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Saturday, 10 April 2010
The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 1
Topic: BatzG - Anzac

The Battle of Anzac Cove

Gallipoli, 25 April 1915

Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 1

 

Aspinall-Oglander Sketch 5, p. 157

 

The following is an extract from CF Aspinall-Oglander, Military Operations, Gallipoli, Volume 1, 1929, pp. 162 - 180.

 

CHAPTER IX THE LANDING AT ANZAC

THE NEWS AT TURKISH HEADQUARTERS


25 April.

(See Sketch 5 above.) From six o'clock onwards on the morning of the 25th April a flood of urgent messages came pouring in to Turkish headquarters at Gallipoli, reporting that several hostile landings had already begun, and that others were imminent.

At Gaba Tepe British warships and transports were disembarking troops in dangerous proximity to Maidos, and the cliffs at Ari Burnu were already in the hands of the invaders. At several points near Sedd el Bahr strong British forces were reported to be at grips with the outposts of the 9th Division, and the whole of the southern end of the peninsula was being lacerated by heavy naval guns. Across the Straits, at Kum Kale, the 3rd Division was said to be heavily engaged with French troops, whose landing had been supported by a galling fire from attendant men-of-war. Further south, where the 11th Division was watching the coast, a considerable fleet of French warships and transports was entering Besika Bay. Finally, close at hand, in the Gulf of Saros, a number of British warships and a dozen large liners were approaching the shore. From that direction, too, there soon was heard the boom of naval guns. "I could tell," writes General Liman von Sanders, "by the pallor of the " officers who brought me the reports, that the long-awaited " landing was surprising them, and filling them with un easiness,, by the fact of its taking place at so many points " at once. [Sanders, Fünf Jahre Türkei, p. 84.]

Convinced though the German general was that all these landings could not be serious, it was for the moment impossible to tell at which of them the invaders were seeking a decision. But it was the safety of the isthmus that caused him the greatest anxiety, and the measure of that anxiety can be gauged by the fact that here one-third of his whole force had been concentrated, and here he had kept his headquarters and the headquarters of the III Corps in order to be as near as possible to what he considered the most likely point of attack. Nor was Liman von Sanders alone in expecting the Allied troops to land near Bulair. Everywhere critics of the campaign were sharing the same view, and Sir Ian Hamilton has placed on record that, apart from other weighty reasons, one of the influences that persuaded him to try elsewhere was a reluctance to throw his troops against just that point where it was probable that the greatest preparations had been made to receive them. But, to play upon the Turkish commander's fears, he had decided on a demonstration in that neighbourhood, and well was his ruse to succeed.

Serious as were the reports from the centre and south of the peninsula, and from the Asiatic shore, it was the isthmus that now claimed Liman's personal attention. Mounting his horse, and accompanied by two German orderly officers, he galloped to a position on the heights of Bulair, and there he remained till the events of the next day persuaded him of the real state of affairs. Despite the urgent calls for help from other sectors, it was not until the evening of the 25th that he would allow the Bulair garrison to be weakened even to the extent of five battalions; and though further units of the two northern divisions were permitted to embark for Maidos on the night of the 26th, another twenty-four hours were to elapse before the isthmus was denuded of troops. For more than forty-eight hours, indeed, the Turkish units at the main points of attack were denied reinforcements, which, had they arrived earlier, might well have turned the scale against the British in the hotly contested battle for the beaches.

 

THE DEMONSTRATION OFF BULAIR

Eleven transports of the Royal Naval Division, escorted by the warships Canopus, Dartmouth, and Doris, with two destroyers and some trawlers, sailed from Trebuki Bay on the evening of the 24th April for a rendezvous in the Gulf of Saros. Major-General A. Paris was on board the Canopus, while the commanders of the 2nd Royal Naval and Royal Marine brigades were in the Dartmouth and Doris respectively.

Arriving at the rendezvous soon after daybreak on the 25th, the warships began a slow bombardment of the Bulair lines which was to continue throughout the day, and shortly afterwards the divisional Staff carried out a close reconnaissance of three landing places on the northern side of the gulf from the deck of the destroyer Kennet. Later in the day ships' boats were ostentatiously swung out from the transports, and strings of tows, each consisting of eight cutters and a trawler, were got ready as if for a landing. Towards evening the boats were filled with men, and, shortly before darkness fell, the tows headed for the shore-to return to the transports as soon as their movements were shrouded by the dusk.

