New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18
Chapter VI. The August Offensive.…
Chapter VI. The August Offensive.
At last, while the summer was yet at its height, events began to shape themselves for the great battle of Sari Bair, which was at once to set the seal on the heroism, the endurance, and the self-sacrifice of the soldiers at Anzac, and to mark the culmination of their hopes. Early in the campaign it had been made apparent to the Commander-in-Chief that neither at Anzac nor at Helles were his forces strong enough to fight their way through to the Narrows. On May 10th Sir Ian Hamilton had cabled to the War Office asking for two fresh divisions, and a week later another cable was sent, stating that if the Force was going to be left to face Turkey on its own resources two additional Army Corps would be required. The 52nd (Lowland) Division had been sent to Gallipoli, but whilst it was en route Russia, owing to the serious turn of events on the Eastern front, had given up the idea of co-operating from the coast of the Black Sea, and as a result several more Turkish divisions had become available for the defence of the Dardanelles. Finally, during June, Sir Ian Hamilton was promised three regular divisions plus the infantry of two Territorial divisions. The advance guard of these troops was due to reach Mudros by July 10th, and their concentration was to be complete by August 10th. A decision as to the method of employing these reinforcements was arrived at only after every practicable scheme had been exhaustively considered in all its aspects. These schemes were readily narrowed down to four in number, which may best be summarised in the terms of the Official Despatch:—
- (1) Every man to be thrown on to the southern sector of the Peninsula to force a way forward to the Narrows.
- (2) Disembarkation on the Asiatic side of the Straits, followed by a march on Chanak.page 68
- (3) A landing at Enos or Ibrije for the purpose of seizing the neck of the isthmus at Bulair.
- (4) Reinforcement of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, combined with a landing in Suvla Bay. Then with one strong push to capture Hill 305, and working from that dominating point, to grip the waist of the Peninsula.
The considerations in favour of an assault from Anzac combined with a surprise landing at Suvla appeared conclusive; the plan seemed to afford a reasonable prospect of success, and was not subject in any measure to the unanswerable arguments which were responsible for the rejection of each of the other three schemes. Furthermore, the scheme was acceptable to the Navy, and it was considered that the bay at Suvla would afford a good submarine-proof base, and a good harbour excepting during south-west gales. As the season was advancing, and the enemy was making his position more secure each day, there were manifest dangers in unduly delaying the launching of the attack. The last drafts of the reinforcements were due to arrive on the 4th or 5th of August, and August 6th was therefore fixed as the date on which the battle would open.
The fresh troops available for the impending operations consisted of the 10th (Irish) Division, the 11th (Northern) Division, and the 13th (Western) Division, all comprising the 9th Army Corps, and the Infantry Brigades only of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, and the 54th (East Anglian) Division. The 9th Corps was composed of New Army troops, and the 53rd and 54th were Territorial Divisions. All were without experience in war. The 13th Division and one Brigade of the 10th Division were to reinforce the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Anzac, and to the remainder of the 9th Corps, under Lieut.-General Sir F. Stopford, was given the task of landing at Suvla Bay, and co-operating with the attack from Anzac, by first seizing and holding the Chocolate and Ismail Oglu Hills, together with the high ground on the north and east of Suvla Bay. If the landing went off smoothly it was hoped that these hills would be in the possession of the page 69landing force before daybreak. In that ease it was farther hoped that the first division which landed would be strong enough to picket and hold all the important heights within artillery range of the Bay, when General Stopford would be able to direct the remainder of his force, as it became available, through the Anafartas to the east of the Sari Bair, where, in the words of the Commander-in-Chief himself, "it should soon smash the mainspring of the Turkish opposition to Anzac."
The elaborate dispositions which had to be made at Anzac for the reception and concealment in an already overcrowded area of large bodies of fresh troops, threw a heavy burden on the garrison. Sick of the monotony, and keenly alert for evidences of change, the soldiers were not slow to grasp the significance of the preparations, which they were called upon to undertake in July, and the momentous nature of the events impending was instinctively realised. The prospect of some great decisive movement, with its alluring possibilities of success, was a tonic to men worn by incessant endeavours and weakened by privation and disease, and the spirit in which the men faced their heavy task was as admirable as the heroism which they displayed in the subsequent battles.
The entire details of the operations allotted to the troops to be employed in the Anzac area were formulated by Lieut.-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, and all these local preparations, vast as they were, were carried out in their entirety by the garrison at Anzac, and faithfully completed by August 6th. Everything had to be done secretly and by stealth under the very eyes of a vigilant enemy. Two tasks of the first magnitude were the widening of the "Big Sap," the long communication trench which wound out to the outposts on the left flank, and the making of a road for wheeled traffic along the beach in the same direction. The sap was deep and narrow, and much of it ran through hard-baked clay, so that the task of bringing it to the uniform width of five feet involved a tremendous amount of sheer hard work for the sweating fatigues, "Work on the road running along the exposed beach front had perforce to be done by night, a page 70circumstance which enhanced the difficulties of the undertaking; but if the nights were short, the energy of the workers was unflagging, and gradually the road crept out towards the flank.
