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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

Part III

page 218

Part III.

The Attack of August 8.

That night the whole of the attacking force was reorganized in three columns:—

Right Column—Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston.

26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
N. Z. Infantry Brigade.
Auckland Mounted Rifles.
Maori Contingent.

8th Welsh Pioneers
7th Gloucesters.
from the 13th Division
in Reserve.

The Right Column was to assault Chunuk Bair at dawn on the 8th. The Auckland Mounteds and the Maoris were to be brought up from the Right Covering Column.

Centre and Left Columns—Major-General H. V. Cox.

21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
4th Australian Infantry Brigade.
29th Indian Infantry Brigade.
9th Royal Warwicks.
9th Worcesters.
7th North Staffords.
6th South Lancashires.

The centre of this force was to attack Hill Q; the left was to attack the Abdel Rahman spur—the two attacks converging on Koja Chemen Tepe, the highest point in the range.

We must look in turn at the left, the centre, and the right.

Away on the left the Australians of the 4th Brigade moved up the Asma Dere towards the lower slopes of Abdel Rahman Bair. The intention was to gain a footing, then wheel to the right, and work up this rugged northern spur towards Koja Chemen Tepe. By this time, however, Turkish reserves had accumulated all along the rear slopes of the whole mountain system. With machine guns and shrapnel the Ottoman soldiery assailed the Australians, who were presently almost surrounded. Hopelessly outnumbered, wearied with incessant fighting, the gallant 4th Brigade fell back to its former line.

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In the centre the men of the 39th New Army Brigade and the Indians fared little better. Pushing on past both sides of The Farm the troops assailed the lower spurs leading up to Hill Q and the left of Chunuk. But the Turkish machine gunners and riflemen were fresh from reserve. They held the high ground with all its advantages, they were fighting in a country with which they were familiar, and compelled our line to come to a definite standstill on the slopes overlooking The Farm.

The Capture of Chunuk Bair.

On the right things were going better. At dawn the men of the Wellington Infantry Regiment were ready again to attack the fatal crestline. The tired troops of yesterday were once again to essay the seemingly impossible.

At 4.15 in the grey of the morning, the Wellington Infantry and the 7th Gloucesters, led by Lieut.-Colonel Malone, commenced the desperate struggle for Chunuk Bair. So far as the New Zealanders are concerned, August 8, 1915, was the blackest day on the Peninsula. But the prize was the strategical key to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Win the Ridge and we should win the Narrows. Open the Narrows to the Navy, and Constantinople was ours! Surely a prize worth fighting for. So from the scanty trenches on Rhododendron Spur leapt the Wellingtons and the 7th Gloucesters.

By their dash and audacity the crestline was soon gained. We now had a footing on the ridge, and to cling to that foothold and extend from it was now the pressing need. The Wellingtons and Gloucesters started to dig in, but the enemy evidently made up his mind to cut the New Zealanders off. A body of snipers picked off all the machine gun crews. When Malone's battalion was seen marching along the skyline four machine guns were pushed up to him. These guns never came back. When half way up the ridge a veritable hail of lead burst round them, and they were so badly damaged that only one gun could be reconstructed from the remnants of the four; but it got into position and did good service until the whole of the gun crew were killed or wounded.

page 220

Two machine guns that were to support the right flank of the attackers from the Apex were pushed forward on the slope to avoid being silhouetted against the crest line. The Turkish snipers now concentrated on these guns. Soon all the personnel were killed or wounded. A Maori machine gun close by lost their officer killed and had nine other casualties, but a few men fought their gun all day without a murmur. This was the only machine gun left in action on this flank.

The devoted party on the crest was assailed with every variety of shell, hand grenades and maxims. Time after time, Turks advanced to the attack but were driven off at the point of the bayonet. The Gloucesters who had lost all their officers now came down the ridge to the help of the New Zealanders. They seemed dazed, but instinct and the example of the New Zealanders convinced them that the bayonet was the weapon for the Turk. Time and time again they charged and cleared their front.

The Glory of New Zealand.

