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Remembered Today:

The Anzac Legend


PhilB
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Green, in Writing the Great War, quotes the telegram sent by Birdwood for Hamilton`s attention after the events of 25th April, 1915, the Anzac landing. Hamilton refused to allow evacuation. Had the evacuation been allowed what might have been the effect :-

1/ On the other landings and the subsequent campaign, and

2/ The Anzac legend?

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Hamilton's response to Birdwood's alarming message was not a capricious one, however. Captain Stoker of the Australian submarine AE2 sent a message back to headquarters that he had succeeded in cracking the narrows into the Sea of Marmara, hitting a Turkish warship on the way. Stoker's message arrived on the night of April 25, just as Hamilton had received Birdwood's appeal for the Australians, pinned down on the beach, to be evacuated. The AE2's exploit seemed to indicate the possibility of a successful naval strike through the Dardanelles, which would relieve the pressure on Birdwood's Australians, along with the anticipated advance of Hunter-Weston's mauled 29th Division the next day. It is of significance too, in understanding Hamilton's response to Birdwood, that Birdwood's telegram had first been relayed to Admiral Thursby, who personally conveyed it to the sleeping Hamilton aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the night of the 25th. Thursby subsequently advised Hamilton that a re-embarkation, as per Birdwood's request, would take two days and making it clear that he (Thursby) was dead against evacuation.

After reading the submarine's message, Hamilton ordered the troops to stay. While Hamilton's aides described AE2's message as an "omen", historians still debate its role in keeping the troops on Gallipoli for eight months. Hamilton's response to Birdwood's telegram makes it clear, however, that the AE2's report was a factor in his decision making process:

Your news is serious indeed. But there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take two days to re-embark you as Admiral Thursby will explain. Meanwhile, the Australian submarine has got up the Narrows and has torpedoed a gunboat at Chanak. Hunter-Weston, despite his heavy losses, will be advancing tomorrow which should divert pressure from you. Make a personal appeal to your men and Godley's to make a supreme effort to hold their ground.

PS You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.

ciao,

GAC

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Hamilton's response to Birdwood's telegram makes it clear, however, that the AE2's report was a factor in his decision making process:

ciao,

GAC

I think I would disagree, it was not a factor in the decision for the Anzacs to stay put. Stoker's exploits did definately come at an opportune moment and allowed Hamilton (who, it is said had already made up his mind prior to receiving this signal) to relay a bit of good news as a morale booster (much needed at that time, especially amongst the Anzac high command) with the decision for the Anzacs to stay put.

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As I said, historians still debate the role of the AE2's message in formulating Hamilton's decision. Australian historian Peter Pedersen, for instance, writes that whilst Hamilton was discussing Birdwood's message with Thursby, 'Word arrived that the Australian submarine AE2 had penetrated the Narrows and sunk a Turkish ship.' Pedersen then goes on to state that 'Hamilton included the news to encourage Birdwood in a reply that enjoined him to appeal to his men for a supreme effort to hold on.'

I'd argue that Hamilton's use of the AE2's news to encourage Birdwood's command is seperate from whether its opportune arrival influenced - in conjunction with Thursby's urgings - his response to Birdwood's request to withdraw. Having said that, to me, Hamilton's use of the AE2's news to encourage Birdwood is evidence that he himself was encouraged by it, and therefore that it is reasonable to suppose that it factored to some extent in his decision to decline Birdwood's request.

ciao,

GAC

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Gallipoli is not the only Anzac legend.

Pozieres, VB, and Le Hamel, and not forgetting Beersheba, come to mind.

Gallipoli was the first, and therefore attracted greater coverage and significance.

Kim

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But the Anzac legend was born and flowered on Gallipoli through the glowing reports from journalists such as Ashmead -Bartlett. Had the evacuation on the 25th April been approved, it is doubtful the legend would have started.

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I wonder if Hamilton`s encouragement to "Dig, dig, dig" is the origin of the soubriquet? It must surely be the first time it was used in reference to the Anzacs.

I`m not sure it would have been possible to create the same kind of legend from fighting in France. It`s just not the same!

I suspect the campaign would have followed a very similar course whether or not the evacuation had taken place..

