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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Chapter IV — An Advance Attempted.

page 28

Chapter IV.

An Advance Attempted.

At the close of April plans had been prepared for carrying out an operation having for its object the advance of the general he between Quinn's Post and Walker's Ridge, thereby effecting a much desired improvement in the continuity of our line over this area. The two salient points which it was desired to embrace by means of this operation were, on the right a ridge between Quinn's Post and Pope's Hill—subsequently known as Dead Man's Ridge—not occupied by the enemy, hut the possession of which it was important should be denied to him, and which dominated a considerable area of ground extending down Monash Gully; and on the left front a prominence known as Knoll 700, the enemy's occupation of which seriously embarrassed movement between Pope's and Walker's Ridge. The capture of these two points would have the effect of greatly strengthening and consolidating our line. It was originally intended that the assault which the seizure of these positions involved should be launched on the evening of May 1st; but this decision was interfered with by an attack, determinedly made but repulsed, against the left of the 4th Australian Brigade earlier in the evening.

Orders, slightly amended, were now issued for the operation to be carried out on the following day, commencing at 7.15 p.m., and preceded by a bombardment by naval and field guns and howitzers. The troops detailed for the operation consisted of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, and one battalion of the Royal Naval Division, one brigade of which had landed as reinforcements on the evening of April 28th. As no move was to be made by the Australian Division, the right of the 4th Australian Brigade was to stand fast in order to maintainpage 29 connection. The New Zealand Brigade was to advance with its right directed on Knoll 700; while the left battalion of the 4th Australian Brigade was to advance from the northeast and make good a line connecting Knoll 700 with the left flank of Quinn's Post. The battalion of the Royal Naval Division was to form a general reserve. In the further division of tasks Otago Battalion, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Moore, was detailed to seize the line of the Knoll to a point 400 yards north-north-west; while Canterbury Battalion, pushing forward from Walker's Ridge, was to prolong the line of Otago Battalion to the left.

At 7 p.m. the bombardment of the Turkish trenches on the Ridge and to the north commenced as arranged, and at 7.15 p.m. lifted on to the enemy's rear slopes and supports. At the appointed time, 7.15 p.m., the 16th Battalion of the 4th Australian Brigade advanced north-east up to the head of the valley, and by 7.45 p.m. had secured a footing on the ridge, although suffering heavy casualties from the enfilade fire of Turkish machine guns. They then commenced to dig in, and were followed by the right of the 13th Battalion of the same Brigade, which gained the high ground to the left and prolonged the line still further to the left towards the Knoll. Unfortunately the Otago Battalion did not arrive at the junction of the valleys at the foot of Pope's until 7.45 p.m., and the first company, which was 4th (Otago), did not clear Pope's, from which point the attack was to be delivered, until 8.20 p.m. The great advantages of simultaneous attack were thus entirely lost.

Otago Battalion, in order to reach its position of assembly, had left Walker's Ridge shortly after 4.30 p.m., proceeding along the beach and up Monash Gully, but was subjected to delays which even the time allowed did not meet. The failure to arrive at the appointed time was attributed to three causes, namely, the activity of enemy sharpshooters in the trenches at the head of Monash Gully commanding certain points of the approach; congestion due to stretcher parties moving down the valley towards the beach; and, principally, the half battalion of the Naval Brigade in Monash Gully not having cleared the road sufficiently. Thus the two attacks, which should have been delivered simultaneously in order to benefit to the fullest extent by the preliminarypage 30 bombardment, took place at an interval of about one and a-half hours.

There were other circumstances which militated against success. It was a night operation; there was the final rush and hurry in the endeavour to recover some of the time lost during the approach march; and the country was exceedingly steep and difficult, there being occasions moving up to assembly positions when the machine guns had to be hauled up steep faces by means of ropes. In face of all these adverse conditions, the Battalion nevertheless advanced to the attack immediately it arrived at its starting point, which was a few yards in advance of the Pope's Hill trenches.

