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

A Great Offensive

page 46

A Great Offensive.

The military situation on the Gallipoli Peninsula had now reached a stage which called for the development of a plan of operations which it was strongly hoped would definitely determine the final success of the campaign. From the date of the landing, April 25th, up to the close of July, the troops had been engaged in fighting as constant as it was desperate. Against the odds of enemy superiority in numbers and position, hampered in movement by the extreme limitations of space, and contending against the apparently irremediable disabilities of supply arising chiefly from the isolation of the seat of campaign, this force had not only maintained its first grip on the Turkish Peninsula, but had strengthened it in face of the determined opposition of the enemy. But it was becoming more and more evident that it was impossible for the existing force to go beyond the point then reached; and there was the evident danger of the campaign settling down to one of indefinite trench warfare, instead of action and movement leading to decisive and early results. The most recent operations undertaken had only served to show that neither the forces at Anzac nor at Helles were strong enough in themselves to carry out the task to which they were committed in conjunction with the Fleet, namely, the forcing of the Narrows.

In view of this situation, the Commander-in-Chief had requested as far back as May 10th that two fresh divisions should be despatched to enable him to bring the campaign to a conclusion. Again on May 17th Sir Ian Hamilton cabled to the authorities pointing out that if they were to be left to face Turkey on their own resources two Army Corps additional to the existing forces at the Dardanelles would be required. One division had been sent to the Peninsula, butpage 47 between its despatch and arrival the situation in Russia was such as to set free several Turkish divisions for employment in the Dardanelles. During June the addition of three regular divisions, plus the infantry of two territorial divisions, was promised, the foremost of these troops being due to arrive at Mudros by July 10th, while their concentration was to be completed a month later.

The manner of employment of these fresh forces in order to achieve the greatest measure of success in the speediest and most decisive manner, had now to be determined. Four alternative methods presented themselves to Sir Ian Hamilton, as follows:—

(1).Every man to be thrown on to the southern sector of the Peninsula to force a way forward to the Narrows.
(2).Disembarkation on the Asiatic side of the Straits, followed by a march on Chanak.
(3).A landing at Enos or Ebrije for the purpose of seizing the neck of the isthmus at Bulair.
(4).Reinforcement of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, combined with a landing in Suvla Bay. Then with one strong push to capture Hill 305 and, working from that dominating point, to grip the waist of the Peninsula.

In setting out the objections to the first course, the Commander-in-Chief maintained that the capture of Krithia could no longer be counted upon to secure the dominating height of Achi Baba, an entirely new system of works having lately appeared upon its slopes—works so planned that even if the enemy's western flank was turned and driven back from the coast the central and eastern portions of the mountain could still be maintained as a bastion to Kilid Bahr. The practicability of the second scheme was discounted by the fact that the expected reinforcements could not permit of a double operation, which would be necessary if Chanak were to be seriously enough threatened to cause the Turks to relax their grip upon the Peninsula. The third proposal, which would mean an attempt to cut the land communications of thepage 48 whole of the Turkish Army, presented naval objections which were considered well-nigh insurmountable. The elimination of the first three of the four schemes above outlined left the fourth, namely, an offensive from Anzac, combined with a landing at Suvla Bay, as the most practicable; and it was this scheme which the Commander-in-Chief selected.

"The Australians and the New Zealanders," Sir Ian Hamilton pointed out in the course of his Despatch, "had rooted themselves in very near to the vitals of the enemy. By their tenacity and courage they still held open the door-way from which one strong thrust forward might give us command of the Narrows."

Once committed to this great undertaking, which it was hoped would decisively seal the success of the Gallipoli Campaign, all energies were directed to the one end. The most vital preparations within the Anzac area involved the construction in the gullies of terraced bivouacs to give cover from both view and fire to a great assembly of new troops; the construction and improvement of interior communications to ensure the rapid and easy movement of troops within the area; and the provision of covered positions where artillery could be concealed from the observation of enemy aeroplanes—unusually active at this period. All these preparations had to be carried out by the troops on the spot; and for the most part work had necessarily to be undertaken by night.

Thus was completed the Beach Road, such as it was, from Anzac Cove to No. 3 Post, a road connecting Rest Gully with Reserve Gully, and the widening of what was known as the Big Sap, which provided communication from the northern spit of Anzac Cove to No. 3 Post on the extreme left. In addition to these works there were the thousand and one details of reorganisation and arrangement necessary for the transport and concentration of the new forces destined for the offensive and for the landing and handling of guns and vast supplies of stores, ammunition, water and material; altogether a tremendous undertaking. Throughout the whole of the work there was no complaining, no slackening of effort; all were inspired with the thought that the impending effort would prove to be the crowning reward of their labours and their sacrifices. How near to realisation their hopes came and how far they failed, has yet to be told.

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Anzac Cove, before the August Offensive.

Anzac Cove, before the August Offensive.