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GAC,

I agree, Hamilton was almost certainly encouraged by AE2's news, it must have been like another plus mark in the campaign, the first, of course, was achieving the successful landing on the Peninsula. As soon as Hamilton made the decision to stay, the pressure was taken off of Birdwood who in turn relayed this to his generals. The troops in the frontline were probably never aware of any of this 'panic' at command level at this time, something that Colonel Malone also mentioned in his diary. If it factored to any extent in Hamilton's decision to decline Birdwood's request, I personally do not think so (as a historian I have to argue the point), but we will proably never know for sure.

Stoker, whose success was cut short by his/crews capture, did pave the way forward for the exploits of the other E-Class subs, and if this could have been exploited further by the navy (on and below the waves) there could have been a different ending to this tragic and heroic campaign.

K.

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Has it been established why the Australian commanders were so pessimistic? Had they badly misjudged the situation?

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Chris, would not have the journalists followed the Anzacs to what ever was the first point of entry into the war for the Anzacs?

Pozieres? So many in such a short time? Would not the journalists have made something of this that may have become the legend?

Cheers

Kim

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It would be hard to produce a legend of an action in which other nationalities took a similar or greater part, otherwise the Boer War might have fitted the bill. 3 Anzac divisions and 9 British fought at Pozieres. Gallipoli gave the Anzacs a private battlefield - might that be a major factor?

It raises another question - Which was the front that demanded most of the troops, Helles, Anzac or Suvla?

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Chris, would not have the journalists followed the Anzacs to what ever was the first point of entry into the war for the Anzacs?

Pozieres? So many in such a short time? Would not the journalists have made something of this that may have become the legend?

Kim,

No I don't think so.

I think Phil has nailed it. The storming of the heights of Gallipoli was just the thing for newspaper stories; and the stories themselves distorted what occurred as elsewhere. Subsequently they fought on their own private battlefield and thus their story was more prominent than say the Canadians in 1915.

Had they gone straight to France they would have gone into the line as two Divisions (1st Australian and the NZ&A) among many others doing routine trench work and possibly participating in attacks that were no different in their results than the British units they fought alongside. I think we need to remember that at Gallipoli, the Anzacs were raw troops and enthusiastic amateurs and the AIF did not reach their high standards of proficiency until around mid - late 1917. The Kiwi Division, IMO, got to a higher standard earlier because of a much longer initial training period in France and a later introduction into the fighting (Sep 1916) in a well planned attack.

At the risk of being branded a heretic we should also remember that some of the Anzac legend is just that - legend. On the 25th April, like the British, we failed to achieve even the initial objectives and in fact were driven back off Battleship Hill and Baby 700 that afternoon. Some of of our later attacks were a b****y shambles, for example the 4th Battalion attack on 400 Plateau on 26 Apr and Monash's attack at the Chessboard on 2 May. I am not denying the courage of the troops involved and their efforts, but we didn't have a monopoly on courage.

Cheers

Chris

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Phil,

There's a good account of this incident in Carlyon's book

see page 218>

The impression there is that it was not a telegram,

but a message carried by Ashmead-Bartlett "addressed to no-one"

A-B took it to Thursby on the Queen

Hamilton was on the Queen Elizabeth

"Thursby opened the message thinking it was for him"

When Thursby and Hamilton got together (with de Robeck, Keyes & Braithwaite et al)

Hamilton asked Thursby "Admiral, what do you think?"

Thursby replied that it would take the best part of three days to get all the men off.

Keyes supported Thursby

Thursby added "I think myself that they will stick it out if only it is put to them that they must.'

Following this Hamilton dictated his reply with its famous postscript

'You have got to through the difficult business, now you only have to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe. Ian H."

This does not answer your question however

regards

Michael

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As Hamilton's 'Dig order' has come up I would like to draw attention to this bit.

"PS You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe."

Hardly an injunction to push on to the far side of the peninsula is it?

Peter

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I got the impression that it was a suggested means of overcoming the demoralization which the commanders considered to have been caused by shrapnel on raw troops.

