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Gallipoli by  John Masefield


 

 

AUGUST—THE FINAL ASSAULT

Roland put the horn to his mouth, gripped it hard and with great heart blew it. The hills were high and the sound went very far: thirty leagues wide they heard it echo. Charles heard it and all his comrades; so the King said, "Our men are fighting." Count Guenes answered: "If any other said that, I should call him a liar."

Count Roland in pain and woe and great weakness blew his horn. The bright blood was running from his mouth and the temples of his brains were broken. But the noise of the horn was very great. Charles heard it as he was passing at the ports; Naimes heard it, the Franks listened to it. So the King said, "I hear the horn of Roland; he would never sound it if he were not fighting." Guenes answered, "There is no fighting. You are old and white and hoary. You are like a child when you say such things."

Count Roland's mouth was bleeding; the temples of his brain were broken. He blew his horn in weakness and pain. Charles heard it and his Franks heard it. So the King said: "That horn has long breath."

Duke Naimes answered, "Roland is in trouble. He is fighting, on my conscience. Arm yourself. Cry your war-cry. Help the men of your house. You hear plainly that Roland is in trouble."

The Emperor made sound his horns. . . . All the barons of the army mounted their chargers. But what use was that? They had delayed too long. What use was that? It was worth nothing; they had stayed too long; they could not be in time.

Then Roland said, "Here we shall receive martyrdom, and now I know well that we have but a moment to live. But may all be thieves who do not sell themselves dearly first. Strike, knights, with your bright swords; so change your deaths and lives, that sweet France be not shamed by us. When Charles comes into this field he shall see such discipline upon the Saracens that he shall not fail to bless us."

The Song of Roland.

[155] THE Cape Helles attack, designed to keep the Turks to the south of Kilid Bahr from reinforcing those near Anzac, became a very desperate struggle. The Turk trenches there were full of men, for the Turks had been preparing a strong attack upon ourselves, which we forestalled by a few hours. The severe fighting lasted for a week along the whole Cape Helles front, but it was especially bloody and terrible in the centre, in a vineyard to the west of the Krithia road. It has often happened in war, that some stubbornness in attack or defense has roused the same quality in the opposer, till the honour of the armies seems pledged to the taking or holding of one patch of ground, perhaps not vital to the battle. It may be that in war one resolute soul can bind the excited minds of multitudes in a kind of bloody mesmerism; but these strange things are not studied as they should be. Near Krithia, the battle, which began as a containing attack, a minor part of [156] a great scheme, became a furious week-long fight for this vineyard, a little patch of ground "200 yards long by 100 yards broad."

From the 6th—13th of August, the fight for this vineyard never ceased. Our Lancashire regiments won most of it at the first assault on the 6th. For the rest of the week they held it against all that the Turks could bring against them. It was not a battle in the military textbook sense: it was a fight man to man, between two enemies whose blood was up. It was a week-long cursing and killing scrimmage, the men lying down to fire and rising up to fight with the bayonet, literally all day long, day after day, the two sides within easy bombing distance all the time. The Turks lost some thousands of men in their attacks upon this vineyard after a week of fighting, they rushed it in a night attack, were soon bombed out of it and then gave up the struggle for it. This bitter fighting not only kept the Turks at Cape Helles from reinforcing those at Anzac; it caused important Turk reinforcements to be sent to the Helles sector.

[157] Less than an hour after the 29th Division began the containing battle at Krithia, the Australians at Anzac began theirs. This, the attack on the Turk fort at Lone Pine, in the southern half of the Anzac front, was designed to keep large bodies of Turks from reinforcing their right, on Sari Bair, where the decisive blow was to be struck. It was a secondary operation, not the main thrust, but it was in itself important, since to those at Anzac, the hill of Lone Pine was the gate into the narrowest part of the Peninsula, and through that gate, as the Turks very well knew, a rush might be made from Anzac upon Maidos and the Narrows. Such a thrust from Lone Pine, turning all the Turkish works on the range of Sari Bair, was what the Turks expected and feared from us. They had shewn us as much, quite plainly, all through the summer. Any movement, feint, or demonstration against Lone Pine, brought up their reserves at once. It was the sensitive spot on their not too strong left wing. If we won through there, we had their main water supply as an immediate prize [158] and no other position in front of us from which we could be held. Any strong attack there was therefore certain to contain fully half a division of the enemy.

