The Moon and the Sun and the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915
The northern sky over Anzac Cove at 3:00 am EET on 25 April 1915. Calculated with the Stellarium planetarium program
On 25 April each year in Australia we commemorate the landing by Australian and New Zealand troops at Anzac Cove in Turkey. To try to gain some advantage of surprise over the enemy the landing had to be carefully coordinated with the time of moonset and sunrise. Here we look at how those times matched the events of the landing.
All calculated times are in Eastern European Time (EET) which is two hours east of Greenwich. That is the appropriate time zone and, as far as I can ascertain, that is the time zone used by the military for the landing. Note though that back in 1915 watches were not coordinated amongst the navy and army personnel and, in any case, would not necessarily be running exactly on time.
That night the Moon was gibbous, two and a half days after first quarter phase, so it was fairly bright. It set at 2:57 am.
The first report on the landings was by war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. It appeared in the Hobart Mercury on 12 May 1915. Here are a few extracts with inserted comments in square brackets:
“As the moon waned [he meant was setting], the boats were swung out. The Australians received their last instructions, and these men, who only six months ago were living peaceful, civilian lives, began to disembark on a strange, unknown shore, and in a strange land to attack an enemy of a different race.”
“At 3 o’clock it was quite dark [the Moon had set], and a start was made towards the shore with suppressed excitement. Would the enemy be surprised, or be on the alert?”
“Not a sound was heard, not a light seen, and it appeared as if the enemy had been surprised. In our nervy state the stars were often mistaken for lights ashore.”
No wonder that the stars were mistaken for lights as they would have been unfamiliar constellations and stars for the Australians. As indicated in the diagram above, in the northern sky they could see Ursa Minor or the Little Bear as well as Ursa Major or the Great Bear plus the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia. These are all well-known star groups in the northern hemisphere, but either not seen or not seen well from Australia.
Nautical twilight – that is the time when the horizon starts becoming visible – began at 4:21 am. Civil twilight – when lights can be switched off for outdoor activities and possibly dawn in this context – was at 4:55 am. The Sun rose at 5:24 am. Thus the opportunity for surprise only lasted until shortly after 4:00 am though at the same time the light started becoming sufficient for the landing.
“The progress of the boats was slow, and dawn was rapidly breaking at 4.50 when the enemy showed alarm for a light which had flashed for ten minutes then disappeared. The boats appeared almost like one on the beach. Seven torpedo-boat destroyers then glided noiselessly towards the shore.”
You can read more of Ashmead-Bartlett’s report here. We will finish with an extract from Laurence Binyen’s famous poem:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.