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

The Regiment at Helles

The Regiment at Helles.

On the evening of May 4th, two days after the launching of the operation which aimed at an extension of the line between Pope's Hill and Walker's Ridge, orders were issued for the withdrawal by the New Zealand and Australian Division and the Australian Division of one brigade each for temporary transfer to Cape Helles, where a fresh advance had been determined upon.

The forced landings on April 25th by the 29th Division at the extremity of the Peninsula, signalised by deeds of splendid heroism and accompanied by fighting of the bloodiest order, were followed by the launching of a general advance on April 27th, in co-operation with the French. Corps, now withdrawn from Kum Kale. On the 28th, in the determination to make all possible headway before fresh enemy reinforcements arrived, a further general advance was commenced on Krithia, beyond which was the dominating feature known as Achi Baba.

The utmost limits of the advance fell short of Krithia, and owing to the inadequacies of artillery support, the limitations of supply, and the inability of the exhausted and depleted forces to withstand successive determined counter attacks, much of the ground gained had actually to be given up. A momentary lull followed, interrupted by heavy fighting, which broke out on the night of May 1st and continued until midday on the 2nd.

The result of all this fighting, begun with such sanguinary desperation on April 25th, and carried on with very little interruption for ten days and nights, was the holding of a line approximately 5,000 yards inland from the extremities of the Peninsula. The Turkish forces were now thrown back to a Line previously selected and prepared, and of greatpage 34 tactical strength; it was to secure possession of an intervening stretch of ground and test the resistance of this new line of entrenchments and redoubts that operations were now planned.

For this offensive, launched on the morning of May 6th, selection was made of one brigade each of the New Zealand and Australian Division and the Australian Division. The New Zealand Brigade was relieved in the line on May 5th by two battalions of the Royal Naval Division, and on completion of relief in the early afternoon concentrated in its position of assembly south of Walker's Ridge in readiness for embarkation and the journey by sea to Helles. At 8.30 p.m. embarkation commenced, the effective strength of the New Zealand Brigade being set down at 88 officers and 2,724 other ranks. The main embarkation was somewhat delayed, but was accomplished during the night, and early on the following morning the destroyers conveying the Brigade arrived off shore immediately east of Cape Helles. There the troops disembarked and marched to their point of bivouac, and by 9 a.m. were concentrated in the Brigade area near Sedd-el-Bahr.

At the point of disembarkation there was evidence of the grim struggle which marked the landing at "V" Beach. Aground was the steamer River Clyde, from the specially adapted sides of which the landing troops had poured in face of a hurricane of fire; on the steep bluff to the right the battered and crumbling fort of Sedd-el-Bahr; ahead the defensive trenches and wire entanglements. Leaving this evidence of a conflict never to be forgotten because of the heroism and the tragedy associated with it, attention was attracted to the open country, well-watered and clothed with verdure, affording a striking contrast to the steep, scrub-covered terrain and limitations of space at Gaba Tepe.

The Regiment, as part of the New Zealand Brigade, was now included in a Composite Division under Major-General Paris. During the day of May 6th, when the attack was opened, the New Zealand Brigade was held in general reserve. The 29th Division, the left of which rested on the coast about three miles north-east of Cape Tekke, had led off the attack, its right moving in line with the south-eastern side of Krithia; while the French Corps, with the 2nd Navalpage 35 Brigade, attacked as its first point the commanding ridge running north and south above the Kereves Dere. By 1.30 p.m. the line had been advanced for a distance of from 200 to 300 yards. The main enemy position was still out of reach. The attack was renewed on the following morning. On the extreme left it was again found impossible to cross the open ground owing to the cross-fire of machine guns concealed in the scrub on the ridge between the ravine and the sea; at other points the advance was also checked. A further attack was now ordered for 4.45 p.m., the whole of the 87th Brigade to reinforce the 88th Brigade, and the New Zealand Brigade to be in support. Excepting the left, the line was thrown forward for a distance of from 200 to 300 yards, and the exhausted troops dug in for the night on the ground gained.

Once again, on the morning of May 8th, the advance was to be taken up along the whole line. On this occasion the New Zealand Infantry Brigade was to advance through the line held overnight by the 88th Brigade and press on towards Krithia; simultaneously the 87th Brigade was to threaten the enemy works on the west of the Ravine. With the commencement of the attack, timed for 10.30 a.m., and preceded by a bombardment from ships and land batteries, the order of Battalions from right to left was, Canterbury, Auckland, and Wellington, with Otago in reserve on account of its numerical weakness after the attack of May 2nd.

On the late afternoon of the 7th the New Zealand Brigade commenced its approach march. Following a course approximating to the western coast-line of the Peninsula, the three Battalions which were to take part in the attack reached their assembly positions under cover of darkness, and were then established along a line about 400 yards in rear of the front line as it then existed. In the meantime Otago Battalion, to be in reserve to the attack, had advanced from its area of bivouac near the Stone Bridge on the Krithia Road, and taking the same course as the remainder of the Brigade, covered a distance of about two miles and there dug in for the night. Just before dawn on the 8th the advance was resumed, the Battalion finally reaching some old trenches in the locality of Pink Farm. The Initial stages of the approach had been made in artillery formation; but later enemy fire compelled the Battalion to move in extended order.

