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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

Chapter IX. Fateful August

page 60

Chapter IX. Fateful August.

We now approach the month of August which was to witness one of the greatest feats of arms, and one of the most tragic failures in British history; the month that was to see the A.M.R. and all the other regiments of the attacking force from Anzac, cut down to mere handfuls of sick and exhausted men; the month of fate that was to see all the sacrifice of lives, all the imperishable valour, all the striving of naked quivering souls, reap nothing but fame. Before proceeding with the narrative of these events which the written word will never truly describe, some reference should be made to the personnel of the Regiment with which this history deals.

It has already been recorded that Captain Bluck, who had come to Gallipoli in command of the 4th squadron (the original commander, Major Tattersall, having taken the place of Major Chapman as second in command of the Regiment), had been killed, leaving Lieutenant Roberts in command of the Waikatos, and that Major McCarroll, the O.C. of the 11th squadron, had gone away wounded. Many other changes had taken place. Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy had relinquished command of the Regiment, he having been sent to Egypt to remedy, if possible, a sickness among the horses of the brigade, which was causing heavy mortality. Major Tattersall held the command for a few days and then Major Chapman arrived. Major Tattersall was invalided ill. Captain Mackesy, who had been in page 61command of the 11th squadron since Major McCarroll's departure, had been ordered away for a surgical operation, his place being taken by Lieutenant Herrold. Lieutenant Roberts had been invalided, and Lieutenant J. Henderson took his place as commander of the 4th squadron. Of the junior officers, Lieutenant James had been killed, Lieutenants Logan and Weir had died of wounds, and Lieutenants Abbott and Ruddock had been invalided. Lieutenants Brookfield, Winder and Williams had arrived with reinforcements, and various promotions had been made to commissioned rank. The original adjutant, Captain Wood, N.Z.S.C., who was a source of great strength, still remained, and also R.S.M. Manners and S.S.M. Milne, of the 11th squadron, but S.S.M. Marr, of the Waikatos, had been killed, and S.S.M. Beer, of the 3rd squadron, had been invalided with an attack of fever that was to prove fatal. The manner in which this fine soldier carried on for days when in a high state of fever, not reporting to the medical officer until he was ordered to do so, was typical of the man, and he will always be kept in affectionate remembrance by the Gallipoli veterans of the Regiment.

These changes in the leadership of the Regiment are noted, not only to illustrate the cost of holding the Turks, but also to emphasise the success of the coming advance. Such was the capacity of the rank and file that many changes in leadership did not weaken the Regiment. Many good men had been killed and invalided through wounds and disease, but the spirit of the Regiment, its initiative and resource, its wonderful confidence and its cheerful heart, remained the same.

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One would like to speak of the splendid men of the rank and file who died during this three months' struggle. Many names rush to the memory, but it is not possible to mention some without doing an injustice to the memory of others. To record the names of men who had the temperament and the opportunity to do spectacular things, would be unjust to the many who performed the daily and nightly task faithfully and uncomplainingly until death claimed them. They did their duty in the place assigned to them, and if they did not achieve spectacular deeds, their service was none the less true, and their sacrifice none the less good.

Before describing the part taken by the Regiment in the August advance, it will be necessary to give a brief outline of the plan of the Commander-in-Chief, and the object of the attack. The aim was to deliver a decisive blow against the Sari Bair system, from the left of Anzac, by which it was hoped that, with the support of a division landed without warning at Suvla Bay, the dominating crest could be won and held, thus "gripping the waist" of the Peninsula, cutting off the bulk of the Turkish army from land communication with Constantinople, and gaining such a command for the British artillery as to cut off the bulk of the Turkish army from sea traffic. In conjunction, a number of feint diversions were to be carried out in various parts of the theatre of the campaign, and tactical diversions, in the shape of a big containing attack at Helles, and an attack against Lone Pine, on the right wing of the Anzac front. The New Zealand troops were to have the honour of participating in the main thrust, on the left of Anzac. As Sir Ian Hamilton stated in his despatches, "Anzac was to deliver the knockout blow; Helles and Suvla were complementary operations."

