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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18


At last, while the summer was yet at its height, events began to shape themselves for the great battle of Sari Bair, which was at once to set the seal on the heroism, the endurance, and the self-sacrifice of the soldiers at Anzac, and to mark the culmination of their hopes. Early in the campaign it had been made apparent to the Commander-in-Chief that neither at Anzac nor at Helles were his forces strong enough to fight their way through to the Narrows. On May 10th Sir Ian Hamilton had cabled to the War Office asking for two fresh divisions, and a week later another cable was sent, stating that if the Force was going to be left to face Turkey on its own resources two additional Army Corps would be required. The 52nd (Lowland) Division had been sent to Gallipoli, but whilst it was en route Russia, owing to the serious turn of events on the Eastern front, had given up the idea of co-operating from the coast of the Black Sea, and as a result several more Turkish divisions had become available for the defence of the Dardanelles. Finally, during June, Sir Ian Hamilton was promised three regular divisions plus the infantry of two Territorial divisions. The advance guard of these troops was due to reach Mudros by July 10th, and their concentration was to be complete by August 10th. A decision as to the method of employing these reinforcements was arrived at only after every practicable scheme had been exhaustively considered in all its aspects. These schemes were readily narrowed down to four in number, which may best be summarised in the terms of the Official Despatch:—

  • (1) Every man to be thrown on to the southern sector of the Peninsula to force a way forward to the Narrows.
  • (2) Disembarkation on the Asiatic side of the Straits, followed by a march on Chanak.page 68
  • (3) A landing at Enos or Ibrije for the purpose of seizing the neck of the isthmus at Bulair.
  • (4) Reinforcement of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, combined with a landing in Suvla Bay. Then with one strong push to capture Hill 305, and working from that dominating point, to grip the waist of the Peninsula.

The considerations in favour of an assault from Anzac combined with a surprise landing at Suvla appeared conclusive; the plan seemed to afford a reasonable prospect of success, and was not subject in any measure to the unanswerable arguments which were responsible for the rejection of each of the other three schemes. Furthermore, the scheme was acceptable to the Navy, and it was considered that the bay at Suvla would afford a good submarine-proof base, and a good harbour excepting during south-west gales. As the season was advancing, and the enemy was making his position more secure each day, there were manifest dangers in unduly delaying the launching of the attack. The last drafts of the reinforcements were due to arrive on the 4th or 5th of August, and August 6th was therefore fixed as the date on which the battle would open.

The fresh troops available for the impending operations consisted of the 10th (Irish) Division, the 11th (Northern) Division, and the 13th (Western) Division, all comprising the 9th Army Corps, and the Infantry Brigades only of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, and the 54th (East Anglian) Division. The 9th Corps was composed of New Army troops, and the 53rd and 54th were Territorial Divisions. All were without experience in war. The 13th Division and one Brigade of the 10th Division were to reinforce the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Anzac, and to the remainder of the 9th Corps, under Lieut.-General Sir F. Stopford, was given the task of landing at Suvla Bay, and co-operating with the attack from Anzac, by first seizing and holding the Chocolate and Ismail Oglu Hills, together with the high ground on the north and east of Suvla Bay. If the landing went off smoothly it was hoped that these hills would be in the possession of the page 69landing force before daybreak. In that ease it was farther hoped that the first division which landed would be strong enough to picket and hold all the important heights within artillery range of the Bay, when General Stopford would be able to direct the remainder of his force, as it became available, through the Anafartas to the east of the Sari Bair, where, in the words of the Commander-in-Chief himself, "it should soon smash the mainspring of the Turkish opposition to Anzac."

