Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Initial Allied Naval Attacks on the Dardenelles

In 1915, Turkey, as we know it today, existed as the central part of the Ottoman Empire. It consisted of a large area encompassing many countries around the Mediterranean and further afield. The generic term Ottoman Turk was used to describe the people who at that time were part of the Empire, without being more specific – i.e. Anatolian, Arab, Syrian, etc. Similar to how the name Australian is used to describe people from Tasmania, Victoria, etc. Generally in my book, when referencing the Turks, I have used Ottoman or Turk rather then using specific regional, or country names.
Constantinople was the centre of the Byzantine Empire when it was conquered by the Crusaders in 1203 AD
The Allied plan to eliminate the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) from the war was to sail through the Dardenelles to Constantinople (now Istanbul). Then, after shelling the city, accept the Sultan’s surrender and open Russia’s warm water supply line through the Black Sea. Further explanation of this plan is quite irrelevant, as the Allies didn’t get very far into it before things began to bog down.

It was to be a purely naval undertaking, so the British and French navies began their attempts to breach the Dardenelles defences on the 19 Feb 1915.
They soon found that the Ottoman defences were sturdier then expected.
Instead of making a large decisive thrust, they began with small attacks which were unsuccessful. Naturally after each attack the Turks improved their defences to meet the next attack. So eventually the “formidable” defences became impregnable.

After many frustrated attempts to silence the shore based artillery, the Allies switched their attention to the minefields in the Narrows. With converted North Sea fishing trawlers and civilian crews they set to the task. This was done at night under the cover of darkness, but the Ottoman’s had searchlights sweeping the waters and every attempt failed.
Thwarted again, the next step for the Allies was to launch an enormous all-out attack to silence the Turkish artillery which was preventing the mine sweepers from doing their task. Eighteen battleships were concentrated in the Mediterranean to achieve a decisive victory. This huge fleet must have been a daunting sight to the Turks as it sailed into the cramped confines of the Dardenelles.

The attack started well for the Allies but by the end of the day, the only people cheering were the Turks.

Turkey still celebrates the anniversary of this battle, on the 18th of March 1915, as "Victory Day".

Friday, 18 October 2013

First actions by Anzac troops in Egypt

The Anzac troops first saw action in February 1915 when the Ottoman Army attacked Egypt from the east. This attack was unexpected as they had to cross the Sinai desert to reach the Suez Canal. A feat hitherto thought to be impossible for a large force. The Ottoman VIII Corps from Syria exhausted themselves doing it. The New Zealanders, who were encamped at Zeitoun, were called to assist the British and Indian troops in repelling the attack. It was during this battle that the EnZeds lost their first soldier killed in action in The Great War.

The next “battle” involved soldiers from both Australia and New Zealand – it is known as “The Battle of the Wozza”. It occurred in Cairo two days before the Anzacs left for the Gallipoli campaign. A few soldiers held grievances against the hotel and brothel owners in Cairo’s red light district, and after hearing they were about to embark, they went to “settle accounts”. The 5th Battalion Unit Historian described the area as “a festering sink of iniquity that was well purged by fire”. The resulting fracas was labelled a riot; however most of the Anzacs who were there were mere spectators and did not take part in the violence. It did however give the Anzacs a bad name for unruly behaviour which was to follow them for a long time.

(There was a “Second Battle of the Wazza” which occurred later in July, after the 1st Division had left for Gallipoli, and was more serious, with a number of buildings being burnt down.)

Friday, 11 October 2013

An Australian Bias

The Anzac Legend is subtitled - “An Australian Bias”. This is because I’ve concentrated on the story from the Australian perspective. I guess this is because my major source for information was Bean’s Australian Official War History. I have written the book as an alternate version of that book. A graphic presentation which may be more attractive to a broader audience then a mostly text based history. It is in many ways a summary of the Official History, presented graphically and with a more chronological timeline.

A British Square

I’m a fairly pro-Australian sort of fellow, and can’t speak highly enough of the place. I guess you could say I’m biased. I wanted to tell about the background of the country, and the formation of the 1st AIF (Australian Imperial Force). If I was to go into detail on the other countries involved, it would have meant  telling the stories of at least five other countries i.e New Zealand, Britain, India, France and Turkey. If I decided to write the story from the perspective of one of these, in all fairness, I should do the others. So I decided not to go down that path and concentrated on telling the story of only one. The one I’m fondest of.

