"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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Friday, 9 April 2010
The Jifjafa Raid, Sinai, April 10 to 14, 1916, Outline Topic: BatzS - Jifjafa
The Jifjafa Raid
Sinai, 10 - 14 April 1916
9th Light Horse Regiment leaving the Roadhead for Jifjafa, 10 April 1916.
The collapse of the Gallipoli operations by the allied forces freed up large numbers of Turkish soldiers for other theatres of war. The Turks were now planning to re-engage the British at the Suez Canal. This was a smart political move. To the west of the Nile lay the restive tribes ready for open rebellion, led by the Senussi. While they may have been suppressed only a few months ago, this was only momentary, as the Senussi rebellion was far from a spent force. Turkish assistance exposed the ongoing weaknesses in the western flank of the British presence in Egypt.
Within Egypt itself, there was tremendous resentment towards the British, especially their declaration of the Protectorate in 1914. Beneath the calm exterior of the British Protectorate there were seething undercurrents of anti-British sentiment. The Turks knew this and were keen to exploit the dissension through their contacts with Egypt. However, to encourage rebellion, the Egyptians had to be shown by example that the British could be defeated. Quickly, the Turks put together a force from grab bag of units which added up to some 20,000 men in the projected Egyptian invasion force with 12,000 enemy troops at Jerusalem and 13,000 at Beersheba, with evidence that the Beersheba formation was pressing towards Katia.. By April a formation called the 'Desert Force' under the command of Colonel Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, commonly known as Kress, began to deploy near the Canal Zone. All over the Sinai Peninsular, parties of the Turkish vanguard were finding water sources and preparing wells, the most essential element for a successful campaign in the Sinai.
Aerial reconnaissance by the British exposed the works by the Turks in anticipation of a Suez campaign. New earthworks in the photographs showed that the Turks had already constructed an extensive outpost line west of the Maghara Hills down to the south-east of Nekhl. The locus of these positions was sited at Bir el Jifjafa, a fortified and natural defensive position supplied by an abundance of water, which flowed freely from the latest German pumps at the newly developed wells. All the new wells at Jifjafa were drilled with the latest German boring equipment at the site. Located on a caravan route some 85 kilometres east of Serapeum Bir el Jifjafa was fortified by three posts in an oblique line from north to south. Manning the Jifjafa perimeter was a garrison of 50 soldiers. Nearby at Bir Barthel Hegaiib, a well some five kilometres north of Jifjafa, at Rodh Salem north of Bir Barthel Hegaiib and at Bir el Hama to the south were a number of engineers, technicians and labourers whose primary task was to open up as many water sources as possible. The idea at this place was to provide an ideal point of concentration for a large force in preparation to strike quickly at the Canal. The news panicked the EEF command since they saw only too clearly the implications of these new works.
Traditional Egyptian invasion routes across the Sinai
Bir el Jifjafa was too far away for the infantry to tackle so it was clearly a cavalry job. The Yeomanry Brigades were already committed to holding the Romani and Katia. The quality of the Australian Light Horse was unknown but they were the only troops available. The Generals needed to test out the ability of the Australians and so establish if they were up to the difficult task of cross-country raids. It basically meant travelling over waterless and featureless plains with the use of a compass and good bushcraft.
In late March the 8th LHR was selected to provide and lead a long range expedition into the Sinai with the objective of discovering problems and techniques required for such an action. The reason for the 8th LHR’s selection lay with one man, the leader of the Brigade Scouts, Captain Albert Ernest Wearne. He was considered to be the best Scout Officer in the Light Horse and so was a natural choice.
Wadi um Muksheib
The aim of the expedition was to mount a reconnaissance overland to Wadi um Muksheib where earlier on in the year, the Turks were reported employing work parties to improve the water cisterns in the wadi’s catchment area. In addition they were ordered to inspect the water supply at Moiya Harab and El Hassif. Finally they were to report on their impressions of the land regarding distances and time required for travel, water supplies and other preparations necessary to move a large body of men across arid plains.
Two novelties were to be employed. The first was air support. An aircraft was allocated to fly in advance of the column. The pilot was given specific instructions to report on the countryside ahead of the column with a careful eye out for Turkish troops. This reduced the need for the column to send out advanced guards which then allowed the column greater speed and flexibility. The other novelty was the use of wireless. A radio transmitter was to be carried for the specific purposes of maintaining constant communication with the Anzac Mounted Division at the Canal.
By use of both technologies, it was hoped that mounted men could move so quickly because their need for supplies would be kept to a minimum. Such long-range reconnaissances then would have the ability to strike the Turks hard and disappear before the Turks were able to respond in any effective manner. Since they would have speed on their side, they could make their getaway in relative safety, always knowing the location of any pursuing enemy. If this could be achieved, a long-range raid could sever communication link over the Darb el Maghaza, the new route the Turks were developing, which ran through Bir el Jifjafa. Cutting off this route would restrict any further Turkish advances to the more established Darb el Sultani that followed the coast by way of Katia. The impact on British strategy would be huge, allowing the British to concentrate their defence of Egypt on a confined front.
At 2pm, Tuesday, 21 March 1916, Wearne led off his column from Serapeum. All up, the column consisted of 109 men mainly from the 8th LHR. Trailing on behind was another group of Egyptian camel drivers following on foot. Their job was to carry enough water for the horses.
After a long march, they arrived at Wadi um Muksheib. The cisterns were well stocked with water. They surveyed all the Turkish works and found them to have been abandoned some time ago without any evidence of fresh works. Once all the wells had been fully examined and mapped, the column turned around for the march back to Serapeum. At the end of their journey of 37 hours, the column travelled over 128km through difficult desert conditions. News of the successful mission was passed onto the Anzac Mounted Division along with the valuable lessons learned during the journey.
The EEF Command gained confidence in the professional ability of the Australians, especially the 3rd LH Bde after the Wearne Reconnaissance, and wanted to implement their tactical scheme to remove the ability of the Turks to attack Egypt through the centre of the Sinai Peninsular. The Commanders requested that the 3rd Light Horse Brigade conduct the new mission: to send out a column to Jifjafa to destroy the pumps and wells.
Map detailing the route taken to undertake the Jifjafa Raid.
Antill had no difficulty in appointing Scott, now 2IC of the 9th LHR to lead the expedition. Since the beginning of the Brigade, Antill was very familiar with Scott’s work, especially as ‘C’ Squadron leader at Gallipoli and the temporary Regimental commander during the training period at Heliopolis. Scott was an austere man who said little but possessed a keen intelligence and an ability to lead men through strength of character. His capacity to prepare for an action was legendary. Scott left nothing to chance.
Scott put together a force mainly comprised of ‘C’ Squadron from the 9th LHR although other units were represented, mainly from the 8th LHR with 12 men, including Wearne himself as the chief scout. The key criterion for acceptance on the raid, after excellent horsemanship, was weight. Lighter men were preferred. The reason for this was to minimise the weight upon the horses and allow them to travel far and fast without any heavy load stress. In addition to the light horsemen were the supports, the key being a Bikanir Camel Corps troop under the command of Lieutenant Bhir Singh. This formation was raised in India, which moulded the men into a tough and highly skilled desert-fighting group. This unit on detachment comprised 25 men with 12 camels for rations and forage. In addition there was a need for 95 Egyptian camel drivers who were delegated to move supplies packed on some 195 camels. To ensure they moved at the pace of the fighting men, a group of light horsemen were delegated to supervise the Egyptians and so ensure their speed was in line with the movement of the column.
The column was divided into two sections. The first being the supply column under the protection of the Bikanirs and the second being the fighting column. Because the camels moved at a slower rate than the horses they were to leave earlier than the fighting column. The supply column moved off from the Road head on Monday, 10 April 1916 for the wells at the western end of Wadi um Muksheib near the El Ashubi mountain range, a journey towards the east of about 65km. The cisterns around this area had been surveyed by Wearne and found to have sufficient water for the number of camels and horses that would gather at that place. Here the supply column was ordered to await the arrival of the fighting column due on the following day.
The camel transport column.
At 2pm, Tuesday, 11 April 1916, the fighting column set off from the Road Head. To preserve the energy of the animals, the march rate was a normal walk for the horse with a break of 10 minutes every half hour. This translated into a speed of about 10 kilometres per hour.
As they marched on the surface began to move from sand to a solid surface, which allowed the horses to increase their speed. While this was good for the light Horsemen, for those in the wagons of the Field Ambulance unit, they found it difficult to maintain contact with the column. The result was that the men had to keep their horses on a steady trot to catch up with the light horsemen. This tired the horses quickly. Scott was informed about this problem and the column slowed down to keep pace with the Field Ambulance unit.
During this time, the column moved south-east keeping the sandhills on their left. At 5.30pm, the fighting column reached the north western section of Wadi um Muksheib where it began. Here the men rested for two hours. At 7.30pm, they men set off for El Ashubi, their rendezvous point with the Bikanir Camel Corps. It was dark so the progress was slower. A few hours later they could see the camp lights of the supply column. At 10.30pm, the exhausted fighting column finally met up with the supply column. After taking care of the horses, the wearied men fell under their bivvy sheets and slept soundly.
Reveille blew early and all the men of the column were on the march by 7.30am following the course of Wadi um Muksheib as it meandered its way in a south-easterly direction. By 11.20am, the fighting column reached Moiya Harab, the furthermost point reached by Wearne’s expedition a fortnight before. The supply column arrived two hours later.
While waiting at the well, the aerial reconnaissance reports arrived from the signallers. Basically, the British observation aircraft assigned to the column flew over the area surrounding the camp. Once they completed their survey the observations were recorded in a notepad. One can only guess at the difficulty of doing this in an open aeroplane with a clipboard, paper and pencil. The paper was placed in a metal tube and dropped to the ground near a cross marker laid out by the signallers who then recovered the message.
This day’s message indicated that there was a group of Bedouin in the area. Scott sent out patrols to find the Bedouins but as the squads returned they had disappeared without trace. In their place, three miserable desert dwellers were captured and brought back to Major Scott for interrogation. There was little benefit or information to be obtained from the men and so they were then released.
In addition to finding Bedouin, the patrols found nine wells in different stages of construction and content. Some were empty while others contained large amounts of water. These were handy back-up storage areas, which ensured the horses would be adequately cared for if adverse conditions occurred. This gave Scott even more options in case of trouble.
At this point the column was again divided between one group required for reaching Jifjafa and the other to provide support on retiring from Jifjafa. One officer and twenty men were left behind to supervise the supply column left behind at Moiya Harab.
After all the arrangements and orders had been given by Scott, the fighting column moved off at 7pm, Tuesday 12 April 1916, for a flying march to Bir el Jifjafa. They marched all night until 4.30am, Wednesday, 13 April 1916, stopping every 40 minutes to allow the camel transport to catch up. When they reached the point for the final bivouac, the men slept for the rest of what remained of the night.
Jifjaffa outline of attack.
At 5.30am the men moved off leaving the Bikanir Camel Corps, Wireless Section and the Transport column at the bivouac supervised by Captain Ragless. They marched to a pre arranged meeting place known as Hill 1082 where the column halted at 7.30am and waited. Scott was observing the Turkish positions at Jifjafa. Intelligence was already known that the men evacuated Jifjafa at night and arrived in the morning to undertake their duties. Scott was waiting for the Turks to arrive at their work stations. The attack was planned for 9am.
Half an hour later a British observer aeroplane flew over and dropped a package. The signallers grabbed the package and brought it to Scott. The message read: "All was clear". To acknowledge the receipt of the message in a time without radio in the aircraft required a physical display by the troops on the ground. If the message were unclear or illegible, a group of about ten men would form themselves into a large cross formation, which would be visible from the sky by the loitering aeroplane. In this case, the message was clear and understood, so Scott ordered his men to form a circle so the pilot could see that the message was received and clearly understood. When they did this, the aeroplane dipped its wings in acknowledgment and flew over the Turkish positions.
The psychological impact of a British aeroplane on the Turks was now used to Scott’s advantage. When an aeroplane flew over the Turkish positions it was observed that the Turks always scattered to avoid heavy casualties, standard responses to a potential air raid. After carefully examining the Turkish positions through his binoculars, Scott made the decision to attack Jifjafa immediately while the Turks were in a state of confusion.
John Malcolm McDonald
The column was divided into four troops with each allocated a specific task. Lt McDonald was ordered to take his troop to within 2 kilometres north west of the Turkish camp. Lt William Stanhope Pender, a farmer from Minyip in Victoria, moved his troop to a position north east of the Turks while Lt Frederick John Linacre, a police officer from Melbourne, was to make a frontal assault on the position when all the troops were in position.
McDonald’s troops found the going tough so were late in getting to their designated position. Scott needed to alter the plan. Linacre was sent to a ridge slightly north of the Turks while the men remaining with Scott were to undertake a frontal assault.
The Turks saw them coming and began to make for a safer place. Pender saw the Turks running and by a quick movement, outflanked them cutting off their retreat. Out of desperation, the Turks ran to some nearby trenches, jumped in and opened fire on the attacking Australians.
The firefight that ensued was brisk and deadly. No one was quite sure of the exact location of the trenches or where the Turks were hiding or firing at the Australians. Cpl Paul Teesdale Smith, an articled law clerk from Arthur's Seat, a house at Mount Lofty just outside Adelaide, led his section from ‘B’ Squadron forward in an attempt to flush our the Turks. Helping him out was Pte William Andrews, a bushman from Kadina, Pte Hector George Gillis, a former farmer who was living with his brother at Birkenhead, while the fourth man of the section acting as horse holder away from the battle. His section was part of McDonald’s Troop which was pushed forward in advance of the balance of McDonalds men. As the section moved forward, Smith found his men being vigorously fired on by the Turks from all sides. After returning fire, Smith saw a Turk fall and assumed he was wounded. The men began to move towards the Turk to capture and seek shelter. The position Smith’s section was now in turned out to be pivotal for bottling up the Turks. While he held this part of the Turkish trenches, there was no ability for the Turks to escape the trap. Scott saw this and walked over to Smith and ordered him to hold the position until the troops of McDonald and Linacre could fully deploy. Shortly L/Cpl Alfred Vernon Hancock, a farmer from Moonta and later to become an Air Force pilot, moved forward to join his mates. The four men held the position resolutely while inflicting the majority of casualties amongst the Turks.
For a quarter hour or so, while the shooting was intense, some six Turks were killed while suffering five wounded. The Australians also suffered casualties. While attacking the trenches with his section from the 8th LHR, Corporal Stephen Frederick Monaghan was shot and killed outright. The firefight ended when surviving Turks realised they were outnumbered and unable to fight their way out of the situation. This proved to be more than enough resistance by the Turks and the remaining 30 Turks surrendered. Amongst their company was an Austrian engineer.
In the distance two mounted men were observed coming towards Jifjafa but once the firefight began, they turned and rode away towards the north-east. As there were no mounted men at the post it was assumed that these men were about to visit Jifjafa post when they rode off.
Dismantling the well drilling equipment.
Once the post was in Australian hands, Scott ordered his men to set about the work of destroying the wells and drilling equipment. Scott expresses a great deal of sadness at destroying the artesian boring plant. They were well-crafted German machines and destroying them seemed a total waste.