The elaborate dispositions which had to be made at Anzac for the reception and concealment in an already overcrowded area of large bodies of fresh troops, threw a heavy burden on the garrison. Sick of the monotony, and keenly alert for evidences of change, the soldiers were not slow to grasp the significance of the preparations, which they were called upon to undertake in July, and the momentous nature of the events impending was instinctively realised. The prospect of some great decisive movement, with its alluring possibilities of success, was a tonic to men worn by incessant endeavours and weakened by privation and disease, and the spirit in which the men faced their heavy task was as admirable as the heroism which they displayed in the subsequent battles.

The entire details of the operations allotted to the troops to be employed in the Anzac area were formulated by Lieut.-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, and all these local preparations, vast as they were, were carried out in their entirety by the garrison at Anzac, and faithfully completed by August 6th. Everything had to be done secretly and by stealth under the very eyes of a vigilant enemy. Two tasks of the first magnitude were the widening of the "Big Sap," the long communication trench which wound out to the outposts on the left flank, and the making of a road for wheeled traffic along the beach in the same direction. The sap was deep and narrow, and much of it ran through hard-baked clay, so that the task of bringing it to the uniform width of five feet involved a tremendous amount of sheer hard work for the sweating fatigues, "Work on the road running along the exposed beach front had perforce to be done by night, a page 70circumstance which enhanced the difficulties of the undertaking; but if the nights were short, the energy of the workers was unflagging, and gradually the road crept out towards the flank.

As the disembarkation of the fresh troops would extend over several nights some method had to be devised of securely concealing the newcomers during the few days which would elapse before the opening of the battle. Terraces and shelters were accordingly dug on the hillsides, and in these they lay hidden alike from the enemy aircraft and scouts on the heights. Great supplies of food were landed and ammunition in such quantities as the resources of the Force were capable of furnishing. The provision of an adequate supply of water was the most difficult of all problems, its solution calling for the most careful forethought and calculation so that no contingency might be unprovided for, and nothing left to chance. Little ever stood between Anzac and thirst, so dependent had it always been on the sea-borne supplies of tepid but welcome water; but in the battles that were to be fought on the sun-baked heights, water would be as indispensable almost as ammunition. Dependence on regular daily supplies involving too great a risk, a reservoir of great tanks was formed on the hillside above the beach. A system of pipelines and supply tanks was created, and the water from the barges after being pumped by hand into tanks standing on the beach, was lifted up to the reservoir by a stationary engine brought from Egypt. There were delays and mishaps of course, but anything that could not be supplied was improvised, and every obstacle was overcome by the fertile resource of minds which had been trained to cope with many desperate situations.

At last the long-expected reinforcements began to arrive. Throughout the nights of August 3rd, 4th, and 5th, they swarmed on to the beach from the crowded boats and barges that drew silently in out of the night, and as they landed were guided away to their concealed bivouacs to await the opening of the battle. The troops now at the disposal of General Birdwood amounted in round numbers to 37,000 rifles and 72 guns, with support from two cruisers, four page 71monitors, and two destroyers. This force was divided into two main portions. To the Australian Division, strengthened by the attachment of the 1st and 3rd Light Horse Brigades and two battalions of the 40th Brigade, was entrusted the task of holding the existing Anzac position, and of making the frontal assaults which were to divert the enemy's attention and draw his reserves from the quarter in which the main blow was to be struck. The remainder of the force was to carry out the attack on the Sari Bair Ridge.

The artillery support in the operations was so planned as to make the most effective use of the very small number of guns available on shore. These numbered only 72 of all classes. In addition to the 18prs. of the Australian and New Zealand Field Artillery, and the one New Zealand 4.5in. howitzer battery, there were the 10pr. guns of the Indian Mountain Artillery, five batteries of 5in. howitzers, three 6in. howitzers, and the solitary 4.7in. naval gun on the right flank. There were in addition, of course, the guns of the fleet, but their effective value was limited, and they could not be used for the close support of attacking troops. In view of the great issues at stake, and the terribly difficult nature of the operations upon which the army was about to embark, it must be said that in material, whether in numbers of guns or in supplies of shells, the artillery at Anzac was pitifully inadequate.