Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918
A Great Enterprise.
Orders were now issued for the Regiment to be prepared to leave Egypt at short notice as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force which was to be committed to projected operations against Turkey. By the beginning of April General Headquarters had been established at Alexandria, where a great fleet of transports, comprised of captured enemy vessels, was being assembled and made ready for conveying the forces of the Expedition to Mudros, in the Island of Lemnos.
Entraining for Alexandria was to commence on the night of April 6th-7th. An advanced base under Major Charters was being formed at Mustafa, Alexandria, and Zeitoun was to serve as a reinforcing and training camp. Orders were subsequently issued postponing entraining for an interval of 72 hours on account of congestion at Alexandria.
Training was being carried out in long distance route marches, the weight of packs being increased to at least 70 pounds in order to bring the Force up to the state of fitness required for a campaign in the rough and mountainous country of the Gallipoli Peninsula—the scene of the coming struggle. The final preparations of organisation and equipment were now effected, and on Friday, April 9th, entraining for Alexandria commenced.
As Alexandria was reached and detraining completed, embarkation proceeded without loss of time. On April 10th the first of the transports drew out from the harbour where lay sheltered ships of many nationalities. The Regiment was allotted the Annaberg, one of the several captured enemy vessels lying at Alexandria, which was like most of the others—filthy beyond description, and abominably louse-ridden.page 14
On departure from Alexandria the Battalion was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Moore, with Major J. H. Moir Second-in-Command, and Lieut. J. S. Reid Adjutant. The Company Commanders were as follows: 4th (Otago) Company, Major R. Price; 8th (Southland) Company, Major J. A. Mackenzie; 10th (North Otago) Company, Major G. Mitchell; 14th (South Otago) Company, Major W. McG. Turnbull.
A journey of three days brought the transports to Mudros Harbour, the rendezvous of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. There in the placid waters of the great natural harbour of the Island of Lemnos, in the Ægean Sea, lay at anchor ships from the far ends of the world—a fleet of vessels of war and all the small craft incidental to their projected operations, transports, and supply ships.
Plan of Attack.
On arrival at Mudros, the general outline of the plan of attack to be made against the Turkish defences on the Gallipoli Peninsula was communicated to Divisional Commanders by the G.O.C. Army Corps. From the information thus supplied it was made known that the forces which were to take part in the operations were as follows: General Sir Ian Hamilton in Supreme Command. Troops: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Commanded by General Sir W. R. Birdwood), consisting of the Australian Division under General Bridges, and the New Zealand and Australian Division (two Brigades) under General Sir A. J. Godley; 29th British Division under General Hunter-Weston; Marine Division under General Paris; French Division under General d'Amade.
The decision arrived at by Sir Ian Hamilton and his Staff was that several simultaneous attacks should be made on the Peninsula in order as far as possible to mislead the Turkish Command. Landing places at the extremity of the Peninsula were selected where an assault upon the Turkish defences was to be made, principally by units of the 29th Division. About nine miles along the coast from "Y" Beach (opposite Krithia) and beyond Gaba Tepe, a point was selected for a landing to be made by troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who were to work their way up the heights of Sari Bair, and distract the enemy forces south ofpage 15 Achi Baba by threatening their rear and their communications; the Royal Naval Division was to make a feint attack near the Bulair lines, at the head of the Gulf of Saros; and a landing was to be carried out by the French Division on the Asiatic side, near Kum Kale. The landings were to be carried out under cover of bombardments by the Fleet.
The objective laid down for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was the ridge over which the Gallipoli-Maidos-Boghali-Kojadere Roads ran, and especially Mal Tepe. The seizure of this position, it was calculated, would threaten or cut the line of retreat of enemy forces on Kilid Bahr Plateau. On this account and the fact that it would prevent the passage of Turkish reinforcements during the attack of the 29th Division at the extremity of the Peninsula, the capture of the objective allotted to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was of vital importance. A covering force, comprised of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, was to accomplish the first landing in the darkness at 3 a.m. The Australian Division was to land immediately after the covering force, followed by the New Zealand and Australian Division. Certainly, whatever the force assembled to meet the effort of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, the Turks had had sufficient warning, and ample time to complete the construction of an elaborate and effective system of defence.
A brief review of events, principally of a naval order, which preceded the first serious military undertaking against the Turkish strongholds, will throw some light on the existing state of affairs in relation to the Gallipoli Peninsula at the time when the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force had been assembled at its rendezvous in Mudros Harbour. Turkey entered the lists alongside the Central Empires on October 31st. On November 5th England's declaration of war against Turkey was announced. Curiously enough, on November 3rd, two days previously, an Anglo-French Naval Squadron had opened fire upon the Turkish forts at the entrance of the Straits which divided the European from the Asiatic coast line of the Turkish Empire. This bombardment lasted for a period of ten minutes, and was designed, it was stated, merely to test the range of the guns of the Turkish forts. On February 16th the British War Council decided to despatchpage 16 the 29th Division, hitherto destined for France, to the Island of Lemnos at the earliest possible date; to arrange for a Force from Egypt if required; and to order the Admiralty to prepare transport for the conveyance and landing of 50,000 men. Thus the War Council committed itself to an undertaking which aimed at the occupation of the Gallipoli Peninsula by a military force acting in conjunction with the approaching naval attack. The Navy and the Army were jointly committed to the Dardanelles enterprise; but the 29th Division did not begin to leave England until March 16th.
