The Story of Anzacs
Australia’s first acts of war were to destroy German wireless stations at Rabaul, Yap and New Guinea, and to occupy German New Guinea and nearby islands including New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville. Resistance was weak and casualties were few. Meanwhile Brigadier-General W.T. Bridges had begun organizing a volunteer army for overseas service, to be known as the Australian Imperial Force and now famous in history simply as A.I.F. The response exceeded all his hopes and in three months a complete first division of 20,000 men had been enlisted and partly trained and was ready to embark.
It was joined by two brigades from New Zealand, and on 1 November the combined contingent sailed from Albany, W.A. in thirty-eight transports, escorted by the Australian light cruisers Sydney and Melbourne and a British and a Japanese cruiser. Its destination was England, via Suez. Nine days later a wireless station at Cocos Is. in the Indian Island, signalled that it was being attacked by a German cruiser, Emden. HMAS Sydney left the convoy and in a classic running battle, disabled the enemy ship and ran her aground. Owing to a change of plan, the troops were disembarked at Alexandria to complete their war-training in Egypt. Here they were joined by a second mixed contingent and united as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) with General W.R. Birdwood in overall command.
As a part of Allied strategy it was decided, early in 1915, to attack Turkey through the Dardenelles and so provide a safe sea-link with Russia. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, was sure the British Navy could force a way through the narrow passage but the attempt was defeated with heavy loss. The operation then became a military one against a forewarned and powerful enemy. On 25th April 1915 Anzac, British and French troops stormed ashore on the peninsula of Gallipoli against fierce opposition from five Turkish Divisions. After a day of chaotic, heroic and bloody fighting the ANZACS had established a precarious foothold at what became known as ANZAC Cove and during the next two days they held on grimly against continuous and savage counter-attacks. Then both sides paused to lick their wounds and the ANZACS dug in. During the next few months weeks of stalemate were interspersed with days of bitter fighting, with appalling casualties on both sides. From the start it was apparent that the campaign must fail – indeed many thought it should never have been launched – and in December evacuation of the peninsula was ordered. This was carried out with such skill that the enemy was completely deceived and by 8 January the last Allied troops had left Turkish soil. In this futile holocaust of eight months Australian casualties had totalled 8,587 dead and 19,367 wounded; but from defeat the ANZACS had emerged as probably the best assault troops in history. One thing they never lost was their sardonic sense of humour and as they returned to Europe, battle-shocked and weary they sang:
“We are the ragtime army
We can not shoot, we won’t salute
What bloody use are we ?”