Along with several other English colonies, Australia and New Zealand entered World War I shortly after the British Empire declared war on Germany in August 1914. Aussies and Kiwis volunteered to serve by the thousands, and most were shipped to Egypt for training in late 1914. The combined Oceanic force was originally known as the “Australasian Army Corps,” but after both nations balked at losing their individual identities, it was rebranded as the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC.
ANZAC is best remembered for its heroic performance during 1915’s ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The operation originally called for the Allies to conquer the Dardanelles Strait in modern-day Turkey and join forces with the Russians in the Black Sea. But following a failed naval push, the Allies resorted to a risky ground invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula. On April 25, 1915, as British troops landed at nearby Cape Helles, ANZAC forces stormed the beach at what became known as Anzac Cove, a small inlet surrounded by high ridges. The ANZACs managed to establish a beachhead, but faced increasingly spirited opposition from Ottoman Turkish defenders led by Mustafa Kemal, the man who would later become known as “Ataturk” while serving as Turkey’s first president. Combined with miscommunications and poor planning by the Allies, the Turkish barrage soon ground the ANZAC advance to a halt. For the next several months, the two sides remained locked in a grueling stalemate. Disease, stifling heat and trench warfare took their toll on the ANZACs, who nevertheless became legendary for their good humor and extreme bravery under fire. When all further attempts to break the deadlock failed, the Allies staged a mass evacuation at Gallipoli in December 1915. By then, around 46,000 Allied troops lay dead, among them some 11,000 ANZACs. Australians and New Zealanders still observe “Anzac Day” every April 25 to honor those who served in the doomed campaign in the Dardanelles, and in 1985, the Turkish government officially changed the name of the ANZAC landing site to “Anzac Cove.”