an American Journalist on the Dardanelles
'With the Turks at the Dardanelles'
by Arthur Ruhl
from his book 'Antwerp to Gallipoli' 1916

On the Hellespont

from a German magazine - Turkish troops on the Dardanelles


Soghan-Dere and the Flier of Ak-Bash

NEXT morning, after news had been telephoned in that the submarines had got another battleship, the Majestic, we climbed again into the covered wagon and started for the south front. We drove down to the sea and along the beach road through Maidos — bombarded several weeks before, cross-country from the Aegean, and nothing now but bare, burnt walls — on to Kilid Bahr, jammed with camels and ox-carts and soldiers, and then on toward the end of the peninsula.

We were now beyond the Narrows and the Dardanelles. To the left, a bit farther out, were the waters in which the Irresistible, Ocean, and Bouvet were sunk, and even now, off the point, ten or twelve miles away, hung the smoke of sister ships. We drove past the big guns of the forts, past field-guns covering the shore, past masked batteries and search-lights. Beside us, along the shore road, mule trains and ox-carts and camel trains were toiling along in the blaze and dust with provisions and ammunition for the front. Once we passed four soldiers carrying a comrade, badly wounded, on a stretcher padded with leaves. After an hour or so of bumping we turned into a transverse valley, as level almost as if it had been made for a parade-ground.

High hills protected it north and south; a little stream ran down the centre — it might have been made for a storage base and camp. More brush-covered tents and arbors for horses were strung along the hillside, one above the other sometimes, in half a dozen terraces. We drove into the valley, got out and followed the orderly to a brush-covered arbor, closed on every side but one, out of which came a well set-up, bronzed, bright-eyed man of fifty or thereabout who welcomed us like long-lost friends.

It was Colonel Shukri Bey, commander of the Fifteenth Division. We were the first correspondents who had pushed thus far, and as novel to him apparently as he was charming to us. He invited us into the little arbor; coffee was brought and then tea, and, speaking German to Suydam and French to me, he talked of the war in general and the operations at the end of the peninsula with the greatest good humor and apparent confidence in the ultimate result.

Our talk was continually punctuated by the rumble of the big guns over the plateau to the south. "That's ours" . . . "That's theirs," he would explain; and presently, with a young aide-de-camp as guide, we climbed out of the valley and started down the plateau toward Sedd ul Bahr.

The Allies' foothold here was much wider than that at An Burnu. In the general landing operations of April 25 and 26 (one force was sent ashore in a large collier, from which, after she was beached, the men poured across anchored lighters to the shore) the English and French had established themselves in Sedd ul Bahr itself and along the cliffs on either side. This position was strengthened during the weeks of fighting which followed until they appeared to be pretty firmly fixed on the end of the peninsula, with a front running clear across it in a general northwest line, several kilometres in from the point. The valley we had just left was Soghan-Dere, about seven miles from Sedd ul Bahr, and the plateau across which we were walking led, on the right, up to a ridge from which one could look down on the whole battle-field, or, to the left, straight down into the battle itself.

The sun was getting down in the west by this time, down the road from camp men were carrying kettles of soup and rice pilaf to their comrades in the trenches, and from the end of the plateau came continuous thundering and the Crack . . . crack . . . crack! of infantry fire. The road was strewn with fragments of shells from previous bombardments, and our solicitous young lieutenant, fearing we might draw fire, pulled us behind a bush for a minute or two, whenever the aeroplane, flying back and forth in the west, seemed to be squinting at us. The enemy could see so little, he said, that whenever they saw anything at all they fired twenty shots at it on principle.

For two miles, perhaps, we walked, until from the innocent-looking chaparral behind us there was a roar, and a shell wailed away over our heads out into the distance.

We could see the end of the peninsula, where the coast curves round from Eski Hissariik toward Sedd ul Bahr, and two of the enemy's cruisers steaming slowly back and forth under the cliffs, firing, presumably, as they steamed. Now they were hidden under the shore, now they came in view, and opposite Eski Hissarlik swung round and steamed west again. In front of us, just over the edge of the plateau which there began to slope downward, were the trenches of the Turks' left wing, now under bombardment. The ridge just hid the shells as they struck, but we could see the smoke from each, now a tall black column, like the "Jack Johnsons" of the west, now a yellowish cloud that hung long afterward like fog — and with it the continuous rattle of infantry fire. Several fliers were creeping about far up against the 'blue, looking for just such hidden batteries as that which kept barking behind us, and out in front and to the right came the low Br — r — um — m! of heavy guns.

