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The Gallipoli Peninsula was important because it guarded the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait

written by: bonita morony
April 21, 2022

New Zealand’s path to Gallipoli began with the outbreak of war between the United Kingdom and Germany in August 1914. Prime Minister William Massey pledged New Zealand’s support as part of the British Empire and set about raising a military force for service overseas. The 8454-strong New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) left Wellington in October 1914, and after linking up with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) steamed in convoy across the Indian Ocean, expecting to join British forces fighting on the Western Front.

In early November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria). This changed the strategic situation, especially in the Middle East, where Ottoman forces now posed a direct threat to the Suez Canal – an important British shipping lane between Europe and Asia. The British authorities decided to offload the Australian and New Zealand expeditionary forces in Egypt to complete their training and bolster the British forces guarding the canal. In February 1915, elements of the NZEF helped fight off an Ottoman raid on the Suez Canal.

Gallipoli invasion

Invasion of Gallipoli, April 1915

The NZEF’s wait in Egypt ended in early April 1915, when it was transported to the Greek island of Lemnos to prepare for the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The peninsula was important because it guarded the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait – a strategic waterway leading to the Sea of Marmara and, via the Bosphorus, the Black Sea. The Allied plan was to break through the straits, capture the Ottoman capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul), and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Access to the straits and the Sea of Marmara would also provide the Allies with a supply line to Russia, and open up new areas in which to attack the Central Powers.

Following the failure of British and French warships to ‘force’ the straits, the Allies dispatched the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. New Zealanders and Australians made up nearly half of the MEF’s 75,000 troops; the rest were from Great Britain and Ireland, France, India and Newfoundland.

Information and photograph from New Zealand History

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