By the middle of February, in pursuance of the general intentions, a great fleet of ships of war had been gathered in Mudros Harbour. On February 19th the attack by sea opened on the main Turkish forts at the entrance to the Straits. The bombardment ceased at the close of day and the ships withdrew, to resume their efforts on February 25th with increased weight of ships and guns. On this occasion the outer Turkish forts were compelled to cease fire, and on the following day landing parties of marines went ashore and completed the destruction, though at one point, Kum Kale, they were driven back to their boats with some loss. The absence of serious opposition at this stage emphasised the unfortunate nature of the delays subsequently exhibited in effecting military co-operation with the naval undertaking.
Stormy weather now intervened, and there were no further attacks until March 4th, when a naval squadron, preceded by mine-sweepers, resumed the bombardment of the forts further up the Straits; but it was difficult or almost impossible to determine when these forts were out of action. The Allied naval operations had not so far accomplished any thing of material value; the situation in regard to the co-operation of the Army was still vague and unsettled.
On March 18th the first serious attempt to force the. Narrows was undertaken, The ships engaged, which included the Queen Elizabeth, Inflexible, Lord Nelson, and Agamemnon, carried out a heavy bombardment of the several forts, delivering the attack in the form of three successive blows. The conditions were all against the Fleet, and the object was not achieved. The Irresistible, Ocean and Bouvet were sunk; the Inflexible and Gaulois were damaged and beached; and many of the others sustained serious injury.page 17
It was on the day prior to this costly undertaking that General Sir Ian Hamilton arrived at Tenedos to take command of the land forces. The disastrous results which attended the operations of the Allied Fleet on March 18th presented unanswerable arguments against an attempt to force the passage of the Dardanelles by sea alone; and almost immediately preparations were commenced for a forced landing and assault upon the Peninsula by the Military Forces acting in co-operation with the Fleet.
The preliminary and subsequent reconnaissances which were made of the north-western shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the Isthmus at Bulair to the extremity at Cape Helles, served to convince General Hamilton of the tremendous difficulties which beset the perilous undertaking shortly to be embarked upon, by reason of the generally steep and precipitous country, and the formidable nature of the defences commanding the restricted stretches of beach available for landing troops. From Bulair to Suvla Bay, a distance of approximately 30 miles, the land rose abruptly from the sea, and the general configuration was such that there was no apparent place suitable for a forced landing and subsequent movement of troops. The coast line of the southern half of the Peninsula, stretching from Suvla Bay to Cape Helles, was also, generally speaking, precipitous; but at certain points there appeared short stretches of coast line the sandy beaches of which at least suggested the possibility of landings being effected. Thus, round the southern extremity of the Peninsula half a dozen such localities presented themselves; while on either side of, Gaba Tepe, about 13 miles northwards of Helles, two apparently good places were located.
Over this southern half of the Peninsula, where prolonged and fiercely contested battles were fought during the progress of the campaign, stood three main geographical landmarks, namely, overlooking Suvla Bay the mountain of Sari Bair, which, from a confusion of spurs and subsidiary features, rose to a height of 970 feet; further to the south and more to the Asiatic side, the great Kilid Bahr Plateau, rising to a height of 700 feet, and forming a natural protection to the forts of the Narrows against attack from the direction of the Ægean Sea; and further still to the south, Achi Baba, which rose to a height of approximately 600 feet and dominated thepage 18 southern extremity of the Peninsula. The Commander-in-Chief was convinced that success could only be expected from a scheme which involved the rapid landing of the whole of the troops under his command, and a clear and practical recognition of the difficulties presented by the restricted nature of the beaches and the strength of the Turkish defences, which could only be successfully dealt with by effecting simultaneous landings at several points, and by threatened landings at others.
Following the arrival at Mudros of the transports conveying the troops of the New Zealand and Australian Division, the available time was fully employed in regrouping troops and practising the hazardous operation of disembarkation from the ship's side. The troops lived on board ship, and at the close of disembarkation practices carried out route marches on shore before returning for the day. Conferences between the commanders of the various units of the Division were constantly in progress. On April 24th, at 9 a.m., a Conference of the G.O.C. and Staff, of Brigadiers, and Officers Commanding Battalions, was held on board the Lutzow to discuss points bearing on the projected operations. Secret instructions regarding the landing were now issued.
On April 21st Sir fan Hamilton issued the following Address to the Troops under his command:—
"Soldiers of France and of the King:
"Before us lies an adventure unprecedented in modern war. Together with our comrades of the Fleet we are about to force a landing upon an open beach in face of positions which have been vaunted by our enemies as impregnable.
"The landing will be made good by the help of God and the Navy; the positions will be stormed, and the war brought one step nearer to a glorious close.
"'Remember,' said Lord Kitchener, when bidding adieu to your Commander, ' Remember, once you set foot upon the Gallipoli Peninsula, you must fight the thing through to a finish.'
"The whole world will be watching your progress. Let us prove ourselves worthy of the great feat of arms entrusted to us.
"Ian Hamilton, General."page 19
The momentous hour for action was fast approaching. At two o'clock on the afternoon of April 24th the Queen Elizabeth, with Sir Ian Hamilton and Staff on board, steamed out from the sheltered anchorage of Mudros and headed for the open sea, followed by the other battleships of the Fleet, and then a long line of transports bearing their thousands of the Empire's splendid manhood, many of whom were that day to see the sun go down for the last time. About midnight the New Zealand transports weighed anchor and also moved out to sea, heading for the shores against which there was to be launched an expedition of which there is no parallel in history.