On This Day…
On the 8th January 1916 the evacuation from Gallipoli occurred
On 8 January 1916, the Allies completed the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula from Cape Helles. The withdrawal from Gallipoli was the most successful chapter of the whole disastrous campaign fought against the Turkish forces.
Thousands of lives lost
The hastily planned invasion commenced in April 1915 and was intended to knock Turkey out of the war. But poor Allied planning and stiff Turkish resistance inflicted the loss of thousands of British, Empire and French soldiers over the next nine months. The Allies sustained more than 220,000 casualties out of a force of nearly 500,000 men. The Turks suffered almost as many.
With no sign of a breakthrough by November 1915, the Allies decided to withdraw, leaving the Turks victorious. The Allies needed to evacuate around 250,000 men. Wintry conditions had set in, making an operation of this size even more difficult. With thousands of Turkish troops watching over the beaches at Cape Helles, Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay, the Allies worked extremely hard to disguise their withdrawal.
Unfortunately assets to evacuate all three areas simultaneously were not available so a phased withdrawal plan was created increasing the risk of enemy detection. By late December 1915, Anzac and Suvla Bay had been evacuated successfully. The removal of remaining troops from Cape Helles followed in early January.
The evacuation was completed with minimal casualties by 8 January 1916. Although the Allies were able to evacuate the whole army and the majority of its logistics, some 130 guns, 330 vehicles and over 1,500 tonnes of equipment, was left behind. Much of this was destroyed so that it could not be used by the Turks. The evacuation was one of the best-executed elements of the whole Gallipoli campaign.
Communications at Gallipoli
Inexperience in maintaining communications in modern, amphibious operations and the limitations of early twentieth century technology contributed to the breakdown of communications once the Allied troops landed at Gallipoli. The chronic shortage of signal equipment and trained personnel exacerbated the situation.
With the onset of trench warfare the communications system at Gallipoli very quickly assumed the rigid characteristics of that employed on the Western Front. Telephone and telegraph lines were duplicated and laid to link up the various headquarters ashore, while extensive use of submarine cables were made to connect the beach signal stations to each other, GHQ and the advanced base.
Ironically the most impressive and successful aspect of communications at Gallipoli occurred during the evacuation of the peninsula between December 1915 and January 1916. The maintenance of reliable communications with a minimum number of personnel (whist saving as much equipment as possible) was essential if the operation was to have any chance of success. The principle of lower formation headquarters falling back to the headquarters of higher formations was adopted, much like that employed by retreating British units on the Western Front and although additional lines were laid on top of the existing telephone system in case of emergency, they were never needed.
Fortunately the Turks had neither valve amplifiers to tap into the British telephone system nor a sufficient number of aeroplanes to observe from the air the activity of their retreating enemy. Nonetheless, this should not detract from what was an otherwise smooth and very efficient operation in which communications played an important role.
As one report later testified: ‘The whole system of communications was maintained throughout without a hitch.’
New Zealand Signals at Gallipoli
The Post and Telegraph (P&T) Corps was created in October 1911 as part of New Zealand’s new Territorial Force. Part-time service was compulsory for most young men liable for military service under the New Zealand Defence Act of 1909. At the outbreak of War In 1914 the corps was designated part of the New Zealand Engineers Signal Service.
Signallers had been among the first New Zealanders to land at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, so it was fitting that Signalmen Peter Holmes and Neville Hopkins, were the last men to leave the New Zealand position at ‘The Apex’, a knoll in the New Zealand front line near Chunuk Bair, at 1am. on 20 December. As they shut their Signals office there was nobody behind them except the Turks. They had to close a barbed wire entanglement across the gap. As they were doing this, Neville said jokingly ‘Let’s go back’. Peter told him what he thought of him, and finished closing the gate.’ The signallers were on the second-last barge to leave Anzac Cove.
Left reads: ‘Withdrawal commenced… Closing this office… Please acknowledge…’
Right reads: ‘Ackgd’ (abbreviation of ‘acknowledged’).
Signals sent and received by 4/478 Sergeant Peter Dalrymple Holmes, Divisional Signal Company, NZ Engineers.
Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. MS-599.