According to the statement made by the captured Austrian officer, the post was occupied by a total of 41 men. After completing the count, it appeared that the whole of the enemy force had been accounted for among the dead and prisoners. The two mounted men were seen to gallop away were from another unit altogether. Evidently these men were just on the point of visiting the post when the attack started. However, other Turkish units in the region were now alerted to the presence of a substantial force of Australians. No one knew the dispositions of these forces or their numbers so they knew they had probably a day’s grace before any substantial unit could arrive to threaten the column.
After the Australians completed the destruction of the Turkish structures at Bir el Jifjafa, the column was ready to move back to the support camp. Beginning at 11am the column was forced march to their camp in some of the most difficult conditions as a kamseen began blowing at the time. As the dust whipped up, visibility was down to a bare 20 metres. They wearily trudged to their destination and finally arrived after 12 hours hard riding. The horses were watered and an attempt was made to radio back to Brigade headquarters. The heavy winds and sandstorm of the kamseen caused this endeavour to fail.
Guarding the Ottoman prisoners at Jifjafa.
While the fighting column was moving off to Jifjafa the previous night of 12 April 1916, the supplies camp had their own adventure. A section patrol of cavalry from the Middlesex Yeomanry wandered into the camp and asked Lt Alexander Harold Horatio Nelson, an orchardist from Modbury, if they could get shelter. Nelson agreed and the men settled down for the night. It was not a good night’s sleep. A couple hours after the arrival of the Yeomanry, there was some sniping. The shooting was desultory and generally off target convincing the men that the snipers were the Bedouin who were seen the previous day. They had now double backed to the camp, taken up positions around the camp and began sniping. Nelson and his men returned fire. This lasted all night. The following day was quiet until the kamseen began to blow. While it was an evil thing to walk through, it did provide cover for Scott and his party to return to Nelson’s camp without injury.
At some time during the night, the kamseen died down. The next morning, Friday, 14 April 1916, radio communication was made between Scott’s formation and the 3rd LH Bde Headquarters. With great excitement, Scott gave a full report of the action detailing the destruction of equipment and capture of prisoners. At the Road Head, Antill could hardly contain himself. His good fortune had taken a turn for the better. The evacuation of Gallipoli had given him some sort of status as a man who can lead the retreat, but this proved that he was able make sound decisions regarding appointments and battle strategy. After receiving Scott’s report, Antill made sure the information was widely circulated around the camp and all the way up to the most senior echelons of the EEF. When the news broke, there was wild jubilation at the Road Head camp with many men in all units celebrating this victory.
When breakfast was finished the men set off on their return march and halted at 1pm for lunch. Various troops established themselves as comfortably as possible given the circumstances. One troop even set up its lines in a wadi bed, something the Bedouin would never contemplate. While lunch was being prepared, radio contact was established and various messages of congratulation were received
Scott called the men in for the reading of messages. They came from a swathe of military commanders all the way up to the GOC of the EEF. One from Chauvel to Antill encapsulated the sentiment: “Hearty congratulations to self, Scott, all concerned. Brilliant success.” With each message, the men cheered.
Halfway through a message from General Godley, the Canal defence Section 2 Leader, Scott saw a man from the outlying piquet riding towards the camp at breakneck speed. Everyone turned towards him. In seconds they saw the reason for the haste. A wall of water with the appearance and thickness of white paint was coming down the wadi and heading straight for the troop in the wadi. They were quickly alerted to the danger. It took seconds for the men in the wadi to respond and ride onto the safety offered by the banks.
The effect of the flood was to divide the column. When to column moved off to head for home, both groups kept in visual contact with each other. As the men were to discover a year later that all during their time in the Sinai, this was the only time ever that any Light Horse unit saw flowing water in a creek bed. Such water was never seen again by the men.
By early morning of Saturday, 14 April 1916, the column reached the Road Head. The men of the 9th LHR had completed a remarkable feat of travelling 260km through hostile territory in a bit over three and a half days, engaging the enemy and suffering only one casualty while returning with 34 captives. The 9th LHR had proven the worth of the Australian light horse as desert fighters. They had also fulfilled everything that the EEF required of them, that is, to close off the Darb el Maghaza as a credible attacking path to Egypt. The EEF only had to defend the north route without diffusing scarce defence resources.
Murray gave Scott a DSO and sang his praises. All the commanders in Egypt fell over themselves to offer congratulations to Scott and the men from the 9th LHR for producing a tactical and propaganda victory. It was also this action that urged Murray to do anything everything to keep the Light Horse in Egypt despite the urging of Kitchener to send more men to the Western Front.
For the 9th LHR, the celebrations of Scott’s exploits reverberated throughout their camp. The men felt very chuffed and ready to face anything the Turks could hand out. The cheering didn’t last for long. The next week, Kress made his presence felt to the British.
Prisoners marched back to the Roadhead under guard of the 9th LHR.
The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 2 Topic: BatzG - Anzac
The Battle of Anzac Cove
Gallipoli, 25 April 1915
Aspinall-Oglander's Account, Part 2
The Gallipoli Landscape
The following is an extract from CF Aspinall-Oglander, Military Operations, Gallipoli, Volume 1, 1929, pp. 181 - 200.
THE LANDING AT ANZAC - THE MAIN BODY
Colonel JW M'CAY, commanding the 2nd Australian Brigade, landed about 6 o'clock. On learning from Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan, whom he joined on First Ridge, that the right was in imminent danger and might be turned at any moment, whereas the left was comparatively secure, he agreed to place his brigade on the right flank. The two brigade commanders then proceeded independently to 400 Plateau, Sinclair-Maclagan going to its northern end, and M'Cay to the spur afterwards known as M'Cay's Hill, where he decided to establish his headquarters. From this point he examined the ground over which his brigade was to be employed, and, impressed by the importance of Bolton's Ridge as a position for guarding the right flank of the landing places, he issued orders for the few men already in that locality to be strongly reinforced as soon as troops became available. It was decided that the dividing line between the 2nd and 3rd Brigades should be a line running east and west across the centre of 400 Plateau, through Owen's Gully.
By this time-about 7 o'clock-the sun was high in the heavens, and it was a perfect spring day. With the exception of a few snipers all opposition on Second Ridge had ceased, and scattered groins of Australians were in undisputed possession of the crest, including the eastern slopes of 400 Plateau, and the long pine-covered spur-Pine Ridge-at its south eastern extremity. A few small parties, led by very gallant officers, had even succeeded in reaching various points on the western slopes of (Jun Ridge, the final objective of the covering force. In particular, Lieut. Loutit, of the 10th Battalion, had actually penetrated with a couple of scouts as far as Scrubby Knoll, whence he could see, only 3½ miles away, the gleaming waters of the Narrows – [This was the nearest point to the Narrows reached by any Allied soldier during the campaign.] the goal of the whole campaign.
But these gallant advanced parties could progress no further till reinforced, and owing to the intricate country this urgently required support was not forthcoming for the moment. The disastrous swing of the tows had upset every carefully laid plan for the battle. Much time had already been lost, and the precious hours during which Gun Ridge was almost undefended were remorselessly ebbing away.
When Sinclair-Maclagan reached 400 Plateau he found a number of his troops on its western side in disconnected detachments and a few posts on its eastern edge; but the thick scrub and precipitous slopes had completely disrupted the organization of his battalions. In these circumstances, unaware that any troops had already penetrated to Gun Ridge, he decided that, with his brigade so dislocated, it would be unsafe at present to make any attempt to occupy the wide frontage allotted to him on that ridge, and that the line of Second Ridge must for the moment be held as a covering position. He accordingly issued orders for the western edge of 400 Plateau to be entrenched, and also the positions occupied by detachments further north, on the crest of MacLaurin's Hill. [At Steele's and Courtney's. The important post at Quinn's had not yet been occupied, and a wide gap existed between Courtney's and the troops on Baby 700. The approach to both these posts, which were situated at the head of narrow indentations in the western side of Monash Gully, was exceedingly steep-that to Steele's being a mere landslide up which men could barely scramble on hands and knees.] The detachments on the eastern edge of the plateau were meanwhile to remain out in observation till the trenches behind them were complete.
On the extreme left at the same hour - 7 am - though, owing to the difficult nature of the ground, Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan was not aware of it, the situation was no less confused, and the consequent delay in reinforcing the advanced troops no less disastrous. The troops on Russell's Top and at the Nek still consisted only of scattered fragments of all four battalions of the 3rd Brigade. Casualties amongst their officers had been heavy, and though by this time a small party under Captain Tulloch had crossed the Nek and reached the lower slopes of Baby 700, so much confusion and uncertainty had been caused by the complete shipwreck of all the elaborate plans for each unit on reaching the shore, that supports were long in reaching him. Here, too, precious hours were slipping away, and the attack was being held up by a small number of well-concealed marksmen.
The transports of the 2nd and 1st Brigades had arrived off the coast with clock-like precision, but the disembarkation of their troops was proving a troublesome matter. The shelling of the anchorage was increasing, and though the Bacchante stood close in to Gaba Tepe and raked the Turkish position with her broadsides, she was unable to silence its fire.
On the extreme left, the landing from the Galeka began disastrously. This transport, carrying the 6th and 7th Battalions, had been directed in its original orders to disembark on the left of the 3rd Brigade. Arriving off the shore at 4.45 am, the commander of the vessel steered to the north of Ari Burnu, and stood in to an anchorage some six hundred yards from the shore. Here for some time he awaited in vain the arrival of tows to disembark the troops. But none arrived, and as it was obviously impossible to remain for long in that exposed position, with shrapnel bursting above the crowded decks, it was decided to make a start by landing some troops in the ship's own boats. Six boats were filled with a company of the 7th Battalion, and the first four of these, steering for what appeared to be the left flank of the troops already ashore, headed straight for the Turkish post at Fisherman's Hut. For some time the Turks withheld their fire, but when the boats came within two hundred yards of the shore, so heavy a fusillade was poured into them that over a hundred of the 140 men they contained were killed or wounded before they reached the land. The survivors captured the post without difficulty, for the Turks bolted eastwards as soon as they jumped ashore. But these few men were eventually forced to retire on Ari Burnu, and only 18 out of the 140 succeeded in rejoining their battalion during the day.
After this unfortunate episode all the infantry of the 2nd and 1st Brigades were taken to Anzac Cove, which now became the main landing place for the whole corps. But the majority of the transports anchored a long way out to avoid the shelling from Gaba Tepe, and the consequent delay was considerable. It had been hoped that both brigades would be landed by 9 am, but, though most of the troops were ashore soon after that hour and some of them a great deal earlier, it was one o'clock before the last battalion' of the 1st Brigade had completed its disembarkation. A contributory cause of this delay was a disregard of the orders for the evacuation of the wounded. The naval beach personnel had been instructed that the evacuation of wounded was to be carried out only in medical boats specially detailed for this purpose, and that the tows engaged in landing the fighting troops were on no account to be used for wounded men. In the event, however, not only were men who were killed or wounded on their way to the shore not unnaturally left in the tows, but, owing to lack of organization on the beach during the early hours of the morning, [In accordance with naval and military orders, the naval and military beach personnel did not land till 10 am. This scheme differed from the procedure adopted at Helles where they landed with the second trip of tows.] the return of the boats was in many cases delayed while other wounded were embarked. As a result, still further delay occurred when the tows returned to the transports, for the troops for the next trip could not be transferred to the boats till the wounded had been lifted on board and the dead disposed of; and facilities for this work were in many cases non-existent. [A cause of delay in the return of the boats for their second consignment of troops was, in some cases, the enthusiasm of the boats’ crews. There were many instances of bluejackets rushing forward with the troops in the excitement of the moment when the boats first landed, and Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan reports that he himself sent several back to the shore.]
As each company of the 2nd Brigade and the leading companies of the 1st Brigade reached the shore, they were guided to a rendezvous at the southern end of Shrapnel Gully, but even here there was further cause for confusion. Owing to the change of plan there were at first no definite orders for any unit; many officers indeed were for some time unaware that the plans had been changed at all. Added to this, there were throughout the morning constant and often unauthorized calls for reinforcing companies to fill a gap in the line, which individual groups of high-spirited men would answer on their own initiative. As a result, and contrary to expectation, the leading battalions of both reinforcing brigades became scattered as soon as they arrived, and General Bridges' plan for keeping the 1st Brigade intact as divisional reserve was from the outset to prove impossible. To make matters worse, companies and platoons advancing independently up the main ravine frequently lost their way in one of its many branches, or found themselves called into an entirely different part of the line from that to which they had been despatched. Thus the units of the main body were soon almost as much intermixed as those of the covering force. The serious results of landing at so difficult a portion of the coast, and of the consequent unexpected delay in getting up formed bodies of reinforcements to the points where they were most urgently required, can best be gauged by a study of the Turkish movements during the morning of the 25th. According to the information available from Turkish sources the first news of the Australian landing did not reach Colonel Sami Bey's headquarters at Maidos till 5.30 am, or an hour after the landing had begun. For the moment, believing that the main landing would be at Bulair, Sami Bey was inclined to think that nothing but a minor enterprise was intended at Ari Burnu, but he ordered his two reserve battalions of the 27th Regiment and the machine-gun company to march at once towards Gaba Tepe to drive the invaders into the sea. It was 7.3o A.M., however, before these troops were ready to march, and 9 A.M. before they were seen by the advanced posts of the Australians, slowly filing up Gun Ridge from the south. Meanwhile the news of the Ari Burnu landing had been carried to Marshal Liman von Sanders about 6 am. But that officer, firm in his belief that the main attack would be made against the isthmus, had decided to remain at Bulair, and to allow, for the present, no weakening of his strength in that locality. Between 7 and 8 am, however, hearing of the further landings at Helles and Kum Kale, the Turkish Commander-in-Chief decided to send Essad Pasha, commanding the III. Corps, to take command in the south; and the commanders of the 9th and 19th Divisions were informed accordingly.
Shortly after the receipt of this message, and after the two battalions of the 27th had marched towards Gaba Tepe, a second report reached Sami Bey to the effect that the invaders at Ari Burnu, strength about one battalion, [The landing beaches were invisible to the Turks, and the fact that they placed the Australian strength so low seems to indicate that few men had yet succeeded in reaching the high ground on the left.] were advancing left-handed up the main ridge in the direction of Chunuk Bair. As the Helles area was by this time claiming his attention, he now asked the 19th Division, which formed the general reserve for the whole Dardanelles area, to detach one battalion to the Chunuk Bair ridge to guard the right flank.
