27: Gallipoli Pt. 3


The first day of landings on the Gallipoli peninsula. The soldiers of the ANZAC have their date with destiny at what will come to be called ANZAC Cove. The French land on the Asiatic shore, and the RND just sort of wanders around.



Hello everyone and welcome to history of the Great War Episode 27, this week we continue our coverage of the Gallipoli campaign. The navy had tried and failed to push through the straits and now it was time for the men to be put on the ground. British, Australian, New Zealander, and French troops would be landed in six areas around the Gallipoli peninsula with 2 of them being diversions. The Turkish troops had spent months preparing for the landings and were ready to meet the attack with their own plans. This would end up being the largest amphibious landing that had ever been attempted in the face of armed opposition. Nothing like this had every been attempted and it would actually be quite some time before it was attempted again, all the way in the Second World War. The resources used for the landing were also huge, here is G.J. Meyer giving a rundown of what was involved. “Two hundred transport ships were accompanied by eighteen battleships, a dozen cruisers, twenty-nine destroyers, and eight submarines. On those transports were twenty-seven thousand British soldiers, including the crack Twenty-ninth Division that before leaving England had been such a bone of contention, thirty thousand “Anzac” troops from Australia and New Zealand, and sixteen thousand Frenchmen.” The troops had been given high priority when it came to weapons and supplies and their goal was to hit the beach and advance a few miles inland from each landing at which point they would control the high ground and the battle would be almost won. Each beach strategically supported each other, if they could advance, but when the first landings were made each beach was fighting its own battle. Today we will cover the landings at Gaba Tepe by the ANZAC as well as the two diversionary landings by the French and the Royal Naval Division. You will have to wait until the next episode to hear how the landings went at Cape Helles.

The first troops of the entire landing that would be put ashore were the ANZAC troops. They would end up having quite a hill to climb, quite literally. They were to make night landings on their beaches and the first waves would have to quickly push inland to seize the high ground that overlooked the beach to give space and time for the succeeding waves to land. The 1,500 men of the first wave would be of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Australian division and their immediate goal was to march inland and take the third ridge which stretched from Gaba Tepe to Battleship hill. It was very important that they take the third ridge because each ridge was higher than the next so if they only took the first one or two ridges they would still be in a very compromising position. Their primary goal for the entire landing was to push far enough to capture the heights of Mal Tepe within the first day. If they could accomplish this it would seriously hamper the ability of the Turkish defenders to reinforce the troops at Cape Helles and all around the peninsula. To accomplish this goal they were to be landed about a mile north of Gaba Tepe over a span of about 1500 yards which should provide them relatively good access up onto the ridges. The entire operation was planned and estimations on speed of advance were made based on the assumption that the resistance would be light, which would end up not being the case. Facing them were the men of the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Regiment of Turkish troops who were responsible for over 5 miles of coastal defense, so they were spread pretty thin. The ANZAC were scheduled to begin their landings at 4.30 on April 25th when the men would be towed to the beach in lines of row boats that were towed behind steam cutters. As they got closer to the shore the row boats would be cut loose and then rowed to shore by onboard Navy crewmen. They would be supported by several of the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, that had originally taken part in the attempts to force through the Dardanelles.

