29: Gallipoli Pt. 5


Last week we covered the landings on the five beaches on the tip of the peninsula at Capre Helles so all of the troops are shore. The ANZAC troops from Australia and New Zealand now find themselves in the shallow beachhead at Anzac Cove. The 29th Division and the Royal Naval Division are ensconced in the trenches not too far from their landing beaches at Helles. None of the landings had really achieved their goals so they now had to launch more attacks to try and get further inland. Today we will discuss these attacks that began shortly after the landings and went all through the summer. But first we talk about the fighting conditions that the troops had to endure while they were living and fighting on the peninsula.



Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Great War episode 29 the fifth in our series of episodes detailing the Gallipoli campaign. Last week we covered the landings on the five beaches on the tip of the peninsula at Capre Helles so all of the troops are shore. The ANZAC troops from Australia and New Zealand now find themselves in the shallow beachhead at Anzac Cove. The 29th Division and the Royal Naval Division are ensconced in the trenches not too far from their landing beaches at Helles. None of the landings had really achieved their goals so they now had to launch more attacks to try and get further inland. Today we will discuss these attacks that began shortly after the landings and went all through the summer. But first we talk about the fighting conditions that the troops had to endure while they were living and fighting on the peninsula.

The fighting conditions at Gallipoli would go on to become one of the great legacies of the campaign. The flies, the heat, the diseases, the thirst, all of it is well documented in all of the histories of the campaign. It is quite important to remember these conditions when we talk about the battles and the action during the campaign because while these men were asked to fight their enemies day in and day out for most of 1915 they also had to fight the environment. To put it simply it was a nightmare. Lieutenant Patrick Duff of the Royal Field Artillery would have this to say about what had happened to the land just a few weeks after the landings “You know the pictures in the papers of such and such a place after German occupation? Well, this place was a perfect garden when we first came. Already the ground is cut up into trenches and the horses have stamped the grass away: engineers have put long wooden troughs where the old walls stood before and the trees are torn to pieces to make screens for guns. By the time fresh troops arrive behind us it will be bare as a rock.” In this environment, much like on the Western Front, cover was scarce and snipers ruled the battlefield between attacks. If anyone showed themselves above the trench they were likely to be shot. This is a quote from Private Bertram Wilson “Snipers are a menace, they seem to be everywhere and are very clever at concealing themselves. The sun and flies are terrible and one cannot obtain water to quench the thirst. The dead Turks in front and our own fellows lying at the back of us are beginning to smell.” The slow drain of casualties was bad enough, but perhaps the biggest problem was that the men were prevented from burying the dead that lay between the lines. Gallipoli gets hot in the summer, really hot, really really hot, and really hot temperatures and dead, unburied bodies are an incredibly bad mix. Captain Albert Mure of the 29th “One gets used to anything in war, but I think that the acrid, pungent odour of the unburied dead, which gets into your very mouth, down your tortured throat, and seems even to taint the taste of your food, is really the worst thing you have to face on active service. Before long you grow quite inured, if not indifferent even, to the sight of the unburied dead. But to the death smell no one can grow used or callous. Rot and decay and the stench of putrefaction are the supreme and the final degradation of our flesh. And the uncontrollable nausea that the smell of the dead too long unburied must cause the living is not, I believe, solely a physical nausea. But, except through one’s nostrils, one grows steeled, if not dense and heartless. You see horrible sights which in peace-time would make your gorge rise uncontainably, and you take them, in the swelter of war, as a matter of course.” At ANZAC the situation got so bad that on May 24th there was a cease fire agreed to for the sole purpose of burying the dead that were found between the lines. A literal line was drawn down the middle of no mans land and both sides carried their dead back behind their lines. They then delivered the dead of the other side across the line so that they could also be buried. Corporal Charles Livingston found himself as one of the men standing on the line and watching for any funny business. “We stood together some 12 feet apart, quite friendly, exchanging coins and other articles, and in some cases were able to communicate. A Turk gave me a beautiful Sultan’s guard’s belt buckle made of brass with a silver star and crescent embossed with the Sultan’s scroll in Arabic. All I had to give him in exchange were a few coins. Our troops carried the dead Turkish bodies over the dividing line and the Turkish troops did the same for our dead. We also handed their rifles back to them. These rifles were lying around the ground, but we first removed their bolts. The armistice lasted until approximately 6 p.m. and almost immediately the Turks opened fire on our parapets. We were once again enemies.” To add to the misery were the flies. Flies dominate any soldiers discussion about being on the Gallipoli peninsula through the summer, they were just literally everywhere Private Harold Boughton “One of the biggest curses was the flies. There was millions and millions and millions of flies. The whole of the side of the trench used to be one black swarming mass. Anything you opened, if you opened a tin of bully or went to eat a biscuit, next minute it would be swarming with flies. They were all around your mouth and on any cuts or sores that you’d got, which all turned septic through it. It was a curse, really, it really was.” A gunner from the Royal Field Artillery speaks a bit more about how hard it was to eat under the constant watch of the flies “We were invaded by millions of flies. There was no escape from these beastly insects. They swarmed around everywhere. Drinking and eating was a real nightmare and I avoided no matter how hungry I was rice pudding, which was served up frequently, mixed with currants and dehydrated fruit. It was difficult to distinguish currants from flies. They looked alike in this repulsive mixture. Immediately the lid was taken off the dixie the flies would swarm down and settle on the rim in a cluster and many of them would fall into the pudding. The spreading of jam on to a hardtack biscuit was indeed a frustrating exercise. Driven by the pangs of hunger, the hated apricot jam was tolerated of sheer necessity. A concerted effort by at least three of us to transfer the jam from the tin on to the biscuit was necessary, one to open the tin, another to flick away the flies and a third to spread the jam and cover up. The ceilings of our bivouacs, a waterproof sheet, were black with flies crawling over each other and falling on top of one as you tried to rest” The corpses certainly didn’t help the fly problem, and neither did the sanitation situation, there were open latrines all over the place, and even when they were covered it often didn’t stop the flies from finding a way in. With these masses of insects came disease, and a lot of it. Dysentary was near universal, paratyphoid nearly the same, malaria had a habit of flaring up in any of the troops who had been in the far east and jaundice made an appearance as well. Will Cowly of the Army Service Corps would be one of the suffers of dysentary and other diseases “Everybody felt so weak with dysentery; weak with dysentery and all the rest of it – diarrhoea – that you’d got no strength, you know, you were so weak as a kitten. You could hardly walk about at times. Well the doctor asked me one night how many times I went out to the back, I said ‘Sixteen times, doctor.’ Sixteen times. You rush out there and when you get there you couldn’t do anything. Terrible.” All of these hardships, not to mention the oppressive heat and lack of clean drinking water, had to be suffered all while being asked to continue fighting the enemy, and often times attacking.