Fortunately for the Turks, the commander of the 19th Division was none other than Mustafa Kemal Bey, the future President of the Republic; and that Man of Destiny was at once to show an outstanding genius for command. As soon as he heard that the enemy was making for Chunuk Bair he realized that this could be no feint, but was a serious attack in strength. Appreciating at once that it constituted a threat against the heart of the Turkish defence, he determined to examine the situation for himself, and to throw not a battalion but a whole regiment into the fight. Accompanied by an advanced party of one company, he set off in the direction of Chunuk Bair, ordering the remainder of the 57th Regiment to follow as quickly as possible. As already mentioned, the approaches to the main ridge were many times less abrupt on the inland than on the seaward side, and shortly after 10 A.M. this advanced party was in collision with Tulloch's small detachment in the neighbourhood of Battleship Hill. Mustafa Kemal remained on the spot long enough to issue orders for an attack by two battalions and a mountain battery as soon as they arrived. Then, having satisfied himself that the situation was temporarily in hand, he hurried back to Maidos to report to Essad Pasha. [Essad Pasha arrived at Maidos about noon. When Mustafa Kemal returned Essad approved his dispositions and gave him permission to use the whole of the 19th Division in the Anzac area. Hie then followed Sami Bey southward, to learn the situation in the Helles sector, leaving Mustafa Kemal in temporary command opposite the Australians.]
The time of the arrival of the main body of the 57th Regiment has never been fully established, but their mountain battery, which took up a position near Chunuk Bair, did not open fire till 1 pm, and the counter-attack down both sides of Battleship Hill did not develop till half-past four. It is probable, however, that, in addition to the detachment which arrived with Mustafa Kemal about 10 am, reinforcing companies began to trickle in to the Turkish position in that neighbourhood from midday onwards. A study of these figures will show that for several hours the Turkish troops available to oppose the Australian advance to Gun Ridge consisted only of the outpost company in and around Ari Burnu at the time of the landing, supported by such portions of the remainder of the outpost battalion, spread out over a five-mile front, as were withdrawn from their own posts to meet the attack. The delaying power of well armed and well-concealed marksmen, favoured by a perfect knowledge of the ground, is undoubtedly very great. Nevertheless there can be little doubt that the extreme difficulties of the country played an even greater part than the opposition of the enemy in frustrating the Australian plan, and that but for the unfortunate mistake in the landing place the 4,000 Australians who disembarked before 5 am and the 4,000 who followed them between 6 and 8 am could have pushed hack the Turkish outposts and established themselves on Gun Ridge and Chunuk Bair before the arrival of enemy reinforcements.
It was about half-past nine when the leading troops of the Turkish 27th Regiment began to advance westwards from the centre of Gun Ridge. The scattered detachments of Australians on the western slopes of the ridge were now forced to retire, and shortly afterwards a heavy and sustained rifle fire was poured by the Turks on to the summit of 400 Plateau and the crest of MacLaurin's Hill.
Fearing an immediate counter-attack on the eastern slopes of Lone Pine, Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan ordered the companies of the 9th Battalion, who were digging themselves in to the west of that locality, where the dense scrub prevented any field of fire, to hurry forward to meet it. Section by section the men were led forward through the scrub, but the volume of fire now being directed on the summit was much heavier than Sinclair-Maclagan had realized, and only a remnant of those who started succeeded in passing through it. Thus a gap was formed in the Australian front which throughout the rest of the day was a constant source of anxiety.
Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan had early decided to establish his headquarters on MacLaurin's Hill, and the brigade signallers had already chosen a position and connected it by telephone to the beach. When the brigade commander arrived there about 10 o'clock the Turks seemed to be threatening an immediate attack, and it was obvious that a break-through at this point would make 400 Plateau untenable. The decision not to advance beyond Second Ridge had had the effect of placing brigade headquarters in the firing line. But it was vitally important to hold MacLaurin's Hill, and the brigadier determined to stay in this exposed and in many ways unsuitable position in order to encourage his men.
Meanwhile on the extreme left flank, Captain Tulloch with about sixty men had reached the south-eastern slopes of Battleship Hill between 9 and z o o'clock, and had sent a small party under Lieut. SH Jackson to the seaward side of the hill to protect his left flank. Progress had been slow since passing the Nek, for though the Turks were few in numbers their shooting was deadly. In places it was nearly impossible to crawl through the prickly scrub; yet to show oneself above it for an instant was to attract a hot fire. Further in rear, on Baby 700, were other small parties under Captain JP Lalor and Lieut. IS Margetts of the 12th Battalion.
Shortly after 10 am the leading troops of the 57th Regiment, brought up by Mustafa, began to trickle into action on the seaward slopes of Battleship Hill, and first Jackson, and then the parties on Baby 700, were forced to give ground. A few minutes later a flanking fire was poured into Tulloch's party, and that officer, finding his left flank uncovered, was in turn compelled to withdraw. The retirement was only momentary, for shortly afterwards a company of the 1st Battalion [This battalion, landed at 7.40 am, had been ordered at 9.30 to reinforce 400 Plateau; but Swannell's company, becoming sandwiched in between companies of the 3rd Battalion, proceeded up Monash Gully to the left flank, lost its way, and at 10.15 found itself at the Nek.] under Major BI Swannell, swept over the Nek and recaptured Baby 700. But, away to the right rear, Sinclair-Maclagan, who had hitherto looked upon his left flank as reasonably secure, had witnessed with alarm the withdrawal from Baby 700 of Margetts, who also had been outflanked. At 10.35 am, expecting the Turks at any moment to appear on Russell's Top behind him, he informed divisional headquarters [General Bridges landed at 7.30 am and was now directing the battle from his headquarters in a gully on the seaward side of Plugge's.] that unless the Nek could be held he would be unable to remain on Second Ridge. He urged that reinforcements should at once be sent to the left.
For Major-General Bridges the situation was an anxious one, for the whole plan of the landing had evidently fallen to pieces. G.H.Q. had expected a semicircular position, including Gun Ridge, to be seized by a covering force of one brigade, preparatory to an eastward advance by the main body of the corps. General Birdwood had modified this order to the extent of authorizing the employment of a second brigade to assist the covering force by extending its left flank. But, despite this increase of strength, nothing but the unexpected had happened. The covering force had landed at the wrong place. The 2nd Brigade had been brought in on the right instead of on the left. Both brigades had become disintegrated. Since General Bridges' arrival on shore, eight of the sixteen companies of the 1st Brigade, which he had hoped to keep intact as divisional reserve, had already been rushed into the fight on Second Ridge. Of the remaining eight companies, six had not yet landed, and only two were available on shore to meet any further urgent calls for reinforcements. And now, at 10.35 am, the divisional commander was to learn that his left flank, which Sinclair-Maclagan had at first thought to be reasonably safe, was after all in imminent peril. Orders were at once issued for the two available companies to reinforce the Nek, and with their departure, except for the 4th Battalion and two companies of the 2nd which were still afloat, all the infantry of the division had been absorbed into the battle. Little progress had been made; only half of the covering force's task had been accomplished; the position was manifestly insecure; and the inevitable counter-attack had hardly yet begun.
At this critical juncture, about 10.45 am, General Birdwood signalled that he was landing one and a half battalions [The Auckland Battalion and two companies of the Canterbury Battalion. In the original plan no arrangements had been made to land this brigade till the disembarkation of the Australian infantry, with a proportion of artillery and ancillary services, had been completed. It is possible that the change of programme was to some extent responsible for the delay in landing the 1st Brigade already referred to.] of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, which had arrived with divisional headquarters in the transport Lutzow, and that Br.-General H. B. Walker, B.G.G.S. Anzac corps, would take command of the brigade vice Colonel F. E. Johnston on the sick list. General Bridges at once decided to throw these troops in on his left flank, with orders to reinforce the line on Baby 700 by way of Walker's Ridge. A start was made by the Auckland Battalion (Lieut.-Colonel A. Plugge) in this direction, but after proceeding some distance the rugged slopes of the ridge appeared so difficult and so exposed that General Walker-unaware of the existence of the Razor Edge-passed the word for the troops to retire, and to proceed to Russell's Top by way of Plugge's Plateau. The change of plan was unfortunate. Many of the men could not be recalled; the remainder, like the earlier arrivals, lost their way. Companies and platoons became scattered and intermixed. Some of the men found themselves on 400 Plateau; others on MacLaurin's Hill; others again at the head of Monash Gully; and not more than one company appears to have reached the Nek [ Lieut.-Colonel D. McB. Stewart, Canterbury Battalion, was killed in the fighting near the Nek during the afternoon, and Lieut.-Colonel Plugge was wounded.] before 1.30 pm
Thus it was that throughout the day the Anzac fortunes on Baby 700 were jeopardized and eventually ruined by the extraordinary difficulties of the ground. Thanks to the gallantry and devotion of officers and men, the Turks were kept at bay on that dangerous left flank, but the invading reinforcements were invariably so disorganized by the time they reached the Nek, that it was never possible to develop their full power. By 3 pm the Australians and New Zealanders on the spot consisted of fragments of no less than seven battalions, all very intermixed, and all more or less worn out by a succession of spasmodic and disjointed attacks. There was no one in chief command of this section of the battlefield; the scattered companies had no knowledge of what was required of them; and unity of effort was impossible. For several hours the line had swayed backwards and forwards over Baby 700, each reinforcing detachment in turn succeeding in making a little headway, only to be driven back by Turkish rifle fire when it showed above the crest. The Turkish fire had sensibly increased since the morning; losses amongst officers had been heavy; [I The extraordinary difficulty of maintaining direction and keeping touch with the flanks in this tortuous scrub-covered country was mainly responsible for the heavy losses amongst officers. All leaders had to expose themselves very considerably to get their bearings, and thus formed an easy and conspicuous target for Turkish snipers.] since 1 pm the troops had been subjected to considerable shelling from the direction of Chunuk Bair, to which there was no reply. To lie out in the thick scrub under this shrapnel fire, separated from and out of sight of their comrades, unsupported by friendly artillery, ignorant of the situation, and imagining that they were the sole survivors of their units, was a severe strain to young troops in their first day of battle. For many the breaking point had already been passed.
This was the situation when, about 4 o'clock, the long expected counter-attack developed on both sides of Baby 700. Shortly afterwards the hill was in the hands of the Turks, and the sorely tried Australians and New Zealanders were falling back, some to the beach, some to Pope's Hill and MacLaurin's Hill, where they formed the first garrison of Quinn's Post, and a few to a small trench at the southern end of the Nek. Except for these few men, commanded by a corporal, [Afterwards Lieut. H. V. Howe, 11th Battalion.] and for two companies of the 2nd Battalion under Lieut.-Colonel G. F. Braund at the head of Walker's Ridge, [a The last two companies of the 2nd Battalion, under Colonel Braund, landed about noon and were sent to the left flank. The 4th Battalion landed at I2.45 pm and was kept in divisional reserve till 5 pm.] a clear road now lay open to the Turks across the Nek to the heart of the Anzac position. But the Turks, too, were scattered and disorganized, and for some hours they made no further progress.
Even now it was not too late for the situation to be restored. "If reinforced," wrote Braund to his brigadier at 5 pm, "I can advance." But General Bridges had just sent his last reserve to the right; the remainder of the New Zealand Brigade, and the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, had not yet landed. Until these could arrive not another man was available. [The Otago Battalion began to land about s P.M. and was told to dig in on Plugge's Plateau.]
Simultaneously with the attack on Baby 700, a small body of Turks advanced against the seaward end of Walker's Ridge. A success at this point might well have had disastrous consequences, but the position was securely held by Captain ACB Critchley-Salmonson, [An officer of the Royal Munster Fusiliers temporarily serving with the Canterbury Battalion.] with a mixed detachment of 33 men belonging to five different battalions. Recognizing the importance of this flank, Critchley-Salmonson impressed upon his men the necessity of holding it at all costs, and the position remained intact till reinforcements arrived.
At 6 p.m. the situation at the Nek was still obscure, but a dangerous gap was known to exist between Second Ridge and Braund's troops on Walker's Ridge. Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan, still apprehensive of the Turks appearing in rear of him at any moment, asked that the 4th Australian Brigade should be sent up to fill this gap as soon as it arrived. At this moment the 16th Battalion, under Lieut.-Colonel H. Pope, was just landing, and Pope was ordered to push on with all available men to the head of Monash Gully. Starting soon afterwards with two companies of his own battalion, one of the 15th, and two platoons of New Zealanders, Pope eventually occupied the wedge-shaped hill afterwards known by his name. But, as in the case of all other parties which had advanced up Monash Gully, the tail of the column got separated from the head, and was finally used to reinforce the garrisons of Steele's and Courtney's Posts. At nightfall there was still a gap between Pope and Braund, and between Pope's right and the troops on Second Ridge. [This latter gap, at the head of the eastern fork of Monash Gully, was never bridged throughout the campaign. It was eventually securely held by cross-fire from either flank, but the ground at the head of this fork, known as the " Chessboard ", remained in Turkish hands, and much of the gully was under constant observation by the enemy.]
The area around the Sphinx.
The Turks were fortunately too weary to profit by these opportunities or even to discover them; and, though a small party succeeded in pushing forward to Russell's Top, they did little damage, and were successfully accounted for next morning. There was, however, to be no rest for anyone on those rugged hill-sides that night. Worn out with fatigue, scattered and disorganized, it was impossible for either side to make further progress. But the noise of battle continued; and with only the flash of their assailants' rifles to guide them, invaders and invaded alike kept up a continuous fire. [Many times during the confused fighting that day, and especially after dark, men fired on their own friends in front or on the flank; and the story spread that the Turks had shouted out " Don't shoot, we're Australians". But the many assertions that the Turks employed this ruse were in no single instance substantiated.]
On Second Ridge, and particularly on 400 Plateau, where portions of no less than ten out of the twelve battalions of the 1st Australian Division were now engaged, the battle raged all the afternoon with unabated fury. Having been definitely ordered to remain on the defensive, the Australians in that sector were somewhat better placed than those on the left flank to resist a counter-attack, and their position gave many advantages to the defence. On the other hand 400 Plateau was an easy target for the Turkish artillery. A mountain battery was brought into action against it about 11 am, and throughout the afternoon three Turkish batteries covered it with persistent and well directed bursts of shrapnel fire. For the Australians, whose trenches on the 25th provided practically no cover, [1 Most of the heavy entrenching tools brought ashore were left behind on the beach, and the light entrenching implement was of little use against the stubborn roots of the scrub.] and who for most of the day were without artillery support of any kind, this first experience of shrapnel was very trying. Nevertheless the advanced detachments on the eastern side of the plateau held their ground tenaciously, and kept up so steady a fire on the oncoming Turks that throughout the afternoon the enemy never once set foot on the plateau. The value of this plucky stand was enhanced by the fact that, in rear, where the 9th Battalion had made its costly advance in the morning, there was a wide gap in the Australian main line on the western edge of the plateau.
Colonel M'Cay, naturally anxious about this gap, repeatedly asked for reinforcements during the afternoon. But with the exception of the 4th Battalion, not another man would be available till the remainder of the New Zealand Brigade arrived in the evening, and General Bridges had determined to keep this battalion in hand to meet a sudden crisis. About 4.45 pm, however, M'Cay again called for help, urging that the whole safety of the position would be jeopardized if another battalion could not be sent him at once. In face of this opinion General Bridges decided that he could refuse M'Cay's request no longer, and the 4th Battalion was ordered to the right. Scarcely had it started when news was received that the Australians on the left flank were retiring across the Nek, and Colonel Braund sent in the message that if reinforced he could restore the situation. But there was no longer a man to send.
