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

A Final Struggle

A Final Struggle.

During the afternoon of August 8th a further reconnaissance was made of the lines of approach to the enemy's positions, and orders issued for a further assault, the third, against the Turkish strongholds on the Sari Bair Ridge. The line to be attacked was that of Chunuk Bair—Hill "Q," under cover of the footing gained by Brigadier-General Johnston's Column. The assault was again to be carried out by three columns. No. 1 Column, which included the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, was to hold and consolidate the ground gained on August 8th, and in co-operation with the other columns gain the whole of Chunuk Bair; No. 2 and No. 3 Columns were to assault the position known as Hill "Q,' No. 3 Column being responsible for the main attack.

At 4.30 a.m. on August 9th the Naval and all other available guns commenced a bombardment of the enemy defences on Chunuk Bair and Hill "Q"; and with increasing intensity this was continued until 5.15 a.m., when it was directed against the flanks and reverse slopes of the positions to be assaulted. Brigadier-General Baldwin, commanding the No. 3 Column, was to form up his battalions immediately in rear of the trenches occupied by the New Zealand Brigade, and from that point launch his attack in successive lines, keeping as much as possible to the high ground. Inpage 60 accordance with this plan arrangements were made to keep the, narrow track clear of all obstructions in the way of upward and downward traffic, and guides were provided for the Column. But in spite of all these precautions, the troops were seriously delayed and hampered in their approach march by the difficult, scrub-covered country which had to be traversed in darkness, and losing direction inclined too far to the left. At the hour of attack the 6th Ghurkas of the 29th Indian Brigade (No. 2 Column) had pressed up the slopes towards Sari Bair, and were successful in crowning the heights of the nek adjoining Hill "Q." The co-operation of the troops of the No. 3 Column at this, one of the great moments of the August offensive, would have been invaluable. But as if the advantages which the high ground gave them were not sufficient, the Turks were again to have all the chances on their side. Before our grasp had tightened on this success the enemy, apparently perceiving the consequences of this new hold, counter-attacked heavily, and the Ghurkas bent before it. Almost at the same moment as the Turks had launched this counter-stroke, the Commander of the No. 3 Column, finding that he was too late to share in the operations as arranged, had deployed for attack where he stood, which was to the left of the New Zealand Brigade's support trenches at the head of Rhododendron Spur. But his attack had barely been launched when it came under a terrific fire directed by the enemy from the slopes in front and Hill "Q." So violent, so destructive, and so sustained was this blast that the assault reached but a short distance beyond the Farm—there its momentum ended.

The New Zealand Troops—Otago Battalion and Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment—who were still grimly holding on to the slopes of Chunuk, had anxiously awaited the relief which this attack, had it been successful, would have brought them. When the completely exhausted state of the defenders of these advanced trenches, and the seriousness of their losses had been represented, encouragement was given by the announcement that Brigadier-General Baldwin's force—the No. 3 Column—was to advance and seize the Turkish positions to the left. The defenders had now witnessed the launching of this action and its failure; and had to some extent suffered in the counter-blast delivered by the enemy.

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During the day an effort was made to send up reinforcements; two platoons of North Lancashire troops made an effort to reach the position and failed.

The fact that the troops in occupation of Chunuk Bair had now been fighting almost continuously for three days and nights rendered their relief imperatively necessary. It was pointed out that two battalions would be required to hold the position; and it was urged that the relief should be effected that night. The outcome was that orders for relief were issued at 8 p.m. on the 9th. The line held by General Godley's force at that stage extended up the Rhododendron Spur to the forward trenches on Chunuk Bair, thence in a north-westerly direction through the Farm, and from there northwards to the Asmak Dere, As to the Chunuk Bair position, the trenches extended a distance of about 200 yards across the height, and were shallow in depth. The troops detailed to relieve Otago Battalion and the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment were the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the 5th Wiltshire Regiment, of the 13th Division; the 10th Hampshire Regiment to connect with the troops about the Farm. Towards midnight on the 9th the North Lancashire Regiment had arrived; but it was 2 a.m. on the 10th before the whole of the New Zealand troops on Chunuk Bair were relieved. The Regiment, a mere fraction of its original strength, withdrew to the advanced trenches on Rhododendron Spur, and passed into reserve. Delayed by the intricate nature of the country and the shelling encountered during their progress up the Chailak Dere, the remainder of the relieving troops, the 5th Wiltshire Regiment, had not yet succeeded in reaching the positions to be taken over.

