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The battle of Gallipoli
Eceabat (Turkey), January 25th 2014

The First World War, also known as the Great War, was a world war mainly centred in Europe that began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. What the exact reason of the war was, is often still a matter of debate among experts. In general, they agree that an increasing degree of radical nationalism in different countries and regions of Europe, is the main cause of WWI. But also the rise of militarism, strengthened by an acceleration of developments in the field of weaponry, including a new type of warship with tremendous firing power, was a driving force behind the emerging war drift.

Eventually there were two groups of countries that fought each other on many bloody fronts. One of the groups were the Allies, consisting of countries like Russia, France and the United Kingdom, including her alleged ANZAC troops (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). On the other side were the so-called ‘Centrals’, consisting of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and the vast Ottoman Empire (the Turks). However, the Ottoman Empire was at that time in disrepair. The size of the empire, then comprising present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and parts of Saudi Arabia, was too big and ethnically too diverse to keep it together. So, the Allies were very interested in a war with the Ottoman Empire, with the goal to dissolve it and to share the ‘released’ areas between them.

Suvla Bay, one of the places where the allied forces came on land

The British and the French undertook an expedition in 1915 to the Bosporus, to force a passage to their Russian allies and to get rid of the Ottoman Empire as an ally of the Germans. The idea was to get the so-called Dardanelles Strait in hands This is the access from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus (and consequently Istanbul), and eventually the Black Sea. So with capturing the Dardanelles Strait, the allies would kill two birds with one stone: Istanbul would fall and together with it the Ottoman Empire, and the allies should also get a supply route through the Black Sea to the allied Russians. But the result of the Battle of Gallipoli was disastrous for the Allies.

Gallipoli is the name of the peninsula that lies at the mouth of the Dardanelles Strait. Winston Churchill had thought that the battle for access to the Bosporus had to start here. But they had not foreseen that they would confront a highly motivated Turkish opponent. In addition, the allies had bad luck. Due to strong winds, their rowing boat landed on the coast a few kilometres more north than planned, where steep hills rose up immediately from the beach, making it an instant obstacle. Additional misfortune was the fact that in this area they faced the Turkish regiments that were under control of Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk. This ingenious and ruthless military genius was the main obstacle to the Allied attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula. A battle that the Allies lost.

Lone Pine cemetery, named after the lone pine

Eventually the battle of Gallipoli was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. In just nine months, more than 130,000 soldiers lost their lives on the battlefields of this small peninsula. One third of them were allied soldiers, and two thirds Turks. It was a terrible war that was mostly fought from trenches, often just a few meters away from each other. Especially the Battle of Lone Pine Ridge, named after a field on which a lone pine stood, has impressed us. During this battle, 7,000 soldiers lost their lives in just a few days’ time, on a field with the size of a soccer pitch.

Nowadays the Gallipoli Peninsula is a peaceful place which is also converted into a national park. Everywhere you look, there are cemeteries (both Turkish and allied ones), statues, and other memorials to remind us the many lives that have been given here. Also, some of the trenches are still visible, which are perhaps the most visible and confrontational remnants of hell that took place here. Overall, the Gallipoli battlefields is an interesting place to visit not only to learn more about a war that has largely been forgotten, but also to realize how horrific war can be and that it should be avoided at any cost.

The Sphinx, the rock that so many soldiers have seen during their battles
One of the surviving trenches, as witness of many misery
Green Hill cemetery
Memorial for the fallen Turkish soldiers on Gallipoli Peninsula
And this is where they fought for, the Dardanelles Strait

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