When Churchill devised a plan to outflank the Germans by forcing a passage through the Dardanelles, he set in train a series of events that would become a monumental disaster. When it was over the British wanted to forget about Gallipoli, but for Australia the campaign would become a foundation myth of nationhood.
While there has been much focus on the battle, little attention has been paid to the planning that preceded it. The landing was one of the most complex and daunting operations in the history of warfare and the risks associated with it were enormous. Aerial reconnaissance played a significant and previously unrecognised role.
Gallipoli From Above (Wain Fimeri, 2012) is a 54-minute documentary that follows the Australian officers who planned the landing at Anzac Cove and the air-crew whose flimsy flying machines brought back the much needed information on which those plans were based.
The British proposal for simultaneous dawn landings at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles was always going to be an uphill battle even with the help of a naval bombardment designed to destroy the Turkish defences.
But the Australian officers were sceptical about how effective that bombardment might be and concerned it would alert the enemy to their approach. They decided to use aerial reconnaissance to reveal the full extent of Turkish defences and, as a result, came up with their own plan: a silent, night-time surprise attack designed to catch the Turkish defenders in their beds.
The rehearsals for the landing were chaotic. With the moon setting later each night, repeated delays meant the hours of darkness available for a surprise attack were rapidly decreasing. Aerial reconnaissance was revealing more and more Turkish soldiers in the area of the landing, with new gun emplacements and freshly dug trenches being discovered on a daily basis.
The ANZACs utilised every piece of technology they could get their hands on and made a detailed plan to deal with the Turkish defences. As a result, the Australians came ashore with only minor casualties.
By contrast, the English officers in charge of the Cape Helles landing ignored the aerial intelligence and approached the shore in daylight after an ineffective bombardment. Their men paid a terrible price.
Gallipoli From Above will rewrite the Gallipoli story by showing how the myth of bronzed ANZACs and blundering Brits has failed to do justice to the skills and innovation of the Australian leadership.
This was the first chapter in the story of the Australian Army's achievements in World War I, achievements that would give Australia confidence in itself, and the world confidence in Australia.