Up to this hour the demonstration had called for little effort on the part of the Royal Naval Division. But for the night of the 25th a more realistic enterprise had been planned, which, through the initiative of a junior officer, was to resolve itself into an individual exploit as gallant as it was picturesque. It had been arranged that towards midnight a platoon of the Hood Battalion should be thrown ashore on the westernmost of the three northern beaches to light flares and to simulate the landing of a large body of troops. During the afternoon, however, it was suggested by Lieut.-Commander B. C. Freyberg, the leader of the selected platoon, that, after the day's happenings, the approach of boats would certainly be noticed, and the attempt to land a small party frustrated with useless loss of life. This young officer pleaded that, as he was a strong swimmer, the actual landing should be entrusted to him alone, a ship's boat being used only to take him within a mile of the shore, whence he would complete the journey by swimming, light flares along the coast, and swim back to the boat. This change of plan was sanctioned, and the story of the adventure can best be told in the words of Freyberg's official report:

At 9 pm, last night (25th April), as ordered we left H.M. Transport Grantully Castle for the western landing place to light flares. We were taken in tow by the steam pinnace of H.M.S. Dartmouth, and towed to within three miles of the shore, when we slipped and rowed in another mile. It now became evident that to proceed further without being seen from the shore would be 26 April impossible. At 12 40 this morning, therefore, I started swimming to cover the remaining distance towing a waterproof canvas bag containing three oil flares and five calcium lights, a knife, signalling light, and a revolver. After an hour and a quarter's hard swimming in bitterly cold water I reached the shore and lighted my first flare, and again took to the water and swam towards the east, and landed about 300 yards away, where I lighted my second flare and hid among some bushes to await developments. Nothing happening, I crawled up a slope to where some trenches were located the morning before. I discovered they were only dummies, consisting only of a pile of earth about two feet high and 100 yards long, and looked to be quite newly made. I crawled in about 350 yards and listened for some time, but could discover nothing. I now went to the beach, where I lighted my last flare, and left on a bearing due south. After swimming for a considerable distance I was picked up by Lieut. Nelson in our cutter some time after 3 A.M. Our cutter, in company with the pinnace and the destroyer Kennet, searched the shore with 12-pdr. and machinegun fire, but could get no answer from the shore.

It is my opinion that the shore was not occupied, but from the appearance and lights on the tops of the hills during the early hours of the morning, I feel sure that numbers of the enemy were there, but owing to chance of being captured, and as I had cramp badly, I could not get further.


Early on the 26th, the Royal Naval Division and its escorting squadron were ordered south to take part in the main operations; but not till many hours after the last ship had sunk below the horizon were Turkish fears for the safety of the isthmus allayed.

 

Aspinall-Oglander Sketch 5A, p. 159

 

THE ANZAC PLAN

(See Sketch 5 above.) The task allotted to the Australian and New Zealand Army 25 Apr. Corps was to effect a landing north of Gaba Tepe, and, after securing its left flank, to push eastwards towards Maidos with sketch a view to severing the Turkish north and south communications.

Available information at British headquarters pointed to the Gaba Tepe promontory being strongly held, but to the north of it, apart from some unconnected trenches on the spurs overlooking the shore, and a few gun emplacements, no other defences were known to exist, [The defences reported to G.H.Q. before the landing were: 7 emplacements and 3 occupied trenches, on Gaba Tepe; 4 emplacements half a mile inland; some disconnected trenches on the crest and forward slopes of the spurs overlooking " Brighton Beach "; and two gun emplacements on " 400 Plateau ", south-east of Ari Burnu. No guns were visible and the emplacements were reported as " empty or roofed over ".] and it was hoped from this lack of preparation that the covering force would encounter little opposition on the beach. Further inland resistance was expected to be severe, for the Anafarta villages and Maidos were reported to be crowded with soldiery, and the probable number of troops in the neighbourhood was placed at two complete divisions, or, roughly, 20,000 men. [In point of fact, the Turks in this area now appear to have numbered about 13,000 men. They consisted of the 27th Regiment, which had one battalion on outpost duty along the coast on a five-mile front, and two battalions in local reserve near Maidos, and the 19th Division at Boghali. The 19th Division was the general reserve for the whole Dardanelles zone. The Turkish artillery in position guarding the coast consisted of one mountain battery on 400 Plateau, and two 12-cm. guns at Gaba Tepe. There were, in addition, two 15-cm. guns a little inland from Gaba Tepe.]

The Anzac covering force consisted of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, the 1st Field Company, and the bearer subdivisions of the 3rd Field Ambulance, the whole under command of Colonel E. G. Sinclair-Maclagan. [Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan’s substantive rank at this time was that of major (Yorkshire Regiment). The infantry brigade commanders of the Australian and New Zealand Corps were graded as colonels until July 1915, when they were granted the rank of brigadier-general, in accordance with the custom in vogue in the British service.] These were the troops who had been sent to Mudros from Egypt at the beginning of March, and for the last few weeks they had undergone a special course of training in landing operations.

A serious difficulty connected with an opposed landing on the coast of a little-known country is the impossibility of effecting any adequate reconnaissance of the ground over which the first battle must be fought. In the case of the Australian landing this difficulty was enhanced by the incredibly broken nature of the Sari Bair range, on the left flank of the intended landing place. Most of the senior officers concerned in the operation were given a view of the coast from the deck of a warship ten days before the landing, and one of the corps Staff flew over the area on the 14th April; [The paucity of aircraft and trained observers has been referred to.] but, apart from these inadequate reconnaissances, reliance had to be placed on the only available map of the peninsula, and this was subsequently to prove inaccurate in many important particulars. [The map was particularly misleading as regards the Anzac neighbourhood, and gave no idea of the extreme difficulties of the country.]

