- from the War Illustrated Deluxe volume III page 939
- 'The Great Landing Battles of the Dardanelles'
The Great Episodes of the War
map of the area
Strikingly strange are the changes in position between our last great war and the present one. In the spring of 1801 a British fleet, with troopships carrying a British army, anchored off the Turkish coast near the Dardanelles, to allow our soldiers and sailors to practise landing exercises. When the Scotsman commanding them reckoned they were excellent at their work, he left the Turks, whom he found useless as allies in modern warfare, and by a storming attack against Napoleon's troops entrenched round Aboukir Bay, he conquered Egypt with a British army of not more than 15,000 men.
This used to be the greatest landing feat in our history, it took Sir Ralph Abercrombie only a single day to beat down the opposition of the enemy, and land his troops by boat under the fire of powerful hostile guns. But the glory of Aboukir Bay has now been eclipsed by the achievement of another Scottish soldierSir Ian Hamilton commanding troops from nations which did not exist in the days when the British made their first conquest of Egypt. Terribly different from the flat Egyptian shore was the tangle of hills and of thorn-bush valleys, surmounted with forts, in the Gallipoli Peninsula, guarding the Dardanelles. A few months before, a combined British and French fleet had met with serious disaster in a vain attempt to force the passage guarded by the forts. So part of the strange new British army of Egypt had been called out to help their naval comrades.
illustrations from a British newsmagazine
"The Strange New British Army"
There was an Australian contingent, linked with the New Zealand contingent, under the command of General Birdwood. Acting with the Colonial army was our 29th Division, under General Hunter Weston, with a French Colonial Division, under General D'Amade, famous for his achievements in Morocco. Sir Ian Hamilton was in high command of all these military forces, and Admiral de Robeck directed the naval side of the operations. The Turks holding the natural fortress of Gallipoli seem to have numbered about 80,000. They were commanded for the most part by German officers, and strengthened by a large force of German artillerymen, who employed motor-batteries as well as ordinary field-pieces, and heavy guns set in entrenched camps.
Owing to the lie of the land, the tremendous ordnance of our fleet could not clear a path for our Colonial troops at their selected landing-place, for the cliffs were so steep that no direct fire could be brought to bear upon the Turkish lines. Such was the position at the promontory of Gaba Tepe, on the sea side. The only other practicable landing-place was just inside the Dardanelles, near the fort of Seddul Bahr. Here was an inviting bay, giving easy access to the mountainous land behind. But the trouble was that this bay was dominated by powerful guns of German motor- batteries, firing from the other side of the strait, near the fort of Kum Kale. The Allied Fleet could not keep down the fire of these motor-batteries; in fact, the German artillerymen gave the battleships that came within their range a warm time.
The Allies' Two Useful Feints
On these facts, the plan of operations was drawn up, and put into execution on the night of Saturday, April 24th, 1915. Admiral de Robeck provided a naval division, which drew off the Turks, by preparing to force a landing on a strip of flat land some miles north of Gaba Tepe. This was only a feint. The real attack was made against the steep sandstone cliffs of Gaba Tepe, by the Australians and New Zealanders. At the same time the French Colonial Division feinted at the Plain of Troy, and, having attracted the Turkish forces to this neighbourhood, they swerved in landing and stormed the battered fort of Kum Kale. The result was that the German motor- batteries had to retreat southward. But this Kum Kale attack was also only a strong and useful feint. It was intended to clear away the German guns, and allow our 29th Division to embark on the other side of the strait in the bay near Seddul Bahr. There were great rejoicings in Constantinople over the defeat of General D'Amade's Division on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles. But all that happened was that the French troops first ensured the safe embarkation of our men, and then crossed the strait themselves, in accordance with the original plan of attack, and reinforced our 29th Division.
There were thus two small Allied armies attacking from the west and the south the formidable natural fortress of Gallipoli. Two great mountain masses separated them from each other, and they had to operate for weeks without being able to give any mutual assistance, until they had each driven a great wedge into the German- Turkish army. At the time of writing we do not know-much about the fortunes of our 29th Division and the French troops acting with it.
