Gallipoli (1981)



Director:    Peter Weir.

Starring:   Mark Lee (Archie Hamilton), Mel Gibson (Frank Dunne), Bill Kerr (Jack), Robert Grubb, David Argue, Tim McKenzie. 


Movie reflecting Australian suspicion and resentment that their troops were used as so much cannon fodder during a World War I battle for the greater purposes of the British empire. 

The movie focuses on two young Australian men, played by Mark Lee and Mel Gibson, who join the Australian army and are sent off to war.  The movie spends a lot of time in Australia getting to know the two main characters.  Archie, a rancher, positively wants to go to war, while Frank is somewhat cynical and does not want to join.  But through some unfortunate events, Frank joins the army along with Archie.  Archie gets into the light horse, while Frank (who is no cowboy) is rejected (as he can't ride horses). 

The fellows are sent to Egypt where the forces are gathering for the attack on the peninsula of Gallipoli, Ottoman Empire.  Here the Australian troops feel the disapproval of the rather snooty British officers.  This just brings out Frank's rebellious spirit as he and his buddies mock the supposed superiority of the British over the Australians. 

The Australians land on Gallipoli a mile off track and are pinned down by the Turkish forces on top of the cliffs.  And the deaths mount for the Australians.  This impossible position for the Australians is then followed by trench warfare and stalemate. 

The British plan a great offensive and want to use the Australians as a diversion.  But this "diversion" becomes a death trap for the Australians.  They are sent out repeatedly to take the Turkish positions even though it is an impossible task. 

The movie catches the frustration and anger of the men who had to "do and die": men caught in an insane plan where they know they were likely be killed. 

Was this the result of an anti-Australian attitude on the part of the British?  It could certainly have been part of it.   Would the British officer in charge of the plan have kept sending the men out to die if they had been British?  Would he have been as indifferent?  Probably not. 

But on the other hand, in many a battle men's lives were just thrown away.  In the American civil war, for instance, northern soldiers were sent in wave after wave in futile attempts to take well-defended southern positions:  Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor.  Even the great General Robert E. Lee threw his men away in Pickering's charge in the Battle of Gettysburg.  And there was the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War where the cavalry was decimated by Russian artillery.  It happens and all too frequently.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Ottoman Empire

The German ideal would be a swath of German dominated lands from Berlin to Vienna to Belgrade through the Balkans to Constantinople and onto Baghdad.

1909-18 – Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire.

Constantinople was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Elderly Sultan Mohammed V clung to an empire beset by corruption and decades of nationalist revolutions.  The real power was held by a 33-year old dictator, Enver Pasha, hero of the Young Turk movement.   He had a bunch of German military advisers: headed by Gen. von Saunders.

Oct 29, 1914 – flying the Turkish flag, 2 German cruisers Breslaw and Goben steam out of Constantinople into the Black Sea to bombard Russian ports. Turkey slammed the door shut on the Dardenelles.

Turkey goes to war on the side of Germany.



1914 -- Australian and New Zealand troops en route to Britain disembarked in Egypt for training.

1915 -- Australia became a federated country.

March, 1915 – Russians appeal to the west. Armada sails east to capture Constantinople. No plan, just blast through the Dardanelles.

18 March -- 12 British and 4 French battleships advance to the area. The fleet suffers a number of vessels sunk or considerably damaged from mines and shore fire. The Allied ships are stopped by a Turkish minefield and 3 ships are sunk. They order a withdrawal.

spring -- Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, persuades his Cabinet colleagues to seize the Narrows of the Dardanelles, a strait between the Gallipoli Peninsula, part of continental Europe, and the mainland of Turkey in Asia Minor, leading to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Gallipoli Fever sweeps the troops gathering at Egypt. There develops a flotilla of 200 ships loading 75,000 troops, 1600 horses and mules, along with tons of arms and supplies

22 March -- Admiral de Robeck meets with General Sir Ian Hamilton. Toward the end of March they decide to land troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. There was only one practicable place for landing (later known as ANZAC Cove) and this was allotted to the Australian and New Zealand troops, consisting of citizen soldiers. The British 29th Division landed at Cape Helles, the point of the Gallipoli peninsula.

25 April -- The troops were landed a mile north of the indented landing beach. Hills on three sides made the beach a perfect target for enemy gunners. Luckily for the men, the Turks had not thought a landing there was likely. They were largely unopposed and pushed in a mile and a half, but then the Turks counterattacked, sealing off both footholds attained by the Allies. The British landings had gone badly. The problem was that the Allies just did not have enough men to win against the Turks.

The future leader of the Young Turks, Mustapha Kemal, lead his 19th Division to the sound of the gunfire coming from the ANZAC forces. He takes the hillside positions. Allied troops had little protection from Turkish fire.

May 4 -- Turks had lost 14,000 and ANZAC 10,000 men. Kemal has his troops dig in.

Fisher pronounced the epitaph: "Damn the Dardanelles, they will be our grave."

In London the War Council reacts to the bad news. Fisher resigns. In a secret letter he tells them Churchill is leading them all straight to ruin. The letter goes to Conservative leader Andrew Bonner Law. He tells his party that they can not trust Churchill. He must go. A coalition cabinet must be formed. Churchill begs Fisher to stayon, but Fisher tells Churchill: "You are bent on forcing the Dardanelles and nothing will turn you from it. I know you so well. You shall remain; I will go." They both went. Churchill’s political career seemed at an end.

Kitchener had to decide whether to leave or fight on. Kitchener decides to fight on. He plans a new offensive.


The British send 5 divisions (nearly 50,000 men) to reinforce the 8 divisions at Gallipoli. The new men are unprepared. Hamilton will try to snatch victory from defeat.

August 6 -- in an attempt to break the stalemate and widen the Allied gains, the Allies land at Suvla Bay, just north of ANZAC Cove. This attempt was also sealed off by Kemal, who now was in charge of all the troops in the area.  1500 Turks held off 20,000 fresh Allied troops. A ghastly inertia settles over Suvla Bay. Kemal attacks. The allies lost 45,000 men in 10 days, the Turk lost 40,000.

Oct 15, 1915 – Hamilton recalled by Kitchener. Replaced by Lt. General Sir Charles Monroe. He says to evacuate Gallipoli. Even though it will cost 40,000 more men.

December 28 -- the Allies start to abandon Gallipoli. Withdrawal completed by January 9. The evacuations are a military miracle. 118,000 men are removed, not a man lost, not a man left behind. The crowning success to failure.

Allies lost 265,000 men and the Turks lost 300,000.

The Australians were scarred by the battle for Gallipoli. Every year they hold a dawn ceremony on April 25 to remember the event. The Gallipoli peninsula today is a Turkish national park and has reverted to remoteness.

The ANZAC troops went on to fight in France. By war's end the Australians had lost 60,000 killed and 212,000 wounded in the war out of 332,000 enlistees, the highest proportion of casualties suffered by any army during WWI.


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