Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918
Chapter III — The Landing.
The covering force to the landing to be made north of Gaba Tepe reached its rendezvous shortly after half-past one on the morning of April 25th, and there those who had left Mudros in ships of the Fleet were transferred to their boats; at the same time the remainder of the covering force was transferred from the transports to six attending destroyers. The whole now proceeded to within some four miles of the coast, steering on a point about a mile north of Gaba Tepe. At 3.30 a.m. the tows were directed to go ahead and land, and forty minutes later the destroyers were ordered to follow.
Through the calm waters of the Ægean Sea, and in the darkness of the yet unbroken dawn the boats carrying those first dauntless elements of the Anzac Force approached the inhospitable shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The point originally selected for the landing was actually not adhered to in consequence of the tows failing to maintain the required direction, and as a result the landing came to be made at a point more than a mile further to the north. Along this narrow length of shelving beach, to be immortalized as Anzac Cove, the covering force of Australians leapt ashore from their boats, now under the fire of the enemy on the heights, crossed the intervening stretch of beach, and scaled the face of the ridges which overhung it. So impetuous, so irresistible, was their rush—some of them reaching a point more than a mile inland—that the Turks who had been hurried to the defence of this part of the coast scattered and fled or went down before the onrush; and so there was established on the broken, scrub-covered ridges of Anzac that precarious footing which, strengthened during the day by the arrival of additional brigades of troops, was to be maintained in the face of repeated assaults hurled against it by an enemy force which at the fall of night was estimated to number several thousand.page 21
With the break of day on April 25th the transports conveying the New Zealand troops were approaching the extremity of the Peninsula, where operations had already been launched; by 7 a.m. the Headquarters transport, the Lutzow, had arrived off shore opposite Gaba Tepe. As the transports arrived at this point the troops clambered down the sides, boarded the attending destroyers, which conveyed them further in shore and transferred them to barges, which were then towed by the steam picket boats to within about 300 yards of the landing point. Now came the desperate task of pulling the heavily laden barges over the intervening stretch of water, an easy target for the fire of the enemy. Jumping from the boats as they grounded, the troops struggled through the shallow water under the weight of their equipment and quickly drew up along the shelter of the ridges which overhung the coast line.
By 9.30 a.m. the personnel of New Zealand Headquarters and the troops contained in the first tow had landed. An hour later verbal instructions were received to the effect that one brigade of the New Zealand and Australian Division was to be utilised to extend the left flank of the 3rd Brigade of the Australian Division, which had formed the covering force for the main operation. Urgent requests were made for reinforcements to be sent to this quarter, and the Auckland Battalion, which was ashore by 12 noon, was at once despatched against Walker's Ridge, to the south-western slopes of which the enemy was now directing accurate shell fire. Half an hour later two companies of the Canterbury Battalion were landed. At 1 p.m. Auckland Battalion was recalled from the position to which it was first directed, and sent more to the right, to Plugge's Plateau, in order more effectively to connect up with the flank of the 3rd Australian Brigade; while the two companies of Canterbury Battalion were directed to prolong the left flank of Auckland Battalion.
There now followed a complete hiatus in the disembarkation of the troops of the Division; a fact which in a large measure was to be attributed to the early disembarkations having been more rapidly effected than was anticipated, and the transports further in rear not being hurried on, but adhering to the original times laid down.page 22
Shortly after 2.30 p.m. the first troops of Otago Regiment landed from the tows into which they had clambered from the Annaberg. The 8th (Southland) Company, commanded by Major J. A. Mackenzie, landed first, followed by the 4th (Otago) Company, commanded by Major R. Price; the 10th (North Otago) Company, commanded by Major G. Mitchell; and the 14th (South Otago) Company, commanded by Major W. McG. Turnbull. By 4 p.m. the Battalion had completed landing. As each Company waded ashore it hurriedly formed up under the shelter of the steep ledges which overhung the beach, just as the previous parties had done, and from there was directed by Colonel W. G. Braithwaite. Otago was at the outset ordered to proceed to the extreme left of the line, but subsequently was recalled and directed to Plugge's Plateau.