We will begin our discussion about the action of May, June, and July 1915 at ANZAC cove. When the ANZAC had come ashore they had not captured all that they were supposed to, in fact they were stuck on a small beach head surrounded by Turkish troops in better positions. This put the troops here in a different position than at Helles. At least at Helles if they were forced to retreat they could, they had some space to give, the troops at ANZAC did not have this luxury. A retreat of just 20 yards in some sections of the front could result in the entire line coming undone and being pushed into the sea. This put a huge amount of pressure on every man in the front line. This also caused the Turkish leaders, including General Kemal, to attack again and again, it was just too tempting of a target. They could see as well as anybody how close the situation was behind the lines. Peter Hart would describe the ANZAC line in this way in his book Gallipoli “The Anzac line started in the south at the sea, ran up Bolton’s Hill, across the 400 Plateau, all along Second Ridge to Quinn’s Post, where it petered out, with a gap covered by firepower rather than trenches. The line resumed on Pope’s Hill, then, after another gap, over Russell’s Top, where it faced the Turkish lines barring The Nek and the route to Chunuk Bair. The line then progressed down the narrow Walker’s Ridge to a series of small posts guarding the flank in the foothills by the sea to the north. Just 1,000 yards deep at maximum, only 2,500 yards long and much less than a square mile in total, it was a severely cramped environment.” At some points the line was just a few feet aparr. There are even reports that at times they were separated only by a line of sandbags. On both sides the lines were becoming more and more solid, making any offensive action harder and harder. The makeshift entrenchments of the first few days were slowly improved to be more permanent and proper dugouts and strong points were added along the line. Communication trenches were dug to allow safer access to the front line. These communication trenches were important, mostly due to the sniper and artillery fire that was so prevalent. Since the depth of the area was so small in the beginning getting to the front lines could be just as much of an adventure as being there. Very specific routes had to be taken to break up sightlines that the enemy shooters would try to use. Here is Captain Horace Viney describing how to get to one part of the line “To negotiate Monash Gully safely one had to walk on alternate sides of it according to how the valley twisted and turned. Those who knew it could go up and down it comparatively safely by keeping under cover on one side until a twist in the gully exposed that side to the Turkish fire. It was then necessary to dart across the gully, a distance of from 10 to 20 yards, and gain shelter of the opposite bank.” These types of tips and tricks is one of the reasons that having seasoned soldiers who knew the area so useful. As the lines became more static and the communication trenches were dug to protect moving to and from the front line the wasteage of men due to normal everyday fighting began to drop. The situation became just like the western front, here is Lieutenant Colonel William Malone of the New Zealand Brigade discussing his units entrenchments “We have terraced the ground so that the troops in reserve are together instead of being dotted about in all sorts of holes. We have made roads to the top of the hill at the back so that we can counter-attack. Fire positions have been fixed for the supporting troops and in less than a minute we can sheet the hillcrest with lead from 200 rifles, the men being side by side in lines under their NCOs and officers.” Also like their western front brethren the men at ANZAC began to dig tunnels. The Australians originally had a leg up on this practice due to the presence of the Australian 1st Field Company Engineers who were primarily miners back in Australia. Both side however would eventually get in on the game of digging tunnels out toward the enemy lines. They would then pack them with explosives and explode them right before an attack to disorient the enemy and provide cover. Well, when the other side is doing something like that you have to then try to stop them so both sides had listening posts so they would know where the enemy was digging. Then sometimes two tunnels would run into each other than there would be fighting underground battles in the dark, underground, in cramped tunnels. I’m not even claustrophobic and that makes me want to go outside for a walk. The situation on the front caused as least one notable invention, that of the periscope rifle, which seems to be credited to a Lance Corporal William Beech. The periscope rifle was simply a gun with a mirror mounted on it that allowed a shooter to look up from the trench and down the sights of the gun without having to expose himself. Obviously this was pretty cool and it gave the ANZAC troops a bit of advantage, at least for while.

