New book lays Gallipoli legend to rest

24 April 2014

The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was flawed from the start, destined for failure and should not be a story solely about the ANZACs, according to war historian Dr Rhys Crawley.

In his book, Climax at Gallipoli, Dr Crawley from the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, attempts to correct the historical record surrounding Gallipoli and the ANZAC legend.

Dr Crawley said Gallipoli was never going to be the decisive military operation that Australian national identity and history have made it out to be. And nor was it solely an ANZAC sacrifice.

“Gallipoli has gone down in history as something that was on the brink of succeeding,” said Dr Crawley.

“Victory was assured, the story goes, ‘if only’ the Allies had pushed a little harder, or had been the recipients of some simple good luck.

“But when we take a step back, and view it as a case study in the how and why of 1915 warfare, we see a very different picture. It was not unlike what happened on the Western Front.

“This was a new kind of war, and all armies were struggling to figure out how to adapt and defeat their enemy. It was years before the technology and tactics advanced to a stage where victory was possible.”

The Gallipoli campaign has also been portrayed as one in which the British foolishly sent ANZAC soldiers to their death, resulting in the loss of about 8,700 Australians, and 2,700 New Zealanders.

This is a popular misconception that Dr Crawley also disputes.

“Contrary to what many believe to be the case, the British officers in charge of the campaign were not bumbling fools who joyfully sent men to their death in ill-conceived plans,” he said.

“Rather, they were experienced men who had an intimate knowledge of their profession.

“The popular narrative forgets that the British lost many more troops at Gallipoli with around 34,000 killed throughout the campaign.”

Dr Crawley said Gallipoli is far from being just a story about the ANZACs.

“The ANZACs were a relatively small component of the allied army of Indian, French, and British troops that landed at Gallipoli that day. Their role deserves to be part of our national narrative, as does their sacrifice,” he said.

“By talking of the ANZACs at the expense of all others, we have afforded ordinary Australian volunteers, of all ages and walks of life, superman status. We have blown their actions and achievements out of all proportion, and have developed a national history of Gallipoli that is devoid of historical context.

“We should not misunderstand something that is so important to our history, nor should we feel the need to exaggerate their actions and downplay those of our allies.”

Climax at Gallipoli is available from University of Oklahoma Press.