Could Gallipoli have been a success if New Zealand soldiers had better food?

No doubt many of us have enjoyed an Anzac biscuit or two this weekend but the biscuits the actual Anzacs existed on for nine months at Gallipoli were a very different culinary experience.

Research has shown their diet was so poor that many lost almost half their body weight.

So did this contribute to Gallipoli's failure?

They say an army marches on its stomach but for the Anzacs at Gallipoli, it was what was inside their stomachs for months on end that veterans looked back on with disgust.

Their generals had planned for a short campaign and thought "iron rations" would sustain them until victory was achieved.

"The main meals that the New Zealand soldiers ate on Gallipoli consisted of bully beef, and the bully beef they got was from South America, from Uruguay, and it was not of great quality, it was very salty and stringy, so bully beef was their main source of protein. Then they had their army biscuit, which is a big slab of hard-baked biscuit, which was their main source of carbohydrate," Massey University's Professor Glyn Harper told Newshub. 

The army biscuit was so hard, it would often break the soldiers' teeth.

Professor Harper conducted a dietary study with Otago University, researching the effects of the Anzacs' inadequate food. What they discovered was confronting.

"The most serious dietary deficiency was Vitamin C, they weren't getting enough of that, and that's contained mainly in fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, and if you don't get enough of it you suffer from scurvy and I think that many of our soldiers were in the early or even moderate stages of suffering from scurvy."

Water was also in very short supply, and 85 percent of Kiwi soldiers suffered from dysentery. Military historian Chris Pugsley says this was caused by swarms of flies and unsanitary living conditions.

"All the water and all the rations had to come in from offshore. And you were shitting where you ate. And initially, in the fight to hang on to the tiny bit of coast that they had, they were burying the dead. No man's land was clogged with the dead, and maggots were falling out of the trench walls, and that's where you ate," Pugsley says. 

The average weight of a New Zealand soldier when he landed at Gallipoli on April 25 was approximately 75 kgs. If he was still alive four months later to take part in the August offensive, designed to break out of the Anzac sector, his weight had plummeted to 50 kgs.

"They looked like scarecrows, they'd lost almost half their body weight, many of them, and they were in poor condition," Professor Harper says. 

"A fit man was someone who could stand in a trench and hold a rifle, and it was these guys who did the August offensive, and in fact after the August offensive they'd expended the last of their energy and they broke down."

So the question must be asked, if the generals had provided the Anzacs and British better food, could Gallipoli have been a success?

"I don't think it would've made much difference at all. The problem with Gallipoli is that nobody had actually calculated the logistics of sustaining a campaign like that. There were more hills to climb and more gullies to cross, even fit, experienced soldiers would have struggled in that campaign given the resources that were available to them," Professor Harper explains.

If fit, well-fed soldiers would most likely have failed, our Anzacs - half-starved and ill for nine months - never stood a chance.

"We were all amateurs, from the general down, and people talk about the 'what-ifs' of history, this wasn't one of them," Pugsley says.