The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Chapter XV. The Battle of Kaiajik Aghala
Chapter XV. The Battle of Kaiajik Aghala.
Sir Ian Hamilton decided to make another effort with a regrouping of the troops at his disposal.page 246
The only new troops he could call on were the 2nd Mounted Division, a body of British Yeomanry who had been doing garrison duty in Egypt. They were composed of young men who had served in the volunteer mounted service before the war and correspond to our New Zealand regiments of Mounted Rifles. They totalled about 5000 men, and were organized in four brigades (the 1st South Midland, the 2nd South Midland, the North Midland, and the London.)
The 29th Division, who since their desperate landing, had borne the brunt of the fighting at Cape Helles, were moved from there to stiffen the New Army division, which were dug in along the Suvla Flats.
By the night of August 20/21, all was ready for the projected attack. This was to consist of two preliminary movements.
The 29th Division was to move from Chocolate Hills against Scimitar Hill. Everywhere along the line the other units were to take the offensive to hold the enemy's reserves in check. The 13th Division was to attack at 3.15 p.m. The 34th Brigade was to attack on the plain near Hetman Chair. Next to it the 32nd Brigade was to get possession of a trench running from Hetman Chair towards “W” Hills.
A reference to the map will show that when these two points—Scimitar Hill and Kaiajik Aghala—were taken the way would be clear for a converging combined assault on Ismail Oglu Tepe, the well known “W” Hills of Anzac. From it in a north-westerly direction ran the long spur on which—some 2700 yards away—was situated the village of Biyuk Anafarta. A similar distance away, but to the south-west, lay Kuchuk Anafarta. The occupation of Ismail Oglu Tepe would not only give us possession of the valleys running up to both these villages, but would also give us uninterrupted intercourse between Anzac and Suvla, now continually under the fire of the guns on “W” Hills. The wells in the neighbourhood were also valuable to whichever side held them.page 247
The Attack on Scimitar Hill.
On the night of August 20/21, the 29th Division assembled at Chocolate Hills and prepared for the advance on the morrow. All that day they kept under observation their objective for the morrow—the ill-starred Scimitar.
The preliminary bombardment was very heavy for Gallipoli, but a mist on the Suvla plain favoured the enemy, interfering with the aim of our gunners. At 3.15 in the afternoon the 34th Brigade reached their objective—the trenches on the plain near Hetman Chair; but the 32nd Brigade lost direction, and instead of taking the communication trench leading to the “W” Hills, went far north of it and suffered heavy casualties. The 33rd Brigade went out to retrieve the situation, but made the same mistake and failed entirely in its object.
The 86th Brigade was to attack the right of the Scimitar, and merge with the 87th Brigade for the attack on the crest; but the badly-directed 32nd and 33rd Brigades of the 13th Division were now scattered over the ground between Green page 249 Hill and the Scimitar. These troops got mixed with the regulars and threw them into confusion; but born of long training, led by experienced officers, companies emerged from the chaos, and pressed on to the Scimitar. Then a great fire broke out in the undergrowth and little headway could be made.
At five o'clock the Yeomanry were called from the reserve at Lala Baba. With their hearts in their mouths, the watchers from the Anzac hills saw the long lines extend in open order and move across the wide expanse of plain. Right across the dry Salt lake the troopers quickly marched. The wonder is that so few casualties occurred. They had some difficulty in pressing through the scattered men of the 13th Division round the Chocolate Hills; but by 7 o'clock at least one brigade was at the foot of the Scimitar. Darkness fell as they commenced to work their way to the crest. The converging fire again swept the crest and they too suffered the fate of the Inniskillings and had to withdraw after suffering fearful loss.
Scimitar Hill, which was taken so easily by the 6th East Yorks and so tragically abandoned on August 8th, cost over 5000 casualities. There was not an atom of gain, for everywhere the troops fell back to the original line.
The First Attack on Kaiajik Aghala.
