Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

'Amazingly clever' plan fooled the enemy

A century ago today, the last of 36,000 Allied troops left Gallipoli
Allied troops evacuated from Suvla Gallipoli with a large field gun. Photo / Supplied
Allied troops evacuated from Suvla Gallipoli with a large field gun. Photo / Supplied

Hundreds of bedraggled, battle-weary men huddled in winter darkness waiting for the last man.

Rough seas pounded their boat against a makeshift jetty. Lazy Turkish shells occasionally whistled over. They strained through the weakening blackness, praying that the human form scrambling over bush towards them was the missing "Joe" Maude and not a marauding machine-gunning Ottoman.

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British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude - a Sandhurst-educated South African War veteran and renowned stickler for professionalism and punctuality - had inexplicably got lost en route to the evacuation point after returning to retrieve his headquarters kit.

Bloodied and scraped from tangles with barbed wire and abandoned trenches, Maude scrambled on board the awaiting boat at W Beach. They were about to leave without him.

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Just as daylight broke over a twinkling Aegean Sea on January 9, 1916, the final Allied soldiers - a century ago today - finally waved goodbye to the barren, bone and sorrow-filled land that would soon be etched into hearts and minds of every Australian and New Zealander.

The final evacuation from Cape Helles, the rocky, and in peaceful times picturesque, headland at the southwestern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula finally brought to an end the bloody World War I stalemate, almost three weeks after the final Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) troops departed nearby Anzac and Suvla beaches.

The Allied evacuation from Anzac Cove began on December 15. With military precision, 36,000 troops were shipped out over four nights, with deception tactics like self-firing rifles designed to trick the 100,000 watching Ottoman troops into believing nothing out of the ordinary was occurring. There was only one casualty, a man wounded by a stray shot.

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It was with mixed emotions that Allied troops sailed away from the Gallipoli Peninsula. Although they had not succeeded in beating the Turks and advancing up the strategically vital Dardanelles Strait separating Europe from Asia, they were finally leaving, alive. But they were also leaving behind many mates, buried in Ottoman soil.

Among the dead were 2779 New Zealanders - roughly one-fifth of those who fought in the ill-fated campaign, which began on April 25, 1915.

At the time, it was the most deadly campaign of the war, also claiming 31,000 British and French soldiers, along with more than 8700 Australians and 1360 Indians.

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Victory came at a high price for the Turk defenders too, with 87,000 men being killed.

The staged evacuation was an "amazingly clever" feat, according to military historian Chris Pugsley.

"Especially considering it was done in front of an enemy that knew we were going and wanted to hurt us. Had the Turks been able to inflict a humiliating defeat, then they would've done so."

Dr Pugsley, who wrote Gallipoli: the New Zealand Story, said the Gallipoli disaster also confirmed fears that Germany could be defeated only on the major battlefields of the Western Front. "It also confirmed that this had long ago ceased to be a short war that was going to be all over by Christmas."

- NZ Herald

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