Fighting like this had been going on for weeks, the ships having the advantage of their big guns by day, the Turks recovering themselves, apparently, at night. They were on their own ground — a succession of ridges, one behind the other — and they could not only always see, but generally looked down on, an enemy who could not, generally, see them. And the enemy's men, supplies, perhaps even his water — for this is a dry country at all times, and after June there are almost no rains — must come from his ships. If English submarines were in the Marmora, so, too, were German submarines off the Dardanelles, and if the Turks were losing transports the English were losing battleships.

The situation held too many possibilities to make prophecy safe — I merely record the fact that on the afternoon of May 27 I stood on the plateau above Sedd ul Bahr, and perhaps five miles from it in an air line, and still found myself a regrettable distance from the Allies' front.

The sun was shining level down the road as we returned to camp, and soldiers were still tramping peacefully up to the front with their kettles of food. Meanwhile the colonel had prepared a little exhibition for us. Six or eight soldiers stood in line, each with a dish and spoon, and in the dish a sample of the food for that night. We started at the top and tasted each: soup, mutton, stewed green beans, new-baked bread, stewed plums, and a particularly appetizing pilaf, made out of boiled whole wheat and raisins. Everything was good, and the beaming colonel declared that the first thing in war was to keep your soldiers well fed. We dined with him in his tent: soup and several meat courses, and cherry compote, and at the end various kinds of nuts, including the cracked hazelnuts, commoner in Turkey than bananas and peanuts at home.

He hoped to come to America some day, and thought we must soon develop the military strength to back our desires for peace, unless there were to be continual wars. New York's climate, the cost of fruit in Germany, and other peaceful subjects were touched on, and the colonel said that it was an honor to have us with him — ours we brilliantly responded — and a pleasant change from the constant talk and thought of war.

He had been six years in the field now, what with the Italian and Balkan campaigns, and that was a good deal of war at a stretch.

After excusing ourselves, though the amiable Turk said that he was in no hurry, we were led to a sort of tent de luxe, lined in scarlet with snaky decorations in white, and when the young aid discovered that we had brought no beds with us, he sent out and in a moment had not only cots and blankets, but mattresses and sheets and pillows and pillow-cases. He asked if we had fathers and mothers alive at home, and brothers and sisters, and if we, too, had been soldiers. It surprised and puzzled him that we had not, and that our army was so small. He was only twenty- two and a lieutenant, and he had a brother and father also in the army. With a great air of mystery he had his orderly dig a bottle of cognac out from his camp chest, and after we had drunk each other's health, he gave us his card with his name in Turkish and French. He brought a table and put on it a night candle in a saucer of water, a carafe of drinking water, and gave me a pair of slippers — in short, he did for us in that brush-covered camp in the Gallipoli hills everything that could be done for a guest in one's own house.

You can scarcely know what this meant without having known the difficulties of mere existence once you left Constantinople and got into the war zone, and Colonel Shukri Bey and Lieutenant Ahmed Akif will be remembered by at least two Americans when any one talks of the terrible Turk.

I awoke shortly after daylight, thinking I heard an aeroplane strumming in the distance, and was drowsily wondering whether or not it was fancy, when a crash echoed up the valley. We both hurried out. It was sunup, a delicious morning, and far up against the southern sky the little speck was sailing back toward the west. There was a flash of silver just under the flier — it was an English biplane — and a moment later another crash farther away. Neither did any damage. A few minutes later we were looking at the remains of the bomb and propeller-like wings, whose whirling, as it falls, opens a valve that permits it to explode on striking its mark. Until it had fallen a certain number of metres, we were told, mere striking the ground would not explode it — a device to protect the airman in case of accident to his machine or if he is forced to make a quick landing. In the fresh, still morning, with the camp just waking up and the curious Turkish currycombs clinking away over by the tethered horses, our aerial visitor added only a pleasant excitement to this life in the open, and we went on with our dressing with great satisfaction, little dreaming how soon we were to look at one of those little flying specks quite differently.

