Battle of Scimitar Hill | 21 Aug 1915

Vote of confidence

The French government seeks to put to bed any rumblings about General Joffre’s competency by calling a vote of confidence in itself. This is effectively a vote of confidence in Joffre and minister of war Millerand, and gives a chance for Millerand to refute allegations that he’s not exercising any oversight over the Chief. The government overwhelmingly wins the vote, with only one deputy voting against them. The question has duly been put to bed for the moment. However, should the autumn offensive fail, questions will continue to be asked about the conduct of the war.

Battle of Scimitar Hill

Sir Ian Hamilton has taken himself to Karakol Dagh, a healthy distance behind the lines at Kiretch Tepe, to personally watch the Battle of Scimitar Hill through a pair of binoculars. No more will he have to suffer through confusing, contradictory reports from subordinates. Today he’ll know exactly what’s going on, when it happens. I suppose it’s only appropriate that he should be able to see the final dying of the light for himself.

They’ve managed to scrape together enough ammunition for a half-hour hurricane bombardment before the men go over the top at 3pm. The weight of fire is insufficient to cause widespread damage to the Ottoman trenches. Neither is it maintained after the men go over the top to force the enemy to keep their heads down. There aren’t enough shells or guns to aim some hate at anywhere beyond the Ottoman first line. The reserves are completely ignored, waiting just behind in safety.

And it’s the reserves who will make the difference. At first the British troops get on surprisingly well, pushing all the way to the top of Scimitar Hill under cover of the colossal amounts of dust that the prepatory barrage has kicked up. Then the dust clears, and Ottomans stationed on the neighbouring hills all open fire at once. Back down they go, and the next hour or so is rather like watching the tide going out, as successive waves of men are stopped lower and lower on the hill. By 4pm General de Lisle is down to his last reserves, mostly consisting of inexperienced Territorial units, Hussars and Yeomanry. Captain William Wedgwood Benn of the 1st London Yeomanry takes up the story.

As far as we could see, [the position] provided good cover, for there appeared to be a number of reserves lying there in perfect quiet and safety. Out we sprang with a shout and ran forward, only to find it was under brisk machine-gun fire. The reserves were quiet indeed, for they were dead. We saw nothing for it now but to get up and shift our position. For one thing, the bushes in front of us were alight, and the fire was steadily advancing onto the corpses at our side.

This is not the first time that the weight of artillery shells has started fires in the bone-dry scrublands of Gallipoli. It’s no less horrific for that. Corporal Colin Mills of the 2nd London Yeomanry is right in its way.

A long belt of gorse and scrub had caught alight with the shells which very quickly spread. There was no help for it but to push through and chance to luck, which I did, but came out the other side like a nigger and almost choking with the smoke. An awful death trap this was and it claimed many victims, the poor devils simply dropped in dozens and were speedily burnt with the flames, a sight that I shan’t forget.

Again, no apologies for presenting his language in unbowdlerised fashion. Panic soon begins to spread among the poor buggers and they retreat towards Green Hill in some disorder. Both sides spend a nervous night, each equally worried about the consequences if the other proves capable of attacking in greater force tomorrow. However, the men here have thoroughly shot their bolts.

Battle of Hill 60 (Gallipoli)

Time to turn to the Battle of Hill 60 (Gallipoli). Here there aren’t even any inexperienced, raw reserves to use. The ANZACs have been forced to scrape together men for this attack by quickly amalgamating the shattered remnants of various depleted battalions. Just as at Scimitar Hill, an attack here will require the men to cross 250 yards of open ground, with the added fun of having to cross the crest of an intermediate hill before making the final climb towards the summit. The majority of the men are exhausted, or suffering from disease, or both. Three waves go over the top, and three waves go down. The survivors are holding an outpost line halfway up Hill 60 (Gallipoli), but the enemy is still firmly in control of the top of the hill, and of course, reinforcements are on the move in their direction. As the battle dies down, fire once again rears its head. Captain Henry Loughran, 14th (Victoria) Battalion.

The Turks were now shelling the hill and soon the scrub was alight in several places. This was an advantage from the point of view of the medical personnel, for it gave us a smoke screen behind which we could work, even on the frontal slope, though there was a fair amount of risk from chance bullets. It was, however, by no means an advantage to those wounded who were unable to crawl away from the flames and for some time all that my stretcher bearers did was to carry away wounded, as rapidly as possible, from this zone. Dead men we left where they were and, as the flames reached them, the cartridges in their pouches popped off and occasionally a bomb exploded. If any living wounded were burnt, they were unconscious, as we heard no cries of pain from the flames.

A mad world of blood, death, and fire, indeed.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)
Battle of Hill 60 (Gallipoli)

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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