Meanwhile the fighting was continuous and was becoming increasingly heavy. The line taken up by the troops who had been landed up to this stage became heavily engaged at every point. The intervals of time between the various landings; the fact that companies and half companies had on arrival been directed to where they were most urgently required at the moment; and the broken and precipitous nature of the scrub-covered country, all contributed to confusion and intermingling of units, detachments from all Brigades serving alongside each other. The desperate nature of the situation, and the perilous hold which the covering force had secured and was maintaining over the high ground approximately half a mile east of the beach, demanded that all available reinforcements should be flung into the firing line immediately on arrival. Readjustment and reorganisation of units must follow later. The situation at 5 p.m., when the Headquarters of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade arrived on the beach, was as follows: Otago Battalion on Plugge's Plateau; Canterbury and Auckland Battalions with Australian units along the front line of horse-shoe shape extending to the left to Walker's Ridge; and Wellington Battalion on board the troopship.
The troops landed were still without the support: of any field guns, while support from those of the Fleet was inadequate on account of the difficulties of observation and communication. The Otago Battalion alone had suffered a considerable number of casualties from the fire of the Turkishpage 23 guns. About 5.30 p.m. six guns of the 26th Indian Mountain Battery arrived and were posted in support of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade on the Plateau, and by their amazing efforts gave valuable support and encouragement to the sorely tried infantry.
There was no improvement in the general situation towards evening. The troops forming the front line had suffered heavy punishment from the enemy shrapnel and rifle he; there were also considerable gaps in the line and serious disorganisation of commands consequent upon casualties and the inevitable intermingling of units. At the outset small detachments in an excess of zeal and gallantry had advanced too far a field, and in the difficult country had been cut off from the main body and there died fighting to the last. A great deal of the ground which had been gained in the first impetuous rush of the covering force had been lost, and the line of resistance, which had resolved itself into a semi-circular position with the right flank about a mile north of Gaba Tepe and the left on the high ground overlooking Fisherman's Hut, the whole commanded by the enemy, was only with the very greatest difficulty maintained by our force, now sadly depleted and greatly outnumbered and assailed by an enemy confident but mistaken in his ability to sweep them into the sea. As this desperate conflict waged far into the night, the wounded painfully dragged themselves or were carried by the tireless bands of stretcher-bearers down to the beach in ever-increasing numbers, and presented a problem which was almost as complex and as difficult as that which the dauntless troops were endeavouring to solve on the heights above.
The New Zealand Infantry Brigade Headquarters now represented to Divisional Headquarters that the landing of guns during the night was imperative if the position won at so much cost was to be maintained. At 11 p.m. the G.O.C., A.N.Z.A.C., arrived from H.M.S. Queen, and held a conference at which the G.O.C.'s; of the New Zealand and Australian Division and the 1st Australian Division were present. It was decided to reinforce the 3rd Australian Brigade (the covering force) with all available troops, and connect up its left flank with the right of the New Zealand Brigade. So far only one gun, that of the 1st Australianpage 24 Division, had been landed. Casualties up to midnight were estimated to have been 1,500, and although the hospital ship had left for Alexandria, the arrangements for clearing casualties were in most respects inadequate. On the whole, it was considered the progress achieved was not as great as was anticipated—a state of affairs which was attributed mainly to the fact that disembarkation having taken place north of the point arranged, subsequent confusion had resulted; that the early stages of the operation having advanced more expeditiously and with more success than was anticipated, the remainder of the disembarkation was not accelerated accordingly; that the G.O.C. 1st Australian Division, considering the country unsuitable, forbade the landing of the Australian field guns; and that the Naval arrangements for landing troops towards the close of the day and during the night appeared defective, launches and lighters being scarce and the work in consequence slow.
The whole situation was indeed fraught with great danger. The troops had been subjected to gruelling fire all day, and the power of successful resistance had been reduced by heavy losses and weakened by exhaustion. The seriousness of the situation was represented to the Commander-in-Chief in the course of a communication delivered to him at midnight following the landing. The possibility of re-embarkation was even mentioned. In a characteristic reply Sir Ian Hamilton wrote: "Dig, dig, dig, until you are safe."
Throughout the night an almost incessant and fierce rifle and machine gun fire was maintained. Attacks were delivered by the Turks at several points along the disjointed line; but all their efforts were successfully resisted, and the break of dawn on April 26th found the line unbroken. By 6 a.m. two guns of the New Zealand Howitzer Battery had been brought ashore. The country in which the landing force found itself was most unsuitable for any artillery, save howitzers; and even when the guns were landed it was only by man-handling them up seemingly inaccessible heights that they could be got into position.