We breakfasted with the colonel in his arbor on bread and ripe olives and tea, and walked with him round the camp, through a hospital and into an old farmhouse yard, where the gunsmiths were going over stacks of captured guns and the damaged rifles of the wounded, while the bees left behind in some clumsy old box hives buzzed away as of yore. Wiser than men, the colonel observed. There were English Enfields and French rifles of the early nineties, and a mitrailleuse to which the Turks had fitted a new wooden base. There were rifles with smashed barrels, with stocks bored through by bullets, clean-cut holes that must have gone on through the men who held them — live men like ourselves; quick choking instants of terror the ghosts of which we were poking and peering into there in the warm sunshine! . . .

We said good-by to the colonel, for our passes took us but to the valley, and he had stretched a point in sending us down the plateau the evening before, and j bumped back to Kilid Bahr. We did riot want to leave this part of the world without a sight of Troy, and as we had duly presented ourselves in Gallipoli, and were now by way of coming from it rather than Constantinople, and the Turkish official to whom the orderly took us wrote, without question, a permission to cross to Chanak Kale, we sailed with no misgivings. Alas for Troy and looking down on a modem battle from the heights of Ilium! A truculent major of gendarmes hurried us from the Asiatic shore as if we had come to capture it. We might not land, we might not write a note to the commandant to see if the permission to stop in Chanak, for which we had wired to Constantinople the day before, had arrived; we might not telephone — we must go back to Europe, and write or telephone from there.

So back to Europe, and after consultation and telephoning, back to Asia again, and this time we succeeded in effecting a landing and an audience with the commander of the defenses of the Dardanelles, Djevad Pasha. He was sitting under a tree in a garden looking out over the sea gate, which, with the aid of his two German colleagues, Ousedom Pasha and Merten Pasha, it was his task to keep shut — a trim Young Turk, more polished and "European" than the major of gendarmes, but no less firm. An American's wish to see the Troy he might never be so near again bored him excessively. We could not stay — we might not even spend the night. There was a boat that evening, and on it we must go.

Gendarmes guarded us while we waited — we who the night before had slept in a scarlet-lined tent! — and gendarmes hung at our heels as we and three patient hamals with the baggage tramped ignominiously through Chanak Kale's ruined streets. The boat we went by was the same little side-wheeler we had come down on, crowded with wounded now, mud-stained, blood- stained, just as they had come from the trenches across the water, with no place to lie but the bare deck. The stifling hold was packed with them; they curled up about the engine-room gratings — for it was cold that night — yet there was no complaint. A tired sigh now and then, a moan of weariness, and the soldier wrapped his army overcoat a little closer about him, curled up like a dog on a door-mat, and left the rest to fate. A big, round, yellow moon climbed up out of Asia and poured its silver down on them and on the black hills and water, still as some inland lake.

The side-wheeler tied up at Ak-Bash for the night, and it was not until the middle of the next morning that it was decided that she should cross and leave her wounded at Lapsaki instead of going on up to Constantinople. We lugged our baggage off and hunted up our old friend, the Hamburg-American captain, to see what might be done till some other craft appeared. He finally put us aboard a sort of enlarged tug which might be going up that afternoon or evening.

It was about midday. The sun blazing down on the crowded fiat; on boxes, sacks, stevedores wrapped up in all the variegated rags of the East shuffling in and out of the ships; on gangs digging, piling lumber, boiling water, cooking soup; on officers in brown uniforms and brown lamb's-wool caps; on horses, ox-teams, and a vast herd of sheep, which had just poured out of a transport and spread over the plain, when from the hill came two shots of warning. An enemy aeroplane was coming!

The gangs scattered like water-bugs when a stone is thrown into the water. They ran for the hill, dropped into trenches; to the beach and threw themselves flat on the sand; into the water — all, as they ran, looking up over their shoulders to where, far overhead, whirred steadily nearer that tiny, terrible hawk.

A hidden battery roared and — pop! — a little puff of cotton floated in the sky under the approaching flier. Another and another — all the nervous little batteries in the hills round about were coming to our rescue. The bird-man, safely above them, drew on without flinching. We had looked up at aeroplanes many times before and watched the pretty chase of the shrapnel, and we leaned out from under the awning to keep the thing in view. "Look," I said to Suydam; "she's coming right over us!" And then, all at once, there was a crash, a concussion that hit the ear like a blow, a geyser of smoke and dust and stones out on the flat in front of us. Through the smoke I saw a horse with its pack undone and flopping under its belly, trotting round with the wild aimlessness of horses in the bull-ring after they have been gored. Men were running, and, in a tangle of wagons, half a dozen oxen, on the ground, were giving a few spasmodic kicks.