The attack from Anzac met with better fortune. It will be remembered that the Left Covering Force occupied Damajelik Bair on the morning of August 7. The 4th Australian Brigade which fell back from Abdel Rahman had dug in along the southern bank of the headwaters of the Kaiajik Dere.
The line to be attacked was shaped like a boomerang. The operation was divided into two parts.
The 29th Indian Brigade of Ghurkas and Sikhs was to seize the important wells, principally Kabak Kuyu—the Suvla end of the boomerang.
[Lent by N.Z. Y.M.C.A.
Ocean Beach after the August Offensive.
This picture shows the Y.M.C.A. marquee in the centre. The road along the beach, the new wharfs from which the New Zealand brigades embarked at the evacuation, and the hospitals are plainly shown.
The troops for (2) were disposed from right to left as follows:—
The 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, now reduced to about 1,400 men, had available for the attack about 400 men from the 13th and 14th Battalions.
The Canterbury Mounted Rifles were already on the ground, and the Otago Mounted Rifles were brought over to reinforce them. To each of these regiments a platoon of Maoris was attached.
Detachments of the 5th Connaught Rangers (10th Div.), the 4th South Wales Borderers (13th Div.) and the 10th Hampshires (10th Div.) were on the extreme left, where the South Wales Borderers had been since August 7 waiting for the joining up of the Suvla forces. The Indians, it must be remembered, were also part of the Anzac Army.
The ravine of the Kaiajik Aghala separated the Australians and New Zealanders from their objective. This ravine gradually broadened out in front of the New Army troops, and debouched on the wide open plain around the wells of Kabak Kuyu and Susuk Kuyu.
The line was to be attacked as follows:—
29th Indian Inf. Brigade.
|13th & 14th
(about 500 men)
By some strange mischance, the artillery bombardment which was so liberal at Suvla, overlooked Hill 60 altogether. But at 3.30 the troops made ready for the advance.
The 13th and 14th Australian Battalions—those veterans of Pope's and Quinn's, the men who early in August struggled on to the Abdel Rahman—dashed down the slope. Losing heavily, they raced into the gully and up the other side. Beaten by Turkish machine gun fire, they held their ground, but could not get on.
The New Zealand attack had about 800 yards to go. Squadron and troop leaders spent the day observing the page 252 objective and the best lines of advance. They went back to their men, explained the position and made clear to everyone that the attack was to be by bayonet only, then bombs. The formation was to be in lines of successive troops; each ridge to be taken advantage of as a reforming point for a fresh advance.
There was some wonderment at the lack of artillery fire, but punctually at 3.30, over the top went the troopers. Down the slope went the Canterburys and Otagos. Troop after troop dived into the hail of death and pushed on to the first ridge to collect their scattered fragments. Each troop made its fifty yard rushes and fell down exhausted. These men had lived for months on hard rations and were weakened by dysentery and fatigue. But on they swept again. It was a triumph of resolute minds over wasted bodies. Reaching the shelter of the gully, they reformed and commenced the steep ascent. Between the large ridge and the Turkish trench there was about 100 yards of bullet-swept scrub. Dozens of the troopers fell never to rise again; the wounded crept into positions of comparative safety. The Turkish shells set the scrub and grass on fire, but luckily there was little wind, and the little there was blew the flames away from our wounded.
By now the Canterburys and Otagos had reached the first enemy trench, and a bomb fight ensued. Down the communication trench the Turk was driven. Our men came across an enemy machine gun, which was promptly turned on to the fugitives. Back came the Turk with a counter attack, but the troopers stuck like limpets to their hardly-won position.
The position now was: The Indians had seized the well, and were well round the Suvla flank of Hill 60. The N.Z.M.R. had 150 yards of the Turkish trenches; but on the right, the 13th and 14th Australians could not get on. We had a precarious hold that night, as the Connaughts sent round between us and the Indians were mercilessly bombed back again.
