20 DEC 1915: In World War I today, the last Australian troops are evacuated from Gallipoli. The evacuation of the peninsula, largely planned by Brigadier General C.B.B. White, was a triumph of careful planning and bold execution. More than 8,700 Australians lost their lives over the eight month campaign, with more than 2,000 on the first day alone.
On 7 December 1915, the British Cabinet agreed to the evacuation of Anzac Cove and Cape Suvla. However, local planning for the evacuation had already begun following a visit from Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief of the British Army, on 13 November.
After this decision, a detailed evacuation plan was devised by Australian Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White. This involved operations such as the ‘silent stunts’ of late November, where there was no artillery fire or sniping from the allied lines, in the hope that this would suggest to the enemy that preparations were underway for the coming winter, instead of a complete withdrawal.
The evacuation plan had three key stages:
- In the preliminary stage, men and equipment were removed in a similar fashion to winter preparations.
- Then, in the intermediate stage, troop numbers were significantly reduced, leaving enough soldiers to hold off a major Turkish attack for only a week.
- In early December, before the evacuation began, there were more than 50,000 men at Suvla and more than 41,000 at Anzac. By 18 December, the last phase of the withdrawal, only around 19,500 men remained on these two fronts.
The remaining troops were withdrawn over two nights in the final stage of the evacuation from 18–20 December 1915.
The last group of Australians left Anzac at about 4:00am on the morning of 20 December 1915 while the last boats left Suvla at around 5:00am.