As the disembarkation of the fresh troops would extend over several nights some method had to be devised of securely concealing the newcomers during the few days which would elapse before the opening of the battle. Terraces and shelters were accordingly dug on the hillsides, and in these they lay hidden alike from the enemy aircraft and scouts on the heights. Great supplies of food were landed and ammunition in such quantities as the resources of the Force were capable of furnishing. The provision of an adequate supply of water was the most difficult of all problems, its solution calling for the most careful forethought and calculation so that no contingency might be unprovided for, and nothing left to chance. Little ever stood between Anzac and thirst, so dependent had it always been on the sea-borne supplies of tepid but welcome water; but in the battles that were to be fought on the sun-baked heights, water would be as indispensable almost as ammunition. Dependence on regular daily supplies involving too great a risk, a reservoir of great tanks was formed on the hillside above the beach. A system of pipelines and supply tanks was created, and the water from the barges after being pumped by hand into tanks standing on the beach, was lifted up to the reservoir by a stationary engine brought from Egypt. There were delays and mishaps of course, but anything that could not be supplied was improvised, and every obstacle was overcome by the fertile resource of minds which had been trained to cope with many desperate situations.
At last the long-expected reinforcements began to arrive. Throughout the nights of August 3rd, 4th, and 5th, they swarmed on to the beach from the crowded boats and barges that drew silently in out of the night, and as they landed were guided away to their concealed bivouacs to await the opening of the battle. The troops now at the disposal of General Birdwood amounted in round numbers to 37,000 rifles and 72 guns, with support from two cruisers, four page 71monitors, and two destroyers. This force was divided into two main portions. To the Australian Division, strengthened by the attachment of the 1st and 3rd Light Horse Brigades and two battalions of the 40th Brigade, was entrusted the task of holding the existing Anzac position, and of making the frontal assaults which were to divert the enemy's attention and draw his reserves from the quarter in which the main blow was to be struck. The remainder of the force was to carry out the attack on the Sari Bair Ridge.
The artillery support in the operations was so planned as to make the most effective use of the very small number of guns available on shore. These numbered only 72 of all classes. In addition to the 18prs. of the Australian and New Zealand Field Artillery, and the one New Zealand 4.5in. howitzer battery, there were the 10pr. guns of the Indian Mountain Artillery, five batteries of 5in. howitzers, three 6in. howitzers, and the solitary 4.7in. naval gun on the right flank. There were in addition, of course, the guns of the fleet, but their effective value was limited, and they could not be used for the close support of attacking troops. In view of the great issues at stake, and the terribly difficult nature of the operations upon which the army was about to embark, it must be said that in material, whether in numbers of guns or in supplies of shells, the artillery at Anzac was pitifully inadequate.
The Attack at Lone Pine.
The New Zealand batteries played a very prominent part in paving the way for the frontal attacks which were made by the Australian Division on August 6th and 7th, and particularly valuable was their support to the 1st Brigade of Australians in their heroic and altogether successful attack at Lone Pine. During the 4th, 5th, and 6th of August, the works on the enemy's left and left centre were subjected to a slow bombardment; the 1st and 4th Batteries bombarding the Lone Pine trenches, which were provided with strong overhead cover, and well protected by barbed wire entanglements. The 1st Battery was given the task of destroying the wire; and wire-cutting, as experience showed in France, calls not page 72only for accuracy of fire, but for a large expenditure of ammunition. Though this latter was impossible, the battery commander himself satisfactorily accomplished the task. Every round had to be conserved, so using one gun only, and observing from the forward trenches in the vicinity, he carefully and methodically prepared the way for the attack.
High explosive shell was used by the 18prs. for the first time on this occasion, and its effect on the wire was watched with interest. It was found, however, that low-bursting shrapnel was much more effective. The 4th Battery did a lot of shooting on the enemy's trenches at both Lone Pine and Johnston's Jolly; but the lack of ammunition made the work piecemeal, and the heavy overhead cover on the trenches at Lone Pine remained intact when the infantry attacked. Hostile batteries were very active, and one of the 1st Battery guns on Russell's Top was put out of action. One of the 4.5in. howitzers also went out of action owing to a broken buffer spring, but a new spring was rushed up from Cape Helles. The howitzer batteries (4.5 and 5in.) were limited to a mere 30 rounds per battery on the day before the attack, and 40 rounds only were allowed each battery on the day of attack for their fire action from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m., though this was supplemented by "a quick rate of fire" from 4.30 p.m. till 5.30 p.m. At the former hour an "intense bombardment" by all guns was commenced, and continued until the moment of assault.