A most dramatic incident occurred when there was a sudden cry of “cease fire,” and from the Turkish page 253 trenches on Kaiajik Aghala over 150 Turks issued with their hands held high in the air. They had rifles with them, but their movements and demeanour strongly suggested that they were willing to be taken prisoners. There was no one who could talk Turkish, so an interpreter was sent for. But before he arrived our men were out of the trenches trying to carry on a conversation with the Turks, who seemed perfectly friendly, but could not understand our words or signs that they must put down their arms and come quietly away. Suddenly shooting rang out on the right and left. But the O.C. Otago Mounteds went right out into No Man's Land towards the Turkish trenches, surrounded by a mob of Turks. He was convinced that we were about to make one of the biggest hauls of prisoners in the campaign. The few New Zealanders were hopelessly outnumbered, but still they tried to indicate by signs and pantomimic gestures that the Turks must first lay down their arms. By this time firing was brisk in other parts of the line. Some Turks who came to our trenches reached down to assist our fellows out, but our men pulled them in and made them prisoners, very much to their annoyance. The Otago colonel got right to the enemy's trench, and a Turkish officer tried to pull him in. This did not seem good enough, so in the grey of the morning the colonel, a lonely figure, retraced his steps across No Man's Land. Then firing became general, but not before we had captured a dozen of the enemy.
To this day the senior officers who were on the spot are not certain of the Turk's intention, but as it was discovered that all the prisoners and the dead carried many bombs, it is almost certain that they did not wish to surrender. The most likely story is that a few New Army men were captured out on the Suvla Flats, and told the enemy intelligence officers that we were badly shaken and perhaps would surrender. So this party came down to conduct us into their lines. But instead of finding a place in the line—if there was one—where men were willing to give themselves up, they came upon a nest of hornets that stung them very severely.page 254
During the rest of the night, communications were dug from the old Australian trenches to their new front line on the other side of the Kaiajik Dere. The New Zealanders in the Kaiajik trenches were not in touch with the Australians on the right.
The newly arrived battalion of Australian Infantry—the 18th—now came out from Anzac as reinforcements. This was at 4.30 a.m. Two companies were taken round by the Kabak well, along an old Turkish road, and sent to attack the northern flank of the hill. At first they were very successful, but the bombing tactics of the enemy were too much for the newly arrived soldiers, who had to evacuate—about 9 a.m. on the 22nd. At 11 a.m. the N.Z.M.R. again took part of those trenches on the extreme left, and built a sandbag barricade.
The position now was that the front line trench on Hill 60 was held for about 200 yards by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. This trench ran approximately round the 60 metre contour line. We built traverses to separate us from the enemy, who held the rest of the trench.
This attack had fallen very heavily on the troops engaged. The Canterburys, Otagos and Maoris had severe losses—the Canterburys losing 58 per cent. of their effictives, the Otagos 65 per cent. But we had taken part of the enemy's trench, and that was something—in fact, the only thing gained in the whole line from the Asma Dere to the Chocolate Hills.
We set to work on our communication trenches, and the Turks dug and dug until they made the rest of Kaiajik Aghala into a veritable redoubt.
Second Assault on Kaiajik Aghala.
For the next for days the units in the line carried on an incessant bomb and rifle duel, but it was decided to make one more effort to win the coveted hill.
In the reorganization which took place for the second attack, the disposition was as follows:—
On the right a detachment of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade (250 men), with 100 men of the 17th Battalion, page 255 A.I.F. In the centre, the four regiments of the N.Z. Mounted Rifles Brigade (300 men), with 100 men of the 18th Battalion, A.I.F. On the left were the 5th Connaught Rangers, totalling 250 men.