The first major attack by the Turkish troops would be a night attack on May the first. Thankfully for the ANZAC they had recently been reinforced by 4 battalions of the Royal naval Division. The Turkish attack was fierce, using a bunch of recently arrived reinforcements and it would be one of the largest of the entire summer, but it would be stopped. By the end of this attack there were 14,000 Turkish casualties since the 25th, with the ANZAC having suffered 10,000. After this attack it would be a few weeks before another major effort was made and during that time there were sets of small raids and patrols, nothing huge, just keeping it lively I guess. In the middle of May the 2nd Turkish Division arrived on the scene and it was very quickly used for another large night attack on May the 19th. The attack began at 3.30 in the morning but the ANZAC defenders knew that it was coming due to intelligence and aerial observation. With this information the attacks found themselves instantly assailed by a hail of steel in the form of infantry rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire. The attack was over by 5AM. During this action the Turkish troops suffered in the realm of 10,000 casualties and the Australians had used almost a million rifle and machine gun rounds. So that is a lot. Peter Hart would have this to say about the ANZAC positions by the end of May. “The true situation was now clear to the Turks. While the Australians’ position looked weak, vulnerable to just one mighty effort to throw them into the sea, in fact it had several inherent strengths that were not immediately obvious. It was almost impossible to cross a No Man’s Land defended by alert infantry armed with bolt-action rifles and machine guns, with artillery support, unless an artillery barrage had already suppressed their ability to open fire at the crucial moment.” This would be the last large scale attack by the Turkish army against ANZAC. The Turkish tactics would change, instead of launching large attacked they would launch small attacks against specific targets in the line, like at The Nek which was a very popular target. The Nek was chosen because even a small breakthrough would compromise a reasonably large section of the ANZAC lines. One of these attacks was launched on the night of June 29th. Again the Australians knew the attack was coming Lieutenant Ted Henty discusses the action “It was much more satisfactory than the infernal pot-shooting through loopholes, though this is fair sport now as we are only about 60 yards apart at the widest and in some places much less than that. To drop so many in that narrow space is not bad, is it, and speaks rather well for the alertness of everyone concerned as it was a night attack.” As July began the Turkish attacks almost stopped. For the rest of the summer ANZAC cove would actually be a safe-ish place to be, or at least one that neither side was really concentrating on. The ANZAC troops would remain stuck exactly where they were for several months before the attacks in August were launched, which we will talk about next week. During the early summer of 1915 the real fight for Gallipoli was happening elsewhere, by the troops at Helles.