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The issue of demoralization is overplayed, IMO. In writing the draft of British OH on the Landings at Gallipoli, Edmonds referred to the straggling back to the beach at Anzac that occurred. Bean and others objected to this and were firm in their opinion that it was not as bad as Edmonds had inferred. Edmonds edited this out of the final version.

Bridges. the GOC 1st Australian Division really wouldn't have known what the situation was like on the front line, as with the exception of a brief visit to the 400 Plateau around 8 - 8:30am he then returned to Anzac Cove and according to Bean remained there for the rest of the day. From there he simply responded to calls for reinforcements and failed to get control of the battle or ensure the task he was given was carried out. I am not sure of Godley's movements but I doubt that he knew what the situation on the front line was that evening.

Most of the Anzacs remained on the front line and veterans objected to the inference that they were demoralized and that many of them straggled back to the Cove.

I think this is a case that the Divisional commanders probably had an erroneous view of the morale of the troops at the front. They would have been acutely aware that they had failed to achieve even their initial objectives and thus saw the situation as a defeat, which by even the most benign military criteria it was. To portray it as a victory is to miss the whole essence of what military operations are about, yet the media did just that. What happened in the first few hours on the 25th April denied the Anzacs any opportunity of achieving the task they were set and condemned them to a narrow perimeter overlooked by the Turkish positions with no room to manoeuvre and no chance to break out. It was a complete abjuration of the task they were given by the Commanders on the ground that doomed the Anzac Landings to failure rather than any wholesale demoralization of the troops.

Regards

Chris

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I should have said "alleged demoralization". One wouldn`t expect reports of men drifting back to the beach to be representative of those at the front. Is it also reasonable to assume that the Anzac commanders (Even Birdwood) had no experience of shrapnel bombardment?

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Chris

G'day mate

I have enjoyed the contributions to date. However, I do need to respond to this piece of your commentary.

To portray it as a victory is to miss the whole essence of what military operations are about, yet the media did just that.

It is easy to get a "free kick" to blame the media for their mistakes, and by media I presume you are dealing with the quality printed media of the time. The nature of any media is not to make news but to hold a mirror to the society in which it practices. As such it reflects all aspects of society, some good and some bad.

In this case, there is no difference. Ashmead Bartlett may have written a whopper about the Glory of Anzac, but let us look at who benefited from this story. Firstly, Bridges and his crew. Rather than be kicked by Andrew "Freddy" Fisher as being a lame brained idiot sending men to their deaths for no good reason, his reputation is rescued. Ashmead Bartlett wrote a story that put a bright face on a defeat and the British Government were impressed, along with Kitchener - this was the sort of guff to serve up to the Australians who were too boorish to know better. The Australian government was able to hide behind the story rather than address issues about which it was well over its head. At that moment the government was mired in scandals about selling donated items to the men and pocketing the profits. There was also the scandal breaking over Australian troops behaviour in the former German colony of New Guinea. The Red Cross was in deep crisis over red tape and an inability to do the job it was asked to do - help the men. So this story diverted attention from the incompetence of war conduct. Finally, the Australian public lapped it up and couldn't get enough of a world famous journalist telling them how good they were. And if his reports were not enough, Ashmead Bartlett went onto Australia and made a fortune [only to squander it as fast as it was earned] on a film and lecture show peddled around Australia in 1916.

The story may have been legend coated with luxuriant prose, it served the purposes of many different groups in society, especially the military who had every opportunity to tell the real story but chose to endorse Ashmead Bartlett. After all, they were the official censors and Ashmead Bartlett reports had to pass through their gilded hands. Ashmead Bartlett was manna from heaven for the military and he was used as such.

So in this circumstance, to blame the press for getting it wrong is actually to point a clear finger at the military for allowing this.

Cheers

Bill

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Bill,

I am not blaming the press. In fact I agree with the thrust of your post as to why the press portrayed it as such, no blame - just that is the way it was at that time. The press were very much supportive of the war effort and in many cases they were used as a propaganda tool for home front consumption. The glowing press reports of the Landing and the subsequent actions of the Anzacs in the very difficult environment they were in at Gallipoli initiated the Anzac legend and it has been carried on ever since.

I don't think anyone seriously thinks that the Landing on the 25th was an Anzac victory.