With the assistance of the 4th Battalion the gap on the right front was filled about 6 o'clock and M'Cay's line then consisted of a succession of irregular lengths of trench from the seaward end of Bolton's Ridge to a point on 400 Plateau north-east of M'Cay's Hill, a total frontage of rather less than 1,200 yards. As darkness fell the gallant but worn-out detachments who had so long withstood the Turkish attacks on the eastern slopes of the plateau at last fell back to the main line. The Turks at this stage were too disorganized to follow, and for the rest of the night the summit of the plateau was occupied only by the dead.
Further south, meanwhile, a small column of the 27th Regiment, detached earlier in the afternoon to make a flank attack on M'Cay's extreme right, debouched from the southern end of Gun Ridge about 3 o'clock. Half an hour later, having overwhelmed a heroic handful of the 6th Battalion occupying an advanced position on the eastern slopes of Pine Ridge, it continued its advance towards Bolton's. To avoid exposure to the fire of Admiral Thursby's ships, a halt was then made in a gully till after dark. Eventually, between 8 and 10 p.m., the advance was resumed, and an attack was launched on the trenches of the 4th and 8th Battalions. But it was only a half-hearted effort, and a gallant sally by men of the 8th Battalion sufficed to drive it back.
This was the enemy's last attempt to penetrate the Australian positions on the 25th April. But throughout the whole length of Second Ridge, as on the extreme left, there was to be no rest for the weary troops, and all through the night thousands of rounds of ammunition were expended in ceaseless firing. The absence of artillery support during the greater part of the day was a very severe handicap to the Australian and New Zealand troops, especially to those who were suffering from unanswered Turkish shrapnel. Before the landing it had been expected that two batteries of mountain guns would be ashore before 9 am and in action immediately afterwards, and that several batteries of field artillery would be landed before noon. It was also expected that the fleet would be able to render considerable assistance with its guns.
The following arrangements had been made for naval support:
i. The O.C. covering force to ask for ships' fire by signal, the objective to be indicated by reference to map squares.
ii. The fleet, on its own initiative, to open fire on any Turkish troops or guns clearly visible from the sea.
On each flank an artillery officer to act as an observer for the ships. Messages from these officers to be transmitted to the beach by telephone and thence by W/T to the flagship.
In the event, however, practically none of this support was forthcoming.
One mountain battery [The 26th Indian Mountain Battery commanded by Captain HA Kirby.] was ashore by 9 am, but it was long before any suitable position could be found for it, and, though it eventually came into action soon after midday on the western slopes of 400 Plateau, its position was quickly enfiladed by a Turkish battery on the main (Chunuk Bair) ridge, and at 2.30 pm, after sustaining heavy casualties, it had to withdraw. This battery, and one 18-pdr. gun which landed at 3.30 pm, were the only guns disembarked before 6 pm. To some extent this delay was due to the lighters being detained to evacuate wounded, and partly to disorganization caused by the shelling of the anchorage.
In addition to the two 2 2-cm. guns at Gaba Tepe, a Turkish battleship in the Narrows shelled the anchorage intermittently during the morning, and compelled the transports to move out to a safer position. At the time, those watching the landing were surprised that the Turkish battleship ceased firing just when her fire was causing most annoyance. From a neutral military attaché, however, who was present at Chanak on 25th April, it has been ascertained that this relief was directly due to the Australian submarine which passed up the Narrows on the 25th. The Turkish battleship caught sight of her periscope just above Chanak, and had to run for safety. Thus the Australian submarine was very appropriately of direct assistance to the Anzac landing.
General Godley had signalled to the flagship at 1.45 pm, begging that his howitzers might be sent in quickly, but was told that no lighters were available. Later in the afternoon, however, definite orders delayed the arrival of the guns. General Bridges had come to the conclusion that the ground was almost impracticable for field artillery, and that in any case the situation was still too critical to admit of guns being landed. He seems to have expressed this view to the corps commander, who visited his headquarters during the afternoon; for at 3.45 pm General Birdwood signalled to Admiral Thursby: "Please stop sending field artillery". The admiral thereupon ordered the transports to land no more guns, [ In one case Admiral Thursby's order miscarried, and two more field guns arrived at the beach late in the afternoon, but these were at once sent back to their transport. When the artillery officer, who had been reconnoitring for a position and who knew nothing about the order that had been issued, returned to the beach and found the guns gone he did his best to recall them, but found it impossible to get into touch with the ship.] and to re-embark any that had already been transferred to lighters, and thus it was that the troops were deprived that evening of the moral support of hearing their own artillery in action.
As for naval gun-fire, the ships were for most of the day compelled to remain idle. It was impossible for the warships, even with the help of balloon-ships and seaplanes, to pick out targets for themselves, nor could they search the approaches to the shore without knowing the whereabouts of the Australian line; and information on this point was particularly slow in reaching them. About 5 pm, however, the fleet was at last given an opportunity of assisting the troops. Since 12 noon an officer on Pine Ridge had been trying to send back a report describing the position of two Turkish guns near Anderson's Knoll, but all his messages miscarried, and it was not till 5 pm that the report at last got through. A quarter of an hour later, to the intense delight of the harassed troops, naval gun-fire opened accurately on Anderson's Knoll, and the guns which had so long tormented them were silenced.
The transports bearing the 4th Australian Brigade and the remainder of the New Zealand Brigade arrived off Anzac Cove about 5 pm, and it was then decided that General Godley's division should be allotted to the left flank. Some of the troops, including two companies of the Wellington Battalion (Lieut.-Colonel W. G. Malone) and the majority of the 16th Australian Battalion, were landed almost immediately. But the divisional Staffs were by this time considering the possibility of having to evacuate the whole position that night. Vague rumours to this effect spread along the shore, and the doubts and uncertainties raised by this possibility, coupled with some lack of organization on the beach, were responsible for further delays. A study of the war diaries of some of the battalions of the 4th Australian Brigade throws a vivid light on this subject. Thus the 13th Battalion arrived at its anchorage at 4.30 pm - Its disembarkation did not begin till 9.30 pm, and did not finish till 3.30 am on the 26th. The 14th anchored at 5 pm, but its landing was not begun till next day. Numbers of lighters, filled with wounded, arrived alongside the transport during the hours of waiting, and many of the men spent the whole night in carrying the wounded below. Equally trying to the troops concerned was the experience of the 15th Battalion. Anchoring at 4 pm, two companies of the battalion were crowded on board a destroyer half an hour later, but were not disembarked till 10.30. While awaiting disembarkation the destroyer came under shell fire, and some of the men were hit.
No story of the Anzac landing would be complete that did not mention the three field companies of the Australian Engineers. Some of the 1st Field Company, landing with the advanced echelon, for the moment forgot their allotted role. They dashed forward with the leading infantry to the top of Plugge's Plateau and it was some little time before they could be re-assembled on the beach. Later in the morning the engineers were divided into three parties, one to make roads, another to search for water, and the third to construct piers for landing stores. Paths to the top of Plugge's Plateau, and a track for 18-pdr. guns to the top of Queensland Point were constructed during the day; and communications up Shrapnel Gully were greatly improved. A water-tank boat, provided with eleven galvanized tanks and pumps, was towed ashore, and early in the evening there was enough water available to supply the whole force. On the right flank, too, a certain amount of water was found in Shrapnel Gully. Pumps and water troughs were erected there, and a fair amount of water was available from that source late in the afternoon. On the left flank no water could be found in the first instance, but water tins were landed and sent to the troops in the line. As regards piers, a barrel pier had arrived by noon and a pontoon equipment a little later; and despite the continuous shrapnel fire from Gaba Tepe, an excellent landing-stage was erected in Anzac Cove. This pier proved invaluable for evacuating the wounded, and 1,500 men were embarked from it before midnight on the 25th/26th.
The cessation of the enemy counter-attacks on the evening of the 25th April makes a convenient point at which to break the thread of the Anzac narrative, and to follow the fortunes of the landings further south. But, before doing this, it is of interest briefly to notice the general results of the Australians' and New Zealanders' first day of battle, and to study the situation, first as it must have appeared that evening to the commanders on the spot, and secondly as the information now available shows it to have been in reality.
The actual results of the day's fighting may be summarized briefly as follows: the initial landing in the early morning (the operation involving the greatest risk) had been accomplished with slight loss. Fifteen thousand men were ashore; [ By 6 pm, the force landed consisted of 3 Australian infantry brigades, half of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, one 18-pdr. gun, 2 mountain batteries, casualty clearing station, bearer subdivisions of three field ambulances, details of engineers and signallers - approximately 15,000 all ranks-and 42 mules.] a comparatively favourable beach had been secured; the troops were in occupation of a position which, except at one point, where a dangerous gap existed, was practicable for defence; and, finally, they had succeeded in beating off a series of counter-attacks. The casualties, which amounted to two thousand, were undeniably heavy; yet they were no larger than might have been suffered by the 3rd Infantry Brigade in the first hour had its landing been strenuously opposed.
Fresh troops would be arriving during the night, and by early morning the weak points in the line could be strongly reinforced.
On the other hand, to the commanders on the spot, there appeared to be many disturbing symptoms. The sanguine hopes of G.H.Q. had proved illusory, and it seemed clear that the higher Staffs had greatly underestimated the difficulties. Three Australian brigades and two battalions of New Zealanders, fighting with great gallantry throughout the day, had been unable to gain more than half the objectives which G.H.Q. had assigned to one infantry brigade as its initial operation. Owing to the fantastic configuration of the ground, and the extraordinarily thick scrub, every unit had become widely scattered from the start, and its normal organization broken. Every available man had been hurried into the battle, and, for the moment, there were no reserves. The Turks, on the other hand, were believed to have strong reinforcements in the immediate vicinity. So much small arms ammunition had been expended that its replacement was causing anxiety, and the difficulty of sending water to the troops on those precipitous hillsides presented a very anxious problem. The number of casualties could not yet be estimated, but was believed to be extremely heavy. Exaggerated reports as to the serious situation in front were arriving at the various headquarters; [At 5.20 P.M. M'Cay reported to Bridges that a considerable number of unwounded men were leaving the firing line. Australian Official Account, 1 p. 454.] and, most impressive feature of all, a disturbing number of leaderless men were filtering back to the beach. Though the officers who saw them did not realize it at the time, [The Australian Official Account, 1. p. 453 states: "Officers of the various headquarters, being mostly behind the lines, were also deeply impressed by the stragglers who, in ever-growing numbers, began to find their way back into the valleys behind the firing line."] hardly any of these men were stragglers in the ordinary sense of the word. Some of them had come back to the only centre of authority they knew in search of fresh orders. Others had returned in consequence of rumours that an order had been given to retire. Many of them, though desperately weary, were in high spirits, the reaction from the strain of the day. Elbowing and pushing their way about the crowded strip of beach, they were recounting their experiences, taking a "breather" after a hard day's work, searching for their packs (it was now turning cold), and sizing up the prospects of a meal. Hundreds of them were soon collected together, formed into companies, and pushed off to reinforce the left flank. But more and more kept drifting back to the beach. Few of them perhaps, had any idea that their return from the front might be misinterpreted, or was constituting an actual danger. But to the divisional Staffs in rear the scene on the beach was alarming.
Taking all these factors into consideration, the situation seemed gloomy indeed to General Bridges and his brigadiers; and the idea gradually began to take shape that in the event of a strong Turkish attack by fresh troops in the morning, the chances of preventing a disaster were remote.
At General Headquarters, though two telegrams despatched by General Birdwood had sounded a somewhat uncertain note, l the general tenor of the news had been encouraging, and not until midnight was the Commander-in-Chief to learn that the situation was considered grave.
The following messages were received from General Birdwood during the day:
"6.39 am. Australians reported capture of 400 Plateau and advancing, extending their right towards Gaba Tepe. Three Krupp guns captured. Disembarkation proceeding satisfactorily and 8,000 men landed."
"4.30 pm. Have now about 13,000 men ashore, but only one mountain battery. Troops have been fighting hard all over Sari Bair since morning, and have been shelled from positions we are unable to reach. Shall be landing field guns shortly and will try to solidify position on hill. Trying to make water arrangements."
"8.45 pm. Have visited Sari Bair position which I find not very satisfactory. Very difficult country and heavily entrenched. Australians pressed forward too far and had to retire. Bombarded for several hours by shrapnel and unable to reply. Casualties about 2,000. Hope to complete by night disembarkation of remaining infantry and howitzer battery. Enemy reported 9 battalions strong, with machine guns, and prepared for our landing."
In the peculiar circumstances of an opposed landing on a little known and mountainous coast it must always be more than usually difficult to pierce the fog of war. But, studied in the light of that knowledge which can only come after the event, the situation of the invaders at Anzac on the night of the 25th, so far from being unsatisfactory, would appear to have held many promises of success. Except at the head of Monash Gully, the position which the Australians and New Zealanders had occupied, and which at least 10,000 men were available to hold, was, despite many disadvantages, a strong one, and was only 6,000 yards long. With slight modifications it was destined to be the front line of the Anzac corps for more than three months, and, despite the yawning gaps between Russell's Top and Quinn's, all the efforts of the Turks in that period could never succeed in breaking it. The troops in front on the night of the 25th, though tired out with the immense strain of the day, were still in good heart. They knew that they held the measure of the Turks, and they asked only for reinforcements and artillery support to enable them to advance against the enemy next day. Most important of all, though this could not be known at the time, the Turks were more disorganized than the Australians, and they, too, had suffered 2,000 casualties, which was an even higher percentage of loss. From daybreak till 9.30 am not more than five hundred Turks had been actually engaged, and from 9.30 am till dusk a gradually increasing number which at no time exceeded six battalions.
At dusk on the 25th Mustafa Kemal was informed that the 2nd/57th Regiment had completely disappeared, that the Ist/57th was in dire straits, and that the commander of the 3rd/57th, which had been ordered to fill the gap between the two, had only some eighty to ninety men present. The 27th Regiment by the end of the day had suffered severe casualties, and was completely worn out. The condition of the 77th Regiment, composed of Arabs, was even worse. This regiment had been ordered to attack at dusk at the head of MacLaurin's Hill. After meeting the Australian rifle fire, it broke and fled in panic to Gun Ridge, whence some of the men fired all night into the backs of their comrades of the 27th and 57th. By daylight the regiment was completely scattered. The 72nd Regiment was the last regiment of the 19th Division to leave camp, and apparently did not reach the battlefield till the morning of the 26th. Like the 77th it was an Arab formation, and none too trustworthy. Yet it was the only reserve in Mustafa Kemal's hands.
It would appear indeed that by the evening of the 25th, despite the almost impossible task to which the mistake in the landing place had committed them, the Australian and New Zealand troops were within an ace of triumph. Yet such is War. The student of military history must ever remember that there is nothing more easy than wisdom after the event. To quote the words of Frederick the Great: "If we all knew before a battle as much as we know after its conclusion, every one of us would be a great general".
