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

Chapter V

page 33

Chapter V.

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 Corps, now withdrawn from Kum Kale.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.

Back to Anzac.

During the absence of the Battalion at Cape Helles several events of interest had occurred at Anzac. The Newpage 39 Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade under Brigadier-General Russell, and the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade had arrived from Egypt. On May 13th Brigadier-General Russell assumed command of the No. 4 section of defences, and the N.Z.M.R. Brigade took over and occupied Walker's Ridge. On May 18th enemy mounted troops and guns were observed moving north and east of Krithia in a westerly direction towards the coast, and a warning was issued that this might mean that a hostile attack was contemplated against the Anzac line. At 4 a.m. on May 19th hostile gun fire broke out, and a report was received that the Turks were massing against the left of the 1st Australian Division. The attack quickly developed, and before long practically the whole line had become seriously involved. A succession of assaults, delivered with great weight and persistence, were beaten off with heavy loss to the enemy. In some instances the attacking waves had been simply mown down by accurate machine gun fire. By the afternoon this apparently great effort on the part of the Turks had expended itself, and the Anzac line had held firm. On the following morning Otago Battalion, along with other units of the New Zealand Brigade, on being hurriedly recalled from Helles, had returned to Anzac.

About 6 o'clock on the evening of the 20th it was reported that Turks in large numbers were moving along the sunken road in the valley east of Johnstone's Jolly. At the same time white flags appeared at many points in the enemy lines. This was at first suspected as a ruse and preparations were made accordingly; but by means of white flags and the Red Crescent the Turks secured a cessation of fire. Their firing he stood up in the trenches, and in some instances came forward with the flag parties as they advanced. Meantime an interrogator had gone out to meet the enemy, and the answer received was that they wished to bury their dead and remove their wounded. They were peremptorily informed that a flag of truce should he sent on the following morning along the beach from Gaba Tepe.

The enemy party appeared on the following morning as agreed upon, and was met by a patrol and conducted through the lines to Army Corps Headquarters. The outcome of these pourparlers was the arrangement of an armistice or cessation of hostilities between the hours of 7.30 a.m. andpage 40 4.30 p.m. on May 24th for the purpose of burying the dead and removing the wounded between the opposing trenches. At the appointed time firing ceased all along the line, and the delimitation parties from either side, having met on the beach at a point two kilometres north of Gaba Tepe, proceeded to move down the centre of No Man's Land and mark out with improvised white flags the line of demarcation. This completed, the burial of dead, the removal of wounded, and the clearing of the area of the wreckage of battle was commenced by the fatigue parties from either side. The task was a heavy one, for the Turkish dead in some places lay almost in heaps it was estimated that 3,000 Turkish dead were scattered over the area—and it was soon found that it would be impossible to carry out the original intention of each side burying its own dead. Otherwise the terms of the agreement were adhered to; although there were mutual recriminations as to the amount of curiosity being displayed regarding the opposing trenches both by the Turks and ourselves. By 4 p.m. everyone was under cover again, and the resumption of firing shortly after 4.30 p.m. signalled the close of this remarkable armistice.

On May 21st the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade arrived and bivouacked in the gully south of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, and was followed by one squadron of the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment, which was despatched to Walker's Ridge.

May 25th, the day following the armistice, was no less memorable because of the sinking of H.M.S. Triumph by an enemy submarine, when lying off-shore about a mile from Gaba Tepe. The vessel heeled over shortly after being struck, and sank within a few minutes, a tragic sight for all those who watched her from Anzac.

Quinn's Post, situated on the outer circumference of the semi-circle which represented the Anzac line, and at the furthest point from its diameter, now became the centre of bitter and prolonged fighting, On the retention of Quinn's Post depended not only the stability of the general line, but the security of the communications in rear, in Monash Gully and Shrapnel Valley. Recent developments had suggested that the enemy intended to make a determined effort to gain a strong foothold at the head of Monash Gully.

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Entrance to Trenches, Courtney' s Post.

