New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18
At last on the afternoon of April 24th the great fleet of men-of-war and crowded transports began to clear Mudros harbour, and set out for the shores of Gallipoli. The New Zealand transports lifted anchor early, and steaming down the long lane of ships, dropped anchor again near the netted and closely guarded entranceway. From this vantage point the New Zealanders watched with swelling emotions the vessels of the fleet, and the host of transports move in stately procession out into the open sea. Elated at the thought that at last after their weary months of training and waiting they were to be tried on the testing ground of battle, and thrilled by the moving spectacle, the men cheered vociferously as each ship went slowly past. Night fell at last, calm and very dark, and at midnight, while the soldiers slumbered in their quarters below, the New Zealand transports steamed out to sea with darkened lights. They needed no reveille that morning. The boom of heavy gun-fire heralded the dawn, and clustering up on deck the troops caught their first glimpse of war. Looking shorewards they could see the hills of the Gallipoli Peninsula faintly outlined in the half-light of the coming day; and lined along the coast the dim shapes of great ships of war, which broke again and again into vivid bursts of flame.
By the time it was full day the transports had arrived opposite the little bay on which the covering force of Australians had landed, and which was to become famous for all time as Anzac Cove. The whole line of warships could now be plainly seen stretching away south towards Cape Helles until they became lost in the clouds of smoke. Close at hand were the transports, some of them moving out after having unloaded their troops; but the majority awaiting their turn to transfer their human freight on to the destroyers or big barges.page break
The New Zealand and Australian Division commenced to disembark at 9 a.m. The troops of the 1st Australian Division had driven the Turks beyond the tangled mass of spurs and steep ridges which overlook the beach at the landing place, and were then endeavouring in face of superior numbers to hold the ground which they had won. The task of the New Zealanders on landing was to extend the line on the left of the Australians, and particularly to support the left of the 3rd Australian Brigade, which had landed as the covering force at 5 a.m. The enemy had rushed some batteries of field artillery into action, and as the New Zealanders climbed from the transports into the barges and boats in which they were to be towed ashore, they could see the shrapnel bursting along the water's edge. The densely packed barges offered a very tempting target to the Turkish gunners as they drew slowly in to the shore; but though casualties in the boats were frequent they were not heavy. As they landed the men were flung into the fight without regard to particular units. The need was desperate, and there was no delay. Discarding their weighty packs they went straight up the slopes and gullies and engaged in the desperate struggle against great odds. But the Division was being landed very slowly; night had fallen before the whole Brigade of New Zealand Infantry had been got ashore. For some hours in the middle of the day there was a complete stoppage in the disembarkation; and this at a time when the enemy had been strongly reinforced and was fiercely counter-attacking.
Artillery Headquarters landed with the boats of the first tow, which reached the shore a few minutes before 10 a.m., and the C.R.A. and staff immediately commenced to reconnoitre positions for the Brigade. It needed no reconnaisance to show that in such country it would be a matter of the greatest difficulty to select positions for the 18pr. batteries; it was, however, quite suited for howitzers. Efforts were made to get some of the guns ashore, but without avail; and Headquarters had to content itself with the selection of positions, and the partial preparation of some of them during the night.
The only guns that had been landed by evening were two Indian mountain batteries, and one solitary Australian 18pr. page 26The infantry's need was a desperate one, and they suffered severely owing to the absence of artillery support. The guns of the Navy, owing to their flat trajectory, could not search the gullies or engage the concealed enemy batteries, nor could they lend close support to the infantry. Two shore observation parties were provided by the New Zealand Artillery Brigade to direct and control the fire of the naval guns; but the difficulties of observation and communication were enormous. The Indian gunners did wonderfully good work with their light mountain guns, but they were few in number, and in any case could not hope to silence the Turkish guns. Advancing and fighting in the open, the infantry were exposed to the full effects of the bursts of shrapnel which swept the beaches, and sprayed the scrub-covered ridges where they stubbornly stood their ground, stemming each rush with a desperate courage that took no count of odds. Stretcher bearers of the Field Ambulance and volunteers were working tirelessly to get the wounded down on to the beaches, where the congestion of suffering men became so great that the doctors were overwhelmed, and almost every outgoing barge and boat was crammed full. Out in the Bay the artillerymen on their transports were consumed with impatience; from early morning they had been eagerly expecting the arrival of the barges which were to take them ashore with their guns.