Seldom indeed has the mettle of inexperienced troops been subjected to a more severe test than was that of the citizen soldiers of Australia and New Zealand on their first day of active service. Hazardous as a landing on an unknown shore must always be, the task of the 3rd Australian Brigade was made still more arduous by the unfortunate chance which carried it to a landing place of unexpected and unexampled severity. The battle which then began cannot be judged by the standards of any ordinary attack, where the troops, carefully assembled beforehand, start from a definite line, at a definite zero hour. Arriving piecemeal in boats, landing under fire where best they could, wading ashore in the dark, finding themselves in many cases confronted by unclimbable cliffs, hunting for a practicable line of ascent, and then scrambling up a difficult hill-side covered with prickly scrub, it would have been hard indeed for units to avoid disintegration. The means of communicating orders and getting back information, always liable to interruption, were completely dislocated; the chain of command-none too strong at that time-was snapped. Individual groups of high-mettled men flung themselves forward on their own initiative; platoons and companies became fatally intermixed; and the plans for each battalion's special task fell hopelessly to bits.
Taking all these factors into consideration it may well be doubted whether even a division of veteran troops could have carried out a co-ordinated attack at Anzac on the 25th April. The predominant feeling, which that astounding battlefield must always arouse in the military student who visits it, will be a sense of unstinted admiration for those untried battalions who did so exceedingly well. The magnificent physique, the reckless daring, and the fine enthusiasm of the Dominion troops on their first day of trial went far to counteract anything they lacked in training and war experience. The story of their landing will remain for all time amongst the proudest traditions of the Australian and New Zealand Forces.
The Battle of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, Bean's Account, Part 1 Topic: BatzG - Anzac
The Battle of Anzac Cove
Gallipoli, 25 April 1915
Bean's Account, Part 1
A Field Ambulance Section landing at Anzac.
The following is an extract from Bean, CEW, The Story of Anzac: the first phase, (11th edition, 1941), pp. 245 - 280.
THE LANDING AT GABA TEPE
By 8 pm on Saturday, April 24th, the four transports of the 3rd Brigade were close under the island of Imbros. Night had fallen an hour before. All the afternoon they had been sailing through a perfect sea. As they neared Imbros the first preparations were made on board. Thus in the Devanha, carrying a company and the headquarters of the 12th Battalion, the men had a meal at 5 o’clock, and immediately afterwards, before dark, everyone was brought on deck and put in his proper place. As the transports moved easily through the evening sea and neared the rugged slopes of Im bros, the junior officers inspected their platoons. Their duty was to see that each man had two empty sandbags rolled round his entrenching tool; that the pouches of his equipment were filled with 200 rounds of ammunition; that the heavy packs, crammed with the soldier’s simple wardrobe, were fastened over the shoulders with two loops in such a way that they could be thrown off immediately if a boat were sunk; that the magazines of rifles were empty - no shots were to be fired before daylight; that water bottles were filled; and that each man carried, tied behind him, the two little white bags which contained two extra days’ rations (a tin of bully beef, a small tin of tea and sugar, and a number of very hard coarse biscuits in each bag). They had tried to stain these white bags by boiling them in tea, coffee, and cocoa, but though the tea was black, the bags came out nearly white. As each man was inspected, he was ordered to put his kit down where he could find it in the dark.
By 6 p.m. the inspection was over. The men were told that they could rest till eleven, and the old Colonel (Clarke) suggested to his officers: “You fellows had better go and have a sleep.”
The Colonel himself lay down in a cabin put at his disposal by the ship’s captain. Presently Lieutenant Margetts, a young master of the Hutchins School, Hobart, crept in to see if the “old man” needed any service. The cabin was dark, and he thought his chief was sleeping. But, as he looked in, the Colonel said: “Margetts, are the men all right?”
Margetts climbed on deck and walked round among the dark forms. The transports were now anchored off Kephalos harbour, at the eastern end of Imbros. At 11 p.m. the order was given to get the troops into the destroyers, which crept up on either side of their respective transports.
The two companies of the 9th Battalion in the Malda clambered into the Beagle and Colne; the two of the 10th from the Ionian into the Scourge and Foxhound; the two of the 11th from the Suffolk into the Chelmer and Usk. As the Devanha carried only one company of the 12th and some medical officers, stretcher-bearers and others of the 3rd Field Ambulance, only one destroyer. the Ribble, came alongside her. The night was so still that the Devanha’s captain ordered: “Lower gangway.” Down this the troops filed on to the destroyer’s deck in half the time that had been required with the rope ladders on which they had practised for nearly two months. Five minutes before midnight the Ribble, with her decks crowded, and towing behind her the Devanha’s empty rowing-boats, left the transport. The dark shape of the ship faded slowly behind. The destroyer came up with the six others, all similarly loaded, motionless on the water.
Not a glimmer showed on deck: only the moonlight shone faintly through the clouds on the crowded men and on the silken sea. Lieutenant-Commander Wilkinson of the Ribble leant over the bridge and said to the men below: “You fellows can smoke and talk quietly. But I expect all lights to be put out and absolute silence to be kept when I give the order.” In the interior of the destroyer, on the mess-deck, where the men who were to land in the second tow were waiting, two old sailors were carrying cocoa to the troops. Down in the tiny wardroom, where shone a solitary light, Colonel Clarke, who commanded the 12th. Lieutenant-Colonel Hawley, his second- in-command, Major Elliott, Lieutenant Margetts, and the adjutant sat over a cup of cocoa.
The seven destroyers had begun to move slowly, barely making headway. After two or three miles they stopped again, waiting for the moon to sink. Unseen, but not far ahead of them, were the three battleships carrying the first half of the 9th, 10th, and 11th Battalions, which would be first landed. These men, sleeping on the battleships’ mess-decks, from which the crews had turned out in order to give them the chance of a rest, were called at midnight. A cup of hot cocoa provided by the ship was given to them. At 1 a.m. the ships were stopped on the sea between Imbros and the Peninsula. The moon was still high, and the shape of land was at times visible to the east. The hulls of the battleships lying near one another on the water, motionless, were difficult to pick out except through glasses. They had all swung out their boats, and those of the three “covering” ships, which carried no troops, the Triumph, Majestic, and Bacchante, were sent alongside the Queen, Prince of Wales, and London, which were the troop-carriers. Twelve rowing-boats were brought alongside each of these three vessels. These were made up into four tows of three boats, each three being towed by one of the warships’ small steamboats. Thus two tows lay on either side of each transporting battleship, and into these the troops climbed quietly down rope ladders. The only sound was the shuffle of the men’s heavy equipment or the occasional grounding of a rifle butt. Many a naval officer noticed how silent and orderly, now that it had come to business, were these troops whose name had terrified Cairo. By 2.35 a.m. the rowing-boats were full, and dropped back in long strings behind the battleships. At 2.53, the moon being now very low, the ships moved slowly ahead, towing the boats behind them. Some of the destroyers, closing a few minutes later, passed the shapes of big ships with strings of boats behind. At 3 o’clock the moon sank and the night became intensely dark.
At 3.30 the battleships stopped, and the order was given to the tows to go ahead and land. The small steamboats behind the battleships cast off, each with its tow of three ships’ boats behind. As the hawsers took the strain, the boats began to leap and race. The tows were to form all twelve in line and then make for the beach: the direction was to be given by the naval officer in charge of the starboard or southernmost tow; the other tows were to keep abreast of him, with about 150 yards’ interval between each one and the next.
There was some difficulty in getting into line. The night was so black that it was often impossible to see the next tow on either side, much more the whole line of them. Some of the tows appear to have sandwiched themselves into a wrong place in the line. But there could be no waiting or indecision. The battleships were coming on slowly behind. The small steamboats raced due east, the rowing-boats behind them. In each boat were from thirty to forty soldiers, four seamen, and a coxswain. In the steamboat ahead of each tow, which carried no troops, was a naval officer, with a senior officer to every four steamboats; in the last rowing-boat of each tow was a midshipman. The men, with their heavy packs and their kit hanging loosely on their shoulders, were crowded in the boats, the seamen among them ready to cast loose the tow rope and get out the oars. The senior company officers in some cases sat beside the midshipman at the tiller of the last boat. There was no sound, save the swift plunge and wash of the boats and the throbbing of the small engines. Suddenly, on the horizon ahead of the boats, a faint hazy band of white light shot into the sky, moved restlessly for half a minute, and vanished. It was a searchlight. For one instant the hearts of the few officers who noticed it flew to their throats. Could it be on Gaba Tepe? The anxiety passed. Low on the horizon in front of the light there showed a dark irregular shape which could only be a line of intervening land. The searchlight was in the straits beyond the Peninsula. A second ray shot out lower down the straits, flickered for a moment, and faded.
Half an hour after the ships had been left, the first faint signs of dawn began to show ahead of the boats.
About that moment orders were received by the seven destroyers, waiting in the dark behind the battleships, to follow the tows towards the land. In the Ribble Commander Wilkinson leaned over the bridge and said: “Lights out, men, and stop talking. We’re going in now.” The speed increased; the destroyer began to throb. Immediately afterwards she passed close by the dark shape of a large warship. The men in the Ribble could see all seven destroyers, now in line, moving swiftly in.
In the twelve small tows ahead it was still too dark to make out any but the nearest abreast. Under the sky could be seen, definitely for the first time since the set of the moon, the dark shape of land. Every brain in the boats was throbbing with the intense anxiety of the moment: “Will the landing be a surprise, or have we been seen?” As the dull line of the land rose higher and higher above the nose of the boats, the suspense was almost unbearable. The panting of each steamboat seemed to those behind it a noise to rouse the dead. Surely, if there were men on the shore, they must presently hear it! Yet the land gave no sign of life.
The naval officer in charge of the right-hand tow was to have given the direction, but it was too dark to see at times even the string of boats next abeam. His own seems to have gone straight enough, but the second or third to the north of it took a course diverging gradually to the left. Commander Dix, who was in charge of the flotilla, was in the northernmost, with part of the 11th Battalion. Several times after leaving the London he appeared to find the steam- boat on his right too close, for he called out to keep more to starboard. The naval officer in the southernmost found that the whole line, except the tow next to him, was heading for a different part of the shore. The course he was taking would land himself and his next neighbour isolated on the beach north of Gaba Tepe. Accordingly he swung his steam- boat to the left, which would bring it across the bows of the others. The naval men appeared to see far better in the dark than did the troops, for, as the land drew closer, one after another picked up this movement, swung several hundred yards northward, and then straightened again.
There was still no sign of any sort from the shore. The water was as smooth as satin - a gloriously cool, peaceful night. In one of the central tows, carrying the 10th Battalion, the steamboat had already cast off the rowing-boats. Only the soft dip of the muffled oars in the water broke the silence. They were forty or fifty yards from the shore. “There’s no sound,” whispered Colonel Weir to the officer beside him.
The eleven other tows must have been very close, hut they could not be seen by one another. The northernmost had swung to the left and then back again, nearly colliding.
About this moment from the funnel of one of the northern most steamboats there flared out a trail of flame. Special instructions had been given to the crews to prevent this occurrence, but it is not easily avoided. Three full feet of sparks and flame continued to trail for twenty or thirty seconds. A high plateau of land was above the boats at this moment, with a round jutting knoll, 200 feet high, at the foot of it. It was Ari Burnu point.
The voice of Commander Dix broke the silence. “Tell the colonel.” he shouted, “that the dam’ fools have taken us a mile too far north.”
Just then - at 4.29 a.m. - on the summit of another and rather lower knoll a thousand yards south there flashed a bright yellow light. It was seen by almost everyone in the boats: some took it for a signal lamp; others for a bright flare of shavings or a small bonfire. It glowed for half a minute and then went out.
There was deathlike silence for a moment. Then suddenly: “Look at that!” said Captain Leane in one of the northernmost boats. The figure of a man was on the skyline of the plateau above them. A voice called on the land. From the top of Ari Burnu a rifle flashed. A bullet whizzed overhead and plunged into the sea. A second or two of silence …. four or five shots as if from a sentry group. Another pause-then a scattered, irregular fire growing very fast. They were discovered. After the tension of the last half-hour the discovery brought a blessed relief.
At this moment the twelve tows were very close together, running in to the foot of the Ari Burnu knoll. The knoll juts out in a small cape, and the boats of the 9th and 10th Battalions, striking the point of this, were the first to reach the land. The 11th Battalion ran past the north of it a little further before arriving at the beach. The naval steamboats had now cast off all the tows. Each steamboat carried a machine-gun in her bows, not to be used except by order of the senior officer of the troops in the tow. The picket-boat, with Major Salisbury’s tow of the 9th Battalion, immediately backed out and began to fire, her small gun pointing up towards the flashes on the edge of the plateau above. The rowing-boats with the troops were paddling the last short space to the land. The smaller life-boats and cutters ran in till the water shoaled to two or three feet. The larger “launches” and “pinnaces” grounded in deeper water, whereupon the men tumbled over the bows or the sides, often falling on the slippery stones, so that it was hard to say who was hit and who was not. Most were up to their thighs in water; some, who dropped off near the stern of the larger boats, were immersed to their chests. Others, barely noticed in the rush, slipped into water too deep for them. The heavy kit which a man carried would sink him like a stone. Some were grabbed by a comrade who happened to observe them; one was hung up by his kit on a rowlock until someone noticed him; a few were almost certainly drowned.
It was at 4.30 a.m. on Sunday, April 25th, half an hour before the opening of the British bombardment of Cape Helles, that the Australians landed at Ari Burnu. The first bullets were striking sparks out of the shingle as the first boatloads reached the shore. Three boats near the point had become so locked that only those on the outside could use their oars. One of these, containing men of the 9th Battalion and Captain Graham Butler, their medical officer, and a boat of the 10th Battalion, with Lieutenant Talbot Smith and the scouts of the battalion, were among the first on the point. In many cases the men had been told that they would have to run across ten or fifteen yards of sand, line a low cliff four or five feet high, drop their packs and form up, and then rush across 200 yards of open to the first hill. They raced across the sand, the bullets striking sparks at their feet, and flung themselves down, as instructed, in the shelter of the sandy bank - which in some places amounted to a low cliff - where the hillside ended and the beach began.
The fire was increasing fast. A machine-gun was barking from some fold in the dark steeps north of the knoll; another was on the knoll itself or on the edge of the plateau above and behind it. The seaman who, as if he had been landing a pleasure party, was handing Captain Butler his satchel out of the boat, fell back shot through the head. In the tows of the 11th Battalion, which were to the north of the point and had still 200 yards of water to cross before they touched the beach, bullet after bullet was splintering the boats or thudding into their crowded freight. Every now and then a man slid to the bottom of the boat with a sharp moan or low gurgling cry. The troops and the seamen crouched as close and as low as they could, with their backs hunched. Occasionally some heavier missile, as from a small Hotchkiss gun, splashed heavily into the surface of the sea. In one boat an oar was splintered, and a corporal tried to sound the depth with it. The water, by its colour, was shoaling fast. A “tag” was current in the 11th Battalion, based on the statement of a sergeant, that bullets made a noise like small birds passing overhead. At this crisis Private “Combo” Smith, of the 11th Battalion, set one whole boat laughing by looking at the sky and remarking to “Snowy” Howe: “Just like little birds, ain’t they, Snow?” The last rowing-boat in each tow had been placed in charge of a midshipman. To the naval folk these youngsters were officers, but to the Australian soldier they were children. Amidst all this heavy firing, when boatload after boatload moved in huddled and helpless, unable to reply, officers and men saw these boys sitting, sometimes standing. high in the stem beside the tiller. In more than one case the Australian officer in the boat bore the brave figure of that child in his mind to help him in the wild hours which followed. The midshipman beside Major Drake Brockman, of the 11th Battalion, in the second tow from the left, was a small red-headed slip of a boy. As the boat's nose grated on the shore, he pulled out a heavy revolver and clambered over the backs of the men, waving the pistol and shouting in his young treble: "Come on, my lads! Come on, my lads!" After running across the beach he mournfully pulled himself up, as he realised that his duty was to go back with his launch.
