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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

Chapter IX. The Battle of Krithia

page 119

Chapter IX. The Battle of Krithia.

Bitter as had been the struggle at Anzac, the fight at the southern end of the peninsula was even more bloody. To the most honourable traditions of the British Army and Navy was added a further lustre. The story of the “River Clyde” and the “Lancashire Landing” are amongst the most tragic and glorious in the history of the British race.

But the advance towards Achi Baba was held up some distance from the village of Krithia, and General Sir Ian Hamilton made up his mind to undertake one big final assault before the Turks could receive their reinforcements.

Black and white photograph of "V" Beach.

Nearing “V” Beach, Cape Helles.

On the night of Wednesday, May 5, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade, were assembled on the bullet-swept Anzac beach, placed in destroyers and barges and landed just east of Cape Helles early next morning. Here was the battered “River Clyde,” and on the cliff to the right Sedd-el-Bahr fort, completely wrecked by the naval guns.

As the troops moved from the landing place, they saw deep Turkish trenches and formidable barbed-wire entanglements. The landscape was vastly different from the hungry hills of Anzac. This was fairly easy rolling country, intersected with sod walls, through which gaps had been worn by passing troops; most of the land was cultivated, and dotted here and there with clumps of fir trees, from behind which the French 75's and British 18-prs. threw their hail of shrapnel. Among the 18-prs. was the 3rd Battery of New Zealand Field Artillery that had lain off Anzac, but was not disembarked until landed here at Helles on May 4. This battery stayed at Helles until the middle of August.

page 120
Black and white map.

Map of Cape Helles Sector.
This map shows the route taken by the New Zealand Infantry Brigade on May 6–7.
On April 25, a landing at “Y2” or Gully Beach was not attempted. The troops that landed at “Y” Beach were consequently isolated and eventually withdrawn. The landing at “X” Beach was very successful and is some times spoken of as the “Implacable Landing.” “W” Beach, afterwards called “Lancashire Landing,” and “V” Beach, made famous by the “River Clyde,” were the two most costly landings. The landing at “S” Beach in Morto Bay was successfully carried out by the 2nd South Wales Borderers, covered by the “Cornwallis” and the “Lord Nelson.”

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Having climbed the heights from the beach, the eye took in at once the great hump of Achi Baba, the crest just five miles away. Two ridges, like sprawling arms, ran down to the sea—one towards the Narrows, the other to the Gulf of Saros. From Sedd-el-Bahr a road traverses the centre of the Peninsula, running through the village of Krithia, which is four miles from Sedd-el-Bahr; it skirts the lower slopes to the left of Achi Baba, rounds the northern shoulder of the Kilid Bahr Plateau, and so to Maidos, on the shores of the Narrows, thirteen miles in a direct line from Sedd-el-Bahr. At Krithia, for which village most of the subsequent desperate fighting took place, the Peninsula is about three and a half miles across.

Let the reader take any railway guide and select two stations four miles apart. It is hard to realize that troops like the French, the 29th Division, the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Indians should be held in such narrow limits for so many months. But with the sea on the flanks and the enemy holding the high ground, the defence of a natural fortress like Achi Baba was comparatively easy.

Following on the landings of April 25, the British held the left of the line, with the French (withdrawn from Kum Kale) on the right. Coming from the cramped confines of Anzac, the New Zealanders marvelled to sec French officers in blue and red riding up and down the road, and motor cyclists dashing about with signal messages. Poor Anzac could not boast of a road on which to run even a bicycle. As a relief from our inevitable khaki, the French Senegalese with their dark blue uniforms, the Zouaves with their red baggy trousers, and the French Territorials with their light blue, imparted quite a dash of colour to the scene, On May 6, the French away on the right attacked all day, while the Royal Naval Division moved a little down both sides of the Krithia Road.

In the reconstitution of the British forces for the renewed assault on Krithia, a new composite division, to be used as a general reserve, was formed of the 2nd Australian Brigade, the New Zealand Brigade, and a Naval Brigade consisting of the Plymouth and Drake Battalions.

page 122
Black and white photograph.

[British Official Photograph.
The “River Clyde” Ashore at “V” Beach.
This was a most daring enterprise. The old ship was specially fitted to run ashore, when troops were to pour out of the big doors cut in her sides and fill a string of lighters towed alongside, and so to the shore to form a bridge. But the 1st Munster Fusiliers, the 2nd Hamphires and a company of the Dublin Fusiliers were subjected to a murderous fire and did not get ashore till darkness intervened. Their endurances and gallantry was a fitting complement to the bravery and devotion shown by the officers and men of the Royal Navy.

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The New Zealand Brigade in Reserve.