At midday the remaining guns of the Howitzer Battery were landed and brought into action. The general situation still demanded ceaseless exertion in order to maintain the precarious hold gained on the Peninsula. The Turks adopted various ruses in an endeavour to bring about confusion and retirement of units, calling out that the English troops were advancing and not to fire, also blowing familiar bugle calls; but all these efforts at deception had little or only momentary effect. The strenuous hours of the day were succeeded by a night that was passably quiet along the line of the Plateau; though on the right the Australians were subjected to a determined attack, which was beaten off.
The efforts made to effect a reorganisation of units had so far been attended with but small success, and the persistent attacks, repeated by the Turks during the 27th, still prevented any advance being made in this direction. Orders were now issued allotting to the New Zealand Infantry Brigade the left section of the line extending from the sea to where the left of Colonel Monash's section ended at the head of Shrapnel Valley. Otago Battalion was to move up the nullah north of the Plateau, thus prolonging the Australian line to the left until a junction was formed with the right of Canterbury Battalion. This was effected during the afternoon and evening of the 27th, the Battalion, with 4th Company acting as a screen, moving up Monash Gully, and taking up its position in defence of Plugge's Plateau.
The enemy's attacks, supported by artillery fire, had been renewed at daybreak on the 27th, and the ridges sloping north-west and south-west to the beach were consistentlypage 26 shelled, By 9 a.m. an attack had developed strongly against the left, at Walker's Ridge, and centre, but was beaten back with loss to the enemy. A desultory fire was maintained throughout the night of the 27th, and frequently the enemy worked up close to our line, but on each occasion was repulsed by rapid rifle fire,—even if the anxieties of the night and the newness of the troops at times led to the expenditure of a great deal more ammunition than was necessary.
Meantime, in rear of the front line and along the stretch of beach, out of chaos was developing a certain orderliness. The establishment of a field dressing station for the reception of wounded, the accummulation of stores and supplies, the construction of communication trenches to counter the danger of ground exposed to fire, the building of dug-outs and shelters along the slopes of the ridges, and the making of roads and tracks, were works that, once commenced, were constantly extended and improved. The fact of the landing having been made at a point more than a mile north of where it was intended, was more a fortunate circumstance than a mistake. Further south there would have been greater space for movement and manœuvre, but more opposition from the Turks by reason of their preparedness, and less shelter from their guns and howitzers, hidden as they were in the high and broken country and secure from our naval guns with their flatter trajectory. But at the point where the landing took place, difficult and broken though the country was inland, the bills, which sloped down almost to the water's edge, afforded a natural shelter for the base of operations, which was an incalculable advantage under the terrific conditions existing.
The following Special Order was issued by Sir Ian Hamilton on April 28th: "I rely on all officers to stand firm and steadfast, and to resist the attempts of the enemy to drive us back from our present position which has been so gallantly won. The enemy is evidently trying to obtain a local success before reinforcements can reach us.... It behoves us all, French and British, to stand fast, hold what we have gained, near down the enemy, and thus prepare for a decisive victory. Our comrades in Flanders have had the same experience of fatigue after hard won fights. We shall, I know, emulate their steadfastness, and achieve a result which will confer added laurels to French and British Arms."page 27
Throughout the days of the 28th and 29th the advanced he was frequently engaged, elements of the Turks alternately advancing and retreating; their determination regulated by the fire of the howitzers and the guns of the Fleet. The frequency of these attacks, in which much ammunition was expended, and the fact that they were not pushed through, conveyed the impression that the Turks had now withdrawn a part of the forces, both infantry and artillery, which previously engaged the front, and had sent them to reinforce the troops who were opposing the 29th and French Divisions at the southern extremity of the Peninsula. Nevertheless, a general advance was not feasible because of the limited number of troops available and the non-existence of roads and other vital considerations. To attempt the occupation of a large area of country at this stage of the campaign was out of the question, because of our numerical inability to hold it.
The morning of April 30th was the quietest so far experienced, and the day was spent in relieving detachments from the Line and sending them to the beach for a rest and bathing—both urgently needed. The exertions of the past several days, the lack of sleep, the constant digging and fighting, and the ceaseless watchfulness required, added to which was the serious depletion of ranks from casualties, had made inroads on mind and body that must be repaired if the ground won was to be maintained, The strength of the Otago Battalion, as disembarked, was 25 officers and 912 other ranks, and a summary of casualties sustained up to midnight on April 29th indicated the losses, exclusive of missing, as 18 killed and 60 wounded.