While the fighting at ANZAC was hard, it was mostly the allied forces defending against the attacks of the Turkish troops. At Helles it was mostly the other way around. From the landings on the 25th until several days later there was near constant fighting all along the line, the men of the 29th, especially those that had started the invasion on V and W beach were completely exhausted. The British spent most of the day on the 26th of April reorganizing their lines and trying to get everybody in place for future attacks. One of the things that greatly assisted in this was bringing the French troops over from their landing zones at Kum Kale to take up a spot in the line. As these men were trying to get ashore, along with the last pieces of the 29th, and all the supplies to keep thousands of men supplied while waging war it is no exagerattion to say that there was a massive traffic jam on the landing beaches, after all there is a reason why ports exist. It just isn’t as efficient trying to land a large amount of cargo on beaches without the proper facilities. The French, when they did get ashore took their position on the far right of the line, which was just fine except for one fact, they were being constantly bombarded by batteries on the Asiatic coast, you know those things that they were sent to occupy while the 29th landed? That they then left shortly after the landings? I am sure the men of the French division did not fail to see the irony. On the 26th these French troops were able to capture the castle at Sedd el-Bahr and on the 27th what would come to be known as the 1st Battle of Krithia began. This was to be, by far, the easiest of the three battles for Krithia over the course of the campaign because the Turkish reinforcements hadn’t arrived in enough force to put up really strong resistance. The Turkish leaders saw the writing on the wall and retreated further up the peninsula. This allowed them to gain a bit of a breather before another attack and it allowed them to consolidate on their positions. Even with this small break the Turkish defenders wouldn’t have a continuous line to defend in, much like the entrenchments at ANZAC at this point in the campaign the defense was mostly just a bunch of outposts that may be somewhat connected by trenches. Because of this the Turkish troops tried to use the terrain as much as possible, which was great for them since they had a better handle on the terrain than the British and French advancing against them. General Hunter-Weston, commander of the 29th planned for a large attack on the 28th of April aiming for the village of Krithia, what the battle is named after, it is important to note how much the British objectives had already shrunk. Instead of aiming for the real campaign goal of Achi Baba he was aiming for this village that was far closer to the line. It would only be an advance of about a mile and it would require a wheeling maneuver that required careful planning steps so that everybody turned at exactly the right time. Many of the units invovled didn’t get the orders in time or misunderstood exactly what they were supposed to do so when the attack started, even though they made pretty good initial progress they soon started to turn too soon, or too late, or too much, or not enough which meant the line that was supposed to be continuous started to develop gaps and units started to lose touch with the units on their left and right. Couple this with the fact that the terrain was, as ever, difficult and the you end up with an advance that quickly found itself at a standstill. And just to put the cherry on top, this is when Turkish reinforcements started to arrive in strength and the strung out and disorganized British and French had quite a time of it to hold them back. The result of the first battle of Krithia was 3,000 casualties or so and with the arrival of Turkish reinforcements any real possibility of taking Achi Baba was gone.