With the break of day on August 10th the great struggle for Sari Bair was abruptly and dramatically cut short in its development. By one overwhelming, fatal blow the hold on Chunuk Bair was to be irredeemably lost, and the hopes which this footing, gained at so much sacrifice, inspired of ultimate and complete possession of the Sari Bair Ridge—and Victory—were relentlessly shattered. The enemy had now made the fateful decision of throwing the whole of his available reserves into the conflict. Preceded by a bombardment of considerable intensity they swept overpage 62 the crest in an alarming preponderancy of numbers, down the slopes of Chunuk Bair and Hill "Q," across the foremost trenches—now vacated—on the first-named ridge; and even by the sheer weight of their numbers threatened to turn and overwhelm the whole line. But as each successive wave of the enemy, now advancing almost shoulder to shoulder, swept down the slopes it was caught in the concentrated fire of the whole of the machine guns and rifles of the New Zealand Brigade, now manning the reserve trenches on Rhododendron Spur. The fire of the warships, of the New Zealand and Australian Artillery, and of all other available guns swept through their ranks, causing heavy loss of life. Eventually shattered and broken by this weight of lead, the enemy onrush at this point was hopelessly crushed. But around the Farm and against the spurs to the north-east the onslaught was such as to cause the line to break and give ground, only to be restored after fierce fighting by fresh bodies of troops. Into the area of this desperate conflict the last two battalions of the general reserve were thrown; and by 10 a.m. this extraordinary effort of the Turks, which at certain points had threatened complete annihilation of the British line, had expended itself, and those of the enemy who had penetrated far down the ridge began to stream back, although few of them ever reached their lines again.

The capture, and in no less degree the retention, of the Chunuk Bair position by the New Zealand troops concerned had stood as the consummation of an effort remarkable for sustained gallantry and determination of spirit; and that it should have fallen back into the hands of the enemy occasioned a sense of acute loss and sacrifice in vain. At the close of the Turkish counter-attack on the morning of the 10th, the New Zealand Brigade's hold on the top of Rhododendron Spur represented, and remained, the furthest permanent penetration of the enemy's territory; and by virtue of this fact, the position, which formed a pronounced salient, came to be known as the Apex. From that part of it which represented the left curve, known as the Upper Cheshire Ridge, observation was afforded over the area of the Farm; Canterbury Slope forming the right curve of the salient. But in many respects the position was unsatisfactory, mainly because of its exposed nature, the proximitypage 63 of the enemy's works, and the high ground to its immediate front; and strenuous efforts had to be made immediately towards consolidating and making this most easterly point secure against encroachment, which would have forced a readjustment on lower ground. Across the whole front the Turks at the same time appeared to be displaying feverish haste in the construction of entrenchments and the erection of wire entanglements; whilst on our side it was impossible to carry out a great deal of work on the more important portions of the line during the day owing to the manner in which the enemy dominated the position from the Sari Bair Ridge.

The four days battle may now be said to have been at an end. The state of exhaustion reached, the disorganisation of units, and the heavy losses incurred prevented any further effort being made in the meantime. Of General Birdwood's forces, it was estimated that the casualties numbered 12,000; a total which embraced a high percentage of officers. The general line, it was true, had been appreciably advanced, but the real goal had not been attained; and the reverse, which had lost to us the foothold on Chunuk Bair, had placed it far out of reach.