The gunners did their utmost throughout with the hopelessly inadequate material at their disposal; more they could not do. The wire had been well cut up by the 1st Battery, which had expended over two hundred rounds on wirecutting since morning; about one half of the Turkish troops in the enemy fire trenches at the commencement of the bombardment were killed or wounded; but the result of the shooting in dealing with the massive overhead cover of the enemy's front line trenches was so inconsiderable as to be of little' use to the infantry. After crossing No Man's Land in face of a storm of rifle and machine gun fire they found the overhead cover practically intact, and the weighty beams defied all individual efforts to remove them. Then came a pause while groups of page 73the men bodily lifted the beams and then flung themselves in among the Turks. The hand-to-hand fighting in the obscurity of these covered ways was of a bitter and desperate character, but by 6 p.m. all the garrison had been killed or captured, and the whole of the trenches seized.
While the attack was proceeding the 1st Battery directed its fire on the trenches at Johnston's Jolly, the 2nd Battery engaging those opposite Quinn's and Courtney's Posts; while the 4th (howitzer) Battery assisted a strong effort to neutralise the fire of enemy guns that could bear on Lone Pine by shelling hostile guns on Mortar Ridge. Enemy guns on Scrubby Knoll, Battleship Hill, Gun Ridge, and at the Olive Groves and Wine Glass Ridge were similarly engaged by a force of guns made up of four 5in. batteries, two 6in. howitzers, the 4.7in. gun, and the guns of the Australian Artillery. There was little abatement in hostile fire, however; and it was considered that the expenditure of ammunition by the old and worn 5in. howitzers was not justified by results on this occasion.
From the very commencement the enemy made it quite plain that he was determined at all costs to regain the important work which had been wrested from him in such indomitable fashion. Within an hour the guns were called upon to assist in repelling a heavy counter-attack which swept in wave on wave, both from the north and from the south, and nearly a week elapsed before the Turks seemed willing to relinquish their efforts and accept defeat. For three days the Australians had to meet constant counter-attacks and continuous and heavy shelling and bombing, the enemy's supply of bombs being apparently inexhaustible. During this period the 1st Battery, in particular, and the 2nd Battery and the 4.5in. howitzers inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy's reserves. Time after time the guns of the 1st Battery swept the enemy's ranks in a deadly enfilade as they pressed forward to the counter-attack, and more than once their fire was sufficiently destructive to break an enemy assault at its inception.
The battery was under heavy fire throughout August 6th and the following night, and the gun emplacements were so page 74badly damaged that they had to be rebuilt. During the afternoon of the 6th Nos. 1 and 2 guns were temporarily out of action owing to the destruction of the emplacements, and several men were wounded. Notwithstanding this hostile shelling the battery was usefully employed during the night in shelling the enemy operating against Lone Pine, as well as his reinforcements arriving from the direction of Mule Valley, and at 6 a.m. it was largely instrumental in beating back with a heavy loss a local counter-attack from the direction of Mais Mais. The enemy came on a second time, but was again repulsed, the low-bursting shrapnel playing havoc in their broken ranks as they were driven back. The Australians lost heavily in the initial attack, and they continued to suffer severely in the desperate intermittent struggles of the succeeding days. They had the satisfaction, however, of knowing that the enemy's losses were much greater, and that in the end he was reluctantly compelled to accept defeat.
The Australian infantry were quick to acknowledge the valuable, and indeed vital, support they had received from the 18prs. of the 1st Battery, which had on occasions succeeded in crushing the Turkish assaults the moment the attackers moved from cover. This successful attack was eminently valuable as a diversion, and was considered by the Commander-in-Chief "more than any other cause to have been the reason that the Suvla Bay landing was so lightly opposed, and that comparatively few of the enemy were available at first to reinforce against our attack at Sari Bair." But the same measure of success did not attend other frontal assaults which were made from the existing Anzac position during the night and early morning of August 6th and 7th. There were two fruitless assaults on German Officers' Trench, and attacks by troopers of the Australian Light Horse from Quinn's Post, Pope's Hill, and Russell's Top. In the ill-fated ventures from Quinn's and Russell's Top, the Light Horse troopers, while conscious of the terrible odds against them, advanced over their parapet in ordered lines, and were swept away by an annihilating stream of machine-gun fire. Whatever advantages may have been gained by these heroic but hopeless assaults were dearly bought.
The Battle of Sari Bair.
As night began to fall, and while the Turkish reserves were gravitating towards the bitter struggle at Lone Pine, the attacking columns of General Godley's force were silently assembling for the master stroke—the night assault on the heights of Sari Bair. Now had arrived the most momentous phase of the whole campaign, for upon the issue of the struggle upon which the veterans of Gallipoli were about to embark side by side with the untried soldiers of the New Army, depended the success or failure of the whole great undertaking. The Sari Bair Ridge, the objective of the assaulting columns, ran roughly parallel to the coast line, and was flanked on the coastward side by a number of long broken spurs which ran down to within a few hundred yards of the beach. The gullies, or deres, in between were steep, broken, and scored with the rushing waters of many a winter's storm. In parts they were choked with a tangle of scrub and close undergrowth, which would add enormously to the difficulties and dangers of a night march up their unreconnoitred ways, yet through them lay the only road to the goal on which all hopes were set. It was manifestly impossible for an attacking force to break the Turkish line, seize the lower heights, and then fight a way up the gullies in the darkness and arrive at the top intact and in condition for an assault on the ridge. The attack must be made in two stages, the first of which must be devoted to the capture of the positions which commanded the entrances to the deres and the clearance of the lower portion of the deres themselves. Accordingly the force was divided into four columns, two of which, designated covering columns, were to open up a path for the two assaulting columns.
