ON APRIL 25th, 1915, as many as 1,000 soldiers arrived at Cape Helles as part of an amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula by Allied forces.
Among that number were soldiers from two Irish regiments, the Royal Dublin and Royal Munster Fusiliers, who arrived on the ageing tramp steamer the SS River Clyde with several smaller boats close behind. The campaign, which was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, was supposed to end with an Allied victory over the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire.
Their aim was to mount an assault on Constantinople, today Istanbul, by breaching the Turkish defences on the Dardanelles' Peninsula and force the Ottomans out of the conflict. In doing so, Churchill hoped to open Germany up to attack from the east. The plan involved using the River Clyde as a Trojan House.
Ships carrying officers from Royal Dublin and Royal Munster Fusiliers among others were ground on V Beach, with fusiliers storming the beach via side doors on each vessel. What the plan made no account for, however, was the large number of Turkish troops awaiting their arrival once they go there.
Today is the 106th anniversary of #Gallipoli where 4000 Irish lives were lost.
One of them was my great uncle whose grave I visited in 2015.
There’s no glory in any of this.
Modern day triumphalism and celebration of war is disgusting.
It’s all a bloody waste & a failure. pic.twitter.com/PeSOJhrDFv
— Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (@AodhanORiordain) April 25, 2021
The Allies were all but sitting ducks as the Turkish forces tore into their ranks using pom-pom guns supplied to them by Germany. In the resulting slaughter, the surrounding sea and coastline turned red with blood. Of the 1,000 men who disembarked that day, just 375 made it to the shore with the rest either killed or wounded.
There were similar casualties in nearby landings at Suvla Bay in another part of the Gallipoli peninsula with the 10th Irish Division participating in this part of the attack. In the space of just two months, nearly half of the division’s 17,000 men died or were lost to injury or sickness.
Soldiers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Newfoundland, South Africa and France fought in the campaign.
What followed was a nightmarish eight-month campaign that was nothing short of a disaster, with Allied forces pinned back with little prospect of progressing their position. They existed in hellish conditions; trenches dug into dry Turkish soil, dug in soaring temperatures while wearing uniforms ill-suited to such humidity and heat.
By the time the Allies had retreated following months of ground fighting, both sides had suffered somewhere in the region of 250,000 casualties with no strategic gain. Approximately 4,000 Irish soldiers died from a total of 15,000 who served during the campaign.
The campaign failed, and the Allies withdrew after eight months of ground fighting and some 250,000 casualties on both sides.
It remains second only to the Battle of the Somme in 1916 for the highest number of Irish losses recorded with as many Irish dying at Gallipoli as New Zealanders. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, the brave men who died during Gallipoli are remembered as part of Anzac Day on April 25th, but Ireland’s role in the campaign is less well known.
For countless families however, Gallipoli left an indelible mark on life. The families of those Irishmen who died and now remain behind, on foreign soil, buried in unmarked graves as time ticks on and the faded memories of what was once there grow less and less defined.
Seven years ago today, I was in Gelibolu in Turkey - we know it better as Gallipoli. So many Irish died there. It’s such a forlorn place; it feels like it’s wreathed in permanent sadness. pic.twitter.com/mTIBr6RHbT
— Philip Nolan (@philipnolan1) April 25, 2021
The anniversary of Gallipoli should always be remembered not only as a reminder of the inglorious reality of war and senseless waste of life, but the men who fought bravely, not knowing what awaited them, and died thousands of miles from home. Rest in peace.