Once again we have a couple of miscellaneous events to sweep up before returning the hell that they call Suvla Bay.
Defence of Verdun
General Joffre is rethinking the role of fortresses, particularly in light of the capture and re-capture of Przemysl on the Eastern Front. He’s produced some orders that are good in intent, but will become a complete curate’s egg once they percolate downwards and people start trying to put them into effect. In short, he’s correctly identified that fortresses must not be expected to function as their own individual, invulnerable fiefdoms. They and their garrisons should be fully integrated into the surrounding defensive arrangements. He puts it under the local army group commander, General Dubail, and lays down a few principles for the conversion of the region. We’ll be back later to see how this relative backwater is getting on.
Before we get to the trials and tribulations of the blokes on Gallipoli, let’s quickly drop in on Kenneth Best, late of that peninsula. He’s now moved for further convalescence from Alexandria to Cyprus.
Tennis. Lunch with Lewis. They ask after padres Hitchens and Creighton. They give me apples grown from grafts of imported trees. Ride mule to Troodatissa Monastery. The Abbot had died a few days before. Black flag flying half-mast. Deacons may marry, but not after being priested. They should live faily comfortably with poaching, gratuities and gardening.
I came to last part of the bridle path in dark, let mule have her head, and got back safely. Monks give me preserved cherries. We take a spoonful out of jar and a drink of water. Their chapel is dark and musty. The pulpit is practically in the roof. Readings from Books of Saints on lecterns. Deacon wears green and gold surplice. Priest, a sort of smock with spotted red and blue stole.
He’s trying hard not to think about the blokes he’s left behind him. More soon.
Unfortunately, we can’t avoid the landings at Suvla. Sir Ian Hamilton’s impromptu attack is on its way to Tekke Tepe. There’s been no time to issue proper orders. Nobody knows where anyone else is. The units selected to attack are all widely scattered through the theatre and first have to be rounded up. One of them is currently occupying Scimitar Hill, but is then ordered backwards for a rendezvous. It’s taken the entire night to concentrate them. They’re exhausted after two days on Gallipoli, with little food, no water, and barely any sleep.
How far they got is a Matter of Some Debate. The traditional story has it that one company spent about an hour and a half scrambling along goat-tracks to the top of Tekke Tepe, only to be met by the leading elements of the Ottoman relief corps. However, local historians and archaeologists have been studying these events in some detail. Their conclusions are that they probably never got near Tekke Tepe, but some other rise before it.
Wherever it was, Lieutenant John Still was right up there in the vanguard.
In the scrub ahead of us we saw a number of men who fired upon us. For a moment we thought they were our own, firing in ignorance. Then we saw that they were Turks. We had run into the back of an enemy battalion which held the lower slopes against our supports. They had crossed the range at a point lower than that we had attacked and had cut in behind our climbing force. We could do nothing but surrender.
My Colonel was bayoneted. Then, for the moment their fury ceased. I was permitted to tend the Colonel. He did not seem to suffer pain at all, only to be intensely thirsty. He drank the whole of the contents of my water-bottle as well as his own. They even allowed me to carry him on my back; and on my back the Colonel died.
Behind him, Lieutenant Eric Halse is with the men that Still has been cut off from.
We were supposed to attack before dawn, but owing to orders being late it was broad daylight. The attacked position had not been reconnoitred, the men were dead beat, having had no sleep since we landed, and were utterly done. We were allowed to march half way up the slope by the Turks – then received it in the neck.
They had a machine gun enfilading us from our left and a party of men enfilading us on our right. They had us in a trap pure and simple. The regiments that were supposed to be on our left and right flanks had gone somewhere else. We lost officers and 300 men in half an hour. Human nature could stand no more. One Company was captured all together and the rest turned and ran.
I don’t blame the men for it was their first time under fire and really men could not be expected to endure it. I collected a few men and we made a bit of a stand further back, but eventually had to retire back to the reserves who were a mile and a quarter back instead of 400 yards. The staff work was damned rotten and nearly all the staff officers are incapable and inefficient. They take no interest in anything at all – if they are safe it doesn’t matter about the rest of us.
The Ottomans are soon throwing Kitchener’s Army back, defeating it in detail, isolated piece by isolated piece. By the time it’s over they’re well in command of Scimitar Hill and the Kitchener men are fighting to hold onto their starting line.
The window of opportunity has now slammed firmly shut in General Stopford’s face, hopefully flattening his nose in the process. There will be no march across the peninsula, no breakout from ANZAC Cove, no triumphant transit of the Dardanelles by the Royal Navy. (There won’t be any drinking water either, of which more soon.) There will only be trenches, death, and disease.
Battle of Sari Bair
The Battle of Sari Bair moves today from tragedy into farce. There are two more attacks due to go in at dawn. The first will be a New Zealand-led effort at Chunuk Bair. One group will attempt to clear the northern slope and then work towards the men at Hill Q, of which more in a moment. The other will move south towards Battleship Hill and attempt to attack it from the north, as a first step towards Baby 700 and opening the Nek.
Orders arrive late. So do the reinforcements who are supposed to be making this attack feasible. The prepatory bombardment is on time, but the men are in no condition to attack. Common sense prevails, and they don’t bother.
Yesterday we left a group of intrepid mountaineering Gurkhas having climbed to about 50 yards from the summit of Hill Q. Their reinforcements have arrived in enough time to join them; less than a full battalion’s worth. The bombardment here is also extensive and on time, and Major Cecil Allanson of the Gurkhas describes what happened next.
Then off we dashed all hand in hand, a most perfect advance and a wonderful sight. At the top we met the Turks: Le Marchand was down, a bayonet through the heart. I got one through the leg and then, for about 10 minutes, we fought hand to hand, we bit and fisted, and used rifles and pistols as clubs; blood was flying about like spray from a hairwash bottle. And then the Turks turned and fled, and I felt a very proud man: the key of the whole peninsula was ours.
He’s exaggerating somewhat. It’s an important position, but without secure control of Hill 971 to the north, and the other hills to the south, they might as well be writing “GURKHAS ARE HERE” in letters all can read from Kum Kale to the mouth of the Danube.
And it seems that they can’t even do that. As Allanson leads his Gurkhas down the other side of the hill to be sure they’re not about to be counter-attacked, fate intervenes as heavy shells begin exploding in their midst.
All was terrible confusion: it was a deplorable disaster, we were obviously mistaken for Turks and we had to get back. It was an appalling sight. The first hit a Gurkha in the face; the place was a mass of blood and limbs and screams. We all flew back to the summit and to our old position just below. I remained on the crest with about 15 men.
Quite where the shells came from is unknown. It may well have been Ottoman fire in response to their men being pushed off the hill. Or it could be that, in their excitement, somebody forgot to plant the critical signal flags that would have instructed the artillery to lengthen its range. Allanson’s leg stiffens badly, and he’s forced back. The remaining men scramble off down Hill Q under heavy fire, as “an enormous number of Turkish reinforcements” appear and begin shooting.
The nullahs on the journey back were too horrible, full of dead and dying, Maoris, Australians, Sikhs, Gurkhas, and British soldiers, blood and bloody clothes, and the smell of the dead now some two days old. I gave morphia (I always carry it) to ever so many men on my way down who could get no further and were obviously done. On arriving down I reported to the General, looking like nothing on earth, my clothes and accoutrements in ribbons, filthy dirty and a mass
The day ends almost the same as yesterday did, but with one major difference. Yesterday it was the British Empire men preparing to attack again. Now it’s the Ottomans…
Actions in Progress
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)