The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919
[The Suvla Bay and Sari Bair Operations]
After the fighting at the beginning of May, Sir Ian Hamilton realized that neither the forces at Cape Helles, nor those at Anzac, were strong enough to fight their way to the Narrows. The chief object of the campaign was to open the way for the fleet to Constantinople; and this involved the capture of the southern part of the peninsula as far as the Narrows, as the unsuccessful attempts of the fleet to force a passage had clearly shown. Sir Ian Hamilton accordingly asked for additional troops for this purpose. Ultimately he was promised three additional Regular Divisions and the infantry of two Territorial Divisions, all of which would be available early in August.
There were various ways in which the Commander-in-Chief might have used these fresh troops: he decided to strike at Maidos from the positions already held at Anzac, and by means of a landing at Suvla Bay, north of Anzac, to protect the flank of the main attacking forces, as well as to secure for them a winter base free from the dangers and difficulties of the original landing places. A successful advance from Anzac would also cut off the Turkish forces opposed to our troops at Cape Helles; and Sir Ian's plans included an attack in the southern theatre, with the object of deceiving the enemy as to his main attack, as well as preventing the Turkish troops in the south from striking at the flank of the troops advancing from Anzac.
* i.e. 305 metres in height.
The capture of the Sari Bair Ridge, dominating as it did the whole of the country between Anzac and the Narrows, was an essential part of the plan of attack. But before the ridge could be attacked, it was necessary for the attacking force to be in possession of the sea-coast and foot-hills, from Anzac to the mouth of Aghyl Dere. Between Sazli Beit and Chailak Dere, and near the sea, stood the Old No. 3 Post, which formed the apex of a triangular piece of hill sloping gradually down to our No. 2 and No. 3 posts on the beach. Since its recapture from the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade by the Turks on May 30th, it had been made into a very formidable redoubt, dominating the approaches to both the Deres.
Behind this post, and connected with it by a razor back, lay Table Top—a precipitous-sided, flat-topped hill, about four hundred feet above sea-level. Its summit was a small plateau, a maze of trenches, from which a communication-trench ran to Rhododendron Spur, which in turn sloped up to the peak of Chunuk Bair. Between the Chailak and Aghyl Deres, the prominent features were Bauchop Hill and Little Table Top; and beyond the Aghyl Dere a low hill called Damakjelik Bair commanded the entrance to the last named ravine, and also the beaches south of Nibrunesi Point. It was therefore necessary that there should be preliminary operations to seize the foothills dominating the entrances to the ravines, and for this purpose two covering forces were to be provided.
* Gully or ravine.
The preliminary arrangements for an attack on a large scale presented peculiar difficulties. The area behind our trenches at Anzac was unduly restricted even for the requirements of the normal garrison: but now large bodies of additional troops had to be landed and accumulated; and—what was still more important and difficult—their presence had to be hidden from the enemy, who by day had an uninterrupted view of our landing places, and whose aeroplanes were constantly reconnoitring and photographing our positions. Before a single man or gun, or the extra supplies necessary for either could be landed, extra accommodation had to be constructed, and camouflaged against aerial observation. All the work involved fell, of course, on the garrison. In his (final) Despatch of 11th December, 1915, Sir Ian Hamilton, speaking of these preparations, says:—
"All these local preparations were completed by August 6th in a way which reflects the greatest credit, not only on the Corps Commander and his staff, but also upon the troops themselves, who had to toil like slaves to accumulate food, drink, and munitions of war. Alone the accommodation for the extra troops to be landed necessitated an immense amount of work in preparing new concealed bivouacs, in making interior communications, and in storing water and supplies; for I was determined to put on shore as many fighting men as our modest holding at Anzac could possibly accommodate or provision. All the work was done by Australian and New Zealand soldiers almost entirely by night, and the uncomplaining efforts of these much-tried troops in preparation are in a sense as much to their credit as their heroism in the battles that followed."*
* Naval and Military Despatches, Part IV., page 12.
And in another place in the same despatch:—
"As to water, that element of itself was responsible for a whole chapter of preparations. An enormous quantity had to be collected secretly, and as secretly stowed away at Anzac, where a high-level reservoir had to be built, having a holding capacity of thirty thousand gallons, and fitted out with a regular system of pipes and distribution tanks. A stationary engine was brought over from Egypt to fill that reservoir. Petroleum tins, with a carrying capacity of eighty thousand gallons were got together, and fixed up with handles, etc., but the collision of the Moorgate with another vessel delayed the arrival of a great number of these, just as a break down in the stationary engine upset for a while the well-laid plan of the high-level reservoir. But Anzac was ever resourceful in face of misadventures, and when the inevitable accidents arose it was not with folded hands that they were met."*
The reinforcing troops were landed at Anzac on the nights of August 4th, 5th, and 6th. Of these, the available fighting troops consisted of the following:—
|38th||Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General A. H. Baldwin).
|39th||Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General W. de S. Cayley).
|40th||Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General J. H. du B. Travers).
|69th||Brigade (Howitzer) Royal Field Artillery.|
|8th||Battalion Welsh Regiment (Divisional Pioneers|
|72nd||Field Company Royal Engineers.|
* Ibid, page 9.
|29th||Brigade (10th Division) (Brigadier-General R. J. Cooper).
|29th||Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General H. V. Cox).
