There could be no more appropriate or thought-provoking viewing for ANZAC Day
There could be no more appropriate or thought-provoking viewing for ANZAC Day 2013, than this excellent film by Australian writer/director Wain Fimeri, on the original ANZAC Day 98 years ago. Over those intervening years, countless books and movies have recreated the events which have bulked so large in our national psyche. But until now and this documentary, there hasn’t been a serious attempt to examine the remarkable planning which preceded the actual landings or dispel many of the myths with which we’ve all grown up.
Whilst this film is indeed a documentary, don’t be misled; it is anything but ‘boring’, ‘dry’ or ‘academic’. True, the narrator, Hugh Dolan, has a masters degree in history from Oxford University, but his manner throughout is to invite his audience to join him, detective-like, as he investigates ‘the case’. The case is Gallipoli and the broader context of the British and French empires’ attempts to neutralise the Turks, who had sided with Germany, and force a sea passage up the Dardenelles, via Constantinople to the Black Sea, to supply their Russian allies.
This film is based on Dolan’s earlier work, the book 36 Days: The Untold Story of the Gallipoli Landings, and benefits from his years as an intelligence officer in the RAAF which clearly informs his investigative approach to the topic.
Many of us are familiar with the myths surrounding Gallipoli; poor planning, ignorance of the Turkish defences, landing at the wrong beach, at dawn, betrayed by an insensitive British High Command. Dolan systematically demolishes all these myths. Thanks to the pioneering use of aerial surveillance, including the deployment of HMS Ark Royal, the world’s first aircraft ‘carrier’, the British forces, including the ANZACs, were well informed concerning the Turkish dispositions before any troops splashed ashore.
Unlike the British and French landings at Cape Helles and the beaches on the western coast of the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, General Sir William Birdwood and William Bridge and other senior Australian officers, who planned the ANZAC landings, eschewed the traditional naval bombardment which conventional strategy argued would ‘soften-up’ the enemy’s defences. It also, inevitably, alerted the defenders as it did, disastrously, at Cape Helles. Instead, the senior AIF command opted for the unconventional approach; a predawn, silent landing on what intelligence had shown to be a relatively lightly defended stretch of coast. And, despite all the difficulties, 5500 men successfully landed, with only very light initial casualties, on the correct beach.
Watch this excellent underexposed ‘documentary’ movie for a new perspective on the highly detailed planning behind one of the first and most complex amphibious military operations, the early use of aerial intelligence gathering and a better appreciation of how Gallipoli ‘fits’ in the overall WWI strategy. But, above all, to challenge the myths which have clouded our understanding of Australia’s first major overseas military campaign only 14 years after federation.
Gallipoli from Above – The untold story can be purchased from the ABC store, rrp $19.99
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