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

The Situation Reviewed

The Situation Reviewed.

A review of the four days' operations at Anzac would convey but an inadequate idea of the real nature of the struggle were reference not made to the stupendous difficultiespage 65 presented by the problem of water supply; and by the wounded who poured down to the dressing stations. Long before the offensive commenced efforts were directed towards establishing at Anzac great accumulations of water; and by the utilisation of all possible methods of storage a very great deal was accomplished. But another more difficult phase of the problem presented itself when, the offensive having been launched, this water had to be taken up to the troops for whom it was intended. The extraordinary physical exertions demanded by an advance over such steep and rugged country, combined with the intense heat of a midsummer's day, created a thirst which quickly drained the supply carried by each man. The general advancement of the line, the semi-isolated position of bodies of troops, and the initial absence of direct communication to points which were inaccessible by night and exposed to fire by day, together with the inevitable measure of disorganisation attending the first stages of an attack, made it at times impossible to get water up to those most urgently in need of it. Thus to-physical exhaustion were added the acute sensations of a thirst which could not be satisfied.

While all this grim business of fighting and sweating and toiling was in progress on the heights above, another phase of the conflict was presented in the gullies and on the beach below. As the four days' battle progressed, the medical arrangements, despite the greatest efforts of the personnel, could not keep pace with the increasingly heavy toll of casualties. A certain part of these arrangements, owing to the necessity for observing secrecy, had to be effected within the few hours available after the offensive had been launched, while dressing stations had to be established as the advance proceeded. But it was the inability to cope with such a sudden and tremendous rush of casualties that so seriously complicated matters and led to so much delay and suffering. There were hundreds of walking cases, and even badly wounded, who succeeded in struggling down to the dressing stations; but among the gullies and lying exposed on the hills above there were others who, because of their wounds, were unable to move, and had to lie there indefinitely, suffering and hoping against hope that relief of some sort would come their way. But the toiling bearers were already overwhelmed with work; theirpage 66 labours increased by the difficulties of transporting wounded down the narrow gullies which formed the sole means of communication, and through which there passed the constant traffic of mule trains, of relieving troops, of walking wounded, and of the up and down stream of supply. At the beach, barges from the hospital ships and others loaded with mules were filled with stretcher or walking cases as they drew alongside or were emptied, and a way cleared, at least temporarily, for the wounded who continued to pour down from above.

The casualties sustained by the Regiment during the course of these operations and over the succeeding few days totalled 17 officers and over 300 other ranks. Included among those who fell in action during these days of desperate fighting were Major F. H. Statham, Captain R. Wilkinson, Lieut. T. H. Nisbet, Lieut. C. R. Sargood, Lieut, G. E. Waite, and 2nd-Lieut. W. M, McKenzie. Major Statham, a fine powerful fellow, was killed alongside his younger brother and Sergt.-major Porteous, M.C. At the close of the operations there were only four officers of the Battalion left unwounded, this number including Lieut. W. G. Bishop, who was awarded the M.C. Many very worthy non-commissioned officers and men also fell in action. There were several whose bravery earned recognition, the Distinguished Conduct Medal being awarded to Sergt. F. Mitchell for his gallant conduct on the right flank of the Chunuk Bair position; to Sergt.-major P. C. Boate; Sergt. A. G. Henderson for his fine work as Battalion Machine Gun N.C.O.; and to Lance-corp. H. D. Skinner. These days of heavy losses and heroic and exhausting effort saw the arrival at Anzac of the 5th Reinforcements under Captain W. Domigan; the Regiment thereby receiving an added strength of approximately 300 all ranks. Without any preliminaries this new force was thrown into the violent struggle then raging.

With the breaking off of the offensive on August 10th the forces contained at Rhododendron Spur settled down to a defensive role. All efforts were concentrated on defining and consolidating the new line, in reorganising and regrouping scattered units and, as far as possible, in burying the dead. On August 15th the Apex, except for the southern ridge, was taken over by the Welsh Fusiliers, the Regiment, now under the temporary command of Captain H. Stewart,page 67 of Canterbury Regiment, moving below the New Zealand Brigade Headquarters, for a period of three days rest. On the following day a move was made to a new gully which formerly had been occupied by the Turks, and which was named Otago Gully. The recorded total strength of the Battalion on August 16th was 360 all ranks; this number including the additional strength derived from the 5th Reinforcements. On the 20th of the month the Battalion returned to the Apex, relieving Canterbury Battalion in the holding of the southern ridge.

The losses sustained during the August operations had heavily drained the available forces; and with the close of the offensive another phase of wastage presented itself. Weariness of mind and body, the persistently bad and cramped conditions of existence, the lack of nourishing food, and the sapping of vitality until it had reached breaking point commenced to levy an alarming toll of sick and diseased men. The evacuations became increasingly heavy. The August offensive had represented the last gallant expenditure of effort; and wasted bodies simply could not carry on the struggle.

In the course of a Special Order issued subsequent to the Battle of Sari Bair, General Sir Ian Hamilton expressed himself as follows: "The troops under the command of Major-General Sir A. J. Godley, and particularly the New Zealand and Australian Division, were called upon to carry out one of the most difficult operations that has ever been attempted—a night march and assault by several columns in intricate mountainous country, strongly entrenched and held by a numerous enemy. Their brilliant conduct during this operation and the success they achieved have won for them a reputation as soldiers of whom any country must be proud."

On August 21st the 9th Corps undertook operations from Suvla which aimed at gaining ground to the east and capturing the "W" Hills and the Anatarta Spur, in which the left flank of General Birdwood's force was to co-operate. This proved to be actually the last offensive action launched against the Turks on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The main success was achieved by the force operating from the left of the Anzac line. The advance was directed against thepage 68 line Kaiajik Dere, Hill 60, and Susuk Kuyu, the force carrying out the attack against Hill 60 and the lower portion of the Kaiajik Dere including the Otago and Canterbury Mounted Rifles and about 500 men of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. In face of heavy fire the Mounted Rifles reached the south-western slopes of Hill 60; while the Australian Infantry gained a footing on the northern side of the Kaiajik Dere. On August 27th a further assault was directed against Hill 60, detachments of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles being again employed. They established themselves on the slopes of the height, and there defied all efforts of the Turks to dislodge them. This signalised the close of the hard fought attacks against Hill 60, and the positions thus gained and held afforded observation over the enemy's lateral communications and a considerable area of the low country towards the "W" Hills and in the direction of Biyuk Anafarta.

On the last day of the month of August Lieut.-Colonel Herbert arrived and took over command of Otago Battalion from Captain H. Stewart (Canterbury Regiment). The Maori Contingent had now been merged into the New Zealand Infantry Brigade; one platoon being drafted to each Battalion. The reduced strength of Otago Regiment forced a temporary amalgamation of 4th and 8th Companies, designated A Company, and of 10th and 14th Companies, designated B Company.

On September 2nd about 80 men of Otago Battalion were moved up in close support of the Apex. In accordance with the plan of defence issued by Division the New Zealand Brigade became responsible for garrisoning that part of the line which embraced the Apex, Rhododendron Spur and Canterbury Slope. Under the same orders defined outer and inner lines of defence were to be constructed; and in this connection the Brigade was made responsible for the outer line of trench work round the Apex, the strengthening of the Rhododendron Spur position by several lines of trench work, the construction of communication trenches to the valleys east and south-east of Big Table Top, and trench work extending from the Apex to Cheshire Ridge on the left. On the afternoon of the 10th the Apex positions were subjected to an hour's rapid bombardment from several enemy guns; seeming to indicate that an attack was developing, but no infantry action followed.