These ships began to move toward the beaches at about 3AM, into their assigned positions for the landings. The troops also at this time began to move from their transport ships into smaller ships and then into their landing boats. At 3.30 the larger ships were in position and stopped while the tows continued to move in toward the beach. This is when things started to go a little off the rails. These tows were commanded by junior naval officers, some still in their teens and some of them started to become confused. For anybody who has tried to navigate on the water in the darkness you know that it can be very disorientating, especially if you are trying to find specific points on a blacked out coast line. Eyes start playing funny tricks where you end up convincing yourself that some terrain features that you can see are actually other terrain features. These kind of problems were occurring with the result that some of the tows at the far south of the line began to think that they were too far south so they, naturally turned to their north. They did this for the right reasons, if the men were landed too close to Gaba Tepe to their south they would be under the fire of its strong Turkish garrison. To quote one of this commanders, Midshipman John Metcalf, a boy in his teenage years, “I realised that we were heading very close to the north side of Gaba Tepe which, because of its height, is very conspicuous. Knowing that there were Turkish troops there and we would get an enfilading fire all along the starboard side as well as from ahead, I was confident that we must be heading for a wrong place. There was no one to consult and I felt the lives of the men I was towing were my responsibility. Without any delay I altered course two points to port to get away from Gaba Tepe. After a quarter of an hour, finding that the tows to the port of me had conformed, I again altered course a point and a half to port.” This caused the commanders of the other boats to move to the north as well, not wanting to bunch themselves up. All of this resulted in two very serious problems, the first of which was that the troops simply weren’t landing where they thought they would which would cause disorientation but also the land to the north of the planned landing zone was very different. In the area where they were now going wasn’t the reasonably flat landing areas and gentle hills towards the ridges, instead they would find steep cliffs and craggy hills that they had to climb. At 4.30AM the men began going ashore. The Turkish defenders would be alerted by sentries right before the troops landed, this was realistically about as late as the Australians could have hoped for but there weren’t actually too many casualties in the first wave as they got to and across the beach and started moving into the hills. The Turkish commander decided to wait for the Australians to land before starting to fire, which cost him the great opportunity of shooting at troops that were all bunched together and on predictable courses. As the first wave got ashore the tows turned around to go collect the second wave and every minute visibility got better and better for the defenders. The Second wave would experience more fire on their way in even though they arrived very quickly after the first wave. The first wave should have been able to push the defenders off of the hills overlooking the beach before the second wave arrived but they had not been able to accomplish this. This was due to many things not least of which was the stronger than expected defense and the disorientation of being in a different place. The second wave was able to land without too many casualties and would be reasonably organized and ready to move inland as soon as they hit the beach.

So the ANZAC had gotten onto the shore easily enough, or at least as easily as could have been expected. Now the real work began, they had to move inland through the confusing series of terrain features that always meant the Turkish troops could be right on the other side of the hill. The ANZAC troops did have numbers on their side though, outnumbering the defenders by a reasonable margin. The Turkish commanders realized this very quickly after the landings were finished and began a series of withdrawls that allowed them to keep up essentially a moving ambush while the Australians moved forward into the unknown terrain. Even with the fitness of the Australians troops movement through the brush and over the hills was hard and sweaty work. They were having to constantly move up and down through gullies and over hills with their heavy packs and rifles. Corporal Thomas Louch of the 1st Australian Division had this to say about the experience “We slid down the sheer, sandy slope of Plugge’s on our backsides, still clutching our box of ammunition, crossed the floor of Shrapnel Gully and with difficulty climbed the ridge where Major Denton directed us to a position on the forward side covering Wire Gully. We were soaking wet, very uncomfortable and enfiladed by fire from our left. We could see no enemy and did not seem to be doing any good where we were.” As I mentioned earlier the goal of the first Australian unit on the beach, the 3rd Brigade was to advance as quickly as possible to the third ridge from the beach to cover the advance of the second brigade to its left. Instead, due to the difficulty of the advance and the opposition that they were experiencing the commanders of the first units onto the second ridge began to slow down and dig in. Peter Hart would have this to say about this decision “The fact that the 3rd Brigade might have found themselves under pressure on Third Ridge was irrelevant; it was their job to soak up that pressure as best they could and so allow the 2nd Brigade behind them freedom of action so that they would not get sucked haphazardly into battle. That way the 2nd Brigade could then move purposefully to seize control of the Sari Bair high ground stretching from Chunuk Bair right up to Hill 971 and thereby establish a solid northern flank before the lunge forward to Mal Tepe.” As the second brigade began to land and advance inland they were also sucked into the allure of the second ridge, and they dug in as well, instead of advancing further. This decision, made on the spot by commanders believing that taking and holding the third ridge to be impossible, would have repercussions for the entire campaign. It becomes an even greater pity with the fact that the Turkish reserves wouldn’t have arrived in the area until 8 AM, long after the Australians would have arrived on the ridge. There were a few groups of Australians who had advanced onto the Third Ridge only to be pushed back by the defenders, it is heartbreaking to realize that this would be the only time during the entire campaign that Australian feet would set foot on the ridge. For Liman von Sanders this hesistation was a respite sent from the heavens, his entire plan revolved around lightly holding the beach while rushing reinforcements to the troubled areas, with the ANZAC stopping their progress it was allowing him to move the 27th Regiment, which would be the first reinforcements on the scene. Lieutenant Colonel Mehmet Sefik had it right when he guessed the intentions, or what the intentions should have been, of the Australian units “We guessed that the enemy was advancing slowly and cautiously in order to capture the ridge where we were which dominated all sides – namely Chunuk Bair to Gaba Tepe. We set about our task of throwing the enemy and we felt a moral force in ourselves for performing this task. All the signs indicated that opposing our 2,000 armed men was a force of at least four or five times that size – or even bigger. We had to prevent the enemy from reaching and occupying the dominating line of Chunuk Bair–Gaba Tepe and had to gain time until the 19th Division arrived.” When all of the men of the 27th had arrived they began to press forward against the troops on the second ridge while being covered by fire from the third. The troops on the second ridge were under constant fire as explained by Private Herbert Fildes “Four of us lay under shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire, not daring to lift our heads the whole while; if we had budged we would have been killed dozens of times over. The bullets were streaming so thick over our heads. " As more troops arrived the Australians did try to slowly push forward, only to be quickly stopped and then pushed back to their lines. As the Turkish defenses continued to strength throughout the day even became difficult for troops to get from the beaches to the fighting line. If soldiers were seen above ground, on top of the hills or ridges, they instantly drew fire. This prompted many of the soldiers to commit to the slow and difficult climb up and down through the gullies to prevent being sighted by the enemy.