The hill of Lone or Lonesome Pine is a little plateau less than 400 feet high running N.W. S.E. and measuring perhaps 250 yards long by 200 across. On its southwestern side it drops down in gullies to a col or ridge, known as Pine Ridge, which gradually declines away to the low ground near Gaba Tepe. On its northeastern side it joins the high ground known as Johnston's Jolly, which was, alas, neither jolly nor Johnston's, but a strong part of the Turk position.

We already held a little of the Lone Pine Plateau; our trenches bulged out into it in a convexity or salient known as The Pimple, but the Turks held the greater part, and their trenches curved out the other way, in a mouth, concavity or trap opening towards The Pimple as though ready to swallow it. The opposing lines of trenches ran from north to south across the plateau, with from 50 to 100 yards between [159] them. Both to the north and south of the plateau are deep gullies. Just beyond these gullies Turk trenches were so placed that the machine guns in them could sweep the whole plateau. The space between the Australian and Turk lines was fairly level hill-top, covered with thyme and short scrub.

For some days before the 6th August the warships had been shelling the Turk position on Lone Pine to knock away the barbed wire in front of it. On the 5th, the Australian brigade, told off for the attack, sharpened bayonets and prepared their distinguishing marks of white bands for the left arms and white patches for the backs of their right shoulders. In the afternoon of the 6th the shelling by the ships became more intense; at half-past four it quickened to a very heavy fire; at exactly half-past five it stopped suddenly, "the three short whistle blasts sounded and were taken up along the line, our men cleared the parapet," in two waves on a front of about 160 yards, "and attacked with vigour." The hill top over which they charged was in a night [160] of smoke and dust from the explosions of the shells, and into that night, already singing with enemy bullets, the Australians disappeared. They had not gone twenty yards before all that dark and blazing hill top was filled with explosion and flying missiles from every enemy gun. One speaks of a hail of bullets, but no hail is like fire, no hail in a form of death crying aloud a note of death, no hail screams as it strikes a stone, or stops a strong man in his stride. Across that kind of hail the Australians charged on Lone Pine. "It was a grim kind of steeplechase," said one, "but we meant to get to Koja Dere." They reached the crumpled wire of the entanglement, and got through it to the parapet of the Turk trench, where they were held up. Those behind them at The Pimple, peering through the darkness, to see if any had survived the rush, saw figures on the parados of the enemy's trench, and wondered what was happening. They sent forward the third wave, with one full company carrying picks and shovels, to make good what [161] was won. The men of this third wave found what was happening.

The Turkish front line trench was not, like most trenches, an open ditch into which men could jump, but covered over along nearly all its length with blinders and beams of pinewood, heaped with sandbags, and in some places with a couple of feet of earth. Under this cover the Turks fired at our men through loopholes, often with their rifles touching their victims. Most of the Australians, after heaving in vain to get these blinders up, under a fire that grew hotter every instant, crossed them, got into the open communication trenches in the rear of the Turk line, and attacked through them; but some, working together, hove up a blinder or two, and down the gaps so made those brave men dropped themselves, to a bayonet fight like a rat fight in a sewer, with an enemy whom they could hardly see, in a narrow dark gash in the earth where they were, at first, as one to five or seven to ten.

More and more men dropped down or [162] rushed in from the rear; the Turks so penned in, fought hard, but could not beat back the attack. They surrendered and were disarmed. The survivors were at least as many as their captors, who had too much to do at that time to send them to the rear, even if there had been a safe road by which to send them. They were jammed up there in the trenches with the Australians, packed man to man, suffering from their friends' fire and getting in the way.


