After the failure of the August 1915 offensives at Suvla and Anzac, Allied forces on the Gallipoli peninsula found themselves unable to do much more than dig in and endure the harsh weather conditions. And so the decision was taken to evacuate the Anzac forces, as well as the British troops, after local commanders became increasingly concerned about the problem of getting supplies to Gallipoli during the winter, when many storms were predicted.
The evacuation (historically deemed to be the most important part of this campaign) began on 15th December, however the initial stages were kept secret from all but those who needed to know, so much so that it was not until the second week in December that the men realised a full-scale evacuation was in progress. On Lord Kitchener’s recommendation, support troops, equipment and reserves departed first, then the fighting units were thinned out until, on 18th December, only 20,277 men remained. They moved out that night in a coordinated withdrawal from the front-line trenches; the British cruiser HMS Grafton lay in wait just off North Beach, ready to take the soldiers on board and, if necessary, to open fire, should the enemy make a last attempt to stop the mission. The leaders left a trail of oats to help others navigate their way to the ship, and the last men to leave the trenches closed the gully down with barbed wire and mines. The men were ordered to wrap their boots with sandbags to dim any noise as they quietly tramped through the trenches, in single file and without light or sound, pausing only when they reached the jetty to make sure no-one had been left behind.
At 4.10 am on the 20th, having spent their last night at North Beach, the last men left Anzac Cove. Among these last remaining few was the commander of the ‘rear party’, Colonel J Paton, from Waratah, Sydney. Having waited 10 minutes for any last Anzac straggler, Paton, being the very last one to leave, declared the evacuation complete, with 36,000 troops having successfully left Gallipoli with hardly a casualty in the course of four nights. Although much equipment was removed from Anzac, a great deal, especially foodstuffs, had to be left behind or destroyed. Suvla Bay was evacuated the same night, but British and French forces remained at Helles until 8th-9th January 1916.
Then the campaign was over.
The Gallipoli Campaign was a costly failure for the Allies, with 27,000 French and nearly 115,000 British and Dominion casualties. New Zealand suffered around 8,000 casualties, including 2,779 dead. Australia’s 28,000 casualties included more than 8,700 fatalities. Turkish casualties have been estimated at 250,000, of which at least 65,000 are believed to have been fatalities.
Today, at the centre of North Beach, where this campaign began, the new Anzac Commemorative Site can be found, sitting below the formidable semi-circle of cliffs that confronted the Anzacs as they came in to land on 25th April 1915. There is no better place along the coastline of Gallipoli at which to stop and ponder the significance of that distant battle, and the heavy casualties endured.Our Historic Documents archive holds a digital version of The History of the Great European War, Volume V, in which members can read a full account of the evacuation of Gallipoli.