It is at this point that Mustafa Kemal enters our story, Kemal was the commander of the 19th division. He was 35 in 1915 and had been a member of the Young Turks when they took power. He received his orders to move towards the ANZAC landings at 8AM after quite a bit of indecision in the Turkish high command. This indecision really irritated Kemal, who would prove to be a man of action during the campaign. The first troops to arrive after the 27th Regiment were the 57th Regiment. As they arrived in the battleline in strength they instantly moved forward to attack the Australian positions on and near hill 700. This is when Kemal would give one of the most famous orders of the campaign, or at least this is how the story goes, I will just quote Kemal’s account “To my mind there was a more important factor than this tactical situation – that was everybody hurled himself on the enemy to kill and to die. This was no ordinary attack. Everybody was eager to succeed or go forward with the determination to die. Here is the order which I gave verbally to the commanders: ‘I don’t order you to attack – I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our places.” This attack, and its ferocity would catch the Australians, both those on the hill and their commanders, off guard. The troops defending the positions would put up a strong fight but would be forced to begin giving ground as the Turkish attacks continued. Corporal Herbert Hitch would speak of the withdrawl from the positions “As soon as I jumped up the air was alive with bullets, most of them going overhead. We ran back about 200 yards, but by the time we reached the top of the next ridge all the rest were in motion. We opened fire and we fired about six or seven rounds each just to keep the enemy from coming on too quickly and then we all ran back together for about another 150 yards " The commanders of the ANZAC were about as surprised as the men on the scene, they had just stopped the attacks of the 27th regiment when suddenly there was another regiment crashing into their left flank. The only troops that could be sent to aid the Australian troops on the left were the New Zealanders, the first of which were just coming ashore at 11AM. As they landed they were immediately sent into the path of the 57th Regiment, that fortunately, were beginning to slow their attack. As Lieutenant Spencer Westmacott moved forward to reinforce an Australian unit he found himself in the middle of a scene of horrors “Their firing line had almost ceased to exist. There was no trench. Lying on the forward slope without protective cover, every man there had been killed or wounded. They had fought on there, unsupported, rather than retire, and I saw at once that the same fate awaited me and the few of my men who had got so far forward. We could not retire, of course, nor could we advance until reinforced. Nothing remained but to stay where we were and hope something would happen to ease the pressure on us. What could happen we weren’t quite sure.” The capture of the high ground on the left of the ANZAC line was a very serious problem, from the high ground there Turkish observers could accurately walk their artillery all along the line. The Australians did have some artillery with which to answer back, but they were having difficulties getting into position due to the terrain. Even as more and more ANZAC troops came ashore it almost didn’t help, given the superiority of the Turkish positions.

