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Uncovering both sides of the Gallipoli legend 23 avril 2011

Posted by Acturca in Academic / Académique, History / Histoire, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Australian,  April 23, 2011

Stephen Matchett 

An Australian historian is searching Turkish archives for the other side of the wartime story

When the Anzacs stormed ashore on the Gallipoli Peninsula 96 years ago there were just 120 Turks to oppose them. Yes, they knew the invaders were coming — one document shows they realised the invasion was under way at 2.30am — but the German commander of the Turkish 5th Army had made a nearly fatal mistake.

Thinking the attack would come farther north he had left the Australian landing place all but unprotected. The general’s luck was in because the rank and file of the 27th Infantry at Anzac Cove were as determined as the Anzacs. The Turks fought back against immense odds and managed to hang on until reserves arrived.

It’s all in the map made by a junior Turkish officer at the front, which Gallipoli historians on both sides of the wire had never seen until Harvey Broadbent started searching in Turkey’s military archives. Just about everything else he has found there is fresh as well because, of the 120 or so authors who have written books on Gallipoli, Broadbent is the first to seriously study the campaign from the other side of the hill.

« Previous studies are not bad, just incomplete, » he says.

The Macquarie University-based Broadbent has an Australian Research Council grant to systematically explore the archives. He plans to publish his findings in 2015, to coincide with the centenary of the campaign.

It seems extraordinary that it never occurred to earlier historians to talk to the Turks. Certainly C. E. W. Bean, whose official history of the campaign still sets the standard, relied on a Turkish liaison officer when he walked the battlefields after World War I. But other than the occasional commander’s memoir, the Turkish version of the fighting was ignored by historians interested in what occurred on the Anzac side.

There are good reasons. For a start, the original documents were written in Arabic script, different from modern Turkish. « I had to transliterate before I translated, » Broadbent says.

The military records are also enormous and not easily accessed. While Broadbent says he is received « correctly and politely, in the same manner as all other researchers » in the archives, the process is sometimes slow. He is the first person to ask for files and officials read everything before they release documents to him.

The sheer amount of material also takes time. Broadbent works with everything, from the high command’s strategy to battalion diaries written within the sound of the guns. It’s an extraordinary study for a man who started with no especial interest in military history and who first heard about the campaign when camping on the peninsula.

But with a degree in Turkish history and language from Manchester University he had the background to become the ABC’s Gallipoli expert when he joined the broadcaster in 1977. Through the years Broadbent made a documentary and produced the 75th anniversary coverage. He has made 25 trips to the battlefield, including five dawn services.

It was while working on a 2005 book on the campaign that he realised the potential of the Turkish archives. He was searching for support when Macquarie’s then chancellor, and present ABC chairman, Maurice Newman, heard about the project. Now based at Macquarie, Broadbent is working his way through the mass of document copies he brings back from his annual trips to Turkey.

If Broadbent has discovered anything extraordinary he is keeping it to himself until the centenary. But his ability to understand what happened on both sides of the hill means he has a unique grasp of the campaign.

Some of his findings are for the super-specialists, such as the very early example of air-sea warfare, when the Turks launched a raid against the British warship that was home to the high command.

Other experts will argue with his assessment that Australian brigade commander Ewen Sinclair-Maclagen ended the Anzac opportunity for an early victory when he disobeyed orders and changed the direction of the assault on April 25.

However, the most important aspect of Broadbent’s work is the way he brings the Turks on to the terrain as independent actors, acting aggressively in their own interests, rather than responding to the invaders, as inevitably occurs in books written exclusively from the Anzac perspective.

And, while what he has found may not transform our understanding of the campaign, it will make it more complete, even increase the Anzac achievement by demonstrating the high-quality opponent they faced.

It was a lesson the allied commanders who planned the attack should have known from the start. The Turkish army had something the Australians lacked: recent combat experience in wars against the Italians in North Africa and fighting in the Balkans. They put it to good use at Gallipoli.

Inevitably there were failings in the Turks’ defence. Their artillery was more effective than the big British naval guns but the Turks were always short of ammunition. While the invaders ran out of ideas quickly, so did the Turkish commanders and the campaign soon became a stalemate.

Nor were Turkish tactics and logistics always innovative. Broadbent says some Turkish commanders believed in bayonet charges across the narrow gap of unprotected land between the trenches; however, many such attacks occurred simply because there was not enough ammunition.

But overall Broadbent says his research points to the professionalism of Turkish officers and the determination of their troops to push the invaders into the sea.

It took an attack along the whole front in May to convince the commanders on the ground they could not remove the enemy; the Turkish army lost 3000 dead and 9000 wounded in just three or four hours without a lasting impact.

After that attack the Turks switched strategies, going on the defensive. It made allied attacks the equivalent of banging infantry heads against a brick wall — literally, according to Broadbent, because of the Turks’ immense engineering effort. They bricked up some trench walls and kept engineering units at the front to repair the damage to defences.

And despite the fears of an enemy breakthrough, Broadbent says he frequently finds in the archives, the Turks defied everything the British, Australian, New Zealand and French forces could throw at them.

The campaign was an immense effort for the Turks, with 300,000 troops serving at some stage on what in 1915 was the most important of their five fronts, due to the danger of an allied win threatening Constantinople (Istanbul).

And it always has had a similar standing in Turkey to its role as Australia’s foundation achievement. Just as Gallipoli signalled the arrival of Australia as a nation, instead of a collection of colonies, it occurred when Turkey was transforming the Ottoman Empire into a modern state. « It’s understandable that Gallipoli has this place in Australian folklore and the national psyche; likewise, the Turks, » Broadbent says.

But what did the Turks think of the Anzacs? Did they see them as the natural-born warriors the Australian propaganda machine proclaimed them from the start?

Not really. According to Broadbent, « The Turks did not differentiate between Anzacs and Brits at the start — they came to respect Anzac troops after a few weeks — but whoever they were confronting did not affect Turkish tactics. »

Broadbent’s work may not change the Anzac legend but it completes the history of that first fight. « You can’t understand a campaign without both sides of the story, » he says.

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