Entrance to Trenches, Courtney' s Post.

At Quinn's Post.

At Quinn's Post.

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Troops Landing on Improvised Pier, Anzac Beach.

Troops Landing on Improvised Pier, Anzac Beach.

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In view of the pronounced salient which the Anzac position formed, the loss of any post was calculated to imperil the retention of the whole line; and further, the ground in the vicinity of posts was generally so restricted and difficult that direct and effective assistance to any post could rarely be given; while difficulty was invariably experienced in making full use of all men at the disposal of post commanders owing to the narrowness and intricacy of the communication trenches. Thus handicapped and restricted from the outset, the situation was made more complex by the fact that before very long the retention of a vulnerable point was not to be determined alone by what took place above ground. In other words, fighting was being carried on under ground as well as above it by a process of burrowing and cross-burrowing, and then listening for indications of the enemy's presence and endeavouring to counter his activities in the same work. These operations were always hazardous, and frequently there was necessity for blowing in galleries in order to counter the development of enemy mining. The explosion of an enemy mine at Quinn's Post on the early morning of May 29th was followed by heavy bombing attacks. The left of the post was isolated by the explosion and No. 3 subsection of the defences rushed and seized by the enemy. An hour and a-half later the lost trench was retaken, but the enemy, now reinforced, again attacked in a determined manner, and in answer to the demand for reinforcements, 4th Company of Otago Battalion was despatched to the locality, and remained there for 36 hours ready for emergencies.

It was at this stage that orders were issued which resulted in the New Zealand Brigade taking over the line held by the 4th Australian Brigade in the No. 3 section of defences. This was in accordance with a general scheme of relief which was to be effected gradually, and was commenced on the closing day of May. On completion of the relief Courtney's Post was occupied by Auckland Battalion, with Otago Battalion in reserve; Quinn's Post being held by Canterbury Battalion. Interchange of battalions was to be effected every eight days. During one of these periods of occupation of Courtney's a new trench in advance of the foremost line was constructed by Otago and Auckland Battalions in conjunction. Threepage 42 saps were driven forward for a distance of 30 yards and an underground trench constructed; the remaining few inches of overhead crust being broken through when the task was completed, and the new line then occupied. In the process of digging operations, the body of a dead Turk was met with, and it was decided that those who were brought in contact with such an unpleasant object should receive a fortifying issue of rum. A continuance of this stimulant the parties engaged were successful in securing by producing nightly, as evidence, a piece of the same dead Turk.

On June 9th reinforcements, the 4th, were received to the number of four officers and 239 other ranks. Owing to the reduced strength of the Regiment these were urgently required. There was a daily toll of casualties, even under what might be regarded, in a comparative sense only, as normal conditions. On the morning of June 5th Captain V. J. Egglestone, Battalion Quartermaster, who had rejoined the Regiment when it was at Helles, was killed while drawing rations at the Brigade Dump. Lieut. A. C. Boyes succeeded to the post of Quartermaster.

Relief of the garrisons of the Posts within No. 3 Section was now effected. In the holding of Courtney's two companies of Otago Battalion were disposed along the crest line, with two companies in immediate support in the terraced bivouacs below. The garrison of the forward line was periodically violently harassed by the enemy, and on these occasions numerous casualties were suffered and the defences badly breached. There was, however, some compensation when a gun of the 26th Indian Mountain Battery firing from Courtney's, engaged two enemy guns on Mortar Ridge and silenced them, for a time at least, after an exciting duel.

On June 28th a fire demonstration was carried out along the Corps front with the object of preventing, as far as possible, any move of enemy troops from the Anzac zone to the southern or Cape Helles zone, where the 8th Corps was launching an attack with the object of advancing the outer left flank of the British line. The close of the month of June was remarkable for a heavy attack which the enemy delivered against the positions facing the Nek in No, 4 Section, occupied by troops of the mounted regiments. Commencing at 1.30 a.m. on June 30th fierce fighting broke out and lasted untilpage 43 dawn. According to a prisoner, the attack had been ordered by Enver Pasha himself, with orders to drive the enemy into the sea; but after the most desperate fighting it was sanguinarily repulsed. Otago Battalion had been relieved in the holding of Courtney's on June 26th; on July 8th it again took over these defences. On the morning of June 30th no attack was delivered against the front of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade.

