Where, What and Why Gallipoli

Where is Gallipoli?

The Gallipoli peninsula is located in Thrace, on the European part of Turkey, with the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardanelles strait to the east. The peninsula runs for about 60km in a south-westerly direction into the Aegean Sea, between the Hellespont and the Gulf of Saros. The Dardanelles, which is about 45km in length and between 1 – 2km in width, is the name derived from Dardanus, an ancient city on the Asian shore of the strait which was the name of the mythical son of Zeus. The Turks know the Dardanelles as Çanakkale Boğazı, derived from the close-by city of Çanakkale, known as Çanak during World War One. The name Gallipoli is actually derived from the Greek ‘Callipolis’ which literally means “good city". Today, as part of modern day Turkey, this town is called ‘Gelibolu’.

The area has a rich history, much of it ancient, which is well documented in Greek writings throughout the centuries. From the time of the Trojan Wars, to King Xerxes, Alexander The Great to the more recent time when Attila The Hun defeated the Roman Eastern Army, this area has seen many military campaigns. This is not surprising as the area remains of strategic importance, a place where East meets West.

What was the Gallipoli Campaign?

Gallipoli was an important military campaign for the Allies, and although it is described as a failed side-show today, it had high hopes in 1915 of bringing the war to an early end.

The Gallipoli Campaign is characterised by countless deeds of heroism and endurance, in a campaign that was flawed from the very start and became a defeat for the Allies. At some stages of the campaign there was almost a glimmer of hope that this scheme could work, but British political and military bungling prevented that, turning Gallipoli into one of the First World War’s most disastrous and tragic campaigns. Even the Commander in Chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, referred to the campaign after the war as the ‘Dardanelles Dustbin’.

The campaign took place in an area smaller than Southampton amid appalling conditions, such as heat, flies, lack of water, equipment and proper sanitation. Later on, rain and a freak spell of sub-zero temperatures had to be endured to say nothing of the desperate close-quarter fighting throughout the campaign. The evacuation in December and early January 1916 was a masterly operation - one of the great feats of military history.

Some 559,000 Allied personnel were committed during the whole campaign, of whom 420,000 were British and Empire troops, 50,000 Australians and 9,000 New Zealanders and 80,000 French. The Allies had over 250,000 casualties, of whom over 58,000 died, including 12,000 French and 11,000 Australian and New Zealand troops. Approximately 196,000 were wounded or sick, including 25,000 from Australia and New Zealand. Just over 11,000 Allied troops have known graves on the Gallipoli peninsula. Casualties to Ottoman forces with some Germans, numbered in excess of 300,000 and over 87,000 died. There are few known Ottoman graves on the peninsula, but like the Allies, several memorials commemorate the missing.

Footnote: these figures are approximate, but based on the evidence to date. Gallipoli Association, January 2015. 

Gallipoli and modern mythology

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