After leaving the congested beach the New Zealand Brigade pushed across country. The men were much interested in the first sight of the French 75's. Coming to rest in some fairly level fields, rough shelter trenches were dug in the moist earth. Shells flew backwards and forwards all that night, and very few men could sleep owing to the wet trenches. Everybody was a little hurt because the Australians were served with Machonochies, whereas the New Zealanders got the usual bully beef; but a few gay spirits refused to be depressed, and lustily sang “There's something in the seaside air,” which was unfortunately true.

On the morning of the 7th, extra ammunition and entrenching tools were issued, and the brigade started on a long trek in a north-westerly direction, eventually coming down to Gully Beach on the Gulf of Saros. After a short rest, the march was resumed. The leading files struck back again up the hill and met many Lancashires coming back wounded. Everywhere equipment was scattered. Many of our men secured sun helmets, which later were the envy of Anzac. When word came to rest for the night and dig in, the brigade pulled off the track to the sides of the valley, posted outpost groups, and endeavoured to rest for the night. But there was a good deal of confusion and noise, Ghurkas and other troops were moving up and down, and presently word came to move further up the gully. On the weary men stumbled, past a trench held by the King's Own Scottish Borderers, and evenutally arrived near a small stone farmhouse on the right hand side of the gully. On both sides of the road were some old Turkish trenches, in a filthy condition. Sticking up in the parapet was a dead man's hand, like a stop sign, seeming to indicate “this far and no farther.” Back-wards and forwards, this way and that, men wandered in the search for a comfortable resting place. Here the brigade passed the night, acting as a reserve to the 87th and 88th Brigades of the 29th Division, but the morning came without our men being called on.

The shelter of a ruined building was seized upon for a dressing station. Near by was a large fig tree, which later page 124
Black and white photograph.

[British Official Photograph.
Lancashire Landing at “W” Beach.
Here the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers added fresh glory to their illustrious record. The barbed wire was placed down to the water's edge and in the water. But the gallant Lancashires were not to be denied and performed prodigies of valour. The picture shows the steamers sunk to make a breakwater.

page 125 served as a landmark for the last resting-place of many New Zealand soldiers. From this dressing station the wounded were carried by the stretcher-bearers some distance to the rear to the Pink Farm, whence the mule ambulances carried the suffering men over the well-worn roads to the beaches.

On the morning of May 8, the New Zealand Brigade was ordered to the support of the 29th Division. We were to go through the 88th Brigade, and with the 87th Brigade on our left, renew the attack on Krithia at 10.30 a.m. The advance was made in a succession of waves; the Wellingtons were on the left, the Aucklands in the centre, and the Canterburys on the right; the Otago Battalion was in reserve. After an intense bombardment by our ship's guns and field artillery, the brigade advanced from the reserve trenches at 10.30 a.m. The ground was broken, and this hindered the pace. Many were lost who might have been saved if this advance had been made before daylight. The troops pressed on despite the casualties. When the officers ordered a breather, the tired men fell down flat right out in the open. Past the Hants' trenches and the Essex trench they went steadily forward until they came to the big front-line trench held by the 29th Division. From here it was about 800 yards to the enemy main line trench, but scattered in front of his line, in every depression and behind every clump of bush, were machine guns and hosts of enemy snipers.

The Daisy Patch.

From this front-line trench the Regulars had advanced the day before, but had been driven back. Presently the word was passed along that the New Zealanders would prepare to charge. When some Munsters and Essex saw the preparations, they shouted, “You're not going to charge across the daisy patch, are you?” “Of course we are,” the Aucklanders answered. “God help you,” they said, and watched with admiration as the New Zealanders flung themselves over the top.

The converging machine-gun fire from the clumps of fir trees swept the ground like a hose. This famous “daisy patch” was situated just to the left of a dry creek-bed page 126 running from near the village of Krithia down the centre of the Peninsula towards the Cape—a piece of ground about 100 yards across, absolutely devoid of cover; apparently it had once been sown with some crop, but was now overgrown with the common red poppy of the field and countless longstemmed daisies comparable to the dog daisy of England and New Zealand. The bank of the creek afforded good cover, and the Turkish snipers took full toll of our men.

Black and white photograph of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade staff.

[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite. N.Z.E.
The New Zealand Infantry Brigade Staff.
Taken just before the “Daisy Patch” attack. The officer standing is Colonel E. F. Johnston. Major Temperly (to whom much credit is due for the good work of the Brigade) is sitting on a box, facing this way.

The troops had hardly got a quarter of the way across the patch when there burst a further terrific storm of machinegun and rifle fire. Heavily laden with entrenching tools and equipment, the troops were exhausted and could go no farther. By 3 p.m. the thin line was digging itself in.

Canterbury had advanced about 250 yards, Auckland had two companies about the same distance, but the right com- page 127 pany had fallen back owing to heavy cross machine-gun fire from a clump of fir trees. Wellington had made good about 300 yards, but were under very heavy fire from a Turkish trench on our left front. Two companies of the Otago Regiment were sent in to help Auckland, who had lost heavily and were somewhat shaken.