Serious attention was now being given to the organisation and formation of hand-grenade parties for use offensively against an entrenched enemy; and orders were issued for the establishment of regular company grenadiers; of permanent arrangements for ensuring and regulating the supply of grenades; and for the training of grenadiers in handling and tactical methods. In the course of the bitter struggles which had waged round the more vital points of the line in the past the effectiveness of the enemy's bombing methods and the profusion of his supplies had been only too apparent, and served to emphasise the serious difficulties under which our garrisons laboured in this all too one-sided phase of close conflict. One result of this development of bomb-fighting was the setting up at Anzac of a bomb factory, from which grenades of various types, the commonest being the jam tin variety, were improvised from material at hand. The necessary organisation had also recently been developed for the prosecution of counter-sniping on a much wider scale than hitherto.

Unparalleled Suffering.

In no other theatre of war in which our infantry afterwards served did the conditions under which they lived and fought ever approach those which prevailed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. From the moment of landing they had lived in a narrow strip of country with the sea at their backs and surrounded on all other sides by the enemy. At the most it was only a mile in depth; and whether in "rest" or in the line the men were always within rifle shot of the enemy, and nowhere were they free from the harassing attentions of his guns. The landing had been effected in the face of an enemy superior in numbers and gun power, and securely established in positions which in peace-time manoeuvres would havepage 44 been regarded as impossible for infantry attack. Their superb physique, iron endurance, and perfectly trained condition were the prime factors that enabled them not only to distinguish themselves by their prowess in battle, but to withstand the strain of the incessant and heavy fatigues, the constant exposure to heat by day and cold by night, the unchanging monotony of the diet and the lack of water. At the outset they had landed with light packs, but these had been discarded on the beach in order to enable them more easily to scale the hills and spurs which rose abruptly almost from the water's edge. Many were thus left without change of underwear or without greatcoats; and at that season of the year, although the days were agreeably warm, the nights were very cold.

Over the first few days there had been no organised line, units were inextricably mixed, and it was only in the intervals of fighting and repelling the violent counter-attacks with which the enemy sought to eject them from their precarious tenure on the hill-tops that trenches were dug and units were gradually sorted out and resumed their identity. And all this while parties from the reduced ranks had to be provided for the arduous work of carrying stores, ammunition and water from the beach to the line, and of transporting by some means or other for there were many casualties and few stretchers—the wounded to the dressing stations on the beach. Until the arrival from Malta of the Pioneers, fatigue parties were drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the infantry; and so when men were withdrawn from the line it was never in any sense a rest. All the stores had to be carried ashore from the lighters which came in under cover of night, and the water, which was brought overseas, had to be pumped ashore from the great iron barges. The arrival of the Indian Mule Corps made it possible to ease considerably the burden of the carrying parties; but the muleteers could not go everywhere, nor could they cope with it all.

While they remained in the line the infantry were obliged to work incessantly in order to strengthen their positions and increase such protection as they afforded. Interior communications had to be extended and covered ways provided where necessary. Out of the line they were little better off.page 45 They were not permitted to enjoy the doubtful comfort of the bivouacs and shelters they dug for themselves on the sides of the gullies where they rested. By day, and more frequently by night, they were called out to carry, to dig, or to labour at one or other of the heavy fatigues. As the season advanced and the weather became warmer, the place swarmed with myriads of flies, which found a congenial breeding ground in the primitive sanitary arrangements provided, particularly in the crowded bivouac areas near the beaches. Dysentery became rife; in a mild form it was almost universal, and its effect on men already fighting and toiling may be imagined. But the hardest tasks of all were yet to come.