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About 10 a.m. the New Zealand Brigade, less Otago Battalion, advanced under heavy machine gun fire to the existing front line. At 10.30 a.m. the attack was launched. The assaulting infantry almost instantly encountered a blast of machine gun fire equal in its destructive power to that which had stemmed the tide of advance on the previous day. By 1.30 p.m. the attack had been definitely checked, and the losses sustained were exceedingly heavy. Canterbury Battalion, on the right, had advanced about 200 yards beyond the foremost trenches gained by the 88th Brigade; two companies of Auckland Battalion had reached about an equal distance in the centre, but the right company had been compelled to fall back again owing to machine gun fire making a point known as Fir Tree Knoll untenable; while on the left flank Wellington Battalion had encountered heavy and destructive fire from a Turkish trench from which machine guns dominated the entire area of advance. The Brigade was therefore compelled to dig in on the ground gained. Away to the right of the attack the French found it impossible to advance up the crest of the spur west of the Kereves Dere until the line on the left had been pushed further ahead.

The Commander of the Composite Division now ordered a resumption of the advance by the whole of the New Zealand Brigade; to commence at 5.30 p.m., and to be covered by an artillery bombardment. This was subsequently cancelled and orders issued for a general advance along the whole line. The 29th Division was to attack in a north-easterly direction, with the Composite Division attacking in a parallel position on the right. The objective assigned to the New Zealand Brigade embraced the village of Krithia and the adjoining trenches; the Brigade to attack in a north-easterly direction with its left flank resting on the ravine leading to Hill 472 inclusive, and its right flank on a stream flowing south-west from Krithia. The Australian Brigade was to attack in a north-easterly direction to the right of the New Zealand Brigade. The 88th Brigade was to support the attack of the New Zealand Brigade.

At 5.30 p.m. the infantry moved forward to the assault. A full measure of success was again denied the attacking troops. The furthest limits of the advance did not extendpage 37 beyond a few hundred yards, and some of the ground gained could not be held owing to the exhausted state of the troops and the losses sustained, It was during this second gallant effort that the Auckland Battalion made its memorable charge over a level stretch of ground, 200 yards across, immediately to the left of Fir Tree Knoll. It was across this open space, to be remembered as the "Daisy Patch," that four successive waves of Auckland Infantry advanced, each to be literally swept away by the concentrated fire of Turkish machine guns concealed in the dense scrub to the left. The last gallant effort of the day of the 8th had now expended itself. The material gains were small; the expenditure in human lives woefully heavy. Many of the wounded lay out over the battlefield during the night owing to the extreme difficulties of evacuation.

It was in support of this last effort of the day that Otago Battalion was called upon. In the early afternoon 4th and 8th Companies had moved forward in support of Auckland Battalion, and an hour later 10th and 14th Companies moved up, but more to the left towards Wellington Battalion, each exposed to enemy fire as it hurriedly crossed the short stretches of level fields, to be remembered as "Daisy Patches"; but not such bloody patches as that crossed by Auckland Battalion.

There were serious gaps in the line held that night, the result of severe casualties, inevitable disorganisation and loss of direction in the darkness in the effort to effect a readjustment. During the afternoon the New Zealand Brigade was ordered to take over the line right of the Krithia Nullah; the 88th Brigade to be prepared to give immediate support. Otago Battalion was to connect between the troops of Wellington and Canterbury Regiments; but when the relief was commenced by night the Essex and Royal Scottish troops did not consider it prudent to withdraw owing to the numerical weakness of Otago Battalion. On the following morning (the 10th) New Zealand Brigade Headquarters reported to the 29th Division that owing to the casualties of the Brigade and the fact that the flanks were much further forward than the centre it would be difficult to take up the whole line without retaining some of the 88th Brigade. A reply was received thatpage 38 G.H.Q. would arrange the whole matter. On the 11th the New Zealand Brigade was ordered to hand over the section to the Manchester Brigade of the 42nd Division, which had landed on the Peninsula two days previously. The relief commenced shortly after 8 p.m., and command of the section passed between two and three o'clock on the morning of the 12th; Otago Battalion being relieved by the 8th Manchesters. The Regiment now returned to the area of its former bivouac near the Stone Bridge on the Krithia Road.

The New Zealand Brigade's participation in these operations had resulted in casualties which were set down as totalling 800; Otago Battalion's proportion of this number being 102 all ranks. It was in the shallow trenches finally taken over by the Battalion that Lieut. R. Duthie was mortally wounded.

On the morning of the 8th a Reinforcement draft for the New Zealand Brigade, numbering about 900 all ranks, under the command of Captain D. Colquhoun, arrived at Cape Helles, and although joining the Brigade subsequent to the attack, was for the most part held in reserve.

The Regiment now remained at the Stone Bridge for several days, providing working parties, constructing roads, and unloading ammunition and stores. On the afternoon of May 19th advice was received that Anzac was being attacked and that the New Zealand Brigade was to return there with all possible despatch. This was the first occasion, so far at least as the Regiment was concerned, that the term "Anzac" was employed to indicate the front held by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the officers among whom the movement order was circulated were for a time puzzled to know where "Anzac" really was. Thus hurriedly recalled, the Regiment embarked over the River Clyde on board the Eddystone, and before midnight had moved out to sea. On the following morning the Regiment was back in its old area of Anzac. Here it was ordered into general reserve along with the New Zealand Brigade and bivouacked in Reserve Gully.