As Australians we are often accused of forgetting about the NZ in Anzac. At times this may be true, but there are also many other countries (mentioned above) which can accuse us of forgetting their contribution. I have no intention of fobbing anybody off, but the limitations of the book have meant that the details of some aspects, and participants, are reduced.

I have concentrated on the story I wanted to tell, which is the story of the landing at Gaba Tepe by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Terrain research

I have twice visited Anzac Cove. The first time for three or four days in late March 2007; which is only a month before the time of the Landing, it’s freezing there that time of year.
The second time I went was August 2010; Summer. It’s was hot, but not unbearable. That time I spent about 6 days climbing and scouring the hills and gullies, taking photos, doing sketches and generally exploring in detail everything I could.
I left there that time thinking I’d covered everything I’d like to see, but when back at the drawing table, and on more then one occasion, wished I could go back and explore a certain area, or see the view from another. There’s just so much to see. I reckon I could spend another week there.
What strikes you quite early on is all the bone fragments still lying around. On my last day there I found a skull and other bones which I reported to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) who retrieved them and buried them.

The poor cove was staring out across, Monash Valley from the cliffs near Steele’s Post and, by the way his bones are laid out, he may have already been moved once before. To get the photo I had to reach my arm out full length, lean out over the precipice to get a good angle; being mindful not to drop my camera, or myself, over the edge. The CWGC couldn’t determine whether he was Anzac or Turk so he was reburied somewhere nearby in an unmarked grave; which is all they could do, and is fair enough.

The view from Walker’s Ridge north towards Suvla Bay is “guzel” (goo-zel, Turkish for beautiful). Nice beaches, but no surf.

View north from Walker's Ridge

If you get a chance to go the Gallipoli, do it, and take a bit of time to have a good look around. It’s well worth it. The little orchard at the Fisherman’s hut sells sweet little apples, and there’s a Tuck shop and souvenir sellers at the Chessboard and on Chunuk Bair.
The Fisherman's Hut 
I stayed at TJ’s Hostel in Eceabat (pronounced ee-jay-a-bat). It has single and double bedrooms with toilets, etc as well as dorm style backpacker accom. TJ and Bee will really look after you. They provide a Turkish breakfast, after which I would go to the grocery shop and buy tucker for lunch, and jumped on my little hire scooter and disappeared for the day, no helmet required, just jam ya hat on tight and enjoy the breeze blowing on your face. Just like riding down the back paddock. I usually returned late in the afternoon or early evening. Just out the door and around the corner from TJ’s there’s about a dozen different restaurants, etc to buy your tea. Being just across the road from the sea (The Narrows) there’s heaps a fresh seafood, washed down with a stubby of Efes beer - “Guzel”.

After retiring from the Army, one of the first things I did to help me create this book, after buying a drawing table and a comfy chair, was to build a terrain model of the Gaba Tepe area. It took me about a week, and is basically plaster filler and cardboard on a sheet of masonite.

The scale is 1mm = 10 metres. The dimensions of the board are 900x600mm (3’x2’). I have drawn directly from it for some of my aerial views of the area, and also used it to measure distances, and interpret/understand relative positions of the opposing sides. There are detailed contour maps in Bean's Official History from which I acquired the relative information.
It is reasonably accurate for its size, and gives a good idea of the slopes and heights in the area. When building it I got quite a good appreciation of the terrain there from a broad perspective.

Monday, 7 October 2013

100 years Australian Navy

The 100th anniversary of the RAN in Australia is a current topic. The fire works and light display was televised the other night. I can sympathise with the team who created the visual history which was shone onto the sides of the Opera House and the pylons of the Harbour Bridge. To condense the entire 100 year history to about 30 minutes would be no easy matter. I have enough trouble condensing all the information I want to impart about the landing at Anzac into a couple of hundred pages, so I can appreciate the challenge they were faced with. What do you put in? What do you leave out? What do you emphasise, and what do you play down?
I noticed they briefly mentioned the operations in the Pacific to get rid of the German Pacific Fleet in 1914, and then a slightly more detailed account (maybe a full 5 seconds) of the battle between the Sydney and the Emden.
In The Anzac legend I have “devoted” a page to the operations in the Pacific and another few panels on the Sydney/Emden fight (hardly enough for either).