As the day was coming to an end news of the situation was finding its way back to the ANZAC commander, General Birdwood who was onboard ships close to the landing. Birdwood would report to Hamilton that his men were ashore and engaged in serious fighting. He was concerned about the morale of his men under the constant shell fire from the Turkish defenders and was beginning to perhaps think about maybe pulling the troops out. At this point Hamilton was still optimistic about the possibilities of the landings at Helles, even though they were having some problems of their own he believed that they would be able to push through. He would tell Birdwood to have his men dig in and hang on. Not really bad advice, it isn’t that much different than many other orders we have seen in the war so far, but it ignored some of the geographical realities of the situation, namely the fact that the troops were, currently, in horrible positions.. As evening came on both sides were completely exhausted. Both sides were equally scared that the other would launch night attacks even though it turned out that neither side was even remotely capable of such an effort after a full day of constant fighting. The Turkish 77th Regiment was moving into place to help out the exhausted 27th and the ANZAC troops were just trying to get a nice consistent line created out of the chaos of the first day of fighting. Both sides were having problems getting their men to the right places in the dark due to the terrain and the general confusion of new troops moving into unknown terrain. On the 26th the British commanders would make a serious attempt to map out the lines, it is important to remember that while looking at history we can easily see that this unit was here and this unit was here and these units were on that hill, the level of confusion in these types of situations could be huge. Commanders back on the beach, or even out on ships waiting to land, had partial knowledge at best of where the lines were. To try and solve this the British would send out several officers to try and create a map of the lines. I’m just going to give this entire quote, and it is a long one, from Major Richard Casey as quoted in Peter Hart’s Gallipoli “A good deal of confusion existed as to the position of the front line. General Bridges, therefore, sent Major Duncan Glasfurd to the left flank and myself to the right. We were to work towards the centre and compile, in the shortest possible time, a joint sketch of the line of the most forward positions held by ‘our’ side. The ‘line’ at that time was, of course, very far from being a continuous one – it consisted of holes in the ground of every shape and size, sometimes roughly joined up, but frequently a cricket pitch or more apart. I aimed at making a ‘pace and compass traverse’ but the pacing consisted of my bolting as hard as I could lick between posts. As far as possible, I signalled ahead that I was coming, but in many instances I had to guess where the next post was and frequently fell into it – to the great discomfiture and alarm of the occupant. The survey was indeed a rough one, but it provided a rough and ready solution of the mystery as to the position of the forward troops – and the reason for the confusion. It turned out that the line did not meet in the middle, but overlapped with obviously disconcerting result.” On the 26th there were many reports about both sides attacking each other and an equal number of reports of neither side launching any large scale attacks. Regardless of if there were or weren’t large attacks the line began to solidify as more and more artillery on both sides began to have a great effect. This was due to the Turkish artillery beginning to zero in on the lines, and from the ANZAC side just being able to get more of it ashore and set up. The men in the trenches were on their last legs after days of moving, fighting, and waiting for attacks and were completely exhausted. The worst part for the Australians, as we have discussed, and will honestly continue to discuss for several more episodes, found themselves very geographically challenged. They were in a bowl and the Turkish troops held the rim of the bowl. 12,000 troops had been landed, they hadn’t achieved their gains, and they were in for a long summer.