The main Sari Bair range extends south-westwards in an unbroken chain from the Anafarta villages to a point about three-quarters of a mile north-east of Ari Burnu. There it divides into three long and tortuous spurs or ridges, which are in their turn split up by countless gullies and depressions and eventually reach the sea coast between Ari Burnu and Gaba Tepe. About its centre the range is crowned by three rounded hills of nearly identical height, namely-reading from north to south - Koja Chemen Tepe, [On the first map issued to the troops this hill was marked 97i (feet) and throughout this history it will be referred to as Hill 971. The Turkish map subsequently brought into use described it as Koja Chemen Tepe, and gave its height as 305 metres.] Hill Q, [Hill Q is actually crowned by twin summits, but this is not apparent from the south.] and Chunuk Bair, all three of which command an extensive view of the Narrows above Chanak. These heights are guarded on the Aegean side by a maze of indescribably difficult underfeatures, but on their inland flank the slopes are more gradual, and there are fewer obstacles to the movement of troops. All three hills were destined to play an important part in the later stages of the campaign, but this present chapter is more particularly concerned with two lower eminences south of Chunuk Bair, and with the three long ridges, already alluded to, which extend south-west towards Gaba Tepe. None of these features were named in the original map (a point which added to the difficulty of writing orders for the troops); but so great was their influence on the operations that it is essential to study their general outline, and their relation to each other, before attempting to understand either the orders for the covering force or the subsequent course of events.

The two eminences at the southern end of the main ridge were soon to be known as "Battleship Hill" and "Baby 700", [In the original map issued to the troops both these heights were ringed with a 700 foot contour; hence the name Baby 700 for the smaller one. In reality, Baby 700 was merely the southern shoulder of the main ridge, and was 50-100 feet lower than Battleship Hill, which overlooked it.] and at this stage it will suffice to notice that both are overlooked by Chunuk Bair, that Battleship Hill affords a good though somewhat restricted view of the Narrows, and that Baby 700 cannot be approached under cover from the south. [A small portion of the Narrows is also visible from Baby 700, but not enough to make the hill of value for that reason.]

 The three long ridges which extend from Battleship Hill towards Gaba Tepe were on the day of the landing referred to as "First", "Second", and "Third" Ridges. Of these, "First", the westernmost ridge, was the scene of incessant fighting, and many of its features now bear immortal names. Starting immediately south-west of Baby 700 it consists at first of a narrow saddle-back known as "The Nek". Continuing south-west the ground rises to a commanding plateau, long and narrow, known as "Russell's Top", on the western side of which two steep and tortuous underfeatures give access to the seashore between Ari Burnu and Fisherman's Hut. South of "Walker's Ridge" (the southernmost of these two spurs) the seaward face of Russell's Top is practically unclimbable, and here is located the gravel-faced cliff some 300 feet high, called by the New Zealanders and Australians "The Sphinx". At the southern end of Russell's Top the ridge suddenly con tracts for 200 yards into a veritable razor edge, impassable even by infantry, with a deep chasm on either side. It then opens out again to "Plugge's Plateau ", with an underfeature, Ari Burnu, jutting out to the sea below it. Thence the ridge turns south, and its steep scrub-covered slopes fringe the coast of Anzac Cove, the southern arm of which is formed by another and smaller underfeature, subsequently known as "Hell Spit", This southern portion of First Ridge, which ends at the mouth of a deep ravine called "Shrapnel Gully", [The upper half of this ravine was called "Monash Gully".] was called "Maclagan’s Ridge".


It is important to notice that whereas the original map indicated that troops could advance straight up First Ridge from its southern extremity to Baby 700, in point of fact the "Razor Edge" made this impossible, and to get from Plugge's Plateau to Russell's Top it was necessary to climb down into the gully and up the steep slope on the other side.

Second Ridge forms the eastern wall of Monash and Shrapnel Gullies, and then continues south to a point about one mile north-east of Gaba Tepe. This ridge, too, was for many months the scene of desperate fighting. It embraces such immortal names as "Quinn's", "Steele's", "Courtney's", and "Lone Pine"; and every yard of its length has been hallowed by brave deeds. For a thousand yards, from its starting-point on the southern slopes of Baby 700, it consists of a narrow crest-line, with a steep and sometimes precipitous fall towards Monash Gully and a less abrupt descent to "Mule Valley" on its eastern flank. It then widens into an important and conspicuous plateau, some 400 feet high, known as "400 Plateau", with an extreme length and breadth of about half a mile. It was on the eastern slopes of this plateau that two Turkish gun positions were reported before the landing. [2 At the landing two or three positions for mountain guns, consisting of roughly made pits were found on the east and south-east edges of the plateau, one of them containing three mountain guns. Owing to the vigour of the Australian advance, these guns were overrun before they could open fire, but the Turks succeeded in withdrawing them to Third Ridge later in the morning.] From the southern end of the plateau five minor spurs fall south-westward towards the sea.

