The Gallipoli Evacuation
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Peter Hart was the oral historian for 39 years at the Imperial War Museum, during which time he interviewed thousands of veterans. He has written several books on the First and Second World Wars, but has long been obsessed with Gallipoli. He has appeared on numerous television documentaries and is a well-regarded tour guide to the Gallipoli battlefields. In another life he was the lead singer of the punk rock combo ‘Those Naughty Lumps’.
The evacuation of Gallipoli was a life or death gamble.
The expedition to wrest the Narrows from the Turks had failed, and Constantinople remained an impossible dream. Now in December 1915, some 135,000 men, nearly 400 guns and 15,000 horses were collectively trapped in the bridgeheads at Anzac, Suvla and Helles.
The invaders found themselves caught in a nightmare scenario: they could not advance, but how was it possible to retreat from trenches overlooked by the Turks?
Who would take the responsibility for the hard decisions to be taken? The soldiers? Or the vacillating politicians busy ‘passing the buck’ back home in London?
With every day that passed the Turks moved up more guns, threatening to blast to pieces the flimsy piers, breakwaters and blockships that acted as makeshift harbours to feed and supply tens of thousands of men. And winter was coming. But the evacuation plans were brilliant, especially the early introduction of ‘silent periods’ to confuse the Turks. But it was still a damn close-run thing. A spell of bad weather in the final days might have destroyed the flimsy piers, leaving thousands trapped helpless should the Turkish guns open up and their infantry swarm over No Man’s Land. This then is the story of how the Gallipoli garrison escaped to fight another day.
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