[Illustration]

INSIDE AN AUSTRALIAN TRENCH.

The first thing to be done was to block up the communication trenches against the Turkish counter attack. Every man carried a couple of sandbags, and with these, breastworks and walls were built. Their work was done in a narrow dark sweltering tunnel, heaped with corpses and wounded and crowded with prisoners who might at any moment have risen. Already the Turks had begun their counter attacks. At every other moment a little rush of Turks came up the communication trenches, flung their bombs in the workers' faces, and were bayoneted as they threw. The trenches curved and zigzagged in the earth; the men in [163] one section could neither see nor hear what the men in the nearest sections were doing. What went on under the ground there in the making good of those trenches will never be known. From half-past five till midnight every section of the line was searched by bombs and bullets, by stink pots, and sticks of dynamite, by gas-bombs and a falling tumult of shell and shrapnel, which only ceased to let some rush of Turks attack, with knives, grenades and bayonets, hand to hand and body to body in a blackness like the darkness of a mine. At midnight the wounded were lying all over the trenches, the enemy dead were so thick that our men had to walk on them, and bombs were falling in such numbers that every foot in those galleries was stuck with human flesh. No man slept that night. At half-past seven next morning (the 7th) a small quantity of bread and tea was rushed across the plateau to the fighters, who had more than earned their breakfast. Turk shell had by this time blown up some of the head-cover and some of the new communication trenches were still only a few feet deep. A [164] Colonel passing along one of them told an officer that his section of the trench was too shallow. Half-an-hour later, in passing back, he found the officer and three men blown to pieces by a shell; in a few minutes more he was himself killed. At noon the bombing became so severe that some sections of the line were held only by one or two wounded men. At one o'clock the enemy attacked furiously with bomb and bayonet, in great force. They came on in a mass, in wave after wave, shoulder to shoulder, heads down, shouting the name of God. They rushed across the plateau, jumped into the trenches and were mixed up with our men in a hand-to-hand fight, which lasted for five hours. Not many of them could join in the fight at one time, and not many of them went back to the Turk lines; but they killed many of our men, and when their last assault failed our prize was very weakly held. At half-past seven the survivors received a cheering (and truthful) message from the Brigadier "that no fighters can surpass Australians," and almost with the message came another Turk [165] assault begun by bomb and shell and rifle fire, and followed by savage rushes with the bayonet, one of which got in, and did much slaughter. No man slept that night; the fight hardly slackened all through the night; at dawn the dead were lying three deep in every part of the line. Bombs fell every minute in some section of the line, and where the wide Turk trenches had been blasted open they were very destructive. The men were "extremely tired but determined to hold on." They did hold on.

They held on for the next five days and nights, till Lone Pine was ours past question. For those five days and nights the fight for Lone Pine was one long personal scrimmage in the midst of explosion. For those five days and nights the Australians lived and ate and slept in that gallery of the mine of death, in a half darkness lit by great glares, in filth, heat and corpses, among rotting and dying and mutilated men, with death blasting at the doors only a few feet away, and intense and bloody fighting, hand to hand, with bombs, bayonets and knives, for hours together by night and [166] day. When the Turks gave up the struggle the dead were five to the yard in that line or works; they were heaped in a kind of double wall all along the sides of the trench: most of them were bodies of Turks, but among them were one quarter of the total force which ran out from The Pimple on the evening of the 6th.

Like the fight for the vineyard near Krithia, this fight for Lone Pine kept large numbers of Turks from the vital part of the battlefield.

