Gallipoli: “I don’t order you to attack; I order you to die!”

24 Apr 2015

These prophetic and chilling words could have been spoken to the Allied troops who suffered during the badly-planned and ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, which is commemorated on ANZAC Day (25 April).  In fact, it is a quote from Mustafa Kemal, better known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, later the founding father of the Turkish republic, who commanded the 19th Turkish Division during the campaign.

The Gallipoli peninsula forms the northern bank of the Dardanelles in what was then the Ottoman Empire (now modern Turkey) – the Allied forces (France, Britain and Russia) intended the campaign to secure the strait and provide a sea-route to the Russian Empire.  The campaign lasted from 25 April 1915 until 9 January 1916, when the Allied invasion force was withdrawn to Egypt, leaving behind a huge death toll: 58,000 Allied troops, including 29,000 British and Irish soldiers; and 11,000 from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).  The Turkish lost some 87,000 and the seriously wounded from both sides numbered at least 300,000.

The campaign began with a series of disastrous Allied naval attacks during February/March 1915, culminating in the loss of the British submarine HMS E15 on 17 April.  Thus on 25 April 1915, the land assault began:  a mere 78,000 troops of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) consisting of soldiers from France, Britain and, of course, Australia and New Zealand, landed on the beaches.

Field Marshall Viscount Slim, according to Lord Mountbatten “the finest general World War II produced “, fought in Gallipoli and called those in command at the campaign the worst in the British Army since the Crimean War.

The 4th and 5th Territorial battalions of The Royal Scots Fusiliers were in 155th Brigade, part of the 52nd (Scottish Lowland Territorial) Division; and would depart from Liverpool on 21 May aboard the Mauretania, arriving at Gallipoli on 6 June.  They were the first troops of the Division to “reach the scene of action”.

The 5th, 6th and 7th Territorial battalions of The Highland Light Infantry were also part of the 52nd (Scottish Lowland Territorial) Division – their brigade, the 157th, became know as the Highland Light Infantry Brigade as it consisted of the three HLI battalions and the 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  The three battalions “were squeezed into the same transport, the Transylvania out from Plymouth” and had a much more event trip: disembarking at Alexandria; reembarking; sailing about a bit; disembarking and spending a couple of weeks at Aboukir before reembarking on 28 June and heading for the Dardenelles.  It is reported that all ranks were in the highest spirits and enjoyed the voyage, with concerts every evening.  Pipe-Major John Thomson composed The 5th HLI’s Farewell to Aboukir, which “the pipers played on the fo’c’sle head.”  Sadly, 10 days later, Pipe-Major Thomson was amongst the first to be killed on the beaches of Gallipoli.

Over the next few months, we will follow the exploits of our five battalions during this ill-fated campaign.

The images show: a piper of 6th HLI at the battle of Achi Baba (July 1915) and the two transports that carried the men to the Dardenelles, the Mauretania and the Transylvania.


300px-RMS_Mauretania      300px-RMS_Transylvania_I








Category: History

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