These troops brought the strength of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir W. R. Birdwood) up to thirty-seven thousand rifles and seventy-two guns.
The plans for the attack divided the forces into two parts. The task of holding the existing positions at Anzac, and of making the frontal assaults from them, to divert the enemy's attention from the main flanking attack, was allotted to the Australian Division. to which were attached the 1st and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigades, and the 8th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the 8th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, both of the 40th Brigade. The main attack was entrusted to Major-General Godley, whose New Zealand and Australian Division, reduced to three brigades (the New Zealand Infantry, New Zealand Mounted Rifle, and 4th Australian Brigades) by the detachment of the Light Horse Brigades, was strengthened by the addition of the headquarters and remaining two battalions of the 40th Brigade (4th Battalion South Wales Borderers and 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment), the whole of the 29th Indian and 39th Brigades, the 6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment (38th Brigade), the 8th Battalion Welsh Regiment (13th Division Pioneers), the 72nd Field Company Royal Engineers, and the Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade (less one section).
Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment (New Zealand and Australian Divisional troops).
The Maori Contingent* (about four hundred and fifty strong).
New Zealand Engineers Field Troop.
The task of this force was to seize Old No. 3 Post, Table Top, and Bauchop Hill, and so open up the Chailak and Sazli Beit Deres for the assaulting columns.
Right Assaulting Column, under Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston (New Zealand Infantry Brigade).
New Zealand Infantry Brigade.
26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
No. 1 Company, New Zealand Engineers.
This column was to move up the Chailak and Sazli Beit Deres, and capture Chunuk Bair, on the Sari Bair Ridge; and eventually to attack the Chessboard from the rear.
Left Covering Force, under Brigadier-General J. H. du B. Travers (40th Brigade).
4th South Wales Borderers and 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.
Half of the 72nd Field Company, Royal Engineers.
The task of this force was to seize Damakjelik Bair, so as to open up the Aghyl Dere for the left assaulting column, and to protect the latter's left flank, especially against attacks from troops assembling in the Anafarta Valley. Its presence on Damakjelik Bair would also facilitate the landing of the 9th Corps at Nibrunesi Point.
Left Assaulting Column, under Brigadier-General H. V. Cox (29th Indian Infantry Brigade).
29th Indian Infantry Brigade.
21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
No. 2 Company, New Zealand Engineers.
Reserve, under Major-General Shaw, C.B. (G.O.C. 13th Division).
13th Divisional Headquarters.
39th Infantry Brigade.
6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment (38th Brigade).
8th Battalion Welsh Regiment (Divisional Pioneers).
(The headquarters and remaining three battalions of the 38th Brigade, which had originally been kept in Corps Reserve, were returned to their Division on the 7th, and became available as reserves for General Godley's forces).
The Canterbury Battalion had been detailed as the right assaulting section of the right assaulting column, and on August 5th had moved from its bivouacs in Canterbury Gully to others in Happy Valley (north-west of Walker's Ridge). There it remained till the evening of the 6th, when at 10.30 p.m. it moved to the attack by way of Sazli Beit Dere. Meanwhile the right covering force had attacked Old No. 3 Post, which was completely in its hands by 10.50 p.m.; and captured Big Table Top an hour later, and Bauchop's Hill by 1.10 a.m. on the 7th.
The task of the Canterbury Battalion was to advance up Sazli Beit Dere and attack the Turkish trenches on Rhododendron Spur from the west; and to picquet the right of the ravine, so as to meet Turkish counter-attacks from Battleship Hill. The remainder of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, moving up the Chailak Dere, was to attack the trenches on Rhododendron Spur from the north-west. After these trenches were captured, and the two columns of the brigade were in touch, the Canterbury and Wellington Battalions were to attack the summit of the Sari Bair Ridge, on a frontage of about 500 yards each, with the peak of Chunuk Bair inclusive to Wellington and on the latter's extreme right.
The time necessary for the Mounted Rifle Brigade to clear the entrances to the ravines having been under-estimated, there was considerable congestion and confusion in the saps on the beach; so that it was 1 a.m. before the Canterbury Battalion was in the Sazli Beit Dere, whereas, according to the time-table for page 60 the attack, the leading troops of the battalion should have reached the Dere before 11 p.m. The 1st Company acted as advanced guard to the battalion.