When the sun set upon this battle at Lone Pine on that first evening of the 6th of August, many thousands of brave men fell in for the main battle, which was to strew their glorious bodies in the chasms of the Sari Bair, where none but the crows would ever find them. They fell in at the appointed places in four columns, two to guard the flanks, two to attack. One attacking column, guarded and helped by the column on its right, was to move up the Chailak and Sazli Beit Deres, to the storm of Chunuk Bair, the other attacking column, guarded and helped by the column on its left, was to move up the Aghyl Dere to the storm of Sari's peak [167] of Koja Chemen Tepe. The outermost, left, guarding column (though it did not know it) was to link up with the force soon to land at Suvla.

They were going upon a night attack in a country known to be a wilderness with neither water nor way in it. They had neither light nor guide, nor any exact knowledge of where the darkness would burst into a blaze from the Turk fire. Many armies have gone out into the darkness of a night adventure, but what army has gone out like this, from the hiding places on a beach to the heart of unknown hills, to wander up crags under fire, to storm a fortress in the dawn? Even in Manchuria, there were roads and the traces and the comforts of man. In this savagery, there was nothing, but the certainty of desolation, where the wounded would lie until they died and the dead be never buried.

Until this campaign, the storm of Badajos was the most desperate duty ever given to British soldiers. The men in the forlorn hope of that storm marched to their position to the [168] sound of fifes "which filled the heart with a melting sweetness "and tuned that rough company to a kind of sacred devotion. No music played away the brave men from Anzac. They answered to their names in the dark, and moved off to take position for what they had to do. Men of many races were banded together there. There were Australians, English, Indians, Maoris and New Zealanders, made one by devotion to a cause, and all willing to die that so their comrades might see the dawn make a steel streak of the Hellespont from the peaked hill now black against the stars. Soon they had turned their back on friendly little Anzac and the lights in the gullies and were stepping out with the sea upon their left and the hills of their destiny upon their right, and the shells, starlights and battle of Lone Pine far away behind them. Before 9 A.M. the Right Covering Column (of New Zealanders) was in position ready to open up the Sazli Beit and. Chailak Deres, to their brothers who were to storm Chunuk. Half an [169] hour later, cunningly backed by the guns of the destroyer Colne, they rushed the Turk position, routed the garrison and its supports, and took the fort known as Old No. 3 Post. It was an immensely strong position, protected by barbed wire, shielded by shell-proof head cover, and mined in front "with 28 mines electrically connected to a first-rate firing apparatus within." Sed nisi Dominus.

This success opened up the Sazli Dere for nearly half of its length.

Inland from Old No. 3 Post, and some 700 yards from it is a crag or precipice which looks like a round table, with a top projecting beyond its legs. This crag, known to our men as Table Top, is a hill which few would climb for pleasure. Nearly all the last 100 feet of the peak is precipice, such as no mountaineer would willingly climb without clear daylight and every possible precaution. It is a sort of skull of rock fallen down upon its body of rock, and the great rocky ribs heave out with gullies between them. The table-top, or plateau-summit, [170] was strongly entrenched and held by the Turks, whose communication trenches ran down the back of the hill to Rhododendron Spur.

While their comrades were rushing Old No. 3 Post, a party of New Zealanders marched to storm this natural fortress. The muscular part of the feat may be likened to the climbing of the Welsh Glyddyrs, the Irish Lurig, or the craggier parts of the American Palisades, in a moonless midnight, under a load of not less than thirty pounds. But the muscular effort was made much greater by the roughness of the unknown approaches, which led over glidders of loose stones into the densest of short, thick, intensely thorny scrub. The New Zealanders advanced under fire through this scrub, went up the rocks in a spirit which no crag could daunt, reached the Table-top, rushed the Turk trenches, killed some Turks of the garrison and captured the rest with all their stores.

This success opened up the remainder of the Sazli Beit Dere.