Of note here is that the Australian and New Zealand operations in the Western Pacific region forced the German Pacific Fleet to quit the region and sail to the east where it met and defeated a weak British naval force in the Battle of Coronel. It then sailed to the South Atlantic, where it was destroyed by an avenging Royal Navy task force in the Battle of the Falklands in Dec 1914. They were two of the few times that the two sides came to serious blows before the Gallipoli Campaign. The naval war turned into a blockade, which locked the German Fleet into its port until after the Gallipoli campaign and the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
As I outline in another episode, Churchill and Lord Jackie Fisher wanted to utilise their powerful Navy in the War, but the German’s wouldn’t come out to fight. Looking for other options was one of the many contributing factors which led to the adoption of the Dardenelles Plan, resulting in the landings at Gallipoli.
That’s a very brief overview, and does not include the smaller battles and the losses to submarines the British suffered up to that time.

Last night on the news they showed a report on the commemoration of the Sydney-Emden battle. It was interesting to hear what the German Naval officer said in his speech when he said- when two nations fight against each other within the bounds of humanity and rules of warfare, that afterwards they can come together as friends; - or words to that effect. How true is that? Let’s say it makes it a lot easier to share a common ground and know that they can look the other side in the eye afterwards with no sense of shame.

After the Sydney took the Emden’s crew on board as prisoners they sailed to Colombo, Sri Langka, where the Anzac convoy had sailed to and was waiting. As they approached the port, the Captain of the Sydney radioed ahead to the Anzac convoy saying that out of respect for the wounded German prisoners on board, that no cheering, etc should accompany the Sydney’s arrival, as it would be like rubbing salt into their wounds and in bad taste in respect to the defeated Germans. I think that says a lot about the respect between foes that the German naval officer was talking about this week.
That said, war is war. Nasty and rude. It’s a shame that it is has to be held up as an example of what is good, and what is bad in humanity. Because that is what war does – it brings out the best and the worst in human nature. That is something I am trying to portray in The Anzac Legend.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

My early inspirations

Around the time I began this venture, I visited my old army cobber, Dave Brett in Toowoomba. Dave and I were on the same Army Illustrator’s course in 1997, and would talk comics and artists and stuff ‘til the cows came home. He proudly showed me a book he’d bought from Mr Monty Wedd, called “The Making Of A Nation”, which old Monty had signed for him. I was working in Sydney at the time, so on my way back there I dropped into Monty’s castle outside Williamtown RAAF Base, near Newcastle. I bought my own copy of Vols 1 and 2; which, I’m glad to say, Monty signed for me. After reading Mr Wedd’s work, I knew I had been handed the inspiration and format for my own book. If I could do half as good a job as him, I’d be over the moon.

I toyed with the idea of doing my book in portrait format, but I had aspirations of selling it to a newspaper as a weekly strip, and so, only landscape is really acceptable to achieve this. Also the landscape format allows for wider panels which better suit the maps I’d be drawing.

With regard to Mr Wedd (who regrettably passed away last year), his strip “Ned Kelly” is currently in the process of being published in book format by Nat Karmichael. Many people who read the newspaper Sunday comics in the 70’s will remember this work. More info, and also how to get yourself a copy, is available on Nat’s blog Comicoz.
Monty also wrote and drew “Bold Ben Hall” which was another cracker.

With regard to the written content of my book, it is heavily influenced by Mr C.E.W. Bean’s Australian Official War History Vol 1 The Story of Anzac. Most histories of the campaign that I’ve read draw heavily from this source. It is possibly the first point of reference for any Australian writing a book on this subject.
I bought 5 volumes of this set from the Australian War Memorial in the mid 70’s. Each volume cost $2.50! Yes, only two dollars and fifty cents! (They’re between $40 - $90 to buy now) They were among the last ones left in there stock. As it was, I missed a couple of volumes, but Angus & Robertson re-released them in the early 80’s, so I bought Vol 1, and I also acquired another two volumes at garage sales.
Bean’s writing style is relaxed and makes for easy reading. I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to anyone. Of course, because he was there on the day of the landing and soon after interviewed many survivors, it is a highly credible source. This matched with Bean’s dedication to preserving an accurate record of the event instills it with an air of unmatched authority.

My poor old volume had become so tired from me thumbing back and forward through the pages over the past couple of years that I had to do some repairs on it as the cover was separating from the book. After a bit of glue all is well and the book is ready for a lot more use.

Friday, 4 October 2013

The beginning

I have started this blog as a means of broadcasting the development of my book "The Anzac Legend"
I started work on it part time in early 2009 when I was "working for de man", but now I am free, and have decided to work on it full time.
I wrestled with the task of selecting a suitable title for the book ...

...and settled for "The Anzac Legend".
 Here are a few doodles I did at the time...

From these beginnings the story developed.