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

Chunuk Bair

page 56

Chunuk Bair.

During the afternoon of August 7th reconnaissances were made with a view to the launching of another attack on the Sari Bair position, and following upon this orders were issued for an advance in three columns. The objective of the right Column, which included the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, was defined as Chunuk Bair; that of the centre and left Columns the prolongation of the ridge north-east to Koja Chemen Tepe, the highest point of the Sari Bair system.

The renewed assault was timed for 4.15 a.m. on August 8th. Preceded by an artillery bombardment of one hour's duration of the Turkish defence system, the advance commenced as arranged. On the right was Brigadier-General Johnston's Column, headed by the Wellington Infantry Battalion, and supported by the 7th Gloucestershire Regiment, the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, the 8th Welsh Pioneers, and the Maori Contingent, the whole led by Lieut.-Colonel Malone; in the centre the 39th Infantry Brigade and the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade; on the left the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. The order of battle placed the Wellington Battalion on the right of the line, the Gloucestershire Regiment on the left, with the Welsh Pioneers forming the second line; the Auckland Mounted Rifles and Maori Contingent in the third line; the Otago Battalion to be in reserve at the head of Rhododendron Spur.

With the launching of the attack, the Wellington Battalion, in one determined assault, gained the south-western slopes and crest of the main knoll of Chunuk Bair. The left troops of the Gloucestershire Regiment, shortly after the advance commenced, had come under heavy enfilade fire, which caused the line to edge over to the right and away from its objective. The captured Turkish trench on Chunuk Bair, which represented the most forward line, was eventually found untenable under the weight of enemy assaults; and save for a few elements who hung on tenaciously to the last, the foremost troops withdrew and entrenched along a line immediately in rear but still on the slopes of Chunuk.

Now ensued an ordeal of supreme self-sacrifice and extreme physical endurance. With the position battered by fire of almost every description, exposed to the enfilade page break
Lleut.-Colonel A. Moore, D.S.O., (d.)(Killed in Action).

Lleut.-Colonel A. Moore, D.S.O., (d.)
(Killed in Action).

page break
MajorF. H. Statham, (d.)(Killed in Action).

MajorF. H. Statham, (d.)
(Killed in Action).

The Farm and Road leading down the Aghyl Dere, with Suvla Bay in the distance.Photograph taken from Chunuk Bair in 1919 by Captain C. V. Bigg-Wither, Auckland M.R.)

The Farm and Road leading down the Aghyl Dere, with Suvla Bay in the distance.
Photograph taken from Chunuk Bair in 1919 by Captain C. V. Bigg-Wither, Auckland M.R.)

page 57 fire of enemy machine guns, and harassed by persistent bombing attacks, the garrison of this forward line, exhausted and reduced by casualties, refused to yield the ground gained, and at the close of day the Wellington Battalion was still in position on the slopes of Chunuk. It was late in the afternoon before two squadrons of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment succeeded in reinforcing the right of the line, after being temporarily held up by fire; while the Maori Contingent, which constituted the same line, had swung more to the left, in the direction of the Farm.

While the right Column of the forces committed to the renewed assault on Sari Bair had thus succeeded in gaining a footing on Chunuk Bair, the efforts of the centre and left Columns had not been attended by the same measure of success. The centre Column, advancing from the positions occupied over-night, moved along the gullies which led up to the Sari Bair Ridge; the right moving south of the Farm against Chunuk Bair, and the left moving up the spurs north-east of the Farm against that part of the ridge which extended north-east of Chunuk. So severe was the enemy's rifle and machine gun fire that little progress could be made; although a certain amount of ground was gained on the spurs to the north-east of the Farm. Away to the left, the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade had advanced from its position on the Asmak Dere against the lower slopes of the Abdel Rahman Bair with the intention of then wheeling to the right, forcing a passage up the spur and attacking Koja Chemen Tepe. Strong opposition was met with from the outset, and in spite of every effort no material progress could be made. Finally, seriously threatened by the approach of large enemy forces, the 4th Australian Brigade was forced to withdraw to the line which it had previously occupied on the Asmak Dere.

The result of the day's fighting, therefore, was that the right Column held the south-western slopes of Chunuk Bair; the centre Column was in occupation of the Farm and the spurs to the north-east of it; and the left Column was contained on the Asmak Dere. This was the situation when it was decided to break off the fight for the day, preparatory to launching a further attack on the main Sari Bair Ridge, using the foothold gained on Chunuk Bair as a pivot.

page 58

The Otago Battalion, along with the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (which had come under the orders of the Brigade) was ordered to relieve Wellington Battalion at dusk in the forward trenches on Chunuk Bair. By this time Wellington Battalion had been reduced to a strength which was almost negligible, and but few officers remained. Lieut.-Colonel Malone, a brave and resourceful officer, had been killed. Other units in line had suffered almost correspondingly heavy casualties. In compliance with orders for the relief of Wellington Troops, Otago Battalion proceeded to move forward at dusk, and under the greatest difficulties reached the advanced trenches on the slopes of Chunuk, when the remnants of Wellington Battalion withdrew. It was now decided to extend the original line to the right. Under this arrangement the forces committed to holding the defences of Chunuk were disposed as follows: Two-thirds of the strength of Otago Battalion holding the left front of the line; Wellington Mounted Rifles next in order to the right; and one-third of Otago Battalion's strength, represented by 4th Company, occupying a flanking position on the extreme right.

A day remarkable for the fierceness of the struggle was succeeded by a night perhaps even more desperate. No food or water reached the garrison; there was no possible chance of getting the wounded away; and the already exhausted defenders, though constantly menaced by the enemy, were forced to exert themselves throughout the night in an endeavour to deepen the shallow trenches—a difficult business owing to the hard formation. Shortly after 4th Company had taken up the position which formed a defensive right flank, movement was observed to the front, but there was some doubt as to its origin. Lieut. J. E. Cuthill accordingly moved out to the front and was able to convince himself that the Turks were massing for attack. This assault was eventually delivered in considerable force; but our men withheld their fire until the enemy had advanced to within 15 yards of the line, when it was so well and truly delivered that the enemy was most sanguinarily repulsed. When beaten off they retired behind the ridge and reformed for a further effort.

As daylight broke on the 9th considerable numbers of the enemy appeared to the right rear, and at the same timepage 59 a determined attack, preceded by a storm of bombs, was delivered against our front. The enemy's apparent intention was to drive in the front and then attack the garrison in the flank as it withdrew. The first line of trenches was entered, but the enemy was subsequently driven out, and the occupants of the rear trench, temporarily changing their front, dealt with the enemy threatening the flank. This attack was thus beaten off; at all other points the enemy was equally unsuccessful.

The casualties during the night had been exceedingly heavy. Lieut. Colonel Moore, who had commanded the Battalion from its first days on the Peninsula, was wounded, as also was Major Moir, Second-in-Command. Command of the Battalion was then taken over by Major G. Mitchell.