The total force available comprised the New Zealand and Australian Division (less the Australian Light Horse), the 13th Division (less five battalions), and the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade. The four columns into which they were divided were:—
Right Covering Force (Brig.-General A. H. Russell):—New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade, Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment, Maori Contingent, Field Troops, N.Z.E.page 76
Left Covering Force (Brig.-General A. H. Travers):—4th Battalion South Wales Borderers, 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, half 72nd Field Company.
Right Assaulting Column (Brig.-General F. E. Johnston):—New Zealand Infantry Brigade, Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), 1st Field Company, N.Z. Engineers.
Left Assaulting Column (Brig.-General H. V. Cox):—29th Indian Infantry Brigade, 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), 2nd Field Company, N.Z. Engineers.
Divisional Reserve:—6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment, 8th Battalion Welsh Regiment (Pioneers), 39th Infantry Brigade, half 72nd Field Company.
The Right Covering Force was to move out from No. 2 and No. 3 Posts at 9 p.m., and seize the enemy positions on Old No. 3 Post, Table Top, and Bauchop's Hill. The accomplishment of this task would open up the Chailak Dere and the Sazli Beit Dere for the passage of the Right Assaulting Column, which was to commence to move up these gullies at 10.30 p.m. The Chailak Dere and the Sazli Beit Dere both led up to Chunuk Bair, which the Column was to attack, after having cleared Rhododendron Spur on its way up to the Ridge. The Left Covering Force was to march northwards along the flat, and then turn inland and seize Damakjelik Bair, a hill which lay some 1,400 yards north of Table Top. The seizure of this position would protect the left flank of the Left Assaulting Column during its climb up the Aghyl Dere. The Left Assaulting Column, moving off at 10.30 p.m., was to cross the Chailak Dere and march northwards until it rounded Walden's Point, when it was to work up the Aghyl Dere and assault Koja Chemen Tepe or Hill 971, joining up with the left of the Right Assaulting Column at the head of Kur Dere, behind Hill Q.
Of the Divisional Reserve, portion was to be assembled in readiness at the foot of the Chailak Dere, and the remainder at the foot of the Aghyl Dere.page 77
The total weight of artillery which was available to support the attack, was so small as to be almost insignificant, especially in view of the magnitude of the operations and the issues at stake. In addition to the three New Zealand Batteries there were available three 5in. batteries of the 69th Brigade, R.F.A., and the solitary 6-in howitzer on Walker's Ridge. To make matters worse, none of the New Zealand Batteries could lend their full strength to the support of General Godley's force, as they could not be spared from the areas which they covered on the centre and left of the Anzac line. Thus one section of the 1st Battery faced north from Russell's Top; the other section still watched Lone Pine, where its support was essential in face of the prodigious efforts being made by the Turks to redeem the loss. The 2nd Battery on Plugge's Plateau could not be spared from the defence of Quinn's Post, and so could direct only a very limited amount of fire on the Sari Bair Ridge, and that by map only. Only half of the 4th Howitzer Battery could be counted upon, as the section in Anzac Cove continued to cover the area from the Chessboard southwards to the sea. Thus of the artillery emplaced at Anzac before the opening of the battle there were actually available only two 18prs., two 4.5in. howitzers, three batteries of 5in. howitzers, and one 6in. howitzer. In addition, there were the ably-handled but obsolete 10pr. guns of the Indian Mountain Artillery, which went forward with the attacking infantry. A force, equal almost to an Army Corps, was to be supported in a major operation against a skilful, well-led, and more numerous enemy by two 18prs., little more than a dozen howitzers, and the fire of some ships of war. The value of the naval guns was greatly lessened by the fact that they could engage only the forward slopes of the hills, and that they could not be used for the close support of advancing infantry.
As the attack from the left flank was essentially a surprise attack in which much depended on the rapid exploiting of the strategical opportunities so created, there was no attempt at an artillery preparation of the initial objectives. A limited programme of artillery fire had been drawn up, however, under which fire was brought to bear at fixed times on the Nek, the page 78Chessboard, Big Table Top, and Rhododendron Spur. The trenches in front of Quinn's Post were also kept under fairly constant fire by the 2nd Battery from 9.30 p.m. onwards through the night. Commencing at 9 p.m., the guns of three Australian 18pr. batteries directed a slow rate of fire on to the Nek and the Chessboard, and maintained it until 4 a.m. on the 7th. At 9.30 p.m. C. Battery 69th Brigade R.F.A. joined in the shelling of the Nek, and continued in action until the Australian guns ceased fire. A group of guns consisting of one section of the 4th Battery, one 6in. howitzer, and a section of B. Battery 69th Brigade shelled Big Table Top from 9.30 till 10 p.m., and Rhododendron Spur from 10 till 10.30 p.m., at which hour they switched their fire on to the Nek, which they continued to shell until 4 o'clock next morning. Fire throughout was at a very slow rate, each battery or section firing only one round every two and a half minutes.