Cheers

Chris

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Sorry for trying to play with the big boys, but I still think a big thing would have been made of the first blooding of Aussie troops, by the journalists, who were clambering over each other to be at the front line, where ever the front line might have been. It may not have had the distinction of there only being Aussies there, but deeds and sacrifices would have been made into the legend of Australia's first blooding. The politics would not have been there, as was at Gallipoli, well not to that degree, but Australian people were ripe for a piece of war history to call their own, and I think wherever the Aussies first attacked, would have still been made into some sort of Legend. The fact that it happened at Gallipoli with all the blaming, mistakes, and rawness, the defeat, the evacuation, that went on, served to make it a more emotional and 'support the underdog type' of story.

I know I am expressing this badly, but imagine what would have been made of Pozieres, 6 and 7 of August, had Gallipoli not have been.

As for Aussies and Kiwis making a national day out of a defeat, I think it is more to do with admiring the tenacity and adaptibility of the raw soldier, (even though the Kiwis had more training, they were still, in world terms, raw), and the fact that they gave their all, in what turned out to be, for reasons above them, a hopeless situation.

"Phil: It raises another question - Which was the front that demanded most of the troops, Helles, Anzac or Suvla? "

I don't quite know what you are asking here, but in terms of terrain, Anzac.

Hyperthetical question????

What would the outcome of Gallipoli have been if the Brits have been put ashore at Anzac Cove, the Aussies and Kiwis at Suvla, and the Canadians and Indians at Helles.

Be gentle, it is only a question.

Kim

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"Phil: It raises another question - Which was the front that demanded most of the troops, Helles, Anzac or Suvla? "

I don't quite know what you are asking here, but in terms of terrain, Anzac.

Hyperthetical question????

What would the outcome of Gallipoli have been if the Brits have been put ashore at Anzac Cove, the Aussies and Kiwis at Suvla, and the Canadians and Indians at Helles.

Kim

Much depends where Stopford was, Kim!

I don`t know about terrain - I defer to those who`ve seen action in varying terrains. Would soldiering at Anzac have been more unpleasant than at Helles or Suvla? Certainly there were many more casualties at Helles (though more troops involved) and more victims of winter weather at Suvla.

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GAC,

I agree, Hamilton was almost certainly encouraged by AE2's news, it must have been like another plus mark in the campaign, the first, of course, was achieving the successful landing on the Peninsula. As soon as Hamilton made the decision to stay, the pressure was taken off of Birdwood who in turn relayed this to his generals. The troops in the frontline were probably never aware of any of this 'panic' at command level at this time, something that Colonel Malone also mentioned in his diary. If it factored to any extent in Hamilton's decision to decline Birdwood's request, I personally do not think so (as a historian I have to argue the point), but we will proably never know for sure.

Stoker, whose success was cut short by his/crews capture, did pave the way forward for the exploits of the other E-Class subs, and if this could have been exploited further by the navy (on and below the waves) there could have been a different ending to this tragic and heroic campaign.

K.

Krithia, yes I agree we'll never know for sure what percentage of the factors at play most influenced Hamilton's response to Birdwood on the night of the 25th. Whether, or to what extent, the timely arrival of the AE2's message was one of these has, and will doubtless continue to be, subject to differing interpretations by historians.

You make a good point regarding Hamilton's response effectively letting Birdwood 'off the hook' - a reluctant Birdwood had taken some persuading in the first place to send his request for a withdrawal.

The tantalising possibility of the navy emulating to a critical extent the exploits of the E-Class subs is probably the single most significant scenario for an alternative outcome to the Dardanelles campaign, and it's difficult not to conclude that more effort in that direction would have been justified. Once the commitment of the Gallipoli landings had been embarked upon an all-out naval effort was called for to justify the presence of the land forces and to transform a tactical gambit into a strategic one.

ciao,

GAC

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I still think a big thing would have been made of the first blooding of Aussie troops, by the journalists, who were clambering over each other to be at the front line, where ever the front line might have been.

Hi Kim,

IIRC they didn't make a big deal of the Canadians when they first went into the line in the same way they did the Anzacs and we mustn't forget it was not only the Australians; New Zealand put the NZ in Anzac.

Cheers

Chris

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