Saturday 25 April 2015

Dardanelles Landing – A Glorious Achievement




General Sir Ian Hamilton has sent to the Secretary of State for War a despatch describing the landing of the British and French forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula. It is one of the most graphic accounts of the work of the Army which has been published during the present war. From the first he realised the enormous difficulties to be overcome, and reluctantly came to the conclusion that all the forces at his command would be required to enable the Fleet to force the passage of the Dardanelles. The great difficulties of the country are described at length and reference made to the remarkable defences and bravery of the Turkish forces. One sentence of the despatch dealing with the landing near Capo Hellos may be quoted — "It is my firm conviction that no finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British soldiers — or, any other soldiers — than the storming of these trenches from open boats on the morning of the 25th April." The British losses during the period covered by the despatch were 1,167 killed, 8,219 wounded, and 3,503 missing.

In the course of his narrative Sir Ian Hamilton States — The landing of an Army upon the theatre of operations — a theatre strongly garrisoned throughout, and prepared for any such attempt — involved difficulties for which no precedent was forthcoming in military history except possibly in the sinister legends of Xerxes. The beaches were either so well defended by works or guns, or else so restricted by nature that it did not seem possible even by two or three simultaneous landings, to pass the troops ashore quickly enough to enable them to maintain themselves against the rapid concentration and counterattack which the enemy was bound in such case to attempt. It became necessary, therefore, not only to land simultaneously at as many, points as possible, but to threaten to land at other points as well.


The covering force of the. 29th Division left Mudros Harbour on the evening of April 23rd for the five beaches S, V, W, X, and Y. Of these, V, W, and X were to be main landings, the landings at S and Y being made mainly to protect the flanks, to disseminate the forces of the enemy, and to interrupt the arrival of his reinforcements The landings at S and Y were to take place at dawn, whilst it was planned that the first troops, for V. W. and X. beaches should reach the shore simultaneously at 5-30 a.m. after half an hour's bombardment from the fleet.

A general view of men possibly on board HMS Queen Elizabeth on their way to Gallipoli.
Several other ships can be seen in the background. IWM Q103294
The detachment detailed for S Beach (Eski Hissarlik Point) consisted of the 2nd South Wales Borderers (less one company) under Lieutenant-Colonel Casson. Their landing was delayed by the current, but by 7-30 a.m. it had been successfully effected at a cost of some fifty casualties, and Lieutenant-Colonel Casson was able to establish his small force on the high ground near De Totts Battery. Here he maintained himself until the general advance on the 27th brought him in touch with the main body. The landing on Y Beach was entrusted to the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Plymouth (Marine) Battalion, Royal Naval Division, specially attached to the 29th Division for this task, under Colonel Coe. So impregnable had the precipices here appeared to the Turks that no steps had been taken to defend them.

Both battalions were able in the first instance to establish themselves on the heights, and an endeavour was made to gain touch with the troops landing at X beach. Unfortunately, the enemy's strong detachment from Y 2 interposed, and the attempt to join hands was not persevered with. Later in the day a large force of Turks were seen to be advancing from the cliffs above Y beach from the direction of Krithia, and Colonel Koe was f obliged to entrench. From this time onward his small force was subjected to strong and repeated attacks, supported by field artillery. Throughout the afternoon and all through the night the Turks made assault after assault upon the British line. The Turks were in a vast superiority and fresh troops took the place of those who temporarily fell Lack. Colonel Koe (since died of wounds) had become a casualty early in the day, and the number of officers and men killed and wounded during the incessant fighting was very heavy. By 7 a.m. on the 26th only about half the King's Own Scottish Borderers remained to man the entrenchment made for four times their number. These brave fellows were absolutely worn out with continuous fighting; it was doubtful if reinforcements could reach them in time, and order's were issued for them to be embarked. The re-embarkation of the whole of the troops, together with the wounded, stores, and ammunition, was safely accomplished, and both the battalions were brought round the southern end of the peninsula.

The troops to be landed at X beach were the 1st Royal Fusiliers, who were to be towed ashore from H.M.S. Implacable in two parties, half a battalion at a time, together with a beach working party found ty the Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division. About 6 a.m. H.M.S. Implacable, with a boldness much admired by the Army, stood quite close in to the beach, and fired very rapidly with every gun she could bring to bear. Thus seconded, the Royal Fusiliers made good their landing with but little loss.


