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The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919

The Third Assault on Sari Bair (August 9th)

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The Third Assault on Sari Bair (August 9th).

The troops at the disposal of General Godley had now been reinforced by the arrival of the headquarters of the 29th (British) Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier-General R. J. Cooper, and the 10th Battalion Hampshire Regiment and the 6th Battalion Irish Rifles of that Brigade, which had been sent up from the Army Corps Reserve.* The new assault on the ridge was to be made by three columns, with the following constitution and objectives:—

No. 1 Column, under Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston.

  • Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiments.
  • New Zealand Infantry Brigade.
  • 7th Battalion Gloucester Regiment (39th Brigade).
  • 8th Battalion Welsh Regiment.
  • 26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
  • No. 1 Company, New Zealand Engineers.

Objective: The consolidation of our positions on Chunuk Bair, the pivotal point of the attack; to be followed by an advance to the south-eastern spur of Chunuk Bair, should the attacks of the other columns prove successful.

No 2 Column, under Brigadier-General H. V. Cox.

  • 4th Australian Infantry Brigade.
  • 39th Infantry Brigade (less 7th Gloucester Battalion) with 6th South Lancashire Battalion attached.
  • 29th Indian Infantry Brigade.
  • 21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
  • No. 2 Company New Zealand Engineers.

Objective: Hill "Q" (midway between Koja Chemen Tepe and Chunuk Bair).

  • No 3 Column, under Brigadier-General A. H. Baldwin (Commanding 38th Infantry Brigade).
  • 6th East Lancashire Battalion (38th Brigade).
  • 6th Loyal North Lancashire Battalion (38th Brigade).
  • 10th Hampshire Battalion (29th Brigade).
  • 6th Royal Irish Rifles Battalion (29th Brigade).
  • 5th Wiltshire Battalion (40th Brigade).

* The remaining battalions of this brigade (5th Connaught Rangers and 6th Leinsters) were sent from Corps Reserve to General Godley during the 9th.

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Objective: Hill "Q," attacking from the south-west and moving on the eastern side of the Farm. This column was to make the main attack, and the other columns were ordered to co-operate with it.

The attack was timed for 5.15 a.m., but at that hour General Baldwin's column, which had lost its way among the gullies during the night, and had been hampered by the congestion in the approaches to Rhododendron Ridge, had not arrived. For three quarters of an hour before zero, the heights were bombarded by our artillery; and when the guns lengthened their range the assaulting troops of the second column went forward, without waiting for General Baldwin's column. As the operations of the first column were entirely dependent on the success of the other two columns, no forward movement was made by General Johnston's column.

The 6th Battalion Gurkha Rifles gained a footing on the col (or saddle) between Chunuk Bair and Hill "Q," whence it looked down upon the Dardanelles; but no fresh troops were near enough to support it, and a strong counter-attack by the enemy drove the Gurkhas down the hill again. The leading troops of General Baldwin's column, the 10th Hampshire Brigade and two companies of the 6th East Lancashire Battalion, arriving shortly afterwards, gained the high ground west of the peak of Chunuk Bair; but were met by the same counter-attack, and were pressed down to the Farm.

The garrison of the firing line of General Johnston's column held their position throughout daylight on the 9th, in spite of persistent Turkish attacks and harassing fire of all kinds. After dark that night, the New Zealand troops were relieved by the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Battalion, with the 5th Wiltshire Battalion in support. At dawn on the 10th, a very strong counter-attack, by a force variously estimated at a division and at "several thousands," advancing in seven or eight lines shoulder to shoulder, overwhelmed the firing line, and the Wilt-shires below, and was with great difficulty checked by the garrison of Rhododendron Spur and the Apex. When the attack was broken, the enemy attempted to retreat, but was cut to pieces by our rifle, machine-gun, and artillery fire, and very few succeeded in escaping over the ridge.

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While this struggle was in progress on the right, strong enemy attacks were delivered against the centre of the line, especially round the farm. Our lines were broken in several places, but by 10 a.m. the position had been restored and the Turks were retreating. Later in the day, enemy attacks were beaten off by the garrison of Asma Dere and Damakjelik Bair.

During the whole of the operations of August 8th, 9th, and 10th, the Canterbury Battalion remained in its trenches on the south of Rhododendron Spur, consolidating the position and linking up the posts into a continuous trench system: though, as mentioned above, four officers and fifty men were sent to the Apex for a time to support the Wellington Battalion's attack. Again, on the loss of the trenches on Chunuk Bair on the 10th, half the battalion was sent up the Apex, to take part in an attempt to recover the position; but the attack did not take place, and the party was sent back very soon after its arrival at the Apex.

The battalion's casualties during the four days' fighting had been very heavy, as the list below shows:—
Officers.Other Ranks.

During the fighting the 5th Reinforcement arrived, and was used as a separate unit in reserve. A party of sixty-five of them was sent to carry supplies to the Wellington Battalion on Chunuk Bair, on the 8th; and of these only four returned. The rest of the Canterbury draft was employed behind the firing line for various purposes, and came on several occasions under heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. The result was that the great majority of the draft became casualties. A draft of two officers and thirty-eight other ranks of the same reinforcement arrived separately, and joined the battalion on August 11th.