On the Asiatic coast on the beaches of Kum Kale the French were also landing on the morning of April 25th.The attack began with the bombardment by a Russian cruiser on the Turkish positions overlooking the beaches. The landing was delayed a few hours due to confusion about where and when to land, this meant that the landed only really got started at about 10AM. Much like on the ANZAC beaches the Turkish defenders here were just a screening force, deployed to slow down the French before the reserves of the 3rd and 11th division could be committed to the fighting. The landings were under fire, but not seriously opposed like at ANZAC. The French were trying to quickly move the 2 miles inland toward the village of Yeni Shehr. The commander of the Turkish forces, General Weber Pasha, hoped that the screening force could hold the French at bay long enough for darkness to fall so that the reserves could be moved in during night. This is the one area were naval fire from the British and French troops could be really effective, since the land was at a much lower elevation as the troops moved inland. As the French moved further away from the beaches the resistance against them continued to grow. After the French had advanced about halfway toward Yeni Shehr in the afternoon the French commander was informed by aerial reconnaissance reports of several columns of Turkish soldiers moving toward his position. At this point he decided to stop any further advances and to prepare for the defense against the oncoming attack. The attacks would begin around 8.30 in the evening and would continue all night and into the next morning. On the morning of the 26th the French considered continuing their advance when, early in the morning, some Turkish units began to surrender. This caught the French a bit off guard, just like it caught me a bit off guard when I first read it, it wasn’t like the French were in some kind of dominating position. Late morning on the 26th Hamilton ordered the entire French force to go back to the ships so that they could be redeployed to Helles where the 29th division’s landings had stalled. Ove the last half of the 26th the French were loaded back on their ships. An army is at its weakest while trying to withdraw from an enemy shore, so while the the troops were being pulled off the beaches the Navy put up a strong bombardment to discourage an attack by the Turkish units. Overall the French had about 800 casualties, which was several given the size of the force, but was offset a bit by the roughly 1,750 casualties experienced by the defenders.

Most of the Royal Naval Division wouldn’t go ashore on April 25th, other than a contingent that would land at Helles their role in the landings was strictly diversionary. They would undertake two operations the primary of which was at the Gulf of Saros on the Bulair Isthmus. If you remember this is the narrow strip of land that connected the Gallipoli peninsula with the mainland. It was also the area that Liman von Sanders most feared an attack by the British because I successful attack here would cut off all of the Turkish troops on the peninsula. The ships would begin to bombard the area shortly after dawn on the 25th trying to hit any noticeable turkish positions on and around the beach. The men of the RND were then loaded up on their transports that could carry them to the shore. The troops even went so far as to get out and into their sets of rowing boats that were being used to land troops on all of the other beaches. These actions had their intended result and distracted Sanders from the other landings, at least for awhile. He would even go to the effort of visiting the area early on the 25th. The following story is one that I absolutely love and it is what happened when the commanders of the diversion decided that they needed to take their diversion to the next level and decided to land a few men of the Hood Battalion onto the shore with flares during the night as if they were prepping for a night landing. This is a quote from Lieutenant Commander Bernard Freyberg, as quoted in Peter Hart’s Gallipoli “I started swimming to cover the remaining distance, towing a waterproof canvas bag containing three oil flares and five calcium lights, a knife, signalling light and a revolver. After an hour and a quarter’s hard swimming in bitterly cold water, I reached the shore and lighted my first flare, and again took to the water and swam towards the east, and landed about 300 yards away from my first flare where I lighted my second and hid among some bushes to await developments; nothing happened, so I crawled up a slope to where some trenches were located the morning before. I discovered they were only dummies, consisting of only a pile of earth about two feet high and 100 yards long, and looked to be quite newly made. I crawled in about 350 yards and listened for some time, but could discover nothing.” Freyberg would then swim back out to sea to be picked up by ships that would recover him and the other men who had participated in the adventure. The other diversion by the RND was the arrival of some transport and bombardment ships at Besika Bay in the Dardanelles strait on the 26th, this distraction wasn’t as elaborate as the one at Bulair, but it does seem to have tied down some Turkish troops for about a day.

The only landings left for us to cover were the primary landings of the 29th division on the Helles peninsula. We don’t have time to cover them today, so next week we will find out how the 5 landings went and what possessed the British to take a collier named the River Clyde and run it aground right on V beach. Thank you for listening to this episode of History of the Great War, you can find the podcast at twitter.com/historygreatwar or at facebook.com/historyofthegreatwar. If you enjoyed the show, consider donating to keep the show going at historyofthegreatwar.com/donate.