The landing on V beach was planned to take place on the following lines — As soon as the enemy's defences had been heavily bombarded by the Fleet, three companies of the Dublin Fusiliers were to bo towed ashore. They were to be closely followed by the collier River Clyde (Commander Unwin, R.N.), carrying between decks the balance of the Dublin Fusiliers the Munster Fusiliers, half a battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the West Riding Field Company, and other details. The River Clyde, had been specially prepared for the rapid disembarkation of her complement, and large openings for the exit of the troops had been cut in her sides, giving on to a wide gang-plank by which the men could pass rapidly into lighters which she had in tow. As soon as the first tows had reached land the River Clyde was to run straight ashore. Her lighters were to be placed in position to form a gangway between the ship and the beach, and by this means it was hoped that 2,000 men could be thrown ashore with the utmost rapidity. Further, to assist in covering the landing, a battery of machine-guns, protected by sandbags, had been mounted in her bows. Needless to say, the difficulties in the way of previous reconnaissance had rendered it impossible to obtain detailed information with regard either the locality or to the enemy's preparations. Whilst the boats and the collier were approaching the landing-place the Turks made no sign. Up to the very last moment it appeared as if the landing was to be unopposed. But the moment the first boat touched bottom the storm broke. A tornado of fire swept over the beach, the incoming boats, and the collier. The Dublin Fusiliers and the naval boats' crews suffered exceedingly heavy losses whilst still in the boats. Those who succeeded in landing and in crossing the strip of sand managed to gain some cover when they reached the low escarpment on the further side. None of the boats, however, were able to get off again, and they and their crews were destroyed upon the beach.

A Royal Irish Fusilier attempts to draw the fire of a Turkish sniper to reveal the enemy position, Gallipoli, 1915. IWM-Q13447
Now came the moment for the River Clyde to pour forth her living freight; but grievous delay was caused here by the difficulty of placing the lighters in position between the ship and the shore. A strong current hindered the work and the enemy's fire was so intense that almost every man engaged upon it was immediately shot. Owing, however to the splendid gallantry of the naval working party, the lighters were eventually placed in position, and then the disembarkation began. A company of the Munster Fusiliers led the way; but, short as was the distance, few of the men ever reached the farther side of the beach through the hail of bullets which poured down upon them from both flanks and the front. As the second company followed, the extemporised pier lighters gave way in the current. The end nearest to the shore drifted into deep water, and many men who had escaped being shot were drowned by the weight of their equipment in trying to swim from the lighter to the beach. Undaunted workers were still forthcoming, the lighters were again brought into position, and the third company of the Munster Fusiliers rushed ashore, suffering heaviest loss this time from shrapnel as well as from rifle, pom-pom, and machine-gun fire. For a space the attempt to land was discontinued. When it was resumed the lighters again drifted into deep water, and at this time, between 10 and 11 a.m., about 1,000 men had left the collier, and of these nearly half had I been killed or wounded before they could reach the little cover afforded by the steep, sandy bank at the top of the beach. The situation was probably saved by the machine-guns on the River Clyde, which did valuable service in keeping down the enemy's fire and in preventing any attempt on their part to launch a counter-attack. One half-company of the Dublin Fusiliers, which had been landed at the Camber just east of Sedd-el-Bahr village, was unable to work its way across to V Beach, and by midday had only twenty-five men left. Late in the afternoon part of the Fusiliers seemed likely to relieve the situation by taking the defenders of V Beach in the flank, but at nightfall the Turkish garrison still held their ground. Just before dark some parties of our men made their way along the shore to the outer walls of the Old Fort, and when night had fallen the remainder of the infantry from the collier were landed.


Twenty-four hours after the disembarkation began there were ashore on V Beach the survivors of the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers and of two companies of the Hampshire Regiment. The remnant of the landing party still crouched on the beach beneath the shelter of the sandy escarpment which had saved so many lives. With them were two officers of my General Staff — Lieutenant-Colonel Doughty-Wylie and Lieutenant-Colonel Williams. Now that it was daylight once more, Lieut.-Colonels Doughty-Wylie and Williams set to work to organise an attack on the hill above the beach. Under cover of bombardment by the Fleet, and led by Lieutenant-Colonel Doughty-Wylie and Captain Walford, Brigade-Major R.A., the troops gained a footing in the village by 10 a.m. So strong were the defences of W Beach that the Turks may well have considered them impregnable, and it is my firm conviction that no finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British soldier — or any other soldier — than the storming of these trenches from open boats on the morning of April 25. The landing at W had been entrusted to the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (Major Bishop). As in the case of the landing at X, the disembarkation had been delayed for half an hour, but at 6 a.m; the whole battalion approached the shore together, towed by eight picket-boats in line abreast, each picket-boat pulling four ship's cutters. While the troops were approaching the shore no shot had been fired from the enemy's trenches, but as soon as the first boat touched the ground a hurricane of lead swept over the battalion. Gallantly led by their officers, the Fusiliers literally hurled themselves ashore, and fired at from right, left, and centre, commenced hacking their way through the wire. Covered by the fire of the warships, which had now closed right in to the shore, by 10 a.m. three lines of hostile trenches were in our hands, and our hold on the beach was assured. About 9-30 a.m. more infantry had began to disembark, and two hours later a junction was effected on Hill 114 with the troops who had landed on X beach. At 2 p.m., after the ground near Hill 138 had been subjected to a heavy bombardment, the Worcester Regiment advanced to the assault, and by 4 p.m. the hill and redoubt were captured.