This attack on Contour 60 of Kaiajik Aghala was timed for 5 p.m., with an artillery bombardment for an hour prior to that. The gunners promised 500 H.E. shells over the space of 500 yards square. In our section of the attack 5 officers and 100 men of the Canterbury Mounteds were to form the first line, with special bombing parties of 20 men of the Aucklands supporting the right and left flanks; Wellington and Otago Mounted Rifles made the second line; the 18th Battalion, A.I.F. the third line. Bayonets and bombs only were to be used. The Canterbury men took up their places in the trench at 4.30 p.m. with the other regiments in the communication trench.
After a bombardment by our artillery, at 5 p.m. our men jumped out to advance and were immediately under a terribly hot fire from machine guns and rifles. But they never wavered, and with men falling everywhere they continued in one long straight line, magnificent in their courage, on into the first trench where they disappeared for 10 or 15 minutes, amongst a nest of live Turks. Finishing these off, without more hesitation, they rose again and advanced under the same withering fire, fewer in numbers, but dauntless in determination, only to meet a new foe in the enemy's shrapnel.
The casualties were fearful. But still they pressed on to the second trench, then the third. Men were falling more quickly now. Yet it was a charge to stir the heart and quicken the blood of a stoic, and so forlorn it looked against such dreadful odds. The little pink flanking flags were gradually moving forward as the artillery exploded their shells just in front of them. It was noticeable that the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade had not been able to make an advance on the right, and the troops on our left were making little headway. Our machine guns now hurried forward to take up a forward position and all hung on to the ground gained as darkness set in. Wounded, page 256 slightly and severely, now began to pour into the dressing stations.
It then became a bomb duel for the remainder of the night. The trenches were choked with dead and wounded Turks and our own people, and were so narrow that no stretchers could be used to send them out.
[Photo by Rev. E. O. Blamires, C.F.
Padre Grant out at Hill 60.
This picture was taken about an hour before his death.
The enemy now began to enfilade with 75m. guns from the east. Their gunners knew the range to a yard, for these were his own captured trenches he was shelling. There seemed to be no escaping these terrible guns; man after man, group after group, was destroyed, but the survivors held stubbornly on. Up in the salient held by our fellows, the Turk attacked again and again, but the Mounted Rifles page 257 stood to it. New Zealanders have a tradition that they cannot be shifted out of reasonable trenches.
The 9th Light Horse, about 200 strong, were placed at General Russell's disposal and were ordered to come over from Walker's Ridge. They arrived at 10 o'clock, and an hour later two parties of 50 each, were taken over to the trenches to help hold our left. They encountered very strong opposition, and had to fall back again to a barricade, which was held by them for the rest of the night.
The position was greatly improved during the day, large working parties being kept going deepening the trenches. The work was much interrupted by shell fire from Abdel Rahman Bair.
At 2 p.m. the officers of the 10th Light Horse came over from Walker's Ridge and were shown the position. A plan was unfolded whereby these Light Horsemen might attack an essential piece of trench away on the left. That night the old 10th, our comrades of Walker's Ridge, came over to Kaiajik, and at 11 o'clock, in the darkness of the night, fell upon the Turks in the remainder of the trench. This was page 258 the climax. Bomb as the Turk might, he could not shift the Light Horse and Mounted Rifles. It was here that Thossell of the Light Horse got his V.C. for holding the barricade against persistent bombing attacks. The top of Kaiajik Aghala was now partly in our hands. We never gained the whole of the crest; but what we took on August 21/28 we held till the evacuation.
Three machine guns and 46 prisoners were taken, as well as three trench mortars, 300 Turkish rifles, 60,000 rounds of small arm ammunition, and 500 bombs. The estimate of the Turkish losses was given at 5,000, but this is likely an exaggeration.
Many of the wounded in these two battles for Kaiajik Aghala were fortunate enough to be taken aboard our own Hospital Ship—the “Maheno”—which arrived off Anzac on August 26. With what joy did the soldiers welcome the clean sheets, the hot baths, the thousand and one comforts and the sight of real New Zealand girls. After the hand-to-hand struggle at Hill 60, to lie at rest on the “Maheno” and watch the nurses was like creeping quietly into heaven.