The boats of the 11th Battalion hit the shore 200 or 300 yards north of the point of Ari Burnu. Those of the 9th struck the point itself or its southern shoulder, and some of the 10th landed just south of it. From every boat the men doubled across the sand and took breath under the bank, whither also the wounded from the boats were hauled. Many were fixing their bayonets as they ran across the shingle. In other cases the officers or sergeants, as they and their men lay under the bank, gave the orders to strip packs - load the magazines with five or ten rounds - close the cut-off - pull back safety catches. No shots were to be fired till daylight
[From: Bean, p. 255.]
The men were ashore and mostly alive, but the place was clearly the wrong one. Anyone who depended upon a set plan for the next move was completely bewildered. It had been hoped that the halt under the sandy bank would be long enough to allow all the companies to land, form, and carry out an organised attack across the open against the first ridge.
But there was no open. Some officers thought that the knoll of Ari Burnu was Gaba Tepe itself. A high rugged slope pressed down on to the beach. A fierce rifle-fire swept over the men. They had been landed in the dark on an utterly different coast, and were lying in little parties of boatloads and platoons out of sight of most of their comrades, their clothes heavy with water, and their rifles choked with sand. In consequence of the swing of the southernmost tows, those who should have formed the right of the 9th were mixed up with the right of the 10th. Above some of the 9th, immediately south of the point, the bank was so high and steep that those who tried to clamber up it slipped back.
Something was clearly wrong. Everything seemed wrong. The 9th and 10th, on the point itself and on its southern bend were fairly protected from rifle-fire. Many of the Turks were shooting at the destroyers further out; but north of the point where the 11th landed, a machine-gun in the foothills 500 yards to their left was shooting into the men behind the bank, and the grassy tussocks on the sand slope above it gave no better protection. As Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston and Corporal Louch lay there side by side, a bullet thudded into the sand between them. The country was unrecognisable. They had not the least idea as to whether the other tows had yet landed.
“What are we to do next, sir?” somebody asked of a senior officer. “I don’t know, I’m sure,” was the reply. “Everything is in a terrible muddle.”
But every authority, from Sir Ian Hamilton and General Birdwood down, had dinned into the troops: “You must go forward - you are the covering force. You must get on, whatever the opposition.” There was a proportion of men and officers who barely waited to throw off their packs. Captain Leane and the men with him did not even charge their magazines. There was no time for that. They dropped their packs, and went straight into the scrub and up the steepening slopes. On the tip of Ari Burnu Point Lieutenant Talbot Smith with the scouts of the 10th Battalion, thirty-two in number, had struck the shore just after the first shot was fired. “Come on, boys,” he cried, “they can’t hit you!” He had told them to leave their packs in the boat.
Smith had lectured his small flock in one of the gun casemates of the Prince of Wales at 10 o’clock the night before drawing sketches for them on the breech of the 6-in. gun. Their task was to hurry on and catch the Turkish battery near the objective ridge, and he had requested one of the ship’s gunners to show them how to damage a gun by burring the screw in the breech. He now ran across the beach, climbed a short way up the slope, and turned: “10th Battalion scouts,” he shouted, “are you ready?” He then led them straight up the height, while the Turks above were firing over their heads. From the left-hand edge of the plateau above could be seen the flash of a machine-gun. They made up the hill towards it. There was no opportunity for subtle co-ordination such as had been planned. The scouts or the more adventurous spirits started first. A certain proportion of the 9th and 10th, who were dropping their packs under the bank on the southern bend of the point, clambered uphill on the word being given by Colonel Weir. Others saw the forms of these men moving in the dark, and set off with them. The result was that a few minutes after the landing, a rough line about six companies strong began the difficult ascent. Any idea of keeping touch or formation during this climb was out of the question. At the very start, on the southern bend of the point where Major J. C. Robertson and part of the 9th landed, they were faced by a steep bank as high as the wall of a room. They endeavoured to climb it, but slipped back. Then someone found a rough foot-track leading round it, and up this they clambered on to the scrubby knoll. The scrub was mostly composed of small stout bushes of prickly oak, waist high, leaved like a diminutive holly, or else of a taller “arbutus” with naked orange stems and leaves like those of a laurel. Later, when the light increased, every hillside in this part of the Peninsula had the appearance of being covered with gorse. The growth was stubborn, and, in the steep gravelly waterways with which the hillside was scored, it was as much as a strong man could do to fight his way through it, to say nothing of carrying his heavy kit and rifle. Men grasped the arbutus roots and hauled themselves up by them, sometimes digging their bayonets into the ground and pushing themselves up to a foothold. As they climbed higher towards the plateau, the sides became steeper, until they were nearly precipitous. The men of the Navy, watching the troops flinging themselves like cats up the hillside, carried back the story of it glowing to the ships.
Ari Burnu Knoll, jutting from the foot of the plateau, was less steep than the sides of the plateau itself. Within 1 minute or two the men were reaching the top, where a small square machine-gun post had been sunk, with beams as if to support a roof. From this post a trench ran back along the neck, connecting the knoll with the side of the plateau. The Turks had not erected any obstruction of barbed wire in front of this trench, or of any other met with by the Australians that day, and they were bolting from the top of the knoll before the Australians reached it. In the trench lay a wounded Turk. Captain Graham Butler, medical officer of the 9th Battalion, stopped to attend to him; the line was scrambling up the hill ahead.
Those of the 11th Battalion who were lying under the bank north of Ari Burnu, under a heavy fire from the left, were out of sight and touch with the men whom Colonel Weir and others had started on their rush. But presently they perceived the figures of men climbing up the knoll above the point. They took these to be the 9th and 10th Battalions, landed to the south of them, and they too started inland up the slopes north of the point, which led to the same plateau. The hill grew steeper. Far above on the skyline they could see the forms of Turks moving. The men had been constantly warned, on the authority of officers with experience of the Kurds and less disciplined Turkish troops, that the Turks mutilated men whom they captured or found wounded, and in these early days the Australians nursed a strong suspicion and hatred of the enemy. Whenever a Turk was “put up” during these early hours of the fight, he was chased with shouts of “Imshi-yalla, you bastard !” “Igri,” “Saida,” and other tags of “Arabic” which were now part of the Australian speech. Half-way up this first hill two Western Australians stumbled on a Turkish trench. A single Turk jumped up like a rabbit, threw away his rifle, and tried to escape. The nearest man could not fire, as his rifle was full of sand. He bayoneted the Turk through his haversack and captured him. “Prisoner here!” they shouted. “Shoot the bastard!” was all the notice they received from others passing up the hill. But, as in every battle he fought, the Australian soldier was more humane in his deeds than in his words. The Turk was sent down to the beach in charge of a wounded man.
On the southern bend of the point, after Weir’s line had started, a certain number of men who had lost touch with their officers were still crouching under the bank, loading their rifles and cleaning them of grit. Bullets from above were whipping in among them, and some of the men were lining the bank and shooting up at the flashes of the Turkish rifles on the skyline. Graham Butler, who had been attending to several wounded men on the beach, saw the futility of this, and the danger to those ahead. He urged these men not to wait to load, but to push on with their bayonets alone; and though he was an older man than most of his comrades, he led them at a swift pace up the hill.
The face of the height was so steep that those who were wounded rolled or slid down it, until caught and supported by some tuft of scrub. Here and there a man hung over a slope so precipitous that Butler, going to his help, had to cut steps in the gravel face with his entrenching tool in order to reach him.
The first men were now reaching the plateau. Talbot Smith and his scouts from the south of the point were climbing neck and neck with the swiftest men of the 11th from its northern side. Ari Burnu Knoll had been left behind and below them, and they had converged on to the sheer side of the plateau. Captains Leane and Annear, and Lieutenants Macdonald and Selby, of the 11th, were beside Talbot Smith and his scouts. Some hint of this line of grim men silently climbing to them in the dim light had reached the Turks, and they were beginning to bolt. The flash of the machine-gun on the top had ceased for some minutes, though a necklace of rifle flashes still fringed the lower crest to the right.
The first Australians clambered out on to the small plateau. A foot or two inwards from its rim was a Turkish trench, from which a few Turks seemed to be running back to the inland verge of the summit 200 yards away. From there a heavy fire still met the Australians appearing over the rim of the plateau, and was sufficient to force the first men to take what cover they could on the seaward edge. They refrained from jumping into the trench, there being a notion among all troops at the beginning of the war that the enemy would leave his trenches mined. But the earth from the Turkish trench had been heaped up, as usual, along its front (or seaward) side, making a parapet a foot high, over which the garrison of the trench could fire. Behind this imperfect cover the leading Australians flung themselves down, while the fire from the other side of the plateau and from the dimly-seen ridge beyond swept fiercely over them. Lieutenant Macdonald of the 9th,lying beside Captain Leane, was wounded in the shoulder. Captain Annear was hit through the head and lay there, the first Australian officer to be killed.
Within a few minutes, as other men reached the plateau, the Turkish fire from its farther side began to slacken. A little to the left of Leane two of the enemy jumped up from the trench and fired down at the approaching men. Batt -batman to Lieutenant Morgan of the 11th - fell wounded. But four or five men who were reaching the summit at that moment made for the Turks, who ran across the small plateau. One was nearly caught, when an Australian stepped from behind a bush and bayoneted him in the shoulder; the other was shot on the farther edge of the summit, where he rolled down a washaway in the steep side and hung, dead, in a crevice of the gravel. Three more Turks sprang up and made for Major Brockman as he reached the top. An Irishman, an old soldier of the Dragoon Guards, killed all three. Major J. C. Robertson, of the 9th, was wounded. The fatal Australian fire from below, which Graham Butler stopped, had been responsible for the loss of at least one brave man. On the very edge of the plateau Sergeant Fowles was grievously wounded by one of the bullets. “I told them,” he said as he lay there dying in the Turkish trench - ‘‘I told them again and again not to open their magazines.”
The plateau, which one small party after another was now reaching at the end of its breathless climb, was a small triangular top with all its sides very steep. From the Turkish trench on its face two communication trenches ran back some 200 yards to the far edge of the hilltop. Later in the day, when these trenches were occupied by New Zealanders and others in reserve, Colonel PIugge of the Auckland Battalion had his headquarters there. The hilltop was accordingly named “Plugge’s” (pronounced Pluggie’s) Plateau.
The troops who followed the bolting Turks across the plateau found themselves suddenly brought up on the verge of a deep valley which ran below them. To the north the valley side was sheer, but further south, where the slope became sufficiently gentle to give a foothold to odd tufts of scrub, a zigzag path led down into it. By the path were three tents, partly screened with dry brushwood. The Turks, scurrying back across the summit, knew this path and dropped down it, while the Australians were checked by the cliff. Below the path and the tents was the gorse-like scrub of the valley, which covered the opposite hills also. The forms of the fugitives could be dimly seen doubling down through the bushes and up a track upon the other side. Several of the men stood on the edge of the plateau firing at them. A constant rifle fire came from the enemy somewhere on the heights across the valley.
A few of the leading men dived straight down the gravel precipice in pursuit. Talbot Smith and his scouts stood for a few moments on the edge. Smith looking at his map. Then they plunged down the path by the three tents to their task of finding the Turkish guns. Lieutenant Fortescue of the 9th, who had lost sight of most of his men in the bushes on the way uphill, “skidded” down the landslide on the farther edge and missed all the rest, except two who happened to slide down the same gutter. But while these first parties were starting to follow the Turks inland, the men of the battleship tows of the 9th, 10th, and part of the 11th, now reaching the plateau, were accompanied by certain active senior officers who were able to give direction even in the complete confusion of the plans. Many belonging to the first six companies, when they reached the first height, had a notion that their work as a covering force was done. After the acute tension in the boats, they arrived on the plateau in bursting spirits. The excitement and surprise at being there and alive, having more than half completed the formidable task which had hung over them for six weeks, drowned all other feelings at the moment. The dim forms of Turks were still running across the lower ridge which formed the southern continuation of the plateau (MacLagan’s Ridge). With a laugh and a shout the men blazed at them. To many the battle was more than half finished, and they naturally waited for directions.
The first ridge inshore was to have been the place for a swift reorganisation. It had been hoped that there would be time for the companies from the destroyers to join those from the battleships at that point. On the northern arid highest corner of the plateau, Brockman, being a senior major of the 11th, was sorting men of the three battalions, sending the 9th to the right, the 10th to the centre, and keeping the 11th on the left. He forbade the men with him to fire at the Turks who were fleeing over the same ridge only a hundred yards or so to their right. The 9th and 10th, clambering over the ridge further south, would deal with them.
Only a portion of the battleship tows of the 11th had reached Plugge’s Plateau. Others, as will presently be told, had made their way into the valley further north. But almost the whole of the battleship parties of the 9th and 10th were now on the plateau. Colonel Weir, with Oldham's and Jacob’s companies of the 10th, reached the plateau more or less together on the right of the 11th. After firing for a few minutes from the summit at the Turks running below, these companies led on into the valley, heading for the path up which the enemy were making.
The two companies of the 9th, which should have been on the right of the 10th, had been mixed up with the 10th and with each other by the swing of the tows. The rush up the hill had disorganised them, though not beyond the possibility of restoring order. But they were without senior officers. Major J. C. Robertson had been hit on reaching the plateau. Major S. B. one of the 9th’s company commanders, found his way with a few of his men to the far left and was killed later in the day on Baby 700. The colonel was not on the plateau.
But the medical officer of the battalion, Graham Butler, had led some of its men up the hill, and its junior major, Alfred George Salisbury, managed to keep his own company and part of Major S. B. Robertson’s fairly well together on the top. Salisbury took charge of the right, and gave Captain Ryde the left. No senior officer was present to order the advance; but when, almost immediately after the main portion of the 10th had plunged into the valley, Salisbury saw the Turks doubling down the same valley to his right, he gave the word to move into the gully after them. For the rest of that day, until the 9th Battalion ceased to exist as a fighting unit, it was this young officer who commanded it.
This left only the 11th, organising under Brockman, at the northern end of Plugge’s. But the second instalment of the covering force was already ashore and making inland. Some of the Turks whom Salisbury saw running away on his right, and those whom Brockman had observed bolting back over Machlagan’s Ridge when he prevented his men from firing at them, were fleeing before the second portion of the landing force-that which was being brought in by the destroyers.