The landing of the Australian and New Zealand corps is then described. The boats approached the land in the silence and the darkness, and they were close to the shore when the enemy stirred. The moment the boats touched land the Australians turn had come. Like lightning they leapt ashore, and each man as he did so went straight as his bayonet at the enemy. So vigorous was the onslaught that the Turks made no attempt to withstand it and fled from ridge to ridge pursued by the Australian infantry. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the enemy, now reinforced to a strength of 20,000 men, attacked the whole line, making a specially strong effort against the 3rd Brigade and the left of the 2nd Brigade. This counter-attack was, however, handsomely repulsed with the help of the guns of H.M. ships. Between 5 and 6-30 p.m. a third most determined counter-attack was made against the 3rd Brigade who held their ground with more than equivalent stubbornness. During the night again the Turks made constant attacks, and the 8th Battalion repelled a bayonet charge; but in spite of all the line held firm. Their casualties had been deplorably heavy. But it is a consolation to know that the Turks suffered still more seriously.


An advance was commenced at 8 a.m. on the 28th, and carried out with commendable vigour, despite the fact that from the moment of landing the troops had been unable to obtain any proper rest. The 87th Brigade pushed on rapidly, and by 10 a.m. had advanced two miles. Here the further progress of the Border Regiment was barred by strong work on the left flank. They halted to concentrate and make dispositions to attack it, and at the moment had to withstand a determined counter-attack by the Turks. Aided by heavy gun fire from H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, they succeeded in beating off the attack, but they made no further progress that day. The 88th Brigade, on the right of the 37th, progressed steadily Until about 11-30 a.m., when the stubbornness of the opposition, coupled with a dearth of ammunition, brought their advance to a standstill. By 2 pm. the whole of the troops, with the exception of the Drake Battalion, had been absorbed into the firing line. The men were exhausted, and the few guns landed at the time were unable to afford them adequate artillery support. The small amount of transport available did not suffice to maintain the supply of munitions, and cartridges were running short despite all efforts to push them up from the landing places. Had it been possible to push in reinforcements in men, artillery, and munitions during the day, Krithia should have fallen, and much subsequent fighting for its capture would have been avoided. On April 29, April 30, and May 1 our positions were solidified, and more troops, &c., landed.


At 10 p.m. on May 1 the Turks opened a hot shell-fire upon our position, and half an hour later, just before the rise of the moon, they delivered a series of desperate attacks. The first momentum of this ponderous onslaught fell upon the right of the 86th Brigade, an unlucky spot, seeing all the officers thereabouts had already been killed or wounded. So when the Turks came right on without firing and charged into the trenches with the bayonet they made an ugly gap in the line. This gap was instantly filled by the 5th Royal Scots (Territorials), who faced to their flank and executed a brilliant bayonet charge against the enemy, and by the Essex Regiment detached for the purpose by the officer commanding the 88th Brigade. The rest of the British line held its own with comparative ease, and it was not found necessary to employ any portion of the reserve. About 5 a.m a counter-offensive was ordered, and the whole line began to advance. By 7-30 a.m. the British left had gained some 500 yards, and the centre had pushed the enemy back and inflicted heavy losses. The right also had gained some ground in conjunction with the French left, but the remainder of the French line was unable to progress. As the British centre and left were now subjected to heavy cross fire from concealed machine guns, it was found impossible to maintain the ground gained, and, therefore, about 11 a.m., the whole line withdrew to its former trenches.

The net result of the operations was the repulse of the Turks and the infliction upon them of very heavy losses.

The losses, exclusive of the French, during the period covered by this dispatch were, I regret to say, very severe, numbering —
       177 officers and 1,990 other ranks killed.
       412 officers and 7,807 other ranks wounded.
         13 officers and 3,580 other ranks missing.

Throughout the events I have chronicled the Royal Navy has been father and mother to the army. Not one of us but realises how much he owes to Vice-Admiral de Rebeck, to the warships, French and British, and to all their dauntless crews, who risked everything to give their soldier comrades a fair run in at the enemy.

Throughout these preparations and operations Monsieur le General d'Amade has given me the benefit of his wide experiences of war and has afforded me always the most loyal and energetic support. The landing of Kura Kale, planned by me as a mere diversion to distract the attention of the enemy was transformed by the commander of the Corps Expeditionaire de l'Orient into a brilliant operation which secured some substantial results. During the fighting which followed the landing of the French division at Sedd del-Bar no troops could have acquitted themselves more creditably than those under Monsieur le General d'Amade.

The beaches and landing places mentioned under letters throughout the despatch are —

S — A small beach in Morto Bay, by Eski Hissarlik.
V — Sandy beach, about 300 yards across, inside Sedd el-Bahr.
W — Sandy Bay, south of Tekke Barnu.
X — Half a mile north of this point, with a break on the cliffs.
Y — Mouth of a small stream two miles further up the coast.
Y — Scrub covered gully about a mile and a half further on.

Text: The Witness, 9th July 1915.
Image top: The Battle for Sari Bair by Terence Cuneo

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