* Major C. W. E. Cribb, Major J. Houlker, Lieutenant H. M. Wright, Lieutenant A. F. L. Priest.

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In the New Zealand Infantry Brigade's sector there were no serious attacks by either side after August 10th, and the opposing forces settled down to trench warfare. Minor operations on the left flank of the new Anzac positions, on the nights of August 12th/13th and 13th/14th, gained some ground, and improved the tactical position on that flank; although the left of our front line still remained out of touch with the forces at Suvla Bay.

The achievements of the New Zealand and Australian Division in the August fighting are referred to thus in Sir Ian Hamilton's Special Order of September 7th, 1915:—

"The troops under the command of Major-General Sir A. J. Godley, and particularly the New Zealand and Australian Division, were called upon to carry out one of the most difficult military operations that has ever been attempted—a night march and assault by several columns in intricate mountainous country, strongly entrenched and held by a numerous and determined enemy. Their brilliant conduct during this operation and the success they achieved have won for them a reputation as soldiers of whom any country must be proud.

"To the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, therefore, and to those who were associated with that famous Corps in the battle of Sari Bair—the Maoris, Sikhs, Gurkhas, and the new troops of the 10th and 13th Divisions from the Old Country—Sir Ian Hamilton tenders his appreciation of their efforts, his admiration of their gallantry, and his thanks for their achievements. It is an honour to command a force which numbers such men as these in its ranks, and it is the Commander-in-Chief's high privilege to acknowledge that honour."

The 9th Corps, at Suvla Bay, continued its attacks till the 15th, but with practically no success; and Sir Ian Hamilton then appealed to the War Office for further reinforcements to bring his Divisions up to strength, and also for an additional fifty thousand fresh troops, besides extra supplies and munitions. These were refused him, so he determined to make a final effort at Suvla with the troops then available; and for this purpose he broke off operations till August 21st. The attack on this day failed also; though a supporting attack by troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps gained further ground page 69 on the left of the Anzac positions, where the Kaiajik Dere was crossed.

Finally, on August 27th, 28th, and 29th, a force under Brigadier-General Russell, consisting of troops of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade, the 9th and 10th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse, the 4th and 5th Australian Infantry Brigades, and the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers, stormed the knoll known as Hill 60. This hill lay north of Kaiajik Aghala, north-east of Damakjelik Bair, and between the Kaiajik and Asma Deres. The fighting was almost entirely hand to hand, with bayonet and bomb, and was of a severe nature: the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were particularly singled out for praise by the Divisional Commander. As a result of the operation, the communications along the beach between Anzac and Suvla were much improved, and our new positions commanded the valley between Biyuk Anafarta and the sea.

The New Zealand Infantry Brigade took no part in this fighting; but confined its energies to strengthening its positions on Rhododendron Spur and at the Apex. The Canterbury Battalion remained in garrison of the southern defences of the spur till August 18th, when it relieved the Wellington Battalion and the 8th Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the Apex. The same night (18th/19th) at 12.30 a.m., Lieutenant D. Dobson took out a party of thirty men of the 1st Company, with the object of destroying a Turkish redoubt known as "the Pinnacle," east of the Apex. On reconnoitring the position, the leader of the party found the Turks prepared for an attack; and coming under fire, he withdrew his men, with a loss of one killed and three wounded.

The following night, at 8.30 p.m., a party of twenty men of the 13th Company, under Lieutenant J. B. Le Mottee, made another attempt on the same redoubt, and in spite of heavy fire succeeded in entering it. After remaining there for half an hour, during which time it partially demolished the defences, the party was forced to withdraw. Before the party regained our trenches half its strength had become casualties—three killed and eight wounded.

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On 20th August the battalion was relieved by the Otago Battalion,* and went into brigade reserve in bivouacs at Otago Gully, east of No. 3 Post and close to the beach. Here it remained till the 23rd, when it was ordered to garrison the inner defences—Camel's Hump, Destroyer Ridge, Big Table Top, Bauchop's Hill, and Old No. 3 Post. During the next two days, the battalion was relieved in all these posts except Big Table Top and Old No. 3 Post, but remained in the two last-named posts till the 28th. In the meantime, the Maori Contingent had been attached to the Infantry Brigade, and a platoon was allotted to each battalion. The strength of the Canterbury Battalion was thus increased by one officer and forty other ranks.

The 4th South Wales Borderers took over Big Table Top and Old No. 3 Post on the afternoon of August 28th; and the Canterbury Battalion thereupon moved to the Apex and relieved the 8th Cheshire Battalion, which had been assisting the Wellington Battalion to garrison that post. The Wellington Battalion remained, coming under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes. The one noteworthy incident of the battalion's spell in the line was the shelling of the Pinnacle, by a gun from the 26th Indian Mountain Battery, which was brought up into the Apex trenches for the purpose. The gun fired nine rounds, destroying the redoubt, and was got away before the enemy's guns could open fire on it. The battalion was relieved by the Auckland Battalion on September 8th, and went into bivouacs in Chailak Dere, north of Big Table Top and close to brigade headquarters. Here it remained till the 12th, when it moved to bivouacs at Bauchop's Hill.