The destroyers, as soon as they received the word to go in and land their troops, had moved swiftly to their work. They were towing the boats of the transports, empty except for the few seamen and soldiers who were to work them as crews. One of the boats beside the Foxhound, containing two seamen and seven men of the 10th Battalion, began to steer wildly. The seaman at the tiller could not control her. She slewed in, then out, and began to tip. Someone shouted: “Pace too fast for Number Two boat!” But it could not slacken. The seaman put the tiller over, and the boat slewed in again close below the destroyer’s side. The ship’s rail was crowded by men of the 10th looking down upon their comrades. The boat tipped inwards, the water washed through it and swept every man clear over the stern except the helmsman, who caught the stern rope and began to crawl back along it into his boat. He had his leg over her side when she swung in again and crushed him against the destroyer. The next instant six or eight seamen had cut clear the overturned boat and hauled in the helmsman, hurt beyond all hope. It was no time to save men; the pace could not even slacken. Lifebelts were thrown over. Some of the men may have been picked up. Those in the transports, already gliding in, looked down curiously at an overturned boat two miles out on the glassy surface.
The destroyers held close in to land, then slowed, and edged about for a moment, 500 yards from the shore. The commander of the Colne shouted to his neighbour through a megaphone to shift southwards, as they were too far north. A flat coast-the point of Suvla Bay-could just be seen to the north, when a bright light appeared ahead; then came a shot and a succession of shots. Far astern, in a fleet of transports moving up four by four unseen through the grey veil of dawn, thousands of watchers also saw that light. “They must be signalling from the shore,” they thought A minute later the faint knocking, as of a wagon’s axlebox heard ever so far through the bush, came to their ears; at first single knocks, then a continuous sound like the boiling of water in a cauldron.
It was some minutes before they realised that it was the sound of desperate fighting in the dark. They could only wait, powerless to help or to discover how their comrades fared.
With the destroyers, as the first shots were fired, the rowing-boats were being hauled alongside for the men to disembark into them. Bullets had begun to fly over, but the high forecastles of the small warships against which they pattered partly shielded the decks. In the Ribble Commander Wilkinson, quiet as ever, gave the order: “Man the boats, men!” A low improvised wooden staging, like the step of a tram, had been fixed round the ship’s side. The men stepped down from this into the boats. A steamboat, returning from the battle ship tows, said: “Can we give you a tow?” and picked up some of the Ribble’s boats. At the first attempt only one boat got away with her. She turned round to pick up some others, and this time the last boat caught in the destroyer’s anchor and the tow-rope carried away. Finally the steamboat made off with the first tow. The destroyers were obliged to wait for the boats to return before they could clear all their troops. The delay seemed ages long. Four men in the Ribble had been hit while they waited; one of these fell forward into the water and his heavy equipment drowned him, despite all the efforts of one of the seamen. Finally the boats began to return one by one. “Here you are; you can get into that,” said Wilkinson to some of the 12th, as a steamboat came alongside with a big barge. “Good-bye and good luck!” cried a naval sub-lieutenant leaning over the side. As he spoke, he fell shot through the head.
The destroyers, like the battleship tows, landed their men north of the intended spot. They did, however, set them ashore in the proper order: 9th on the south, 10th in the middle, 11th to the north, and a portion of the 12th with each. These landing parties were far more widely distributed than the battleship tows. The southernmost destroyer was three-quarters of a mile south of Ari Burnu, the point where the earlier flotilla had landed; the northernmost was 300 yards north of that point. The first tows from each destroyer reached the land while it was still too dark to see a man at fifty yards. The majority came in at points which the battleship tows had not touched. A party of the 10th Battalion, under Lieutenant Loutit, who had three men killed in their boat coming in, and several other boats of the 10th, struck the beach half-way between the two knolls. Flashes of the Turkish rifles were still visible on the edge of the plateau above; there were also, at this part of the shore, Turks on the beach and in the scrub immediately above it who fired at point-blank range as the men landed. The landing effected, these Turks ran up through the scrub, but the Australians could not prevent their escape; their own bayonets were not yet fixed, nor their rifles loaded. As soon as that had been done, this second instalment of the 10th rushed the slope a hundred yards or two south of the first rush. The enemy fleeing before this charge were the same that had been seen by the Australians when reforming on the plateau.
The destroyers carrying the 9th Battalion were the Colne and Beagle. The Colne, with Captain Jackson’s company, after some manoeuvring landed her tows a quarter of a mile south of the 10th, immediately beyond the smaller knoll (Little Ari Burnu, above Hell Spit), close to where the valley behind Plugge’s bent round to the sea. The tows of the Beagle, with Captain Milne’s company, came in a thousand yards to the south of this again, near the big hill which forms the southern side of the same valley - part of the “400
Plateau.” On the first alarm the Turks on Gaba Tepe at once sighted the Beagle, and opened upon her with every rifle and machine-gun. The range was long, but one machine-gun had it accurately. Its shots pattered on the high bows of the destroyer like hail on an iron roof, and the water through which the boats had to move was whipped to spray by bullets. Where Milne’s company landed, the seaward slope of the 400 Plateau ended in a low cliff. There were Turks in cover within sixty yards of the beach, some in the low scrub and some in trenches, firing on the boats. The Australians dumped their packs on the beach, and then rushed the nearest of the enemy. The Queenslanders were strong and fit, and they went swiftly up through the scrub. Half-way to the top, Milne’s company found Jackson’s company already coming across from the north side of the valley to join it.
Jackson’s company, which landed at Little Ari Burnu, had the duty of reaching Gaba Tepe, and on landing it strove to carry out its instructions by charging over Little Ari Burnu and bearing southwards. A desultory rifle fire was coming from the slopes ahead of it. As the company moved down the back of Little Ari Burnu into the valley, it found a small stone hut, in which were half a dozen Turks and a small fire with a pot of coffee upon it. The Turks were bayoneted. The company went on up the slope of the 400 Plateau a few hundred yards away, south of the valley, where it joined Milne’s company. With these were advancing, under Captain Whitham, portions of the 12th Battalion, which had been carried in the southernmost destroyers. From Plugge’s all these troops could be seen, in the growing light, working inland through the scrub along the hill slope.
These companies .from the destroyers had landed twenty minutes after the battleship tows. But the heights above their landing-place were easier than the side of Plugge’s; their path inland was more direct and less precipitous. The result was that Milne’s and Jackson’s companies of the 9th, and some portions of the 10th and 12th, although they were behind Salisbury’s companies in the time of their landing, were slightly ahead of him in making inland.
Leaving these troops beginning their advance on the right, it becomes necessary to turn to the left, or northern, flank of the covering force.
The northernmost of the destroyers, carrying part of the 11th and 12th Battalions and the 3rd Field Ambulance, landed their men on the semicircle of shore north of Ari Burnu, a few hundred yards further north than any of the battleship tows. In front of them a small area of rough ground was shut in by bare yellow precipices rising at 300 yards from the beach. The central cliffs, their gravel worn and fluted by runnels, stood sheer to 400 feet, a few tufts of scrub catching a precarious foothold on their face. The ridge led down to the beach only in two places - at either side of the semicircle - by the steep slopes of Plugge’s on the right, and by a rugged tortuous spur (afterwards known as “Walker’s Ridge”) on the left. Between the two, exactly in the middle of the semicircle of cliffs, there had once been a third spur, but the weather had eaten it away. Its bare gravel face stood out, for all the world like that of a Sphinx, sheer above the middle of the valley. Its feet rested on the scrubby knolls below, and the two semicircles of cliff swept round on either side of it like wings.
It was this place which had struck every observer as impossible of attack. The Turks knew its central precipice as Sari Bair (the Yellow Slope); but the War Oflice map transferred that name to the whole ridge of Koja Chemen Tepe. To the Australians from that day it was the “Sphinx”.
It was on the small semicircle of shore enclosed in this partial amphitheatre - Walker’s Ridge - The Sphinx - Plugge’s Plateau - that the tows from the destroyers carrying part of the 11th and 12th Battalions came to land. The Turks on this northern flank had been thoroughly awakened by the arrival of the battleship tows further south on Ari Burnu a quarter of an hour before. The northward Turks had not been embarrassed by any attack, and were fully prepared and in their trenches. Before the boats left the destroyers, bullets were rattling against the high bows of the warships. The rowing- boats were under heavy fire all the way to the shore; and as the foremost of them reached the land, the first Turkish shells came singing over from Gaba Tepe. An unseen Turkish machine-gun was firing from somewhere on the lower slopes of Walker‘s Ridge or of the foothills north of it, under which were marked on the map the Fishermen’s Huts. Rifle fire was coming from that direction, and also from some trench near the edge of the cliffs by the Sphinx.
Bullet after bullet went home amongst the men in the crowded boats. Here again the figure of a midshipman standing up in the stern of one of the Devanha’s cutters set an example remembered by all who saw it. In another boat, carrying some of Captain Tulloch’s half-company of the 11th Battalion under Lieutenant Jackson, six were hit before reaching the shore, and two more as they clambered from the boat. These two were hurriedly pulled by a third man into the shelter of the bank which bordered the beach. The men rushed across the beach and lay under this bank or in a small creek running down from the slopes south of the Sphinx.
The tows of the 12th Battalion and of the 3rd Field Ambulance from the Ribble touched the shore almost opposite this gutter, under fire at short range. Shots were striking the water. Here a man scrambled out over the stern of a boat, found the water too deep for him, tried to hang on to the boat, and presently dropped off. There the oars of a boat floated away, and Lieutenant of the 12th Battalion waded about endeavouring to pick them up. Colonel Hawley, second-in-command of the 12th, was getting into the water, when he was hit by a bullet in the spine. In the 3rd Field Ambulance three men had been killed and thirteen wounded before they could reach the bank.
The fire from the left was very heavy, even upon those who, further south, were lining the bank of the beach north of Ari Burnu. At this juncture the general order to the troops after gaining the shelter of the bank was to strip packs, leave them under the bank, open cut-offs, load ten rounds, and pull back safety catches. Bullets were whipping in among the men who were sheltering, and, when Colonel Clarke landed from the destroyer, many of the men of the last battleship tow, who had arrived barely ten minutes before, were still there. With them was Captain Peck, adjutant of the 11th Battalion. Peck’s place was with his Battalion Headquarters, but, being unable to find it, he reported to Colonel Clarke of the 12th. Captain Everett, Lieutenants Jackson, Rockliff, and Macfarlane, of the 11th Battalion, and Lieutenant Rumball, of the 10th, were under the bank, and with them a number of men who had been heavily tried in the landing.
“Come on, boys … By God, I’m frightened!” said Peck, and started off inland through the scrub towards the cliffs above. With Rockliff, Macfarlane, and Jackson, he soon outstripped Colonel Clarke, who climbed a scrubby knoll below the Sphinx, and there waited.
The orders to the 12th were to assemble as reserve to the 3rd Brigade at the foot of the 400 Plateau, and send a platoon to escort the mountain battery which was to take up its position early on the top. But the 400 Plateau was a mile south, behind cliffs apparently impenetrable. Clarke waited on the knoll, with the intention of collecting his northern companies, which were coming ashore in relays.
But the transfer from the destroyers was slow. The light was growing. The machine-gun from the left was harassing the boats. After waiting for the second tows, Clarke decided that there was only one thing to do - to push on up the cliffs in front and leave the rest to follow. Lieutenant Rafferty, whose platoon was to have escorted the Indian Mountain Battery on the 400 Plateau, Clarke ordered to move to the left and silence the machine-gun. Rafferty reminded the Colonel that his orders were different. “I can’t help that.” was the reply. Lieutenant Strickland, with a platoon of the 11th. which had landed with the battleship tows, had been ordered to proceed along the edge of the beach and combat the same fire. Rafferty was to work next to him, inland.
One destroyer landed its tows yet further north, in the same enclosed semicircle, but near to the foot of Walker’s Ridge. These carried half a company of the 11th under Captain Tulloch and some of Captain Lalor’s company of the 12th under Lieutenant EY Butler. A machine-gun on some height beyond Walker’s Ridge was playing on them. They therefore sheltered in a creek bed about eight feet deep and thickly timbered, only to find shots coming down it from their flank. In consequence they moved along a goat track leading through holly scrub knee-deep up the foot of Walker’s Ridge. The ridge narrowed, and became steeper and more bare. Shots whizzed past them from above and from the wild tangle of loftier scrub-covered gullies on their left. The file of climbing men dodged from cine side of the ridge to the other, until, far up the spur, it reached a small steep knob, above which the spur dipped for twenty feet and then rose again. To cross this dip every man had to run fifteen yards, completely exposed to fire from Turkish rifles on the higher spurs close to it on the north. After a fight of some sort, Tulloch’s party rushed to a smaller knob on the right, and thence made its way out on to the plateau (afterwards known as Russell’s Top) above the Sphinx.
A little to the right of them, near the far side of the long narrow Top was a line of men - Australians. A white track led along the further edge. A hundred yards from Tulloch, by the side of this track, someone was bending over the body of a dead Australian. The dead man was Colonel Clarke.
It has already been said that, when the second tow from the Ribble landed-some men in it, including Lieutenant Margetts, going neck and shoulders under in the deep water-Clarke decided that he could not wait for the third tow. Margetts, after getting his men to lie down under the bank, caught sight of the Colonel standing on a knoll some distance inland. Clarke saw him and called: “Bring your men up here.” The men came up in single file; officers had learned that their first duty was to find the enemy. Margetts climbed to the Colonel’s side, and scanned the heights for anything to shoot at. It was dull grey dawn. Margetts pulled out his glasses, but the lenses were wet with sea water. He tried to wipe them, but the clothes of all were drenched to the neck. On the flat below at that moment Lieutenant Rafferty, who had been sent with his platoon to silence the machine-gun, was endeavouring to do exactly the same thing. Rafferty tried his handkerchief, and then the tail of his shirt; but both were soaked. Lieutenant Patterson was beside Clarke and Margetts on the knoll. As they could find nothing, the Colonel sent them to attempt with their men the passage of the bare precipice south of the Sphinx. The earth of the landslides at its foot gave some hope of a foothold.
Margetts and Patterson were young and active men - Margetts a schoolmaster, Patterson a Duntroon cadet. Despite their youth and strength, it was all they could do to reach the top, hauling themselves up on hands and knees along a slant south of the Sphinx. Odd parties of the 11th and 12th Battalions were scrambling up these gravelly and almost perpendicular crags by any foothold that offered. Captain Peck had already gone that way with Captain Everett, Lieutenant Rockliff, Lieutenant Jackson, and some of their men, but in the wild country near the Sphinx they became separated. One of this party, Corporal EWD Laing of the 12th Battalion, clambering breathless up the height, came upon an officer almost exhausted half-way up. It was the old Colonel – Clarke - of the 12th Battalion. He was carrying his heavy pack, and could scarcely go further. Laing advised him to throw the pack away, but Clarke was unwilling to lose it, and Laing thereupon carried it himself. The two climbed on together, and Margetts and Patterson, reaching the top, found to their astonishment the Colonel already there.