Men streaked up from the engine-room and across the wharf — after all, the wharf would be the thing he'd try for — and I found myself out on the flat with them just as there came another crash, but this time over by the Barbarossa across the bay. Black smoke was pouring from the Turkish cruiser as she got under way, and, with the shrapnel puffs chasing hopelessly after, the flier swung to the southward and out of right.

Officers were galloping about yelling orders; over in the dust where the bomb had struck, a man was sawing furiously away at the throats of the oxen (there were seven of them, and there would be plenty of beef in camp that night at any rate); there was a dead horse, two badly wounded men and a hundred feet away a man lying on his face, hatless, just as he had been blown there: dead, or as good as dead. It appeared that two fliers had come from opposite directions and most of the crowd had seen but the one, while the other dropped the bomb. It had struck just outside the busiest part of the camp, aimed very likely at the stores piled there. It had made a hole only five or six feet wide and two or three feet deep, but it had blown everything in the neighborhood out from it, as the captain had said. Holes you could put your fist in were torn in the flanks of the oxen by flying stones and chunks of metal, and the tires of some of the wagons, sixty or seventy feet away, had been cut through like wax.

The ground was cleared, the men returned to work, and we even went in swimming, but at every unexpected noise one looked upward, and when about five o'clock the crowd scattered again, I will confess that I watched that little speck buzzing nearer, on a line that would bring him straight overhead, with an interest considerably less casual than any I had bestowed on these birds before. There we were, confined in our little amphitheatre; there was that diabolical bird peering down at us, and in another minute, somewhere in that space, would come that earth-shaking explosion — a mingling of crash and vohou'! There was no escaping it, no dodging it, nothing to get under but empty air.

I had decided that the beach, about a hundred yards away from the wharfs, was the safest place and hurried there; but the speck overhead, as if anticipating me, seemed to be aiming for the precise spot. It is difficult under such circumstances to sit tight, reasoning calmly that, after all, the chances of the bomb's not landing exactly there are a good many to one — you demand at least the ostrich-like satisfaction of having something overhead. So I scurried over to the left to get out from under what seemed his line of flight, when what should he do but begin to turn!

This was really rubbing it in a bit. To fly across as he had that morning was one thing, but to pen one up in a nice little pocket in the hills, and then on a vertical radius of three or four thousand feet, to circle round over one's head — anything yet devised by the human nightmare was crude and immature to this. But was it overhead? If behind, and travelling at fifty or sixty miles an hour, the bomb would carry forward — just enough probably to bring it over; and if apparently over, still the bomb would have been several seconds in falling — it might be right on top of us now! Should we run backward or forward: Here was a place, in between some grain-bags. But the grain-bags were open toward the wharf, and the wharf was what he was aiming at, and a plank blown through you — No, the trench was the thing, but — Quick, he is overhead!

The beach, the bags, the ditch, all the way round the camp, and Suydam galloping after. Somewhere in the middle of it a hideous whiffling wail came down the sky: Trrou . . . trrou . . . trou! — and then a crash! The bomb had hit the water just off the end of the pier. I kept on running. There was another Trrou . . . trrou! another geyser of water, and the bird had flown on.

I was on the edge of the camp by this time and that strange afternoon ended, when one of a gang of ditch-diggers, swathed in bright-colored rags, addressed me in English, a Greek-Turk from the island of Marmora, who, climbing out of the trench in which he and his gang had been hiding, announced that he had lived in New York for five years, in Fortieth Street, and worked for the Morgan Line, and begged that I get, him out of this nerve-racking place and where he belonged, somewhere on board ship. There were crowds like him — Greeks, Armenians, Turks, not wanted as soldiers but impressed for this sort of work. They were unloading fire-wood long after dark that night, when our boat at last got under way. We paused till sunup at Lapsaki, crept close to shore through the Marmora, and once through floating wreckage — boards and a galvanized-iron gasolene tank — apparently from some transport sunk by a submarine, and after dark, with lights out as we had started, round the comer of Stamboul.


wounded British soldiers in Turkish captivity

Turkish Red-Crescent stretcher-bearers

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