The advance was to be directed towards the enemy position generally known as Baby 700; but with the exception of 4th Company, which was leading in the attack, the direction followed by the assaulting troops ultimately proved to be too far to the right. The advance of 4th Company continued almost unchecked for a distance of from 200 to 300 yards. The first of the enemy trench systems which defended Baby 700 was reached; but the Turks, who previously had withheld their fire, now swept the ranks of the attacking force with deadly effect. Against this sudden burst of machine gun and rifle fire, which, owing to the fact that the Turkish position was sited on a curve, was delivered in enfilade as well as from front, the attack was abruptly smashed. It was at this stage that Major R. Price, commanding 4th Company, Captain A. V. Spedding, and Lieut. R. E. Egglestone were killed. A few of the attackers actually reached the parapet of the foremost Turkish trench. Lieut. J. L. Saunders, the only remaining officer of the Company, took command, but could muster only five men. No support was forthcoming; but this mere handful resolutely maintained their position for some hours, until, all being wounded, they were compelled to withdraw. In this phase of the attack 4th Company suffered exceedingly heavy losses; only 45 out of an initial strength of over 200 responding to the roll call.

Advancing towards Dead Man's Ridge away to the right, 8th (Southland) Company, commanded by Captain W. Fleming, encountered machine gun fire of such a destructive nature that the momentum of its attack was checked almostpage 31 from the outset. After advancing for a distance of about 200 yards those of the Company who were left reached a point where the nature of the ground afforded temporary shelter from the enemy fire, and after slight reorganisation had been effected the advance was continued. On gaining the high ground again the same destructive fire was encountered, and it was therefore decided to dig in along a line which was only about 30 yards from the enemy's position. The remaining strength of this attacking force now represented about 40 all told. Finally established in two short trenches, they set up an isolated defence which was remarkable for the stubbornness and determination displayed against overwhelming advantage of numbers and position. Swept by fire from the Turkish trenches, assailed by showers of bombs, confronted by the constant threat of being overwhelmed, cut off from all support, and from supplies of food, water and ammunition, and given up as lost, they grimly retained their hold on this advanced position for a period of three days. During the second night the enemy had constructed a new trench at the head of Walker's Ridge, and from this point the garrison was harassed in enfilade. Every effort of the enemy to storm the position was valiantly beaten off. On the morning of the 4th Lieut. L. Richards was killed. The strength of the garrison was being gradually reduced. On the days of the 3rd and 4th runners were sent back to apprise the Commanding Officer of the situation; but no orders reached the party in return.

It now became evident that it was impracticable to continue to hold the position indefinitely owing to its complete isolation and the impossibility of obtaining support or supplies, and the two senior officers, Major Moir, who as Second-in-Command had led forward the right half of the Battalion in the first stage of the operation, and Captain Fleming, agreed that the only course open to them was to withdraw under cover of darkness. It was subsequent to coming to this decision, on the evening of the 4th, that Captain Fleming was wounded and succeeded in making his way out escorted by two slightly wounded men. The withdrawal was commenced during the night, and at 1 a.m. on the 5th a part of the garrison reached the beach and there rejoined the remainder of the Battalion. Bypage 32 some unfortunate circumstance a section of the garrison which occupied the foremost trench, under Sergt. E. F. Selby, who commanded a platoon of 8th Company from the outset of the operation, did not become aware of the intention to withdraw, and experienced very considerable difficulty in getting back, being compelled to move over towards Walker's Ridge and then down the gully owing to the fact that they were being shot at by our men in the belief that they were the enemy.

Apart from the two remarkable isolated achievements recorded above, the general attack failed to reach its objective, and the losses sustained were exceedingly heavy. In view of this fact support from Canterbury Battalion was despatched, and two officers were instructed to get into touch with Lieut.-Colonel Moore and inform him that reinforcements had been sent to his assistance. With the exception of one company, however, this assistance did not materialise within a reasonable time; and the Commanding Officer's intention of delivering another assault on the Turkish positions had to be abandoned, the Battalion, with the exception of the advanced elements previously referred to, withdrawing to the beach under orders; a resumption of the attack being now considered impracticable.

The Divisional estimate of casualties sustained in this action was approximately 800 all ranks. Otago suffered badly, losing practically half its strength in both officers and men. In addition to those already mentioned, the list of officers who fell in this operation included Lieut. J. S. Reid, and 2nd-Lieut. D. J. A. Lyttle. The net results in respect of ground permanently gained were nil. The Otago Battalion was now placed in general reserve on the beach.

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View showing Pope's Hill on left, Deadman's Ridge in centre, and corner of Quinn's Post on extreme right.

View showing Pope's Hill on left, Deadman's Ridge in centre, and corner of Quinn's Post on extreme right.

Sergt.-MajorA. W. Porteous, M.C., (d.)(Killed in Action).

Sergt.-MajorA. W. Porteous, M.C., (d.)
(Killed in Action).