The easternmost of the three ridges, called Third Ridge on the day of the landing, was subsequently known throughout the campaign as "Gun Ridge", and to avoid confusion this name will be used for it from the outset. The longest and biggest of the three ridges, it starts due south of Chunuk Bair, and merges into the Maidos plain a little to the east of Gaba Tepe, to which it is joined by a low and narrow spur which conceals the plain from the sea. Two important features to be noticed on Gun Ridge are "Scrubby Knoll" in the north, and "Anderson's Knoll" towards the southern end.

All reports agreed that the Sari Bair country was for the most part covered with low scrub. This, indeed, could be seen from the sea, but the resisting nature of that scrub was never suspected before the operations began. Standing some three feet high and interspersed with prickly dwarf oak, its stubborn bushes are often so close together, and so thorny, that even a strong man has difficulty in forcing his way through. In the attack, therefore, it is a serious obstacle to movement; while it has the further disadvantage that men lying down in it are unable to see their neighbours on either flank. But for snipers, or for infantry delaying a hostile advance, the cover that it affords is almost ideal.

It will be noticed that 1,000 yards south of Anzac Cove the high ground recedes from the shore, and that troops landing between that point and Gaba Tepe would find a stretch of more or less level ground between themselves and the nearest hill. Also, if troops were advancing direct on Maidos from the beach north of Gaba Tepe, the nearer they had landed to that promontory the fewer and less abrupt would be the obstacles blocking their way. On the other hand, a few machine guns on Gaba Tepe could forbid a landing in its immediate vicinity.

The locality finally chosen for the landing of the covering force was the sandy beach between Gaba Tepe and Anzac Cove. The force was to land on a front of 1,600 yards, its right resting on a point one mile north of Gaba Tepe, and its left near the southern extremity of First Ridge. In his orders to Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan, General Bridges, commanding the 1st Australian Division, instructed him to push forward across Second Ridge as rapidly as possible, and to take up a covering position on Gun Ridge. The troops were to advance on a broad front, so that if one portion of the line was held up by a hostile post, the portions on each flank would help it forward by threatening the enemy's flanks and rear. The left of the line was to establish itself on Chunuk Bair, while on the right a party was to be detached to clear Gaba Tepe and to disable any guns found there. It was also important that the guns reported on 400 Plateau should be quickly captured and disabled. Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan was informed that the 2nd Brigade, which was to land immediately after the covering force, would extend the front northwards to the summit of Hill 971, and protect the left flank by holding a line from that point to Fisherman's Hut; the 1st Brigade would in the first instance be held in reserve just clear of the beach. The 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade would be landed as early as possible in the morning, and would be attached to the covering force on arrival.

In accordance with these orders, Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan detailed the 9th Battalion to land on the right, the 10th in the centre, and the 11th on the left. Two companies of the 9th were to clear Gaba Tepe as soon as they landed, while the remaining two companies were to make straight for Anderson's Knoll on Gun Ridge, a mile east of their landing place. The 10th Battalion, on their left, after capturing the guns on 400 Plateau, was to occupy Scrubby Knoll on Gun Ridge, while the r 11th Battalion was to seize the northern end of the ridge and Chunuk Bair. The 12th Battalion would, in the first instance, form the reserve. The mountain guns, on arrival, were to proceed to 400 Plateau.

The first point to be noticed about the naval arrangements for the landing is that the exact time at which the leading troops were to reach the shore was eventually governed by the hour of the moon's setting. General Birdwood was convinced that his best chance of success lay in a night landing, and it was his wish that the covering force should be landed in time to reach its first positions before daybreak. But the selected beach faced due west; the moon was not due to set till 2.57 A.M. on the 25th April; and it was feared that, if ships, were to approach within five miles of the shore before that hour, they would be seen by the enemy outposts and that all hopes of surprise would disappear. This was held to be the governing factor; and working from the basis that there must be no movement within five miles of the shore till 2.57 A.M., it was found that the first tows could not be beached till 4.30 A.M., or half an hour after the first streak of dawn. The hope of establishing the covering force ashore before daylight was therefore frustrated; but the corps commander agreed that this departure from the original intention was the lesser of two evils. [Had the landing taken place on 23rd April, as originally arranged, the first troops were timed to arrive on the beach at 4 A.M., for the moon set half an hour earlier on that day. But even this was somewhat later than General Birdwood's original suggestion.]

As regards the actual plans for landing the troops, the aim of the navy was to meet the army's wishes by landing as many of the covering force as possible simultaneously, to reinforce them with the utmost possible speed, and to be ready to disembark the main body as soon afterwards as the military commander asked for this to be done. As the result of frequent conferences between General Birdwood, Admiral Thursby, and their respective Staffs, it was decided that the 4,000 men composing the covering force should be thrown ashore in three echelons. The first echelon of 1,500 would be taken to within two miles of the shore on board three battleships, whence they would be landed simultaneously in I z tows. The second and third echelons, each of 1,250 men, would land immediately afterwards from seven destroyers, which would pass through the line of battleships and approach to within 100 yards of the shore, each towing a number of ships' lifeboats behind them. By this means, 2,750 men would be landed within a few minutes of each other, and the remaining 1,250 as quickly as the destroyers' boats could make a second journey to the shore.