Stripped of all encumbering gear, in light fighting trim, the covering columns moved quietly out with bayonets fixed. Distinguishing patches of white calico were worn on the back of each man, so that there might be no fatal mistaking friend for foe in the confusion of close fighting in the darkness.
The Right Covering Force opened the fighting, advancing from Nos. 2 and 3 Posts shortly after 9 p.m. Its task of carving a path for the passage of the assaulting Brigades of infantry was all-important, as any failure to seize its objectives and fulfil its mission would imperil the whole undertaking. But imbued with the spirit of invincible resolution which animated the whole force this night, the mounted riflemen or the men of the Maori Contingent were not in the mood to be stayed by ordinary obstacles. No. 3 Post, which had been recaptured from the Mounted Rifle Brigade at the end of May, and which the enemy had since made very strong, was captured by stratagem, thus obviating the loss of life which would have resulted in an attempt to take the Post by open assault. For some considerable time prior to the attack the destroyer Colne had made it a nightly practice to shell the Post, illumined by the glare of her searchlight, from 9 o'clock till 10 minutes past, and again from 9.20 till 9.30 p.m. As each of these brief bombardments always began and ended at precisely the same time page 79each night, the Turks in the Post had adopted the practice of temporarily seeking safer quarters in some dug-outs in their rear. Thus the garrison became practised in the part which unconsciously they were to play in the capture of their own stronghold. The stratagem succeeded admirably. The attackers crept out close to the Post under cover of the shelling, and the moment the guns were silent and the searchlight disappeared, they rushed straight for the enemy trenches. The surprise was complete; and although the garrison made an attempt to save the situation, the Post and the surrounding entrenchments were completely cleared in a very short time.
While the Auckland Mounted Rifles were carrying the fortress of Old Number Three Post by an admixture of boldness and strategy, the remaining sections of the Right Covering Force were advancing to their allotted tasks. The Wellington Mounted Rifles were stealing on Destroyer Hill and Table Top, and the Canterburys and Otagos were advancing on Bauchop Hill from the flat ground to the north of Number Three Post. In both attacks the enemy was met in force, and stood his ground, the attackers suffering severely from machine-gun and rifle fire as they closed in in the darkness on the entrenched positions. But the determination with which the attack on Bauchop Hill was pressed home, despite the loss of gallant officers and men, and the very audacity of the frontal assault against the forbidding face of Table Top, brought their deserved reward. By midnight the task of the column was virtually accomplished; the Sazli Beit Dere, the Chailak Dere, and part of the Aghyl Dere were open to the passage of the assaulting columns, and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade was making its way up to the assault on Chunuk Bair. The Otago, Auckland, and Wellington Battalions were to proceed by way of Chailak Dere, and the Canterbury Battalion by the Sazli Beit Dere.
It was half an hour after midnight before the Left Assaulting Column crossed the Chailak Dere and pushed on across the flats to the Aghyl Dere, which it entered hard on the heels of the Left Covering Force. This force, composed entirely of units of the New Army, had moved out from No. 3 Outpost when the attack on Bauchop's Hill had developed, and page 80by 1.30 a.m. had completed the capture of Demajelik Bair and was in a position to protect the left flank of the army operating from Anzac. With the two assaulting columns fairly on their way up the deres, the attack was in full swing, but it had started late, and while the columns were slowly fighting their way forward, overcoming the resistance of the enemy, and struggling against the frightful difficulties of the broken, un-reconnoitred country, the precious hours of darkness were fast slipping away. Though completely surprised, the enemy did not readily give ground, but in places offered a fierce resistance, his familiarity with the country giving him a great advantage over the attacking infantry. In the deep, scrub-covered ravines the darkness became intensified, and the troops were constantly in danger of being led astray from their path by blind alleys or offshoots from the dere. Mistakes of this nature always resulted in a certain amount of confusion, and a loss of valuable time.
The first light of the breaking day revealed the columns still laboriously struggling up the gullies and spurs, and yet beyond striking distance of the coveted crest of the Sari Bair Ridge. It revealed also the bay at Suvla crowded with the transports of the 9th Army Corps, an inspiriting spectacle to troops exhausted with the night's terrible exertions and conflicts with an unseen enemy. All hopes of a surprise attack on the Ridge had vanished, but the New Zealand Brigade pushed on in daylight until it reached a point afterwards known as the Apex, on the top of Rhododendron Spur, only a bare quarter of a mile from Chunuk Bair. Of the Left Assaulting Column, the Indian Brigade, which had advanced up the southern fork of the Aghyl Dere, had gained possession of the ridge west of the Farm below Chunuk Bair, and along the spurs to the north-east. It had succeeded in obtaining touch on the right with the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, and on the left with the 4th Australian Brigade. This brigade had fought its way up to the north of the northern fork of the Aghyl Dere, making for Koja Chemen Tepe, and had succeeded in gaining the ridge overlooking the head of the Asma Dere.
