The Generals

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Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, Commander, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force; Field Marshal Lord Kitchener; Major-General Alexander Godley, Commander, NZ and Aust. Division; Major-General John Maxwell; at North Beach, 13 November 1915.

Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief of the British Army, had come to Anzac Cove to see the positions for himself. As he walked up the pier with other generals, he was recognised and men came running from all over towards the pier where they surrounded the great man. Australian War Correspondent, Charles Bean, watched Kitchener walk up from the pier. Kitchener spent just over two hours at Anzac surveying the Turkish line from Australian trenches inland of the Sphinx and at Lone Pine.

Two days later, after further consultation with senior commanders, he recommended to the British War Cabinet that Gallipoli–Anzac, Suvla and Helles be evacuated. Without significant reinforcement and the bringing in of considerable artillery resources, little progress could, in his opinion, be made against the strengthening Turkish trenches. In addition, local commanders were extremely worried about the problems of supplying Gallipoli throughout the winter with its many severe storms.

Once the decision had been taken, the biggest problem was how to leave the peninsula without arousing the suspicions of the Turks. A detailed evacuation plan was devised by an Australian, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White. This involved elaborate deception operations such as the so-called ‘silent stunts’ of late November where no artillery fire or sniping was to occur from the Anzac lines. It was hoped that this would accustom the Turks to the idea that preparations were underway for the coming winter. Hopefully, the enemy would not, therefore, interpret these silences as a withdrawal.

Right to the end, great care was taken to keep up the kind of irregular rifle and artillery fire from Anzac that would be expected by the Turks. An evacuation schedule planned for the leaving of Anzac Cove in three stages. In the ‘preliminary stage’, men and equipment would be taken off consistent with a garrison preparing for a purely defensive winter campaign. The ‘intermediate’ stage saw a number of soldiers on Anzac Cove reduced to a point where they could still hold off a major Turkish attack for about one week.

During the first two stages, the Anzac garrison would fall from 41 000 to 26 000. These 26 000 would then be withdrawn over two nights in the ‘final’ evacuation on 18-19 and 19-20 December 1915. Although Anzac Cove was used, the chief evacuation points were the piers at North Beach. It was at North Beach, therefore, that many men spent their last moments on Anzac Cove and caught their last glimpses in the dark of the Sari Bair Range as they pulled away from the piers. Only a handful of casualties were suffered in this well executed operation. (anzacsite.gov.au)

Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.


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