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New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18

The Attack at Lone Pine

The Attack at Lone Pine.

The New Zealand batteries played a very prominent part in paving the way for the frontal attacks which were made by the Australian Division on August 6th and 7th, and particularly valuable was their support to the 1st Brigade of Australians in their heroic and altogether successful attack at Lone Pine. During the 4th, 5th, and 6th of August, the works on the enemy's left and left centre were subjected to a slow bombardment; the 1st and 4th Batteries bombarding the Lone Pine trenches, which were provided with strong overhead cover, and well protected by barbed wire entanglements. The 1st Battery was given the task of destroying the wire; and wire-cutting, as experience showed in France, calls not page 72only for accuracy of fire, but for a large expenditure of ammunition. Though this latter was impossible, the battery commander himself satisfactorily accomplished the task. Every round had to be conserved, so using one gun only, and observing from the forward trenches in the vicinity, he carefully and methodically prepared the way for the attack.

High explosive shell was used by the 18prs. for the first time on this occasion, and its effect on the wire was watched with interest. It was found, however, that low-bursting shrapnel was much more effective. The 4th Battery did a lot of shooting on the enemy's trenches at both Lone Pine and Johnston's Jolly; but the lack of ammunition made the work piecemeal, and the heavy overhead cover on the trenches at Lone Pine remained intact when the infantry attacked. Hostile batteries were very active, and one of the 1st Battery guns on Russell's Top was put out of action. One of the 4.5in. howitzers also went out of action owing to a broken buffer spring, but a new spring was rushed up from Cape Helles. The howitzer batteries (4.5 and 5in.) were limited to a mere 30 rounds per battery on the day before the attack, and 40 rounds only were allowed each battery on the day of attack for their fire action from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m., though this was supplemented by "a quick rate of fire" from 4.30 p.m. till 5.30 p.m. At the former hour an "intense bombardment" by all guns was commenced, and continued until the moment of assault.

The gunners did their utmost throughout with the hopelessly inadequate material at their disposal; more they could not do. The wire had been well cut up by the 1st Battery, which had expended over two hundred rounds on wirecutting since morning; about one half of the Turkish troops in the enemy fire trenches at the commencement of the bombardment were killed or wounded; but the result of the shooting in dealing with the massive overhead cover of the enemy's front line trenches was so inconsiderable as to be of little' use to the infantry. After crossing No Man's Land in face of a storm of rifle and machine gun fire they found the overhead cover practically intact, and the weighty beams defied all individual efforts to remove them. Then came a pause while groups of page 73the men bodily lifted the beams and then flung themselves in among the Turks. The hand-to-hand fighting in the obscurity of these covered ways was of a bitter and desperate character, but by 6 p.m. all the garrison had been killed or captured, and the whole of the trenches seized.

While the attack was proceeding the 1st Battery directed its fire on the trenches at Johnston's Jolly, the 2nd Battery engaging those opposite Quinn's and Courtney's Posts; while the 4th (howitzer) Battery assisted a strong effort to neutralise the fire of enemy guns that could bear on Lone Pine by shelling hostile guns on Mortar Ridge. Enemy guns on Scrubby Knoll, Battleship Hill, Gun Ridge, and at the Olive Groves and Wine Glass Ridge were similarly engaged by a force of guns made up of four 5in. batteries, two 6in. howitzers, the 4.7in. gun, and the guns of the Australian Artillery. There was little abatement in hostile fire, however; and it was considered that the expenditure of ammunition by the old and worn 5in. howitzers was not justified by results on this occasion.

From the very commencement the enemy made it quite plain that he was determined at all costs to regain the important work which had been wrested from him in such indomitable fashion. Within an hour the guns were called upon to assist in repelling a heavy counter-attack which swept in wave on wave, both from the north and from the south, and nearly a week elapsed before the Turks seemed willing to relinquish their efforts and accept defeat. For three days the Australians had to meet constant counter-attacks and continuous and heavy shelling and bombing, the enemy's supply of bombs being apparently inexhaustible. During this period the 1st Battery, in particular, and the 2nd Battery and the 4.5in. howitzers inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy's reserves. Time after time the guns of the 1st Battery swept the enemy's ranks in a deadly enfilade as they pressed forward to the counter-attack, and more than once their fire was sufficiently destructive to break an enemy assault at its inception.

The battery was under heavy fire throughout August 6th and the following night, and the gun emplacements were so page 74badly damaged that they had to be rebuilt. During the afternoon of the 6th Nos. 1 and 2 guns were temporarily out of action owing to the destruction of the emplacements, and several men were wounded. Notwithstanding this hostile shelling the battery was usefully employed during the night in shelling the enemy operating against Lone Pine, as well as his reinforcements arriving from the direction of Mule Valley, and at 6 a.m. it was largely instrumental in beating back with a heavy loss a local counter-attack from the direction of Mais Mais. The enemy came on a second time, but was again repulsed, the low-bursting shrapnel playing havoc in their broken ranks as they were driven back. The Australians lost heavily in the initial attack, and they continued to suffer severely in the desperate intermittent struggles of the succeeding days. They had the satisfaction, however, of knowing that the enemy's losses were much greater, and that in the end he was reluctantly compelled to accept defeat.

The Australian infantry were quick to acknowledge the valuable, and indeed vital, support they had received from the 18prs. of the 1st Battery, which had on occasions succeeded in crushing the Turkish assaults the moment the attackers moved from cover. This successful attack was eminently valuable as a diversion, and was considered by the Commander-in-Chief "more than any other cause to have been the reason that the Suvla Bay landing was so lightly opposed, and that comparatively few of the enemy were available at first to reinforce against our attack at Sari Bair." But the same measure of success did not attend other frontal assaults which were made from the existing Anzac position during the night and early morning of August 6th and 7th. There were two fruitless assaults on German Officers' Trench, and attacks by troopers of the Australian Light Horse from Quinn's Post, Pope's Hill, and Russell's Top. In the ill-fated ventures from Quinn's and Russell's Top, the Light Horse troopers, while conscious of the terrible odds against them, advanced over their parapet in ordered lines, and were swept away by an annihilating stream of machine-gun fire. Whatever advantages may have been gained by these heroic but hopeless assaults were dearly bought.