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A number of attempts have been made to describe the nature of the four miles of country over which the "knock-out blow" was to be delivered, and many more will be made, but it is doubtful if an absolutely true impression of it will ever be conveyed. Even the camera cannot reveal its real nature. It can give only odd views of gorge and slope and crag, but not a panoramic view, because two-thirds of that desolation cannot be seen from any one point. Had a race of giants transformed a range of hills, 1,000 feet high, into a sluicing claim, they might have left a result something like the features which form the approach to Sari Bair. No grass grows there—only stunted scrub—and there is nothing to bind the clay faces which crumble to the tread in summer, and slide into the deres with the torrential rains of winter. Nor is there any system about the ridges and spurs and gullies. They twist and turn in a most perplexing manner. Deres run abruptly into cliffs; branches from them wander off, and lose themselves. This was the country the Anzac troops, reinforced by some battalions from the new army of Britain, were to advance over in the dark, fighting all the way against a determined foe. The positions to be taken were veritable forts on precipitous heights, requiring of the men the utmost physical and moral effort before the Turks could be assaulted with the bayonet. And it had to be the bayonet and bomb, because the whole scheme depended upon the element of surprise.

The force for the thrust was commanded by General Godley, and it comprised the Australian and New Zealand Division (less the Australian Light Horse who were to hold as many Turks as possible on Russell's Top, Pope's Ridge, and Quinn's Post while the Australian Division did page 64the same by its operations against Lone Pine), the 13th (New Army) Division, less five battalions, the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, and an Indian Mountain Battery. This force was organised into four columns—the right and left covering columns which were to breach the Turkish line so that the right and left assaulting columns might pass on to their objectives. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment, the Maori Contingent, and the Field Troop New Zealand Engineers comprised the right covering column, and it was under the command of Brigadier-General Russell. Its task was to gain command of the Sazli Beit Dere, Chailak Dere, and the Aghyl Dere ravines, so as to enable the assaulting column to arrive intact within striking distance of the Chunuk Bair Ridge. To achieve this object it was necessary to clear the Turks from Old No. 3 Outpost and Big Table Top beyond it, and from Destroyer Hill on the right and Bauchop's Hill on the left.

Each regiment was allotted a particular position to capture, and herein lies the difficulty and the boldness of the plan. Each and everyone of these objectives had to be gained, and gained according to time-table, if the action was to be successful, and this, be it remembered, by surprise attacks in the darkness over torn, tumbled country in which the chances of losing direction were tremendous. It is the fact that the various posts were all taken to time-table, that makes this part of the action the shining example it is of perfection in execution. The Auckland Mounted Rifles were allotted the task of taking Old No. 3, the first operation. This post, or fort, was connected with Table Top by a razorback, and it formed the apex of a triangular piece page 65of ground that sloped down to our No. 2 and No. 3 Outposts. Since its recapture by the enemy, on May 30, the Turks, with unstinted material, had done their best to convert this commanding point into an impregnable redoubt. Two line of trenches, very heavily entangled, protected its southern face—the only accessible one—and with its head cover of solid timber which could not be seriously damaged by the fire of destroyer's guns, and its strongly revetted outworks, it dominated the approaches of both the Chailak Dere and the Sazli Beit Dere. This was the nature of the position which was timed to fall at 9.30 p.m. without artillery preparation or covering bombardment.

Without artillery, and heavy artillery at that, the position under ordinary circumstances, when the Turks were prepared, might have defied the assault of brigades, but the Regiment had to trust to surprise and the success of a stratagem. For some weeks the stratagem had been developing, through what the enemy were led to believe was the passion of H.M. destroyer Colne for regular and precise habits. Every night, exactly at 9 p.m., the Colne had thrown the beam of her searchlight on the redoubt, and opened fire for exactly 10 minutes. Then, after a 10 minutes interval, she had repeated the performance, ending precisely at 9.30 p.m. The idea was to get the enemy into the habit of vacating the front line as soon as the searchlight appeared. The plan was that the A.M.R. should creep up the ragged thorny slope when the sound of the destroyer's fire would help to drown any noise, and the fierce glare of the searchlight would make the surrounding darkness doubly dark, and rush the works from a distance of a few yards the moment the light switched off.