This forward Turkish trench became a veritable death trap. Not far behind it was another line that resolved itself into our real line of resistance. But some ardent spirits of the Aucklands, Otagos and Wellingtons decided to stick to their forward line. No one—except the dozen badly-wounded survivors—can conceive the horrors of that awful front line trench. It was practically dark when they arrived in the early hours of the morning. When daylight came it proved to be a fatal position. About ten or fifteen yards to their front the ground sloped rapidly away into a valley until again it revealed itself about six hundred yards away. When it was light this far away hill was seen to be occupied by about a battalion of Turks—a battalion advancing to attack this forward trench of Chunuk! A few long range shots were all that could be fired. Then came the long wait while the attackers crossed the gully. To the waiting New Zealanders—the New Zealand infantrymen who had penetrated farthest into Turkey—the minutes seemed hours. But a shower of hand grenades announced the beginning of the end. From the dead ground in the page 221 front came bombs and more bombs. Away from the left came the Turkish shrapnel. To fire at all, our men had to stand up in the trench and expose themselves almost bodily to view. One by one they died on Chunuk, until after a few hours desperate struggle against overwhelming forces the only New Zealanders left alive were a dozen severely wounded. But not for a long time did the first Turk dare show his head. Then into the trench several crept with their bayonets to kill the wounded. Fortunately a Turkish sergeant arrived and saved the lives of the wounded who were carried off to the German dressing stations behind Hill Q. In all the history of the Gallipoli Campaign there is no finer story of fortitude, no finer exhibition of heroism and self-sacrifice, than was shown in this forward trench of Chunuk on that desperate August morning. Here died some of the noblest characters in the New Zealand Army. August 8 was a day of tragedy for New Zealand, but no day in our calendar shines with greater glory.

All that day midst the shriek of the Turkish shrapnel, the dull booming of the British naval guns, the incessant rattle of musketry and machine gun fire, that heroic band held on. With their faces blackened with dust and sweat, with the smell of the picric acid assailing their nostrils, with their tongues parched for the lack of water, up there in the blazing heat of the August sun those gallant souls held on.

The Auckland Mounted Rifles and the Maoris arrived at Rhododendron about 3 a.m. and were ordered to the firing line about 11 o'clock. The Aucklanders went out to help Colonel Malone on the ridge. On came the Turks again. The line of infantry and mounteds drove them back at the point of the bayonet. A portion of Chunuk Bair was undoubtedly ours, but at what a cost! Many of the finest young men of the Dominion lay dead upon the crest. Colonel Malone himself, one of the striking characters in the New Zealanl army, was killed as he was marking out the trench line.

It was during this struggle for Chunuk Bair that Corporal Bassett of the Divisional Signallers undertook to carry the telephone line up on to the ridge and gained the first V.C. page 222
Black and white photograph of the Apex and Chunuk Bair.

The Apex and Chunuk Bair.
These photographs were taken after the Armistice in 1918, and clearly show the distinction between Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, which was 1,400 yards away. No British Troops ever got on to Koja Chemen Tepe (or Hill 971). When New Zealanders say they were on “the top of 971,” they mean “the ridge of Chunuk Bair.” Hill Q is about 600 yards from the highest point of Chunuk Bair. Koja Chemen Tepe is 800 yards further on than the crest of Q.

Black and white photograph of the view from Chunuk Bair.

Looking towards Koja Chemen Tepe (Hill 971) from Chunuk Bair.
Hill Q is the high ground to the right.

page 223 for New Zealand. In full daylight, with the approach swept by rifle and machine gun fire, with the Turkish field artillery from Abdel Rahman mercilessly searching the slopes, Bassett dashed and then crept, then dashed and crept again, up to the forward line on Chunuk. These lines were cut again and again, but Bassett and his fellow linesmen of the Signals went out day and night to mend the broken wires. No V.C. on the Peninsula was more consistently earned. This was not for one brilliant act of bravery, but for a full week of ceaseless devotion.

The Maoris were sent over more to the left and most gallantly hung on to an almost untenable position in the neighbourhood of The Farm. They suffered grievious losses uncomplainingly. At dusk the Otago Infantry went out to reinforce what was left of the Wellington and Auckland Infantry, the 7th Gloucesters, and the Auckland Mounteds. Already the Otagos had suffered terribly, but throughout that awful night of August 8 all previous experiences were as nothing. It was a night of agony by thirst, of nerve-wracking bomb explosions, and of bayonet jabs in the dark.