As the days wore on more and more Turkish troops arrived on the scene, eventually Liman von Sanders would have up to 15,000 troop standing in front of the British and French at Helles. As always the Turkish generals were very well aware of the power of the Royal Navy artillery and therefore restricted themselves to strictly night operations. On May 1st at 10PM the first of these night attacks were launched. Lieutenant Henry O’Hara would be in the line “My regiment alone got through 150,000 rounds, and they were only 360 strong. The Turks were simply driven on to the barbed wire in front of the trenches by their German officers, and shot down by the score. At one point they actually got into the trenches, but were driven out by the bayonet. They must have lost thousands.” While he mentions these German officers driving the Turkish soldiers, Peter Hart seems pretty sceptical that such a practice every occurred even though there are several veteran accounts that cite this type of activity. As daylight dawned the French were able to use the naval assistance to push back some of their territorial losses the night before. On the night of May the 3rd Sanders launched another attack. Second Leiutenant Raymon Weil was a French artilleryman who was supporting during this attack “We had massacred the Turks, but we also had a lot of casualties. And I was aware of one terrible fact: we had no more shells left. The artillery park was exhausted; all that remained at the batteries were empty limbers but that was it! If the Turks attacked that night we were doomed.” The Turkish made some gains during the attack, but not as much as hoped. Liman von Sanders was under no illusions as to why this was probably the case, and why it was unlikely that Turkish attacks would have any great effect “In each case daybreak brought an overwhelming fire from the ships which compelled the Turks to withdraw to their positions. Only a part of the captured machine guns could be carried off. Painful as it was for me, I now had to give orders to abstain from further attacks on the Sedd el Bahr front and to remain on the defensive.” Because of these facts the Turkish generals were committed to stand on the defensive in the area and to let the British attack them while resisting every square foot of territory lost.

The British would find themselves on the attack for the Second Battle of Krithia which would be launched on May the 6th. This was done after parts of the 42nd division had arrived from Egypt, but not all of it, it was hoped that more would be present but Hamilton didn’t want to wait any longer than he absolutely had to. Instead the New Zealand and 2nd Australian Brigades were brought over from ANZAC to participate in the attacks. The plan would be very similar to that of the first battle with the French attacking and the British line wheeling to their right in an attempt to reach Krithia. It was very important for the French to advance and capture Kereves Dera or the rest of the line wouldn’t be able to move properly. The bombardment began a bit after 10.30 on the 6th and one hour later the infantry began to advance. The French were immediately subjected to heavy fire and made almost no gains, the British made even less. They came under intense fire as soon as they left their trenches and those that did manage to somehow reach the Turkish lines were stopped cold. There would be no fancy wheeling on this day, the attack was a complete failure. Another attack was ordered for the next day, again same plan, again same result. In true Western Front fashion when faced with these failures, Hunter-Weston just doubled down and tried again. This time the New Zealanders would be the first to advance and actually made some small amount of progress, but nothing worth the cost. The rest of the men attacked at 5.30 in the afternoon and for a third time, no real gain. On May the 8th the attack was finally stopped for awhile, without any real gains and 6,500 casualties. Hamilton would right to Kitchener to describe the outcome of the battle, as he would do throughout the campaign to provide updates on the operation “The result of the operation has been failure, as my object remains unachieved. The fortifications and their machine guns were too scientific and too strongly held to be rushed, although I had every available man in today. Our troops have done all that flesh and blood can do against semi-permanent works and they are not able to carry them. More and more munitions will be needed to do so. I fear that this is a very unpalatable conclusion, but I can see no way out of it.” Much like in other theaters in the Great War the men just continued to dig deeper and strengthen their positions. I love this quote from Captain Albert Mure about how much he just grew to love digging “I sometimes think that this war should go down in history as the ‘War of Spades’! Certainly the Dardanelles campaign was fought with that homely garden tool. I once heard a woman name forty-six things she could do with a hairpin. It was a poor soldier that couldn’t do sixty-four with a spade after a month in Gallipoli!”

The first large effects on the British government would happen after the failure of the second battle of krithia became know. The war council met on May 14th to discuss the campaign and Kitchener, in what would become a familiar refrain he was against the idea of evacuating the troops fearing the loss of prestige. Instead the committee asked Hamilton how many troops he thought he would need to completely his objectives. Hamilton did a bit of back of the naptkin math and came up with the answer of 3 divisions, in addition to the 52nd division which was already on its way. It took him three days to respond to the request for more troops, in that time everything had changed. The liberal government had fallen in London and was replaced by a coalition government that was still led by Asquith. There were a ton of reasons for this but the result was that some of the previously outspoken voices in the government were now gone, Winston Churchill first among them. The new government was formed on May 25th but the War Council, now called the Dardanelles Committee wouldn’t met until Jun the 7th. What this meant for Hamilton is that all he would have in the form of new troops for the foreseeable future were the 52nd Division which was already on its way to Gallipoli.

