Revised Views of World War One’s Bloodiest Conflict
As the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign approaches, the Smithsonian Magazine looks back at one of the bloodiest conflicts of World War I, which claimed the lives of 2721 New Zealand soldiers – roughly one-fifth of those who fought on the Turkish peninsula.
“The invasion of Gallipoli, a peninsula squeezed between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles in what is now western Turkey, was conceived by Allied commanders as a lightning strike against the Ottoman Empire to bring about a quick end to the Great War, which had bogged down into a bloody stalemate on the Western Front,” Joshua Hammer writes for the magazine.
“By the time Allied forces withdrew in defeat in January 1916, close to half a million soldiers – nearly 180,000 Allied troops, 253,000 Turks – had been killed or wounded.
“Now … both sides are engaging in commemorations that testify to the battle’s resonance. Turkish citizens and visitors from around the world will crowd the battlefield and cemeteries for memorials in March and April. The centennial will also mark the completion of an extraordinary effort by scholars to study the battlefield itself, especially the elaborate trench system.
“Thirty-four years ago, Peter Weir’s 1981 film Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson, captured the innocence of young men who rushed eagerly to the front — only to be sent to pointless deaths by callous and incompetent field commanders. In April, the New Zealand-born star Russell Crowe is releasing in the US the new film he directed, The Water Diviner, about an Australian who travels to Turkey in 1919 to learn the fate of his three sons, reported missing in action.
“The centennial will also mark the completion of an extraordinary effort by scholars to study the battlefield itself, especially the elaborate trench system. Since its initial forays in 2010, a team of New Zealand, Australian, Turkish archaeologists and historians has spent between three and four weeks in the field each fall, hacking through dense brush, identifying depressions in the earth, marking their GPS coordinates and overlaying the new data on a highly detailed 1916 map compiled by Ottoman cartographers immediately after the Allied withdrawal.
“Historians, politicians and others continue to debate the larger meaning of the Gallipoli battle. For the Allies, it came to symbolise senseless loss, and would have a devastating effect on the careers of the men who conceived it.”
Original article by Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015.
Photo by Claudius Schulze.