The main body of the 1st Australian Division, if the situation ashore permitted, was to follow close on the heels of the covering force. With this object, eight transports carrying the 1st and 2nd Australian Infantry Brigades and a portion of the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade were to approach the shore at 5 A.M. Four of these transports were to anchor in allotted berths close to the beach, where they would be met by the battleships' twelve tows. The remaining four, while still under way, were to transfer their infantry to the seven destroyers as soon as the latter had disembarked their complement of the covering force. By this means, and with the aid of the horse-boats carried in one of the transports, it was calculated that all three infantry brigades and the mountain artillery would be ashore by 9 am. The landing of the remainder of the corps would follow as quickly as possible, and transports carrying freights not wanted in the first instance were to be called up from Mudros as required. The order in which these ships were to approach the anchorage was not laid down beforehand, and was to depend on the tactical necessities of the moment. In every case only a specified minimum of animals and vehicles was to be landed with the fighting troops in the first instance, and as soon as this had been done each transport was to proceed out of range of hostile artillery, and to wait in the offing until called upon to disembark the remainder of her complement.

Such, in brief, were the arrangements for the Anzac landing, but the foregoing summary does little more than touch the hem of the very elaborate details which had to be dealt with in the naval and military instructions. The naval orders alone, with their various tables and appendices, amounted to no less than twenty-seven typed pages of foolscap. Enough, however, has been said to explain the main intentions of the scheme, and to enable the reader to appreciate the many variations from it imposed by the course of events.

On the 23rd April General Birdwood and the principal officers of his corps headquarters moved from the transport Minnewaska to H.M.S. Queen, in order to be in close touch with Admiral Thursby in naval command of their landing. The headquarters of the 1st Australian Division transhipped to H.M.S. Prince of Wales. During the forenoon of the 24th April the 1,500 men who were to be the first to land were transferred in destroyers to the attendant battleships, about 500 of the 9th Battalion going to the Queen, 500 of the 10th to the Prince of Wales, and 500 of the 11th to the London. A detachment of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers was included in the numbers sent to each battleship.

Later in the day these three battleships, accompanied by the Triumph, Majestic, and Bacchante, left Mudros for a sea rendezvous five miles west of Gaba Tepe, where the 1,500 men were to be transferred to the tows of boats in which they were to land. The transfer of the remainder of the covering force into seven destroyers was to take place at Imbros; and shortly after the battleships had sailed the four transports of the covering force left Mudros for that destination.

Steering on a light shown by the Triumph, which had gone forward to mark the sea rendezvous, the ships of Admiral Thursby's squadron crept noiselessly into their stations at z A.m. Dead astern, the moon was sinking to the western horizon. To the east the sombre mass of Gallipoli was faintly visible, its rugged summits now and again thrown into black relief by an upward sweep of the searchlights in the Dardanelles. The boats were lowered, and tows formed, and half an hour later, in absolute silence, the heavily laden troops [Every man, in addition to rifle and pack, was carrying 200 rounds of ammunition and three days' food - a total weight of 88 lbs.] began to climb down the sides of the battleships and fill the waiting boats. By 2.35 A.M, all the tows were ready. Twenty minutes later, as the moon sank behind Imbros, the three battleships, followed by the twelve tows, and, further astern, by the seven destroyers which at that moment arrived from Imbros with the rest of the covering force, steamed slowly towards the peninsula.

 

THE LANDING OF THE COVERING FORCE

Sunrise at the Dardanelles on that unforgettable Sunday 25 Apr. morning-the first Anzac Day-was due at a quarter-past five, and the first streak of dawn at five minutes past four. During the hour of inky darkness that preceded the dawn the faint night breeze died suddenly, and the surface of the Aegean grew smooth and still as glass. In face of the coming drama, the very elements appeared to hold their breath.

At half-past three, when two and a half miles from the shore, now completely invisible, the three battleships again came to rest. The signal "land armed parties" was made, and the twelve tows moved slowly forward in line abreast. The 9th Battalion's boats were on the right, those of the 10th Battalion in the centre, and the 11th Battalion's on the left.

It is difficult to appreciate the intense strain of being towed in an open boat to a hostile beach that is likely to be defended by machine guns. But it is essential, in studying the problem of the Gallipoli landings, to try to gauge the feelings of the private soldier - on whose bearing so much depended-as he slowly approached the shore. For the Australians the ordeal was a particularly long one. It prefaced, moreover, not only their own but their army's baptism of fire. The loading of the boats had begun at r .30 A.M. Thenceforward for three hours, till half-past four, the men sat motionless and silent, so tightly wedged together that they could scarcely move their limbs, heading towards the unknown. Whether the landing would be a surprise, or whether an army was awaiting them, was a question none could answer. But to the men in the tows, as the dark mass of the shore drew ever nearer, the hope of a surprise was dwindling, for the throb of their steamboats' engines seemed loud enough to wake the dead. Every breathless second a roar of Turkish fire was expected. Yet, till the shore was reached, they must remain motionless and silent - a helpless mark for the enemy.