With the three 5in. howitzer batteries of the 69th Brigade, and the guns of the 4th Battery, the Force was comparatively very strong in howitzers; but however ably handled, these unfortunately were not the best weapons with which to support an infantry advance across open country. During this period, however, there were a number of 18prs. lying idle on the beach at Anzac, waiting to be taken over by certain of the batteries which were to land at Suvla Bay. As the 9th Corps had as yet displayed little signs of life, the likelihood of these guns being claimed for a day or two seemed small, so it was decided to man them with such men as could be spared from other batteries and bring them into use. One battery of two of these guns, and two 18prs. borrowed from the Australians was placed under command of Captain G. E. Daniell. It was emplaced on the flat immediately to the north page 82of the old line, whence it shot at Chunuk Bair over open sights, and in return got freely shelled and shot at by enemy snipers to a very uncomfortable extent. A second battery, formed in a similar manner, was commanded by Lieutenant H. J. Daltry, but the guns were taken away very soon after the battery was formed.
For the attack at dawn on August 8th, the whole force was reorganised into three columns, of which the Right Column was to attack Chunuk Bair. This column was commanded by Brig.-General F. E. Johnston, and comprised the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the Auckland Mounted Rifles, and the Maori Contingent, and two battalions from the reserve. The Centre and Left Columns, commanded by Major-General H. V. Cox, were to attack Hill Q. and Abdel Rahman Bair, and thus converge on Koja Chemen Tepe. The attack began promisingly on the right, where the Wellington Infantry Battalion and the 7th Gloucesters, supported by remaining units of the column, pressed forward with intrepid resolution to the very crest-line of Chunuk Bair. On the centre and left the attack fared badly, being unable to make any headway against the concentrated fire from the heights. But a footing had been gained on the coveted ridge; and it well might be that this would mark the turning point in the bitter and prolonged struggle. It had become obvious by this time that whatever successes were to be achieved must be gained unaided by the force at Anzac. The army at Suvla seemed to be stricken with some paralysing inertia, and the soldiers fighting on the slopes of Sari Bair, exhausted, tortured with thirst, but still of bold spirit, looked in vain for help from that quarter. If the hold on Chunuk Bair was for the valiant soldiers of Anzac a cheering presage of victory, for the Turk it was an ugly omen of defeat, and all day he made desperate efforts to throw the New Zealanders back from Chunuk Bair, and to break the line held by the left and centre columns. All day long and into the night the enemy assailed the shallow, hastily dug trenches on Chunuk Bair with artillery and rifle fire and showers of bombs, and attacked again and again with troops brought fresh from reserve; but the New Zealanders were determined at all costs to cling to their hardly-won footing on the heights.
A Glimpse of Victory.
At last night came, and if it brought no respite for the forward troops, it at least enabled them to be supplied with a little—a very little—water and food, and supplies of ammunition. To attack again and at once in an endeavour to exploit the success on Chunuk Bair was almost the only course left open; so the columns were again reorganised and preparations made for a further effort, on the issue of which would depend the success or failure of the whole operation. The attack was to be made by the following three columns:—
No. 1 Column (Brig.-General F. E. Johnston)—26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifles, N.Z. Infantry Brigade, and two battalions of the 13th Division.
No. 2 Column (Major-General H. V. Cox)—21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), 4th Australian Brigade, 39th Brigade (less the 7th Gloucesters), 6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment, and the Indian Infantry Brigade.
No. 3 Column (Brig.-General A. H. Baldwin)—Two battalions each from the 38th and 29th Infantry Brigades, and one from the 40th Brigade.
No. 1 Column was to hold and consolidate its position, and in co-operation with the other columns to gain the whole of Chunuk Bair and extend to the south-east. No. 2 Column was to attack Hill Q. No. 3 Column, the units in which had been brought from reserve, was to make the main attack. It was to march by way of the Chailak Dere after dark on the night of August 8th, and after gaining touch with No. 1 Column, advance up the slopes towards Hill Q.
At 4.30 a.m., on August 9th, the most furious bombardment that it was possible to bring to bear was opened on the Chunuk Bair Ridge and Hill Q. by the guns on the left flank, and as many as possible from the Anzac area, assisted by the fire of the naval guns. The guns on the hills at Anzac, away on the right, with the 4.5in. howitzers on the beach, were able to enfilade the enemy's position on the ridge, their fire being quite as destructive as that of the guns firing at closer quarters page 84out on the flank. This bombardment was timed to continue from 4.30 a.m. to 5.15 a.m., when it was to be switched off on to the flanks and reverse slopes of the heights. The bombardment was only comparatively effective; considering the number of guns engaged the results were surprisingly good; but the enemy still swept the slopes up which the attack must be pushed with a hail of lead.