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Looking up Sazli Beit Dere; Rhododendron Spur on right.

Looking up Sazli Beit Dere; Rhododendron Spur on right.

Pope's Reserve Gully.

Pope's Reserve Gully.

page 49

On the night of August 5th-6th the New Zealand Infantry Brigade concentrated in Happy Valley, immediately to the north of Walker's Ridge, preparatory to the offensive.

The opening day of the great attack to be launched at Anzac was fixed for August 6th. Here, where the real issue was to be fought out by troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the ultimate object and essence of the battle was to gain and occupy a line along the summit of the main Sari Bair Ridge, the capture of which must have meant opening the door to Maidos and the Narrows. The Sari Bair system represented one of the main geographical features of the southern part of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Running parallel to the sea, its lofty crest line looked down over practically the whole of the Anzac positions; but its great strength lay more in the extraordinary diversity of the country which represented its under features than in its own actual height. From the main mass of Sari Bair a series of spurs or ridges extended down to the sea, not in any uniformity or regularity of direction, but irregularly and brokenly, and in places terminating abruptly in steep faces or cliffs; while separating the whole of these spurs were deep ravines or gullies, even more confusing in the diversity of their direction and the precipitate steepness of their sides. The enemy's hold on the main Sari Bair Ridge, a position of great natural strength in itself, was thus doubly fortified by this difficult and broken country which barred the way to the heights.

For this special reason direct assault was out of the question. Leading up to Chunuk Bair, one of the main features of the Sari Bair system, were two valleys known as Chailak Dere and Sazli Beit Dere; while leading up to Koja Chemen Tepe, the highest point of all, was a third ravine called Aghyl Dere. It was the passage which these ravines provided that was to be utilised in order to deliver the assaults on the main ridge. But before these important assaults could be delivered the ravines themselves had to be secured. Thus the extraordinary complexity of the terrain called for the planning of a series of subsidiary operations which, if successful, were to culminate in the final combined assault which aimed at securing possession of the dominating heights of Sari Bair and the ultimate holding of a line represented by Quinn's Post, cross roads near Scrubby Knoll, Chunuk Bair, Koja Chemen Tepe.

page 50

The plan of operations provided for two covering forces preceding the main attack by two assaulting columns. The right covering force was to seize Table Top, Old No. 3 Post, and Bauchop's Hill, which commanded the foothills between Sazli Beit Dere, Chailak Dere and Aghyl Dere; on the success of this enterprise would depend the opening up of the ravines mentioned for the advance of the assaulting columns. The left covering force was to move northwards along the beach and seize the ridge known as Damakjelik Bair, about 1,000 yards north of Bauchop's Hill; this operation would protect the left flank of the left assaulting column during its advance up the Aghyl Dere, and at the same time, it was hoped, assist and protect the right of the 9th Corps in its landing between Suvla Bay and the mouth of the Asmak Dere, The right assaulting column was then directed to move up the Chailak Dere and the Sazli Beit Dere and assault the line of the ridge of Chunuk Bair. The left assaulting column was at the same time to move up the Aghyl Dere and prolong the line of the right assaulting column by storming Koja Chemen Tepe.

In addition to the main operations, there were subsidiary undertakings intended to serve the purpose of diversions and influence the enemy in the disposition of his reserves in a manner favourable to our interests. At Anzac frontal attacks were to be delivered by the 1st Australian Division from the right and centre of the Corps front, namely, against the Lone Pine entrenchments and the works known as German Officers' Trench, both on the right of the front; followed by assaults from Russell's Top against the enemy positions known as the Nek and Chessboard. In addition, there was to be a big attack at Helles; a surprise landing by a small force on the northern shores of the Gulf of Xeros; and demonstrations by French ships along the Syrian coast.

A reconnaissance of the north-western slopes of Sari Bair and of the various lines of approach led to the decision that the main attack must be delivered by night, the actual assault on the summit being timed to take place well before daylight. Just as the reinforcing troops for the offensive were smuggled into Anzac by night, so the main attack on the Sari Bair position was to be launched as a night operation; and to the tremendous difficulties which the country presentedpage 51 was to be added the confusion inseparable from darkness. But on the other hand the advantages which lay with the enemy in the matter of position were so overwhelming and the nature of the operations such that the great thrust would require to be well advanced before daylight broke.

The forces at the disposal of General Birdwood totalled approximately 37,000 men and 72 guns, with naval support from two cruisers, four monitors, and two destroyers. Actually this force was to constitute two main divisions. The New Zealand and Australian Division, the 13th Division (less five battalions), the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, and the Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade were entrusted with the task of delivering the assault upon Sari Bair. The 1st Australian Division, to which was added the 1st and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigades, and two battalions of the 40th Brigade, was committed to the task of holding the existing Anzac position and of delivering frontal assaults from that base. The 29th Brigade (less one battalion) of the 10th Division, and the 38th Brigade were held in reserve.