The naval officer responsible for guiding the line of tows was Lieut. J. B. Waterlow, R.N., in No. 1 (the starboard) steamboat, and he steered by a compass bearing which was to land his own tow on the extreme right of the selected beach. To maintain their direction, and to cover the whole frontage correctly, the remaining eleven steamboats were to keep a lateral interval of 150 yards from, and to steer their course by, the tow on their immediate right. Commander C. Dix, in naval charge of the flotilla, was on the extreme left, in steamboat No. 112. There was a midshipman with every tow, and each boat carried five seamen to row it ashore when the ropes were cast off. In addition there was a commissioned naval officer in steamboats Nos. 3, 5, and 9.

In the black darkness it was so difficult for the tows to see each other that they insensibly bunched together, some of them even getting into their wrong positions in the line; and there now occurred one of those mischances, the fear of which had inclined the navy to favour a daylight landing. The northerly current that sets along the Gallipoli coast was stronger than the sailors had realized; the tows were imperceptibly carried a full mile to the north of the selected landing place; and when, shortly after 4 A.M., the shore became faintly visible, Lieut. Waterlow catching sight of Ari Burnu on his port bow, mistook it for Gaba Tepe. Jumping to the erroneous conclusion that he was a mile south of his course, he at once starboarded his helm, and made for a point actually north of Anzac Cove. Commander Dix, in No. 12 steamboat, at the same moment realized the true state of affairs, and saw that unless instant action was taken the covering force would be landed at least two miles to the north of the intended beach, with perhaps fatal results to the whole military plan. It was too late for the mistake to be entirely remedied, for the boats were nearing the shore. It might, however, be partially retrieved. With this object, Commander Dix instantly put his helm hard over, and, passing close under the stern of the tows that were now crossing his bows, he placed himself on the extreme starboard (right) flank, and headed for Ari Burnu. Seeing this manoeuvre, the remaining steamboats steadied on a roughly parallel course, and all twelve tows made for the shore at a point approximately one mile to the north of the intended landing place.

Day was just breaking when at 4.25 A.M. while fifty yards from the beach, the tows were cast off. As yet no sign of life had come from the shore; but suddenly a warning light flared up from a neighbouring spur, and a scattered fire rang out from Ari Burnu.

The three left-hand tows, carrying men of the 11th Battalion, had fetched up some two hundred yards north of Ari Burnu. The remaining nine, including Dix's 11th Battalion tow, were clustered round the headland. Spattered by an erratic fire, all 48 boats were now rowed ashore by the bluejackets. There was little thought of maintaining their relative positions. Each boat landed where it could. [The result was a serious intermixing of units from the very start. Added to this, the very small frontage on which the landing had taken place was a great disadvantage.] Some of the larger ones grounded and their inmates, scrambling over the sides, found themselves immersed to their waists. But in a few minutes every boat was emptied and the first echelon was ashore with very little loss.

The surprise had been complete. The battleships had not been seen, or had at least aroused no suspicion. The tows had escaped notice till within fifty yards of the shore. There had been no time for the Turkish outposts in the vicinity to call for assistance; and the only troops available to oppose the landing were a strong sentry group on Ari Burnu and a few small posts on the ridge overlooking the beach. [None of these positions were wired, and no wire was seen by the Australians throughout the day. Gaba Tepe was strongly wired; but the beach to the north of it was considered so unlikely a landing place, that its protection had been neglected.] For the moment, therefore, the Australians were in a superiority of more than ten to one; but the Turks had the priceless advantage of concealment, and a thorough knowledge of the extraordinarily difficult ground.

The unfortunate swing of the tows, however, was to bear disastrous consequences. Though Commander Dix's prompt action had halved the error, and had saved the troops from landing at a still more unfavourable beach, the rugged hills immediately in front of them, especially those to the north of Ari Burnu, were to prove a bigger obstacle than any words can describe. Even in time of peace the precipitous ridges and tortuous ravines which formed the first Australian and New Zealand battlefield are an arduous climb for an active and unarmed man, while the steep, scrub-covered gullies are so confusing that it is easy to lose one's way. To preserve the cohesion of an attack across such country, immediately after an opposed landing in the dark, and without previous reconnaissance, would be an impossible task for the best - trained troops in the world. [Had the landing taken place where originally planned, the task, though still difficult, would have been far less severe. The defences in that locality were no stronger than at Ari Burnu, and the natural obstacles, approached from that direction, are much easier to surmount. On the other hand, it is fair to remember that the chance which brought the Australians to Anzac Cove landed them at the only spot on that part of the coast in any way suitable as a permanent landing place. If they had in any case failed to gain their objectives, and had not extended their left to include that tiny bay, their whole position might well have proved untenable. The beach at Anzac Cove was throughout the campaign one of the most constantly shelled areas on the peninsula; but, unlike the coast on either side of it, it had at least the advantage of being almost entirely screened from direct observation by the Turks. Even so, the southern half of the cove could be seen from Nibrunesi Point, 4½ miles away, while the tip of Ari Burnu was visible from Gaba Tepe.] This was the ordeal that faced Australian troops at the first moment of their baptism of fire.