In the darkness a little much-needed water was carried out to the thirsty men. Hand grenades, food and reinforcements went out to the battered trenches; more machine guns were sent—three from the Cheshire Regiment, three from the Wiltshires, and one from the Wellington Mounted Rifles. The Cheshire guns came back as there was ample without them. This second lot of four guns was never seen again.

Still another effort had to be made, for the hold we had on Chunuk had to be increased. It was the most important capture, so far, in the whole campaign; but the Suvla army still clung to the low ground at Suvla, leaving the Australians with their left flank out in the air waiting for the necessary support to carry them on to victory up the Abdel Rahman.

There was no time to lose. The partial success on Chunuk must be exploited. We could not afford to wait on Suvla.

page 224

The Ghurkas Attack Hill Q.

Once again on the night of August 8 the columns were reorganized for the attack:

No. 1 Column—Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston.

26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one Section).
Auckland Mounted Rifles.
Wellington Mounted Rifles.
N.Z. Infantry Brigade.
7th Gloucesters.
8th Welsh Pioneers.

The Wellington Mounted Rifles came up from Table Top during the night, but the other troops were already on Chunuk Bair. Their duty on the morrow was to consolidate their position, and if possible extend it.

No. 2 Column—Major-General H. V. Cox.

21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
4th Australian Infantry Brigade.
29th Indian Infantry Brigade.
39th Brigade (less the 7th Gloucesters).
6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.

This column was to attack the heights of Hill Q.

No. 3 Column—Brigadier-General A. H. Baldwin.

6th East Lancashires. From the
6th Loyal North Lancashires. 38th Brigade.
10th Hampshires. From the
6th Royal Irish Rifles. 29th Brigade.
5th Wiltshires. 40th Brigade.

These troops were from the Army Corps Reserve. They were to assemble in the Chailak Dere on the night of the 8th, move up to Rhododendron Spur in the dark, and getting in touch with the No. 1 Column on Chunuk Bair, move up the slopes towards Hill Q.

Troops moving up defiles in the dark are always late, for so many factors seem to work adversely. Wounded men and transport mules will persist in coming down and blocking the road. Wounded men are generally past caring about the fortunes of the fight. Indian mule drivers know they have to get back to their depot and are perhaps not told the proper track to take. This, of course, is soon page 225 regulated when things are normal; but while a fight is on there is a good deal of confusion.

No. 1 Column carried out its task and held on to Chunuk Bair; the Ghurkas struggled up the steeps of Hill Q, their ranks becoming visibly thinner and thinner until the watchers from the posts below wondered if there would be enough momentum to carry them to the top. But they undoubtedly did get there. The Navy now commenced firing over the crest in order to debar the Turk from pressing a counter-attack. Some
Black and white photograph.

A Sikh and a Ghurka.

of the shells fell short among the Ghurkas. Instead of getting help from Baldwin, who was only at The Farm, a few heavy shells crashed on to the summit. This was one of the tragedies of Anzac. Instead of help came our own shells. It is the price that must be paid for artillery support in broken country. These things are unavoidable—they are the misfortune of war.

But the enemy saw his chance. Launching a counter-attack, the gallant handful of survivors was swept off the crest and into the valley below. Simultaneously a flood was loosed on the 4th Australians; wave after wave was hurled against the New Zealanders up on the shoulder of Chunuk Bair; flushed with success and confident in the overwhelming superiority of numbers, wave after wave of skirmishers was thrown around Baldwin's forces at The Farm until the column was well-nigh annihilated. General Baldwin himself was killed with many of his commanding officers. The survivors retired to their original position on the ridge overlooking The Farm.

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The only force to hold its ground was General Johnston's on Chunuk Bair, where a poor trenchline of 200 yards was occupied. Our fellows were too exhausted to dig in the hard ground and rock of the crest-line. It was impossible to put out wire.