A squadron of armoured cars advanced in fine style up the Krithia Road, but a few Turkish trenches dug across the road damped their ardour, and they disconsolately returned to the rear.

All that afternoon our men hung on under a withering fire. The wounded lying out in the open were hit again and again. Away on the right, the French could be seen pressing vigorously forward towards the crest, but were ever beaten back. Times without number they surged forward, but could not hold the ground so hardly won. Again and again that awful afternoon did the British, French, Indian, and Colonial soldiers hurl themselves forward towards the Turk. But the enemy machine guns were not to be denied; from end to end of the line the attack was undoubtedly held up.

It was resolved to make one final effort before nightfall. The remaining two companies of the Otago Battalion were pushed up to support Wellington's right and Auckland's left, and a newly arrived draft of New Zealand Reinforcements was moved up into a new reserve. At 5 p.m., every available gun ashore and afloat opened on the Turkish lines. Never before had the troops heard such an awesome uproar — the spiteful French 75‘ vied with the 15-in. monsters of the Queen Elizabeth in heaping metal on the Turk. Half an hour later the whole line advanced against the Turkish lines, but it was more than flesh and blood could do to make a permanent advance. Everywhere ground was gained, but at a tremendous price. The thinned-out ranks were not strong enough to hold what had been gained.

This effort had spent itself before 7 p.m. The Canterburys had gone forward some 400 yards. The Aucklands went well ahead, but lost very heavily in officers. They fell back almost to their original line. Wellington made a substantial advance, but were held up by the enemy machine page break
Black and white photograph of men with gun.

[Lent by Capt. Farr, D.S.O., M.C.
A Gun of the 3rd Battery, N.Z.F.A. at Cape Helles..
After our experience of cover in France, the sheet on galvanized iron and row of sandbags is almost ludicrous. Notice the typical Gallipoli hair-cut and the absence of many garments.

page 129 guns, which before had proved troublesome. These guns were difficult to get at, as a deep nullah lay between these guns and the New Zealanders, and could only be assaulted by the 87th Brigade.

Away on the left a fire broke out among the gorse and scrub. The Sikh wounded fared very badly in the flames.

After dark it was found that the Canterburys were in direct touch with the 2nd Australian Brigade on the right. Canterbury's left was not in touch with anyone, but a second line some distance to the rear filled the gap. Our line from Wellington's right was also not in touch, but was protected by trenches of the 87th Brigade echeloned in rear.

Black and white photograph of French territorials.

[Lent by Sergt. P. Tite, N.Z.E.
French Territorials Before the Advance.

During the night the position gained was consolidated. The Auckland Battalion was much disorganized and split up, so was withdrawn to the reserve trenches. The casualties had been very heavy. Large numbers of wounded had to spend the night on the battlefield, as their evacuation was difficult.

At 3.53 p.m. on May 9, an order was received to take over the section from our left to the Krithia Nullah. The 87th Brigade was to go into support, the line being held by the Wellingtons, Otagos, and Canterburys. Part of the 88th Brigade was also retired. The marksmen of the Canterburys took the enemy snipers by surprise, and established a moral superiority over them.

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The Relief of our Brigade.

During the next few days the weather was good, but the nights were very cold. The Turks attacked intermittently, but were definitely held. On the night of May 11, the New Zealanders were relieved by units of the East Lancashire Division, recently arrived from Egypt. This was achieved by 3 a.m. on May 12, without much confusion, whereupon the brigade moved back to its bivouac near the stone bridge on the Krithia road. Just after arriving there was a heavy fall of rain, which converted the surroundings into an absolute quagmire. The following days, however, were beautifully fine, and the men had a much-needed rest. In the reorganization it was found that the brigade had suffered a
Black and white photograph of troops gathering firewood.

Troops Gathering Firewood at Sedd-el-Bahr.

total of 771 casualties at Helles, but all ranks were greatly cheered by the appreciative comments passed by the Regular Army officers, and especially by Sir Ian Hamilton's official message: “May I, speaking out of a full heart, be permitted to say how gloriously the Australians and New Zealanders have upheld the finest traditions of our race during this struggle page 131 still in progress; at first with audacity and dash, since then with sleepless valour and untiring resource. They have already created for their countries an imperishable record of military virtue.”

Several days of welcome relief from the front line ensued. Men wandered through the battered forts of Sedd-el-Bahr, and marvelled at the dismantled guns and twisted ironwork. Others strolled around the fertile countryside, which was smothered with a profusion of red poppies, white daisies and blue larkspurs, as if to honour the French and British occupation.

After dark on the evening of May 19, the brigade again embarked from V Beach to return to Anzac Cove, where they arrived at dawn next morning. During the disembarkation a very sad incident occurred in the Auckland Battalion, which lost another officer, he being the twenty-seventh officer incapacitated out of the original twenty-nine combatants.