There had been no opportunity for reconnoitring the ground over which the advance was to be made, save for a distant view of the country from No. 2 Post, by the Commanding Officer and company commanders. on the afternoon of the 6th. Consequently the advance up the Dere was difficult, and the difficulty was increased by the darkness of the night. The battalion lost its way completely in a branch of the main ravine, and had to retrace its steps. About this time a party of the enemy was found on Destroyer Hill, and was attacked with the bayonet—the only weapon permitted to the assaulting and covering columns—and fifty prisoners were taken.
On the battalion turning about, the 12th and 13th Companies, at the rear of the column, received a garbled version of the Commanding Officer's orders to return to the main ravine, and thinking they had been ordered to go right back to Happy Valley, did so. The remainder of the battalion picked up its bearings again and moved up the Dere to Rhododendron Spur. A great deal of time had been lost, and it was now beginning to get light. Pushing on up Rhododendron Spur, the battalion about 5.45 a.m. came in touch with the Otago Battalion, which, in spite of the fact that it had already been heavily engaged at Table Top and Bauchop's Hill, had taken three lightly held Turkish trenches on the Spur.
The 12th and 13th Companies left Happy Valley at dawn, and finding the Dere clear of troops, had little difficulty in re joining the battalion on Rhododendron Spur. By 8 a.m. the New Zealand Infantry Brigade had reached positions which were practically on the site of the front line of the trench system held by us on the Spur till the evacuation of the Peninsula—Wellington on the north, Otago at the eastern point, and Canterbury on the south.* Here the brigade dug in, under very heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, especially from Battleship Hill, and from a trench on a spur north-east of Chunuk Bair.
* The Auckland Battalion was in brigade reserve.
At about 9.30 a.m. the brigade was ordered to assault Chunuk Bair, and as neither the Auckland Battalion nor the 10th Gurkhas had been heavily engaged up till now, these battalions were selected for the attack. On their advancing at 11 a.m., they immediately came under heavy fire; and though the Auckland Battalion reached a Turkish trench about a hundred and fifty yards east of our most advanced positions, its casualties were so heavy that it could get no further. The Gurkhas did not advance as far as the Auckland Battalion, which reached the point afterwards called the "the Apex."
At 12.30 p.m. the Canterbury Battalion received orders to hold its trenches with half the battalion, and with the remaining half to support Auckland in a new attack. The 1st Company was left to garrison the trenches (having had the responsible task of advanced guard during the attack) and the remainder of the battalion moved forward and lay down in the open. It at once came under heavy shrapnel fire from the left flank and suffered severe casualties, losing one officer killed and six badly wounded, in addition to three officers previously wounded.
The attack was not made; but an hour later orders were received that half the battalion was to move to the Apex, to make an attack in conjunction with Wellington. The Commanding Officer with three other officers and fifty men (representing half the battalion) moved to the Apex, leaving the remainder of the battalion to garrison Rhododendron Spur; but this attack was abandoned, as the Brigadier received orders from General Godley that no further advance was to be attempted till the following morning. The Canterbury troops detailed for the attack accordingly returned to Rhododendron Spur at 4.30 p.m.
The general position of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on the afternoon of August 7th was as follows:—
At Anzac proper, the Australian Division had, on the afternoon of the 6th, after severe fighting, captured the Turkish trenches known as Lone Pine, but could advance no further.page 62
The attacks against' German Officer's trenches, Dead Man's Ridge, and the Nek and Baby 700 trenches, during the night or the 6th/7th, had railed to make good any ground, though they had undoubtedly pinned to the positions at Anzac large enemy forces which would otherwise have been used against our troops attacking Sari Bair.
The Indian Brigade of the left assaulting column had reached the open slope known as "the Farm,"* east of Chunuk Bair, and north of the Apex, and had also occupied positions on the spurs north-east of the Farm; while the 4th Australian Brigade, of the same force, was holding the line of the Asma Dere, on a front of about one thousand yards, with its right flank on a point due north of Chunuk Bair. The left of this brigade was in touch with the left covering force, entrenched on and around Damakjelik Bair. The right covering force held Big Table Top, Old No. a Post, and Bauchop's Hill with two regiments of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade as garrison; and the remainder of this force was in readiness to move as required.
At Cape Helles, there had been fierce fighting on August 6th and 7th, with scanty gain of ground and heavy casualties; but here again large Turkish forces were engaged, which otherwise would have become available further north. The landing at Suvla Bay had been effected on the morning of the 7th with small losses; but the lack of enterprise shown by the landing force had defeated the expectations that the attack there would lighten the task of the columns assaulting Sari Bair.
* So called on account of the buildings there, which had stood out clearly before the attack.