This brings us to the end of Sunday, August 9. The battle at Lone Pine was still raging. Down at Suvla, high officers were trying to infuse a little energy into an army that had become moribund.

Worn out with three days and three nights of fighting under a merciless sun, with a short ration of water, suffering tremendous losses, the New Zealanders and other troops on Chunuk Bair were withdrawn for a little rest on the evening of August 9. Their place was taken by the 6th Loyal North Lancashires and the 5th Wiltshires. It was estimated that more than two battalions could not be usefully employed on the ridge.

We Lose the Crest of Chunuk.

At dawn on the 10th, these two battalions had disappeared! Some of the North Lancashires who escaped explained that the Wiltshires arrived tired and did not dig in; they were attacked by the Turks with knives and bombs: the Wiltshires ran in towards the Lancashires and the machine guns, and so masked their fire. So were these two battalions wiped out!

About 6 a.m. the Turks delivered their famous counter-attack down the slopes of Chunuk Bair, and endeavoured to get at the New Army regiments on the left of the Apex. But the four machine guns of the Canterbury Battalion were on the left front of the Apex, and the two remaining guns of the Auckland Battalion were on the Apex itself; two guns of the Wellington Battalion were back on the Rhododendron with the Maori gun and the flank gun of the Otago Infantry—these four could fire over the heads of the guns on the Apex, and commanded the whole of the approaches from Chunuk Bair. The small details of training, generally found so irksome, now proved of value. The gunners had already attended to their guns at the first streak of day. page 227 A Canterbury gunner, finding his gun difficult to adjust reported to the N.Z. Brigade Machine Gun Officer, who was sighting the gun on to the ridge when the first line of the Turkish attack came over at that very point. This gun had the range at once, and followed by keeping the sights a little in advance of the enemy. The other guns quickly took up the rat-a-tat; the range was sent to the other five guns. The N.Z. Mounted Brigade machine guns on Table Top and Bauchop's Hill also found a good target at extreme range. The New Zealand field guns, especially the howitzers, also opened up at once.

Black and white photograph.

[Photo by Col. Falla, C.M.G., D.S.O.
A New Zealand 4.5 Howitzer.

The Turkish line consisted of from 250 to 300 men at about one pace interval. By the time they reached a point immediately in front of the guns, the whole of the N.Z. machine guns were concentrated at that point in accordance with the orders hurriedly issued. Thus was created a death zone through which the enemy could not pass. They fell over literally like oats before a reaper. Twenty two lines came down each as true and steady as the first. They moved at a jog trot with their rifles at the port. The machine gunners with the assistance of the Navy and the Field Artillery mowed down line after line until the Turkish effort was spent. A number of Turks crawled back during the forenoon. They were not molested by the page 228 machine gunners, who admired their bravery so much as to leave them alone.

The New Zealand Infantry Brigade was relieved at 2 p.m. that day, but the machine guns were left in to stiffen up the New Army regiments.

At about 2.30 a.m. there was an attack and much confusion. The Turks showed on the top of the Apex, but the two flank guns of the Canterbury Battalion quickly dispersed them. Order was only restored at daylight. The presence of the N.Z. machine guns had saved the situation. The N.Z. Infantry Brigade again came in with the Aucklanders on the Apex. The next morning the Turks occupied the point of the Apex, and it was decided to take a Vickers Maxim out to the front and open up on them from an unexpected quarter. The gun was just in position when a peculiar incident occurred. An Otago man of the 5th Reinforcements was working in front of where the gun took up position. He was told to stop work when the gun was ready and to crouch down so that the gun could fire over him. Against all the rules of war he immediately lighted his pipe. The Turks, only 80 yards away, opened fire with about twenty rifles on to the light. Their rifle flashes disclosed their position and the machine gun drove them out.

The New Zealand Infantry were relieved again in a short time and the machine gunners moved back to Rhododendron. On the first morning after their move back, a blockhouse was found to have been built in No Man's Land during the night. It now became plain what the Turks had been trying to do, but this had been prevented as long as the N.Z. Infantry were in possession. This blockhouse was a great nuisance to our men at the Apex, until it was summarily dealt with by the Canterburys later in the month.