Given the situation, the lack of the reinforcements he thought he would need, and the Turkish strength Hamilton decided to do something, can anybody guess what that would be? Anybody? Anybody? Yep, another attack, if at first you don’t succeed I guess. This attacked was planned to occur before the 52nd Division even arrived and again it was because it was obvious that every day that passed resulted in a stronger defense on the Turkish side. What it would mean though was that the two forces were roughly equal in strength when on June the 4th the Third Battle Krithia began. This one had much less lofty goals that the first two battles with the goal being the capture of just 800 yards of the Turkish lines before the troops would dig in and wait for counter attacks. By this time however the Turkish troops had a nice continuous consistent line across the entire peninsula so even the smaller goal would be difficult. At 8AM on the 4th the bombardment began on the strongpoints of the Turkish line before a more general bombardment began at 11AM. At high noon the troops went over the top. Private Jack Gatley was one of the men who participated in the attack “We scramble up and over the top into a withering machine gun and rifle fire with shrapnel bursting overhead. Many fell back into the trench before they got properly over, we spread out as we went and charged with fixed bayonets through No Man’s Land which is all shell holes and deep crevices. We dashed on and on over barbed wire and shell holes, jumping gullies, through thick gorse and wild thyme, knee deep; this was on fire in many places and we were choked by smoke and dust. The Turks were keeping up a rapid rifle and machine gun fire, and as we got nearer threw bombs amongst us, also shrapnel bursting overhead, we were being mown down like corn.” The next day the advances stopped and the Turkish troops counter attacked and pushed the allies back off of most of what little games they had made. There were very few reserves to put in the line at this point and as such there was serious danger of the attacks breaking through the line. The total casualties on the allied side were 6,500 men with no gain in ground, although the Turks did ose around 9,000, so it wasn’t completely one sided. The only bit of good news for the British was that the 42nd Division, finally fully arrived from Egypt did a fine job in their attacks.

When the Dardanelles Committee met after the Third Battle of Krithia they agreed to send the three divisions that were requested to go along with the 52nd, they even offered to send 2 more divisions, partially due to the bad news coming out of Russia. This was right around the time that Germany was putting a ton of pressure on Russia in Poland that we will talk about late this year, needless to say the British were looking for any way to help out their ally. While these divisions were in route Hunter-Weston and Hamilton both believed that they had to keep some kind of pressure on the Turkish troops. The problem was, at this point they didn’t have anything close to the number of troops required for a front wide offensive so instead they had to use strictly localized attacks, backed by all of the artillery on the peninsula, to bite off little pieces of the Turkish line. They would then move the shelling forward while the troops fortified their new positions. The French would first use this tactic on June 21 against their old objective of Kereves Dere. The attack quickly overran the first line of defenses, and miraculously the second line as well but they were stopped at a series of defenses called the Quadrilateral. Another of these attacks was launched on June 28th against Gully Ravine by the British and again it was successful. After these attacks Hunter-Weston planned an attack in the center, utilizing the newly arrived 52nd division. Right before this attacks occurred the French were able to capture the Quadrilateral greatly increasing the security of the 52nd right flank. When the 52nd division did begin their attack they weren’t a complete failure. Instead of me describing the attack itself I will just turn it over to Major General Granville Egerton “It seems to me that the fighting of this battle was premature and at the actual moment worse than unnecessary - I submit that it was cruel and wasteful. The troops on the Peninsula were tired and worn out; there were only two Infantry Brigades, the 155th and 157th, that had not been seriously engaged.” This sort of demonstrates the probem with these attacks, they were very costly. Sure, they were making gains, but the number of casualties being suffered was horrible. The 52nd Division, in just one attack hurt its fighting capability significantly. The French by this point had pretty much driven themselves into the ground, which was the reason they would actually begin to suffer smaller numbers of casualties than the British. The attack by the 52nd would actually be the last large scale attack at Helles until August. As we will discuss next week, Hamilton had already begun looking at ANZAC Cover and the possibility of pushing out from it in combination with a landing at a bay that was called Sulva.