While the troops of No. 1 Column fulfilled their task of holding on to their positions on Chunuk Bair, the 6th Gurkhas of the Indian Infantry Brigade, as well as some of the 6th South Lancashire Regiment actually fought their way up to the very crest of Hill Q. For a brief space the little band stood on the objective for which so many thousands had fought and bled and died, and gazed upon the Turkish communications—the roads winding far below them, and the Narrows, whose forts and mine-fields had blocked the way for the fleet, and across which the Turks brought troops and supplies from the Asiatic shore. But this prospect of victory was to be short-lived, and its termination sudden and tragic. Suddenly a salvo of heavy naval shells fell among the Ghurkas. The confusion which ensued on this shattering of their ranks by the shells of their own Navy was yet at its height, when the enemy, rallying, charged back on to the crest, and drove the Ghurkas and Lancastrians back down the slopes up which they had just fought their way at great cost. The loss was irretrievable. General Baldwin's Column, which was to have made the main attack, was hopelessly late, and was unable at this critical moment to exercise any influence on the fortunes of the battle. Instead of launching their attack from immediately in rear of the trenches held by the New Zealanders, as had been planned, the battalions of No. 3 Column had got no further than the neighbourhood of The Farm. The enemy's attempt at a decisive counter-stroke extended along the whole line, but the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair, undismayed by the fury and frequency of the assaults, clung desperately to their grip on the heights.
That evening the line ran along Rhododendron Ridge, up to the crest of Chunuk Bair, where a lightly dug trench-line, some two hundred yards in length, was held by about 800 men. page 85Thence the line ran down to the Farm and almost due north to the Asma Dere southern watershed, whence it continued Westward to the sea near Asmak Kuyn. The New Zealand troops occupying the trenches on the top of Chunuk Bair were relieved on the night of the 9th-10th August, after three days and nights of incessant fighting, and after having held this forward trench on Chunuk Bair for 36 hours. The position was handed over to two battalions of the 13th Division.
At dawn on August 10th, the Turks delivered a counter-attack against this precarious line with troops estimated at something over the strength of a division. Attacked from three directions at once, the New Army troops on Chunuk Bair were literally engulfed, the enemy pouring over their positions and down the crest like a human tide, but it was full daylight, and as the Turkish infantry topped the crest and came down the slopes, they were subjected to a perfectly annihilating fire from the shore and naval guns, as well as from the machine guns of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. Never on the Peninsula had the New Zealand gunners been offered a better target, and never was an opportunity more eagerly seized. A section of the 1st Battery on Russell's Top did tremendous execution amongst the Turks streaming down Chunuk Bair towards the Farm; while from their positions on the flats on the left the scratch battery manning the 18prs. of the R.F.A. shot into the Turkish masses over open sights as fast as the guns could be reloaded. In the gullies, where they attempted to take refuge, the enemy were relentlessly pursued by the howitzers, the two guns of the 4th Battery north of Ari Burnu, and the 5in. howitzers shelling all the ground out of reach of the 18prs., and driving the enemy back into the open. The enemy suffered tremendous losses from this concentrated fire; but the line fell back, and the attacking army finally lost its footing on the Ridge.
The great attack had failed, and the Turks remained in possession of the dominating heights which had been the goal of three days' ceaseless endeavour and sacrifice. Instead of the strip of country a few hundred acres in extent, which had been the extent of the original position at Anzac, an area of page 86several square miles was now held. The Colonials felt that they had room to breathe after having been huddled into the gullies at Anzac for so many months; but that was all. Success was still as far off as ever.
To meet the new situation a good deal of movement of guns was necessary. On August 10th the section of the 4th Battery which had been situated at Anzac Cove was moved out to Taylor's Hollow, the first re-entrant north of the Chailak Dere, the bed of which where it reached the beach had been itself the northern boundary of the old Anzac position. Four days later two guns of the 2nd Battery were moved from Plugge's Plateau to the left flank, where they joined one of the scratch batteries which had been formed during the offensive. On the 18th the arrival of the 3rd Battery from Cape Helles made a welcome addition to the artillery strength of the Division. The left section of the battery at once went into action on one of the spurs running up from the flat ground near Taylor's Hollow, with an arc of fire to the north-east in the direction of the "W" Hills. The day following the right section got into action in the same position, and the remaining guns of the 2nd Battery joined the section already in position near Taylor's Hollow. Such was the disposition of the batteries for the assaults on Hill 60 or Kaiajik Aghala, as it was otherwise known, which marked the last offensive action of the force at Anzac.
