The title speaks for itself. Today the British Empire lands on Gallipoli, and that must be our focus. It needs so much space that for the first time, I’m splitting today into two entries. This is the story of the Gallipoli landings; for everything else that happened today, see this post.
The map and beaches
The best place to start is the map. In addition to yesterday’s Royal Naval Division demonstration against Bulair, there will be diversionary landings at Kum Kale by the French. This will ensure that all the guns that might interfere with the main landings are prevented from doing so. There will be six landings on Gallipoli itself, and we will look at them from north to south, beginning with the ANZACs’ efforts against Brighton Beach at Gaba Tepe.
Brighton Beach is wide and deep, but that’s about all it has to recommend it. The cliffs rise high above it, and an Ottoman battalion has spent the past month turning it into a killing zone. Sir Ian Hamilton’s reconaissance noted this, but they planned to land there anyway as a surprise measure. If, the reasoning goes, we are prepared to land there, then we could land on any beach…
In order to mitigate the danger (insert hollow laughter), it has been decided to begin the landings at Brighton Beach under cover of darkness. This goes about as well as you might expect, with the tugboats quickly losing their way and trying not to trip over each other. In the confusion they begin drifting northwards, and by the time they get anywhere near the coast, they’re in entirely the wrong place. As the sun rises, the first lighters run aground in what will soon become known as ANZAC Cove, and the small Ottoman force watching over it begins to open fire.
The blokes are, ahem, rather disgruntled to find themselves facing a ten-foot wall of earth with an inhospitable downward slope on the other side. The defenders are already sending efficient messages back up the chain of command. Local reserves are soon alerted, and will only have a few hours’ march before they can get stuck in. After climbing for their lives, the ANZACs are fighting like tigers, scattering the defenders and desperately struggling inland against terrible shrapnel fire from guns with excellent sighting atop Gaba Tepe.
The mistake that landed them at ANZAC Cove is rather a blessing in disguise. Brighton Beach is heavily fortified, being the natural landing place. The Ottomans had never suspected that their opponents might try something so ridiculous as landing in ANZAC Cove and climbing up the cliffs. The cove itself had only a light picket force, and this explains why the ANZACs were able to make progress after getting onto solid ground.
However, they’re soon met by well-organised Ottoman counter-attacks, and their advance quickly grinds to a standstill. By the end of the day their beachhead is barely half a mile deep and has 20,000 men packed into it. General Birdwood’s subordinates suggest evacuation; Sir Ian Hamilton orders them to dig in and stick it out.
By contrast, the men heading for Y Beach land in exactly the right place, which has also proven not to be directly defended. Their beach is deep, and at its base are two large gullies cutting through the cliffs and allowing easy access to the land behind. In short order, forward scouts are advancing cautiously towards Gully Ravine (how wonderfully tautological), the name of which will hopefully soon turn blue. Their commander, Lt-Col Matthews of the Marines, personally takes a party forward to within half a mile of Krithia. For most of the morning, it seems that things are going rather well.
Meanwhile, a clusterfuck is brewing offshore. Sir Ian Hamilton has been sailing all round the area to see what’s going on, and is therefore rather well-informed. He knows how well things are going at Y and X Beach, and he also knows how well they aren’t at W and V Beach (of which more in a moment). He rather timidly suggests to General Hunter-Weston that he might like to divert some men away from the tip of Cape Helles to reinforce their success. Gee, if only he were in overall charge of this shitshow and had the authority to give Hunter-Weston an order! We’ll see why Hunter-Weston chose to disregard this suggestion in a moment.
And, by the afternoon, the great opportunity to move forward, take Krithia, and cut a major Ottoman communications and reinforcement line has been entirely lost. In theory, the men landing at X Beach should have moved north to join up with Y Beach, but they’re nowhere to be seen. (We’ll find out why not soon.) The orders for Y Beach didn’t take this possibility into account, and with no communication from the Brains Trust, they’re left entirely without instructions. With nothing better to do, the blokes begin to establish a forward line and start the process of digging in. As soon as they do so, they finally begin to take enemy fire. It’s sporadic at first, but by nightfall the intensity winds up as the Navy’s supporting fire ends, and it continues all the way through to daybreak the following morning.
