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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter Nine — The Attack on Table Top and Destroyer Ridge

page 45

Chapter Nine
The Attack on Table Top and Destroyer Ridge

On 6th August the Wellington Mounted Rifles rested all day at No. 1 Outpost, in view of the operations which were to commence that night, a conference of officers being held in the afternoon, at which the commanding officer explained the plan of attack in detail, the orders relating to the W.M.R. being briefly as follows: The 6th Squadron under Major Dick was to attack Destroyer Ridge with two troops and clear the Dere on the north leading to Table Top with the remaining two troops. The 2nd and 9th Squadrons were then to pass through along the Dere and capture the main position on Table Top. Captain Hastings, of the 6th Squadron, to command two Maori platoons, which were to operate in Chailak Dere between old No. 3 post and Bauchop's hill, under orders of the Commanding Officer of the W.M.R.

At 8.45 p.m., when all arrangements had been completed, the W.M.R. (less Major Whyte and twenty-five unfit ranks left in No. 1 outpost) concentrated in Sazli Beit Dere, and at 9.30 it advanced to the attack. The W.M.R. followed in rear of the A.M.R. till the latter had moved to the left to attack old No. 3 post, whereupon Major Dick, with the 6th Squadron, pressed forward along the Dere to attack Destroyer Ridge and to clear the Dere up to the trenches intersecting it immediately beyond Destroyers Ridge. Time was limited. The exact position and the strength of the enemy in the trenches along the Dere was then unknown, but in order to utilise the element of surprise to the utmost extent Major Dick decided to dispense with scouts, who might warn the enemy of his approach. He advanced at the head of his squadron, ready to meet any attack with the full weight of his command. After advancing in the dark for a distance of about two hundred yards, the Squadron was fired on from a distance of a few feet by a strong Turkish post. Major Dick called, "Come on, the 6th," and, meeting with a ready response, all the Turks were bayoneted, but not before the one and only volley which the enemy were able to fire had killed a man on either side of Major Dick, who also fell, wounded. page 46These were the only casualties at this point. There was one sheet of flame, and then darkness. The 6th Squadron continued to advance, picketing the line en rôute, the main body of the Regiment passing quickly through them and marching up the Dere towards Table Top. The track was narrow and the sides of the Dere steep, but the advance went on silently and swiftly. A momentary check was caused by a barbed-wire fence crossing the Dere below Table Top; but a way was quickly found by moving up the slope to the right in single file and then turning down again into the bed of the Dere.

Here a change in the original plan of attack was made. It was found that the lower portions of the western slopes of Table Top were covered with dense scrub, difficult to penetrate and impossible to get through silently; so, after a few moments' consultation with Majors Elmslie and Chambers, Colonel Meldrum decided to move right up to the far eastern end of the Dere and to climb round the north-eastern end of Table Top and attack the trenches from the rear. An attack at that moment from the dominating surroundings would have been disastrous. Bombs would have played havoc in the confined area of the Dere, but such an undesirable contingency was evaded by the silence of the movement. At one stage things looked awkward. Between the column and Old No. 3 post some incendiary bombs were used by the Turks, and one set a bunch of scrub on fire. For two or three minutes the fire illuminated the surroundings. Immediately it started, word was passed quickly along the column to lie down. In the shadows at the foot of the Dere the column escaped detection. The thoughts of the Turks were no doubt centred on Destroyer Ridge and old No. 3 post, where fighting was going on. At last the end of the Dere was reached. With a feeling of relief, the column, headed by Major Elmslie quietly cutting steps in the hill face with an entrenching tool, wound its way silently up and round the northern shoulder of Table Top. Towards the crest the ground improved, and a small advance guard was formed to lead the way. The crest was reached at 10.55 p.m., and a night post of Turks was surprised and bayoneted. The trenches were then quickly occupied. The advance proved a complete surprise to the Turks. Misled by the firing at Old No. 3 Post and Destroyer Ridge, they had left the trenches on Table Top unguarded, save by the night post. Later they came along in groups to occupy the position, only to be taken prisoners in turn by the pickets that had in the meantime been posted.

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General Sir Ian Hamilton, in the despatches, referred to this feat as follows:—

"No General on peace manœuvres would ask troops to attempt so break-neck an enterprise. The flanks of Table Top are so steep that the height gives an impression of a mushroom shape of the summit bulging out over its stem. But just as faith moves mountains, so valour can carry them. The angle of Table Top's ascent is recognised as 'impracticable for infantry.' But neither Turks nor angles of ascent were destined to stop Russell or his New Zealandets that night There are moments daring battle when life becomes intensified, when men become supermen, when the impossible becomes simple—and this was one of these moments. The scarped heights were scaled, the plateau was carried by 11.15 p.m. With this brilliant feat, the task of the right covering force was at an end. No words can do justice to the achievement of Brigadier Russell and his men. They are exploits which must be seen to be realised."

Entrenching parties were at once told off, and got to work at the eastern end of Table Top. The foreground was cleared and the rear of the position made secure.

It was while this was going on that various parties of jabbering Turks, oblivious to the change which had occurred in their rear, returned to occupy the trenches, and each was captured in turn. An old, well-defined Turkish track ran past the north-eastern end of Table Top from Rhododendron Ridge in a northerly direction to Chailak Dere, and this road was picketed and bodies of passing Turks were captured here also. In all, 150 prisoners were captured on Table Top and eight on Destroyer Ridge. Our casualties were only four killed and nine wounded.