After effecting a landing by nightfall on Sunday, April 25th, they were held up all the next day by Turkish infantry and German artillery entrenched on the hills behind massive wire entanglements. But on Monday evening the leading troops of the British force stormed the first line of heights near Seddul Bahr, from which they were able to cover the disembarkation of the rest of the division. On "Tuesday evening they were joined by the French troops, and then, with the guns of one of our battle squadrons clearing their way, they advanced up the slopes of the height of Hill 730, east of the village of Krithia. It took the combined army corps of allied troops a week and more to advance from Seddul Bahr to Krithia, a distance of only four miles! It was an eight days' raging, incessant, night and day battle, in which our troops beat back stronger forces, through wire entanglements, land mines, woll-pits, and broken, scrub-covered rock.
An Incessant Eight-Day Battle
It is hard to say whether our southern or western forces had the more arduous job. But certainly the Australians and New Zealanders had, from the beginning, a terrible time of it. It, when they were training in Egypt, they envied the heroism of our Regular soldiers in forcing the passage of the Aisne, they lost all ground for envy when they themselves landed in the light of a half-moon beneath the cliff of Gaba Tepe. They were conveyed in boats at three o'clock in the morning, towed by steam pinnaces, with British battleships behind them. Just on five o'clock, when the boats were close to the beach, a line of Turkish troops, entrenched on the foreshore, opened fire with rifles and machine-guns. No reply was made from the boats, though many of our men were struck; but when shallow water was reached, a party of Australians leaped into the sea, without charging their magazines, and took the Turkisli trench with the bayonet, capturing a machine-gun.
Halfway up the wall-like cliff was another Turkish trench from which the enemy was pouring a deadly fire on boats and troops. The Australians stopped to charge their magazines; then, clutching at the scrub on the face of the cliff, they climbed up. Some were shot down, but in fifteen minutes the others had bayoneted or scattered all the Turks and captured the second trench.
By this time it was clear daylight, and the misty central mass of mountain by Gaba Tepe could be seen rising immediately in front of the landing-party. The nearest summit was nine hundred and fifty feet above the sea, and it sloped down in ridges of broken ground, seams of watercourses, and patches of thornbush, all giving good cover for thousands of Turkish sharpshooters. These concentrated their fire at almost point-blank range on the crowded boats, and all day long the work of disembarkation had to be carried on under the ceaseless fire of the Turkish snipers.
But the enemy did not have things all his own way. For at daybreak our fleet opened fire with all their smaller guns, while the advanced companies of Australians fought their way to the top of the first ridge, and then opened battle. Their way of fighting was heroic and venturesome. They did not entrench under the shelter of a covering fire from the naval guns, but crept forward, east and north, round the central height, searching for their foes. No help could be given to them by the fleet. For the Turkish positions had not been discovered, nor was the strength of the Turkish forces at this point known, so the Australians set out in search of information. They drove back, in fierce little spurts of guerilla warfare, the Turkish line near the sea. Then the German commander sent forward a strong reserve force, and tried to outflank the Australians. But they too were reinforced, and they held the ridge against all counter- attacks.
Meanwhile some of the enemy's guns came into action from a concealed position, from which they enfiladed all the beach with shrapnel fire. One of our cruisers steamed close to the shore, and knocked out the battery with a tornado of shells. Then, as night fell, the grand German-Turkish counter attack came. In dense columns they advanced, the men who desired to save Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire. They were brave to death, these descendants of the last great conquering race of Asia. But the men of a remote and newly discovered continent in the southern seas had that within them which no Turk could withstand.
The Flash of the Colonials' Bayonets
The freest-born of all men, these sons of the new Commonwealth of the Southern Cross, without the help of a single gun ashore, beat back the defenders of the Dardanelles, and then advanced again and again against the storm of shrapnel fire. Dawn broke with no lull in the great decisive landing battle. For just before daybreak the Turkish army was again strongly reinforced. From the fighting-tops of our battleships the sailors could see new hostile batteries being hauled into position on the heights.
But the Colonial troops had now done the main part of their work in the landing operations. For the positions and forces of the enemy were fully disclosed. And as the Turkish infantry descended in large masses to drive our men into the sea, Queen Elizabeth, with her 15 in. guns, and other warships, with 12,6, and 4 in. armament, opened fire. In a single shell from Queen Elizabeth there were 20,000 bullets. She fired eight of these shells at every salvo, and repeated the dose in less than a minute. The mountainous ground occupied by the Turks was transformed into a smoking volcano with common shell and shrapnel from the British fleet. For two hours the ships continued to fire, and under the arch of death and flame and thunder which they formed, our Colonial troops advanced and dug themselves in. Then there was a sudden silence. The bayonets of Australia and New Zealand flashed on the height, and the shattered Turkish forces broke and fled.