crest with a statue of Atatürk as a promising young officer. The Chunuk Bair cemetery is located here, and on Anzac Day, the New Zealand service is held immediately following the Dawn Service at Ari Burnu Cemetery. Nearby are the five enormous tablets of the Turkish Conkbayiri Memorial, symbolizing an outstretched hand to the heavens, and inscribed with a narration (in Turkish) of the events from the defender's point of view.
The Hero 57th Regiment Memorial (57 Piyade Alayi Sehitligi) -- With Anzac troops attacking Chunuk Bair, and in order to gain time for reinforcements to arrive, Atatürk gave the order to his best regiment, "I'm not ordering you to attack; I'm ordering you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our places." Stories of the 57th Regiment's courageous sacrifice, when almost 100,000 men died, are part of Turkey's proud lore, but nobody dares to touch upon the possibility that Atatürk's ambition got the better of him that day.
Oddly enough, the memorial grounds and cemetery are a fairly new addition to the national park, and it's the one place where you will run into large groups of Turks and not one trying to sell you any memorabilia. The lawns provide a perfect rest stop for contemplating the puzzle of war, and the ablution fountain is a welcome site for washing the grit of the trenches off of your feet.
Lone Pine (Kanli Sirt) -- The largest mass grave on the peninsula and the main memorial to the missing Australians of the campaign, Lone Pine is the final resting place of both Turks and Anzac troops, with a heavy number of gravestones reading "Believed to be buried in these trenches." About 2,200 Australians and over 4,000 Turks perished in the 3-day battle that earned Australian soldiers seven Victoria Crosses, the Australian badge of bravery and honor.
The tremendous losses at Lone Pine are even more sobering when you think that this was simply a diversionary tactic away from the main objectives of Suvla Bay and Chunuk Bair to the north. Today the hill is the site of a single pine tree rising above the scrub (the original, destroyed in a brush fire during the battle, gave seed to this one), inspiring the soldiers to name the hill after a then-current popular American hit, "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine." Australians enter this cemetery with their heads held high, because Lone Pine embodies the spirit, character, and courage of their sons.
The Nek -- Imagine the closing scene of the movie Gallipoli, with reinforcement after teenage reinforcement charging fearlessly into certain death. This real-life suicide mission was ordered by British commanders on August 7, 1915, to divert Turkish troops away from Sulva Bay, where a landing attempt was being made. A break in a nearby British naval bombardment had given the Turkish army the opportunity they needed to reoccupy their trenches, so when the Australian Lighthorse divisions were ordered to attack, they were summarily slaughtered.
A visit to the manicured cemetery and clean front line reveals nothing of the hardship, disease, and rotting corpses that plagued the ridge, but the wind does.
Turkish Memorial, Museum, and Cemetery (Sehitler Abidesi, Türk Sehitligi ve Müzesi) -- Let's not forget that a quarter of a million Turks lost their lives defending their country from invading forces. (This is the unofficial number; the official count stands at 86,000.) This somber memorial, atop a promontory at the southern tip of the peninsula, is a fitting place to pay your final respects.
Walker's Ridge, Quinn's Post, Courtney's Post, and Steele's Post -- These positions above Anzac Cove were gained in the first days of fighting. With the cliff to their backs and under constant heavy fire, the soldiers dug crude rifle pits, later deepening and connecting them into a network of trenches.
The confrontation in those first few days was ferocious, and the enemy lines were in some places only a few yards apart. The area between the enemy lines known as "no man's land" is now a modern road, and it is possible to spot overgrown trenches on your way to the cemeteries.
The Turks like to tell stories about the friendship that grew between two sides during the 8-month stalemate. If the Turks had cigarettes, the Anzacs provided the matches; when Anzac supplies failed to arrive, the Turks tossed tomatoes into the ditches. Despite the legends, the truth remains that a great respect between the Anzacs and the Turks grew out of a mutual sense of honor.
Fact or Fiction?Respect to Turkish Soldier Monument (Mehmetçik Aniti) commemorates what some say is an apocryphal story told in the battle's aftermath. At one point during the fighting, gunfire downed an Australian soldier in the middle of an open field, and none of his compatriots had the courage to retrieve him. A Turkish soldier got up out of his trench, and both sides froze as the Turk picked up the wounded Australian and carried him over to the enemy side. He then returned to his own trench unharmed.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.