From the height of the plateau of Table Top the shouts and cheers of the victors and the screams of the vanquished could be clearly distinguished above the reports of enemy rifle fire, which had increased in volume. Some exclamations were curses and some were groans, but when one shrill voice shouted in exultation. Who say te Maori no plurry good now?"—there was no need to question the nationality of the enthusiastic soldier or the success of his comrades.

Meanwhile the two Maori platoons, under Captain Hastings had marched up Chailak Dere. They had assisted in capturing the trenches m Chambers' or "Old No. 3 Post," wherein they took some prisoners on the northern end of the position

The numerical strength of the Regiment had been weak for some time, but notwithstanding that one officer and twenty-five other ranks had remained at No. 1 Outpost and that less than 346 of all ranks were engaged in the attack, it nevertheless quickly page 48gained all its objectives with comparatively few casualties. Only bayonets were used, no shots being fired during the advance.

During the night the other units of the Brigade also captured their objectives, but, unfortunately, the Otago and Canterbury Regiments sustained heavier casualties.

Thus the N.Z.M.R. had fulfilled the task allotted to them of capturing important positions, which, had they remained in possession of the enemy, would have seriously interfered with the advance of our assaulting infantry column.

During the night of the 6th the landing of approximately two divisions of troops commenced in the vicinity of Suvla Bay, which lies a distance of about nine thousand yards to the north of Anzac. This force was intended to thrust forward in an easterly direction to capture the dominating hills near Anafarta, which movement would materially assist the G.O.C. at Anzac in the latter's attack on the important position of Koja Chemen Tepe—the highest peak of the range there.

The advantage of the intended co-operation of the two attacking forces is obvious—namely, to split the enemy forces and thereby weaken the strong force at Anzac. The landing at Suvla Bay is therefore referred to in view of the heavy fighting which subsequently occurred at Chunuk Bair, in which the W.M.R. was engaged, whilst the Suvla Bay force remained inactive.

The strength of the enemy troops on the line of the intended advance from Suvla was comparatively weak, as heretofore the Anafarta area had been immune from direct attack, and moreover the landing at Suvla had not been anticipated by the enemy. The element of surprise in an attack from that quarter was, therefore, of inestimable value, but prompt action was essential to enable the attacking force quickly to overcome the thin line of enemy posts before the latter could be reinforced.

At that time the bulk of the Turkish force was strongly entrenched in front of the Anzac Division. An advance had already commenced from the latter, most of the objectives being taken. In view of a further advance with the co-operation of the Suvla Bay force, the situation presented a most favourable aspect. A speedy and resolute attack from Suvla would quickly overcome the enemy in that quarter, and it would simultaneously draw out a strong force from the front of Anzac to attempt to repel it.

The notorious inactivity which characterised the Suvla Bay force after it landed, however, destroyed not only its own chances of success, but also the possibility of assisting the Anzac force. The Turkish commander was therefore enabled to deal with the page break
Looking from Anzac towards Suvla Bay.

Looking from Anzac towards Suvla Bay.

page break
W.M.R. working party constructing road up Walker's Ridge. Gallipoli. The track shown above the road led to General Russell's Headquarters.

W.M.R. working party constructing road up Walker's Ridge. Gallipoli. The track shown above the road led to General Russell's Headquarters.

page 49 troops opposed to him in detail with practically the full weight of his command, as described later.

On the morning of the 7th, the 8th and 10th A.L.H. Regiments attacked the Nek. About 450 men went "over the top," but the enemy rifle and machine-gun fire was of such intensity that the attackers were practically annihilated, 390 being killed.

It will be remembered that on the 19th May 100 men of the W.M.R. were in readiness to attack this position, when the order was countermanded.

Early in the morning of the 7th August it was observed that the enemy still held Point 971—Chunuk Bair Ridge—which the troops under General Johnston were preparing to attack. A second force under General Cox were to attack on their left.

General Johnston's command consisted of—

  • 26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section).
  • Auckland Mounted Rifles.
  • No. 1 Company N.Z. Engineers.
  • N.Z. Infantry Brigade.
  • Two battalions 13th Division.
  • Maori Contingent.

At this time the line held by the Anzac and 13th Divisions was Rhododendron Spur, Little Table Top, Aghyl Dere, and Damakjelik Bair.

During the morning the 6th Squadron rejoined the W.M.R., also Captain Hastings with his two platoons of Maoris.

Heavy enemy rifle and machine-gun fire continued throughout the day, principally on the south-westerly slopes of the main knoll of Chunuk Bair, where the Wellington Infantry were hotly engaged; having reached what ultimately proved to be the limit of the advance.

During this fight the W.M.R. on Table Top were within range of, and in line with, the fire of the enemy, from which the Regiment sustained casualties, Major Chambers being killed during the morning. The Major was lying on the ground resting with another officer with whom he had been conversing and had apparently fallen asleep, when the bullet struck him, severing both cartoid artery and jugular vein. Although medical assistance was close at hand, the case was hopeless, and the major died two minutes later. The loss of this gallant soldier was keenly felt by the whole Regiment, the men of which had recognised in him one of nature's gentlemen, whose kindly disposition, honesty of purpose, and conscientious principles had endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. When aroused in page 50battle, the soldierly qualities of this officer would assert themselves to such an extent that they reflected throughout his command. This characteristic was demonstrated in the defence of Old No. 3 Post, now known to the Regiment as "Chambers' Post," in recognition of his splendid services in holding it against heavy odds on 29th-30th May.

No further move was made by the Regiment during the day, and it bivouacked on Table Top for the night.