For the Australians the forbidding slopes immediately in front of them were not only unknown, but entirely unexpected. The men had been told that they would find a low sandy bank skirting the beach, under cover of which they were to form up by companies before rushing across two hundred yards of level ground to the first low hill. The mistake in the landing place, coupled with the unfortunate intermixing of units as the boats approached the shore, caused, therefore, a certain confusion. But the necessity of pushing straight inland at all costs had been so impressed upon the men that in a remarkably short time eager parties of all three battalions, without waiting to sort themselves, had scrambled to the summit of Plugge's Plateau just in time to see some thirty or forty Turks disappear down the precipitous slopes of a vast scrub-covered ravine on the further side.

Up to this moment the casualties had been almost negligible, and the troops on the plateau were in high spirits. To many of them the campaign already seemed half over, and none can have dreamed of the bitter fighting that was to follow later in the day. The ease of their landing may, indeed, have been a positive disadvantage, by tending to create a false sense of security.

Day was now dawning rapidly, and from the top of Plugge's Plateau the full error of the landing was at last visible, for the easily recognized 400 Plateau, the first objective of the left and centre battalions, could be seen a thousand yards away to the right. Mixed groups of men belonging to all three battalions, flushed with success and thinking only of closing with the enemy, had already charged headlong down the almost precipitous face of Shrapnel Gully; but for the most part a halt was now wisely called, in an endeavour to collect units under their own leaders, and to wait for the men still coming up from the beach, before making a further advance. [This reorganization caused delay, the dislocation of units on landing had been so complete that it as imperatively necessary. Even a longer delay than actually took place would probably have been well repaid, for the wide separation of the men from their accustomed leaders was one of the chief causes of subsequent confusion.]

Shortly after 5 am both companies of the 10th Battalion, now more or less complete, were moved down into Shrapnel Gully, heading for the steep path at the northern end of 400 Plateau, up which the Turks had retreated. The men of the 9th Battalion were already widely scattered, and one small party, regardless of its allotted role, had dashed off to the extreme left in pursuit of a handful of Turks; but Major AG Salisbury collected about a hundred men on the right of Plugge’s, and these he now led across the gully in the direction of Lone Pine. Of the 11th Battalion contingent, those who had reached the top of Plugge's were directed by Major EA Drake Brockman to the shelter of Rest Gully to reorganize. Another party, advancing from north of Ari Burnu, had meanwhile reached the same gully by climbing over the cliff-like sides of the Razor Edge. [In addition to the 11th Battalion, numbers of men belonging to other battalions of the brigade continued to filter into Rest Gully about this time, and were organized into a composite company. Owing to lack of officers, three of its platoons were commanded by non-commissioned officers. It is a clear indication of the difficulties which had faced the troops that so drastic a reorganization should have been necessary thus early in the day, before any serious fighting had taken place.] Others were still on the northern beach, pinned to their position by newly opened machine-gun fire from the direction of Fisherman's Hut. Stray men of all three battalions, separated from their leaders and with no one to give them orders, were collecting in considerable numbers in Anzac Cove and in the small gullies which run down to it from the top of the ridge above.

Meanwhile the seven destroyers, carrying the second echelon of the covering force, with Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan and his Staff, had followed the battleship tows to Anzac Cove, and by 4.40 am had begun to disembark their men on a somewhat broader front than that of the leading troops. The two right-hand destroyers, one of which was lying off Hell Spit any the other five hundred yards to the south of it, carried two companies of the 9th Battalion, one company of the 12th, and brigade headquarters. The three centre vessels, opposite Anzac Cove, held two companies of the 10th and two of the 12th. The two left-hand vessels carried two companies of the 11th, one of the 12th, and the field ambulance, and lay to the north of Ari Burnu. The 12th Battalion was supposed to concentrate after landing, and to remain in reserve on the western slopes of 400 Plateau; but its dispersion amongst all seven destroyers proved fatal to that plan. Landing under fire, amid great confusion and excitement, on a front of over a mile, its scattered companies were not unnaturally caught up in the advance of the units nearest to them, and the battalion was never able to fulfil its proper function, or to fight as a complete unit, throughout the 25th.

The troops from the starboard destroyers were ashore by 5 am. Heading straight up the comparatively easy slopes in front of them, they made short work of a small Turkish piquet guarding this part of the coast, and reached 400 Plateau in front of the battleship detachments who had landed twenty minutes earlier. One small party, dashing boldly across the plateau, surprised and temporarily captured three mountain guns on its eastern slopes. Another pushed down Pine Ridge and away across Legge Valley towards its final objective. Two of the companies landed on this flank had been ordered to capture Gaba Tepe, but the mistake in the landing made this task impossible from the first. Not only were they a mile further north than intended, but the Turks on the promontory were now wide awake, and the rattle of machine guns could be heard from that direction. Nevertheless, on reaching 400 Plateau, the two companies detailed for this task wheeled to the right, only to find themselves opposed by a party of Turks entrenched at the head of Bolton's Ridge. Several officers, including both company commanders, were wounded in the course of the fighting that ensued, and, though the enemy trench was captured, the troops were too scattered to make further organized progress. They succeeded, however, in occupying posts on Bolton's Ridge to guard the right flank of the landing.