After the failure of the attack on the Ridge Sir Ian Hamilton cabled to the War Office, pointing out the sadly weakened condition of his Divisions, and urging that large reinforcements must be sent at once if the campaign was to be brought to a rapid and successful conclusion. The answer to these requests effectually dispelled all hopes of a resumption of offensive operations on a scale that would be likely to produce any decisive results. Reinforcements could not be sent. Forced to make the best of a bad situation, Sir Ian Hamilton decided to strengthen his forces at Suvla Bay as far as lay in his power, and to make an attack on Ismail Oglu Tepe—known at Anzac as the "W" Hills. The possession of these page 87hills would not only command the valleys running up to the two villages of Biyuk Anafarta and Kuchuk Anafarta, but would permit freer communication between Anzac and Suvla. To assist the 9th Corps in this operation troops from Anzac were to attack Hill 60.
The attack was fixed for the 21st of August, and the artillery support was to be rendered by the following guns:—2nd, 3rd, and 4th (How.) N.Z.F.A., "Daniell's" Battery (two Australian guns), three 5in. howitzer batteries of the 69th Brigade, one 18pr. battery at Lala Baba (Suvla Bay), certain of the mountain guns, and naval guns. It had been intended that the guns at the disposal of Colonel Johnstone should give their support solely to General Cox's attack on Hill 60, and all the preparations were made to this end; but almost at the last moment these dispositions were upset by an order for a general bombardment of the Turkish trenches in front of the 9th Corps. Accordingly, at the eleventh hour the whole programme of artillery support had to be revised in order that for the first phase of the action support might be given to the 9th Corps alone. This seriously interfered with the preparation of the ground over which the Colonial and other units of General Cox's force were to advance, and instead of the bombardment commencing at 2.15 p.m., it did not begin until 2.45 p.m., when fire was switched from the 9th Corps' front.
From 3.30 p.m., when the infantry assault commenced, the 18pr. batteries were engaged on any target which presented itself. They made good shooting on enemy reinforcements advancing at Anafarta, and got particularly good results on various targets in the direction of Kabak Kuyu, Susak Kuyu, and the northern slopes of Kaiajik Aghala. Meanwhile the howitzers of the 4th Battery were bombarding enemy trenches on Kaiajik Aghala, where their shooting was accurate and effective, prisoners captured later reporting that this shelling caused heavy casualties. The attack fell short of success, the enemy rifle and machine-gun fire at some points being so intense that it was impossible for the attackers to make headway. On the left the Indian troops succeeded in gaining the page 88well at Kabak Kuyu, but on Hill 60 the two hundred yards of trench line seized and held by the New Zealand Mounted Riflemen represented the sole gains. At the request of General Cox a steady rate of fire was kept up by the 4th Battery's howitzers during the night on the front occupied by General Russell's troops, in order to hinder any attempts at an assembly of enemy troops for the purposes of counter-attack. During the day of August 22nd the 4th Battery kept up this bombardment, and did excellent work in limiting the activities of the Turks, who were endeavouring further to entrench. On the lower northern slopes of the hill, where the enemy was in strength and strongly entrenched, they were subjected to a steady fire, which drove them into the gullies beyond observation. Hoping to clear this portion of the front, and acting on artillery advice, General Russell asked for the co-operation of the 9th Corps artillery, as it was thought that with the assistance of their enfilade fire this piece of ground could be denied to the enemy altogether. This assistance, however, was not forthcoming, the reason given for the refusal being that observation was difficult, and that the results to be expected were not thought to justify the expenditure of ammunition.
Late on the afternoon of the 21st one of the guns in "Daniell's" Battery was completely destroyed by a shell which burst in the bore, fortunately without wounding any of the crew. The gun, which had been borrowed from the Australians, was replaced by one from the 2nd Battery. On the evening of August 26th the right section of the 3rd Battery moved its guns to a new position on the north-western slopes of Damakjelik Bair. At the close of the month the whole battery was established in a position on the edge of the beach about a mile north of No. 3 Outpost.
In the interval which ensued before the second and final attack was made on Hill 60 on August 27th, the Hill was kept under fairly constant fire, especially during the hours of darkness. So frequently were requests for night-firing received from the infantry that the daily allowance of ammunition, which had again been reduced to five rounds per howitzer page 89and ten rounds per gun, was almost entirely accounted for in this manner. The attack on the 27th, which was made at 5 p.m. by a force consisting of New Zealand Mounted Rifles, Australian Infantry, and Connaught Rangers, was preceded by an hour's heavy bombardment, over 500 high explosive shells being poured into the limited area on the front of assault. The batteries in action were the 4th (How.) Battery, and B., C, and D. Batteries, 69th (How.) Brigade. Field and naval guns assisted by shelling the flanks and rear areas. The bombardment inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, whose trenches were found heaped with their own dead; but still the attackers were met with a heavy fire from machine-guns and field batteries. The attack achieved a very fair measure of success, only the troops on the right being held up by machinegun fire from a trench, the existence of which had not been suspected. Initial gains were slightly enlarged on succeeding days; but substantially the line remained unaltered from this on to the close of the campaign.