X Beach’s landings are are also almost unopposed; they clear the weak clifftop guards and are soon beginning to move inland. With their landing safely effected, the commanders then wait for further orders. After a while, some friendly faces appear from the direction of W Beach and assist in capturing an extremely annoying enemy redoubt on Hill 114. The men then await further orders, which fail to materialise. Higher command’s attention has been entirely taken up with events further east.
W Beach is a pain in the arse. It’s been fortified even more strongly than Brighton Beach. A deep belt of barbed wire runs down its whole length. Concealed just under the water is a tripwire attached to landmines. Machine guns have been installed on the clifftops, and the men overlooking the beach have deep trenches to fire from. When they open fire, it’s absolute carnage. The men are completely stymied by the barbed wire and it’s all they can do not to die.
Complete disaster is averted by the bravery of General Hare, following up closely behind his men. Just to the north of W Beach is a large, flat, rocky outcropping. He makes a snap decision to redirect the next company to the rocks, judging correctly that the sea is calm enough to allow them to land there. The men quickly move up onto the clifftops and begin pouring enfilade fire onto the defenders of W Beach, who are soon forced to retreat. General Hare then personally leads a party west towards X Beach, but is seriously wounded by fire from Hill 114.
By mid-morning the situation is well in hand. On the left, a force advances on Hill 114 and captures it, as already mentioned. There’s an equally annoying redoubt at Hill 138, on the right. It stands directly in the way of any attempt to link up with V Beach to the east. Unfortunately, when the men try to advance on it, some of them confuse Hill 138 with a different strong-point that hasn’t been marked on any of their maps, with predictable results. There will be no link with V Beach today.
Which frankly they don’t want anything to do with. V Beach is a complete fortress. This is where they’re trying to deploy the River Clyde to offset the undersea defences. We now go to the terse diary entries of Lt-Col Williams, a staff officer waiting to land in the second line of boats.
6.22am Ran smoothly aground without a tremor. No opposition. We shall land unopposed.
6.25am Tows within a few yards of shore. All hell burst loose on them. One boat drifting to north, all killed. Others almost equally helpless. Our hopper gone awry.
6.35am Connection with shore very bad. Only single file possible and not one man in ten gets across. Lighters blocked with dead and wounded.
V Beach is the beach where, more than any other, the water is turning red with the blood of the men. To make matters worse, some idiot tells General Hunter-Weston that in fact the landings have been a complete success, and more troops are ordered in. From the information available to Hunter-Weston, he’s making hard-won progress at both V and W Beaches, and therefore sees no reason to divert men to X and Y Beaches according to Sir Ian Hamilton’s suggestion.
And so the second wave tries to land on V Beach, and most of them are cut down before they get within spitting distance of the beach. A few make it ashore, and then fall in front of the barbed wire. The brass hats are supposed to be going in with this wave. An officer who’s found temporary safety aboard the River Clyde watches incredulously as General Napier and his staff sail forward with the men.
“You can’t possibly land!” bellows the officer through a megaphone. Napier, sitting inside a lighter that’s almost entirely covered in blood from the first wave, squares his shoulders and yells back “I’ll have a damned good try!” The machine-guns drown out any further conversation, and General Napier rises from his seat to lead his men ashore. He can see that the lighters are full of men, after all. But, as he looks around, it must then have struck him that most of them are dead. And very soon after that, he’s struck by several machine-gun bullets, and he dies on the beach with all his staff.
Finally the true situation becomes apparent to higher command, and landings at V Beach are suspended until nightfall, when they begin sneaking ashore using an impromptu jetty. The jetty is mainly constructed from the one material that’s in extensive supply; the packs of the dead. Such men as are left are diverted to W, but by this point it’d take them far too long to get round to X and Y.
After problems with the sea current, the men at S Beach land without difficulty, take care of the small Ottoman picket force, and settle down to establish defensive positions. Interestingly, General Hunter-Weston managed to find the time to exchange messages (accounting to “good show, settle in and we’ll be with you soon”) with them, while not establishing any contact at all with the men at X Beach and Y Beach.
The French Empire troops land unopposed at Kum Kale, and make rather a dog’s breakfast of it. They’ve been last in the pecking order for space and time to practice landing, and it shows. It takes most of the day to get them ashore, and when they finally advance they’re soon met by resistance and are forced to dig in for the night.
I’d draw the furthest lines of advance on the map, but it’s so big and the beachheads are so tiny that they’d basically be pixel-small blobs. Some other solution required tomorrow, I think.
Actions in Progress
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)