As the party scrambled to the level of Russell’s Top, they discovered before them a slight rise in the crest, and over the edge of it, to their delight, beheld their first Turk. Near the Sphinx was a trench full of them.
About fifty men had reached the Top. With one leap they all ran forward-Margetts ahead, pulling out his revolver, in the hope of getting there first. The Turks scrambled over the back of their trench and fled. Colonel Clarke shouted from behind: “Steady, you fellows! Get into some sort of formation and clear the bush as you go.” The men did so, forming a rough line with about three paces interval between them. Presently they reached the trench - a straight cut in the ground running across the Top like a neatly-opened drain, with the parapet carefully flattened and covered with dry bushes, which had faded to a shade of pinkish brown. Every trench seen in the hills at this date was constructed in the same manner, and men came gradually to know by bitter experience what was meant by a brown streak through the scrub in front of them. No Turks remained in the trench, and no communication trench led into it. Only a well-worn white track ran off up the narrow Top, winding to the right across a saddle between the valleys on either side, to a long hog-backed slope half a mile away. That slope they soon realised to be the “Baby 700’’ of their objective. The neck between it and the Top has become famous in Australian history as “The Nek.” Over The Nek along this track were bowling the Turks - a string of thirty of them in brown khaki uniforms, their shins muffled in heavy wrappings. Two or three were shot as they ran. The rest presently sank into the scrub about 1,000 raids away on the seaward side of Baby 700 and there made a line. With them was an officer, and every Turk appeared to be jabbering.
Colonel Clarke and his men, making no stop in the trench, moved beyond it to a point near The Nek, where another small track, coming out of the valley on the right, crossed the Top and went steeply down to the valley on the left. The men lay down along this track, Margetts in charge of the left, and Patterson on the right. Across the head of the narrow valley to the right (the same into which the troops looked down from Plugge’s Plateau) there were Turks in the scrub and in trenches firing on them at 350 yards. Colonel Clarke was anxious to send a message to Colonel MacLagan, in command of the covering force, telling him where the 12th Battalion was. He was standing by the track, writing in his message book, when he fell with the pencil in one hand and the book in the other. The Colonel’s batman, who was ready to take the message, fell dead with another bullet. Major Elliott, second-in-command since Hawley had been hit, was called for and came up. He immediately fell shot through the shoulder. Margetts was sent for, but Elliott, lying on the ground, shouted to him: “Don’t come here! It’s too hot !”
Margetts and Patterson had only fifty men. They decided not to advance further at the moment. Presently the fire from the position which the Turks had taken up in the scrub ceased. Possibly Tulloch’s party, seen working up Walker’s Ridge, had scared them. Margetts sent two of his best scouts, Tilley and Vaughan round over the neck to Baby 700 to see if the enemy had gone. The two men could be seen presently signalling back with their arms by “semaphore” that the way was clear. Meantime Lieutenant Burt, of the 12th, had come up with more men, and he decided, according to the rules learnt again and again at Mena. to reorganise those present into platoons and sections under officers or sergeants. They withdrew a little to a hollow on the Top, and there found Tulloch and his men. The two parties reorganized. Officers were told off to take charge of the platoons, and non-commissioned officers to take charge of the sections. The line then went forward at two paces interval.
Russell’s Top narrowed after passing the point where Walker’s Ridge joined it The valley on the left, beyond Walker’s Ridge (later known as Malone’s Gully), came in very rough and steep; the valley on the inland side ran gently to a spoon-shaped head. Between the two, leading to the long back of Baby 700 which rose beyond, the Top narrowed to The Nek. This was about twenty yards wide from slope to slope at the narrowest point. As they approached The Nek, after passing for the second time the cross track on which Colonel Clarke had been killed, Lieutenant Burt told Margetts to stop a little short of The Nek and entrench. At that moment there came up under Captain Lalor another party of the 12th Battalion, which also had climbed the cliffs not far from the Sphinx. They had now about three-quarters of Elliott’s company of the 12th and half of Lalor’s, besides a platoon of Tulloch’s company of the 11th. The 12th was supposed to be in reserve, and Lalor decided that the holding of this marked neck on the left flank of the covering force was too important to justify a further advance by the reserve troops at that moment. Tulloch with his handful of the 11th went on, while Lalor set his men of the 12th to dig a semicircular trench just short of The Nek, with its flanks looking down into the valleys on either side. Far behind them, down the valley on their right, they presently saw men who had crossed from Plugge’s digging furiously along the opposite crest. It was about 7 o’clock. The sun had risen in a clear blue sky. Far out the transports, gliding in four by four, trailing the long threads of their wash over the silky lemon- coloured sea, had long since begun to land their troops.
Colonel MacLagan, the commander of the covering force, and Captain Ross, his staff-captain, had come ashore with the first tow of Jackson’s company of the 9th from the destroyer Colne. Major Brand, the brigade-major, who was in another rowing-boat, saw them land on the beach a little north of him. Brand went to his chief and it was arranged that he should make straight inland towards the right front to take charge of the situation there, while MacLagan and Ross climbed the ridge above the beach - the southern shoulder of Plugge’s. From that time onwards the ridge bore MacLagan’s name. Brand hurried off, taking with him Lieutenant Boase of the 9th, who had landed with him, and his platoon. MacLagan and Ross toiled up an almost perpendicular gully to Plugge’s.
As MacLagan reached the plateau, he realised that the landing had been made in the rough country a mile north of the proper place. The officers of the Colne had known it, but it was then too late to change. Half a mile to the right front, across the valley into which Maclagan looked from Plugge’s, was the lump of the 400 Plateau where should have been his centre. Australians could be seen beginning to make their way through the scrub on the near side of that plateau. The 9th and 10th had already left Plugge’s when MacLagan reached it, and their companies were working towards the right front, apparently trying to carry out the original plan If it was to he achieved, that was the sector in which a commander was needed.
Brand had already gone in that direction. Before MacLagan himself moved across to grapple with the problem presented there, he gave a few swift orders to the 11th, which was organising close beside him on Plugge’s and below it. The 11th was responsible for the left of his force. On that side was the valley in front of Plugge’s reaching to the foot of Baby 700. There were already some troops in that direction, now under Lalor; but little was known of them. MacLagan decided to hold the far side of the valley and Baby 700 at the end of it. He gave rapid directions to the company commanders who were organising their troops on the plateau, pointing out to them various landmarks on the far side of the valley or at its head, and directing them towards these. In addition to the large portion of the 11th Battalion which was being organised by Major Drake Brockman, MacLagan had beside him Major Hilmer Smith’s company of the 12th, which had just scrambled up the hill on his right. He told Smith to take his company due-east-straight to the opposite side of the valley. Brockman he directed northwards, to occupy with the 11th the head of the valley and Baby 700.
[From: Bean, p. 276.]
The first part of the latter order was fairly easy to carry out. The far side of the valley near its head was indented by four shallow gullies or landslides, like the flutings of a column, up which troops could probably work. MacLagan directed that detachments should occupy the summit of these indentations and so make sure the far side of the valley. But the despatch of other detachments to Baby 700 was far from being so simple as it appeared. The Nek and the branch of the valley which ran into it were not visible from where MacLagan stood, and were not shown on the maps. Russell’s Top, which rose just north of Plugge’s, appeared to be a continuous spur leading up to Baby 700 and the larger hills beyond it. To reach Baby 700 part of the 11th was to move up this spur, while other parts were to mount by the head of the valley.
When the first troops had reached Plugge’s, some of them, hurrying after the Turks a hundred yards across its northern end, found themselves looking down sheer yellow slopes into two spoon-shaped valleys divided, immediately beneath where the men stood, by a yellow sandy ridge with an edge too sharp to allow a man to walk safely. The ridge led like a causeway to Russell’s Top, which rose gradually two hundred yards away. The valley on one side sloped between the Sphinx and Plugge’s to the sea; that on the other side opened into the main valley inland of Plugge’s. A month later, because of their security from shell-fire, these two gullies began to be used by troops in reserve, and were named, the seaward one “Reserve Gully,” the inland one “Rest Gully.”
A part of the 11th which, as has been mentioned, had arrived with a battleship tow rather later than the rest and had made inland with Colonel Clarke and Peck, had climbed straight over this razor-edge into Rest Gully and was collecting there. Peck, being adjutant, had left Rockliff and Macfarlane in charge of these men and had disappeared inland in search of the headquarters of the battalion. Presently Everett, with part of Brockman’s company, of which he was second – in - command, also arrived in Rest Gully. Brockman had been organising the other half of the company on the top of Plugge’s Plateau. As the men were under a scattered rifle-fire, and were separated from Everett’s half, Brockman moved his half-company down into Rest Gully, so that it might reorganise together with the other half in shelter on that side of the gully which led up to Russell’s Top.
Like most of the other troops that day, they descended from Plugge’s by the steep zigzag path beside the three tents. At the bottom, in the sand of the gully, was a fingerpost with a red sign and Turkish lettering in black. Near it was a pick handle, stuck into the sand. The post was almost certainly a direction stating that the path led to a company post of the 27th Turkish Regiment on Ari Burnu. But the suspicion that the enemy would leave his tracks and trenches mined led men to avoid the spot. The red signpost was taken as ail indication of a mine, and a sentry was put near the pick handle to warn men against touching it.
While Brochman’s company was reorganising on the further slope of Rest Gully there was heard a sharp whine through the sky. A pinpoint flash high above the razor-back, from which a small cloud as of white wool unrolled itself; a report like that of a rocket; a scatter of dust on the bare side of the razor-back below-it was the first Turkish shrapnel shell that these men had seen. For the next ten minutes the Australians in the Turkish trenches on the plateau, and the men reorganising in the gully, were fascinated by this new wonder.
The shell was from Gaba Tepe, where the battery had already begun to fire at the boats and at the beach. As guns came up elsewhere during the day, salvoes of shrapnel began to burst continually in the valleys inland of Plugge’s. Several of these consequently became known as “Shrapnel Gully,” but within three days that name had fastened definitely upon the main valley into which the first troops looked from Plugge’s. The first Turkish gun had opened at 4.45 a.m., fifteen minutes after the landing. There was the flash of a gun on the inland neck of Gaba Tepe, and a shrapnel shell burst near the beach. The first destroyer tows had just landed. Two minutes later the guns of the battleships began to reply, but the Turkish battery near Gaba Tepe was not quelled by their fire. As the transports of the 2nd and 1st Brigades moved in, the small guns at Gaba Tepe sought to reach them, but the shrapnel pellets pattered into the water short of the ships. When the destroyers, after landing their original loads, came back to take the troops from the transports, the guns opened both upon the destroyers and upon the rowing-boats about them. The cruiser Bacchante was firing regularly at the flashes. Her shells were high explosive - that is to say, they hit the ground before they burst, and depended for their effect upon the powerful explosive, which scattered abroad deadly fragments of the shell-case and tore great clouds of dust and earth from the neck upon which were the Turkish guns. The Turks were firing shrapnel - a shell which is timed to burst in the air, and which, like a shot-gun, projects a number of ready-made pellets upon the ground below. Though the Bacchante’s broadsides appeared to fall upon the Turkish battery, it continued to fire.
A little before 7 a.m. the Bacchante moved slowly shorewards, until she was poking her nose fairly into the bay opposite the guns, and thence she fired at them broadside after broadside. They became temporarily silent. Yet every time a destroyer ran in to discharge her troops, a salvo from the battery sang over them. It was immediately answered by the Bacchante broadside, and again became silent. When the next destroyer ran in with her troops, it invariably opened again.
The men of the 2nd and 1st Brigades in the transports, which moved in between the battleships before the dawn, had been raised to a high state of excitement by the Bacchante’s shooting. “By gum, that’s pat!’’ shouted a private of the 1st Battalion on the Minnewaska’s well-deck, as he rushed to the side waving his cap. The Turkish battery strove to reach the transports as soon as it sighted them - which was about 5.10 a.m. Several shrapnel shells sang fairly close, and the pellets pattered in the water short of the ships. “Look, mate,” said another man of the 1st Battalion, “they’re carrying this joke too far. They’re using ball ammunition!” From the moment when they neared the first sight and sound of action, a marked change, noticed by every officer, came over these troops: they were straining like puppies on the leash, eager to be in the fight. Meanwhile, in the Minnewaska’s saloon, the officers’ breakfast was proceeding, the flashes of the warships’ guns every now and then showing through the portholes. The oldest steward had swept the carpet as usual, and, napkin on arm, was placing the menu before his passengers and asking if they preferred eggs or fried fish after their porridge.
Until 7 a.m. those in the transports had no idea as to whether the landing had succeeded. The constant burst of shells on Plugge’s, and the small boats far ahead - returning singly and rather aimlessly from the beach, gave the impression that fighting was still heavy near the shore. About 7 o’clock, in the growing light, the anxious watchers along the ships’ rails made out the forms of men digging, walking, and apparently talking together unconcernedly upon the high ridges ahead.
There was no mistaking that casual gait - it was a sure sign throughout the war. They were Australians. Lines of them were digging in on the first and second ridges beyond the beach. The 3rd Brigade had established itself on the land. Between 5.30 and 7.30 the 2nd and 1st Brigades of the 1st Australian Division began to move.
The Second Battle of Dernancourt, France, 5 April 1918, Outline Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Second Battle of Dernancourt
France, 5 April 1918
Second Dernancourt, took place on 5 April 1918 as a result of the renewed German offensive, in the same area as the first battle of this name. Following the successful defence along the River Ancre on 28 March, the British 35th Division's positions between Buire and Dernancourt had been taken over by the Australian 13th Brigade (Brig.-General William Glasgow), which came into line beside the 12th Brigade (Brig.-General John Gellibrand) holding between Dernancourt and Albert. Thus the bulk of the 4th Australian Division commanded by Major General Ewen Sinclair-Maclagan was here employed, the 4th Brigade still required to assist in the defence of Hébuterne (q.v.) fifteen kilometres to the north.
Soon after daylight, German artillery and mortar fire began falling on the 12th Brigade's forward posts along the railway line north of the river as well as supporting positions on a bare hill further back. Under cover of morning mist enemy infantry then succeeded in penetrating the Australian line, using a railway bridge just west of Dernancourt (where the fronts of the two brigades joined) to get behind the outposts lining the railway embankment. The breakthrough on the 12th Brigade's right flank extended as far as the support line and enabled the Germans, by bringing forward a field-gun, to threaten the brigade's left flank to the north. Faced with being enveloped otherwise, the 48th Battalion holding the northern part of the line pulled back shortly after noon. Although half surrounded, the unit ably and calmly extricated itself in a fighting withdrawal.
At 5.15 p.m. the reserves of both brigades launched a spirited counter-attack from behind the hill. Although the troops met intense fire as they advanced over the crest, they drove the Germans part of the way back down the hillside before being forced to halt. At this point, the action effectively ended. The under-strength 4th Division had just faced the strongest attack mounted against Australians in the war-an assault by two and a half German divisions. It had suffered 1,230 casualties, but inflicted between 1,300-1,600 upon the enemy. Arriving from Flanders on 7-8 April, the 2nd Australian Division took over the Dernancourt positions and relieved the 4th Division.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 141.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
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