New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18
A Glimpse of Victory
A Glimpse of Victory.
At last night came, and if it brought no respite for the forward troops, it at least enabled them to be supplied with a little—a very little—water and food, and supplies of ammunition. To attack again and at once in an endeavour to exploit the success on Chunuk Bair was almost the only course left open; so the columns were again reorganised and preparations made for a further effort, on the issue of which would depend the success or failure of the whole operation. The attack was to be made by the following three columns:—
No. 1 Column (Brig.-General F. E. Johnston)—26th Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifles, N.Z. Infantry Brigade, and two battalions of the 13th Division.
No. 2 Column (Major-General H. V. Cox)—21st Indian Mountain Battery (less one section), 4th Australian Brigade, 39th Brigade (less the 7th Gloucesters), 6th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment, and the Indian Infantry Brigade.
No. 3 Column (Brig.-General A. H. Baldwin)—Two battalions each from the 38th and 29th Infantry Brigades, and one from the 40th Brigade.
No. 1 Column was to hold and consolidate its position, and in co-operation with the other columns to gain the whole of Chunuk Bair and extend to the south-east. No. 2 Column was to attack Hill Q. No. 3 Column, the units in which had been brought from reserve, was to make the main attack. It was to march by way of the Chailak Dere after dark on the night of August 8th, and after gaining touch with No. 1 Column, advance up the slopes towards Hill Q.
At 4.30 a.m., on August 9th, the most furious bombardment that it was possible to bring to bear was opened on the Chunuk Bair Ridge and Hill Q. by the guns on the left flank, and as many as possible from the Anzac area, assisted by the fire of the naval guns. The guns on the hills at Anzac, away on the right, with the 4.5in. howitzers on the beach, were able to enfilade the enemy's position on the ridge, their fire being quite as destructive as that of the guns firing at closer quarters page 84out on the flank. This bombardment was timed to continue from 4.30 a.m. to 5.15 a.m., when it was to be switched off on to the flanks and reverse slopes of the heights. The bombardment was only comparatively effective; considering the number of guns engaged the results were surprisingly good; but the enemy still swept the slopes up which the attack must be pushed with a hail of lead.
While the troops of No. 1 Column fulfilled their task of holding on to their positions on Chunuk Bair, the 6th Gurkhas of the Indian Infantry Brigade, as well as some of the 6th South Lancashire Regiment actually fought their way up to the very crest of Hill Q. For a brief space the little band stood on the objective for which so many thousands had fought and bled and died, and gazed upon the Turkish communications—the roads winding far below them, and the Narrows, whose forts and mine-fields had blocked the way for the fleet, and across which the Turks brought troops and supplies from the Asiatic shore. But this prospect of victory was to be short-lived, and its termination sudden and tragic. Suddenly a salvo of heavy naval shells fell among the Ghurkas. The confusion which ensued on this shattering of their ranks by the shells of their own Navy was yet at its height, when the enemy, rallying, charged back on to the crest, and drove the Ghurkas and Lancastrians back down the slopes up which they had just fought their way at great cost. The loss was irretrievable. General Baldwin's Column, which was to have made the main attack, was hopelessly late, and was unable at this critical moment to exercise any influence on the fortunes of the battle. Instead of launching their attack from immediately in rear of the trenches held by the New Zealanders, as had been planned, the battalions of No. 3 Column had got no further than the neighbourhood of The Farm. The enemy's attempt at a decisive counter-stroke extended along the whole line, but the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair, undismayed by the fury and frequency of the assaults, clung desperately to their grip on the heights.
That evening the line ran along Rhododendron Ridge, up to the crest of Chunuk Bair, where a lightly dug trench-line, some two hundred yards in length, was held by about 800 men. page 85Thence the line ran down to the Farm and almost due north to the Asma Dere southern watershed, whence it continued Westward to the sea near Asmak Kuyn. The New Zealand troops occupying the trenches on the top of Chunuk Bair were relieved on the night of the 9th-10th August, after three days and nights of incessant fighting, and after having held this forward trench on Chunuk Bair for 36 hours. The position was handed over to two battalions of the 13th Division.
At dawn on August 10th, the Turks delivered a counter-attack against this precarious line with troops estimated at something over the strength of a division. Attacked from three directions at once, the New Army troops on Chunuk Bair were literally engulfed, the enemy pouring over their positions and down the crest like a human tide, but it was full daylight, and as the Turkish infantry topped the crest and came down the slopes, they were subjected to a perfectly annihilating fire from the shore and naval guns, as well as from the machine guns of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. Never on the Peninsula had the New Zealand gunners been offered a better target, and never was an opportunity more eagerly seized. A section of the 1st Battery on Russell's Top did tremendous execution amongst the Turks streaming down Chunuk Bair towards the Farm; while from their positions on the flats on the left the scratch battery manning the 18prs. of the R.F.A. shot into the Turkish masses over open sights as fast as the guns could be reloaded. In the gullies, where they attempted to take refuge, the enemy were relentlessly pursued by the howitzers, the two guns of the 4th Battery north of Ari Burnu, and the 5in. howitzers shelling all the ground out of reach of the 18prs., and driving the enemy back into the open. The enemy suffered tremendous losses from this concentrated fire; but the line fell back, and the attacking army finally lost its footing on the Ridge.
The great attack had failed, and the Turks remained in possession of the dominating heights which had been the goal of three days' ceaseless endeavour and sacrifice. Instead of the strip of country a few hundred acres in extent, which had been the extent of the original position at Anzac, an area of page 86several square miles was now held. The Colonials felt that they had room to breathe after having been huddled into the gullies at Anzac for so many months; but that was all. Success was still as far off as ever.
To meet the new situation a good deal of movement of guns was necessary. On August 10th the section of the 4th Battery which had been situated at Anzac Cove was moved out to Taylor's Hollow, the first re-entrant north of the Chailak Dere, the bed of which where it reached the beach had been itself the northern boundary of the old Anzac position. Four days later two guns of the 2nd Battery were moved from Plugge's Plateau to the left flank, where they joined one of the scratch batteries which had been formed during the offensive. On the 18th the arrival of the 3rd Battery from Cape Helles made a welcome addition to the artillery strength of the Division. The left section of the battery at once went into action on one of the spurs running up from the flat ground near Taylor's Hollow, with an arc of fire to the north-east in the direction of the "W" Hills. The day following the right section got into action in the same position, and the remaining guns of the 2nd Battery joined the section already in position near Taylor's Hollow. Such was the disposition of the batteries for the assaults on Hill 60 or Kaiajik Aghala, as it was otherwise known, which marked the last offensive action of the force at Anzac.