The troops which had taken part in the original landing at Anzac had now spent nearly five months on the Peninsula, under conditions of great hardship and continual danger. The arrival at the Peninsula of the 2nd Australian Division made it possible to give these troops a rest at Lemnos, and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade received orders to embark on the transport Osmanieh on September 14th. The Canterbury Battalion left its bivouacs at Bauchop's Hill on the evening of that

* It may be noted that Major H. Stewart commanded the Otago Battalion from August 11th to 24th. and from August 27th to 31st.

This gully shortly afterwards became the headquarters of the New Zealand and Australian Division.

page 71 day. and was on board by 11 p.m. Each battalion had been ordered to leave behind a proportion of its freshest officers and men, to assist the relieving brigade (the 7th Australian Brigade) which was now to come under fire for the first time. The Canterbury Battalion therefore left behind it three officers and eighty-two other ranks, including thirty Maoris and twenty-eight machine-gunners, and embarked with a strength of nine officers and two hundred and thirty other ranks.

The brigade landed at Mudros about 2 p.m. on the following day (September 15th), and marched to the rest camp at Sarpi. This was a camp in name only, as very few tents were there, and the majority of the brigade slept, in the open for several days. No training was done during the first week, but the brigade was inspected on the 17th by Lieutenant-General A. E. Altham, General Officer Commanding Lines of Communication, and by the Admiral commanding the French Mediterranean Fleet. This was followed by an inspection by General Godley on September 21st.

Training began on September 20th, and was planned on progressive lines. The syllabus for the first week provided for only two hours' drill and marching daily, so as to smarten up the men, and gradually harden them after the relaxing life on the Peninsula. The work for the following week was increased to four hours daily; and thereafter four and a half hours' work a day was laid down, of which four hours were to be spent in field operations, including two night operations each week. Thus the remainder of September and the whole month of October was spent. At the end of September the 1st and 2nd Companies were quarantined, on account of an outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria. On October 4th Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes went to hospital,* and Major R. A. Row assumed the command of the battalion.

In spite of sickness, which during October alone caused the evacuation of one officer and a hundred and fifteen other ranks, the strength of the battalion began to mount up. The arrival of two drafts of the 6th Reinforcements, on September 29th and October 1st, strengthened the battalion by four officers and two hundred and fifty-four other ranks; and early

* Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes at this date finally severed his connection with the Canterbury Regiment.

page 72 in October the details left at Anzac arrived at Lemnos. The arrival of other details from hospital brought up the strength of the battalion at the end of October to twenty-one officers and six hundred and four other ranks.

It had been intended that the brigade should leave for Anzac at the end of October, but owing to unfavourable weather, it could not embark till November 8th. At 7 a.m. on that date, the Canterbury Battalion left the camp at Sarpi, and embarking on the Osmanieh at 9 a.m., landed at Anzac at 6.30 p.m., and bivouacked for the night in a gully off Chailak Dere, below Durant's Post. This post was at the junction of the trenches called Upper and Lower Cheshire Ridges, and was about five hundred yards north-west of the Apex. The following day (the 9th) the 13th Company took over part of the Upper Cheshire Ridge trench from the 27th Australian Battalion; and on the 10th the rest of the battalion took over the remainder of the section from the Australians.

The enemy was not offensive, so the battalion was able to do much useful work in the trenches. Owing to the possibility of the enemy bringing up much heavier artillery than he had hitherto used, it was necessary to dig very deep shelters; and it was on work of this nature that the battalion was employed during its spell in the line. The firing-trench was divided into three sections, and garrisoned by the 13th, 1st, and 12th Companies with the 2nd Company in reserve. On November 20th Lieutenant-Colonel R. Young, originally of the Wellington Regiment but in command of the Auckland Battalion since May, took over the command of the battalion.

The inactivity of the enemy continued during the month, though on the 22nd and 28th small parties of Turks made halfhearted attempts against the Apex. These may possibly have been sent out to discover whether we were still holding our trenches in strength; as our intelligence staff had learnt that the enemy thought we were going to evacuate the Peninsula. In order to encourage the enemy in this belief, and to try to make him attack,* orders were given on the 24th that there should be no firing for 48 hours. This period was eventually extended to midnight of November 27th/28th; but the enemy not only

* This was the reason given at the time: it appears that the real reason was to prepare the enemy for the evacuation.

page 73 declined to rise to the bait, but also took advantage of our inactivity to repair his parapets and otherwise improve his trenches.

It was at this time that the weather broke, and added another discomfort to the lot of the Gallipoli forces. Heavy rain fell on the night of the 26th/27th, and again during the following afternoon and night, with snow in the early morning of the 28th. Mud made progress in the trenehes difficult, but heavy frosts followed, and brought with them fine weather. Throughout the month dysentery had been rife; and though the only casualties caused by enemy action were one other rank killed and six other ranks wounded, the strength of the battalion had sunk again to nineteen officers and five hundred and twelve other ranks.