In the centre, the four companies landing at Anzac Cove were somewhat badly shelled from Gaba Tepe at 4.45 A.M.

But the leading troops pressed forward and one small party of the 10th, under Lieut. NM Loutit, advancing over the southern end of Maclagan’s Ridge, outdistanced the first echelon and reached Owen's Gully slightly in front of the party that captured the guns.

North of Ari Burnu the troops landing on the left of the line were less fortunate, and it was here that the heaviest casualties occurred. By the time the destroyers neared the land, more Turks had assembled at Fisherman's Hut; the incoming boats were met by a hail of lead; and a large number of men were killed and wounded before they reached the shore. A few yards from the water's edge a stretch of broken ground afforded some little cover from this flanking fire, and here were still assembled a few of the 11th, who had landed twenty minutes earlier. But fifty yards beyond the broken ground the troops were confronted by a wall of almost precipitous cliff, some three hundred feet high, the central crag of which-later to be called the Sphinx-has already been referred to. Sending a small party to the north to tackle the post at Fisherman's Hut - a point they never succeeded in reaching - Colonel LF Clarke of the 12th Battalion now ordered an advance of all the troops near him to the top of the ridge, and he himself, accompanied by about fifty men, actually succeeded in climbing the steep side of the cliff to the north of the Sphinx. For a few minutes a Turkish post on Russell's Top continued to fire on the advancing troops, and several casualties were incurred; but, seeing their retreat threatened by another body of Australians advancing up Walker's Ridge, [Captain E. W. Tulloch, 11th Battalion, with a mixed party of 11th and 12th.] they soon fled north across the Nek to Baby 700. Between 5.30 and 6 am the whole of First Ridge was cleared of the enemy. [Colonel Clarke was killed in the act of writing a report.]

Arriving off Hell Spit about 4.40 am Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan quickly realized that his first echelon had landed too far north, and that there were no Australians ashore between Anzac Cove and Gaba Tepe. On reaching the beach some twenty minutes later he sent his brigade-major southwards to look after the right flank, and then climbed to the top of Maclagan’s Ridge to gain a first-hand knowledge of the situation. His main anxiety at this moment was for his right, for it was to the east of Gaba Tepe that large Turkish concentrations had been reported before the landing, and it was from that direction that he expected the inevitable counter-attack. At the summit of the ridge, however, he realized for the first time the extreme difficulty of the country to which the swing of the tows had committed him.

The tactical situation was unexpectedly obscure. The deep scrub-covered ravine in front, with its succession of rugged spurs, had swallowed up the troops who had moved inland. Even the men who had only just gone forward were out of sight, and the intervening crest of Russell's Top was concealing the fortunes of Clarke's and Tulloch's parties at the northern end of First Ridge, though heavy fire could be heard from that direction. Brockman reported that a number of the 11th Battalion and a composite company of all units were organizing in Rest Gully, but with this exception the only reinforcements available were a company of the 12th Battalion that had just reached the plateau. Nevertheless there was at the moment little cause for serious misgiving. The whole of the covering force was at least ashore, and some of its advanced elements were already on the crest of Second Ridge. The Turks had evidently been surprised and were in no great strength; the volume of their fire was negligible; and there was no immediate sign of enemy reinforcements. These facts were all to the good; and though there was plainly a lot of disorganization amongst the units which had first landed, the transports of the 2nd Brigade were steaming in to the anchorage, and four more battalions would shortly be disembarking. It was clear, however, to Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan that owing to the mistake in the landing place, the role of the 2nd Brigade would have to be reversed; and that, instead of prolonging the left, it must be employed on the right to carry out the task originally allotted to the right of the covering force.

Meanwhile Sinclair-Maclagan set himself to strengthen the position on his left front at the head of Second Ridge, and particularly to safeguard his left flank by ensuring the occupation of Baby boo. With this object he despatched the company of the 12th Battalion straight across to Second Ridge, and ordered Major Brockman to send part of his detachment up Monash Gully to occupy the indentations on its eastern slopes, afterwards known as Quinn's, Courtney's, and Steele's Posts, and to proceed with the remainder to reinforce the advance on Baby 700. [The importance of Baby 700 was self-evident. It commanded Monash Gully throughout its length, and Monash Gully formed the only line of communication between the upper portion of Second Ridge and the coast. It was plain, too, that unless the head of First Ridge was firmly held, a Turkish force moving south from Baby 700 to Russell's Top could outflank a position on Second Ridge and take it in reverse.]

About this time Sir Ian Hamilton arrived off Anzac Cove in the Queen Elizabeth, and received the welcome news that the covering force had landed without serious opposition and was already a mile inland. The muffled sound of continuous rifle fire came floating out to sea, but, apart from some light shelling of the anchorage with shrapnel from Gaba Tepe, there seemed to be no hostile artillery in action; and it was with a feeling of hopeful confidence in the success of this portion of his plan that, soon after 6 am, the Commander-in-Chief headed south for the toe of the peninsula.

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 2

The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915

The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, AIF, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 1

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 15 April 2010 1:44 PM EADT

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