While these attacks were progressing, the remainder of the Right Covering Column [171] marched north to the Chailak Dere. A large body crossed this Dere and marched on, but the rest turned up the Dere and soon came to a barbed wire entanglement which blocked the ravine. They had met the Turks' barbed wire before, on Anzac Day, and had won through it, but this wire in the Dere was new to their experience; it was meant rather as a permanent work than as an obstruction. It was secured to great balks or blinders of pine, six or eight feet high, which stood in a rank twenty or thirty deep right across the ravine. The wire which crossed and criss-crossed between these balks was as thick as a man's thumb and profusely barbed. Beyond it lay a flanking trench, held by a strong outpost of Turks, who at once opened fire. This, though not unexpected, was a difficult barrier to come upon in the darkness of a summer night, and here, as before, at the landing of the Worcester Regiment at W beach, men went forward quietly, without weapons, to cut the wire for the others. They were shot down, but others took their places, though the Turks, thirty steps away on the other side of [172] the gulley, had only to hold their rifles steady and pull their triggers to destroy them. This holding up in the darkness by an unseen hidden enemy and an obstacle which needed high explosive shell in quantity caused heavy loss and great delay. For a time there was no getting through; but then with the most desperate courage and devotion, a party of engineers cleared the obstacle, the Turks were routed, and a path made for the attackers.

This success opened up the mouth of the Chailak Dere.

Meanwhile those who had marched across this Dere and gone on towards Suvla, swung round to the right to clear the Turks from Bauchop's Hill, which overlooks the Chailak Dere from the north. Bauchop's Hill (a rough country even for Gallipoli) is cleft by not less than twenty great gullies, most of them forked, precipitous, overgrown and heaped with rocks. The New Zealanders scrambled up it from the north, got into a maze of trenches, not strongly held, beat the Turks out of them, wandered south across the neck or ridge of the [173] hill, discovering Turk trenches by their fire, and at last secured the whole hill.

This success, besides securing the Chailak Dere from any assault from the north, secured the south flank of the Aghyl Dere beyond it.

Meanwhile the Left Covering Column (mainly Welshmen) which for some time had halted at Old No. 3 Post, waiting for the sound of battle to tell them that the Turks on Bauchop's Hill were engaged, marched boldly on the Aghyl Dere, crossed it in a rush, taking every Turk trench in the way, then stormed the Turk outpost on Damakjelik Bair, going on from trench to trench in the dark guided by the flashes of the rifles, till the whole hill was theirs. This success opened up the Aghyl Dere to the attacking column.

As the troops drew their breath in the still night on the little hill which they had won, they heard about three miles away a noise of battle on the seacoast to their left. This noise was not the nightly "hate "of the monitors and destroyers but an irregular and growing rifle fire. This, though they did not know it, was [174] the beginning of the landing of the new Divisions, with their 30,000 men, at Suvla Bay.

For the moment, Suvla was not the important point in the battle. The three Deres were the important points, for up the three Deres, now cleared of Turks, our Attacking Columns were advancing to the assault.

By this time however, the Turks were roused throughout their line. All the Anzac position from Tasmania Post to Table Top was a blaze of battle to contain them before our trenches, but they knew now that their right was threatened and their reserves were hurrying out to meet us before we had gained the crests. Our Right Attacking Column (of English and New Zealand troops) went up the Sazli Beit and Chailak Deres, deployed beyond Table Top and stormed Rhododendron Spur, fighting for their lives every inch of the way. The Left Column (mainly Indians and Australians) pressed up the Aghyl, into the stony clefts of its upper forks, and so, by rock, jungle, heart-breaking cliff and fissure to the attack of Hill Q, and the lower slopes of Sari. They, too, [175] were fighting for their lives. Their advance was across a scrub peopled now by little clumps of marksmen firing from hiding. When they deployed out of the Deres, to take up their line of battle, they linked up with the Right Assaulting Column, and formed with them a front of about a mile, stretching from the old Anzac position to within a mile of the crests which were the prize. By this time the night was over, day was breaking, the Turks were in force, and our attacking columns much exhausted, but there was still breath for a last effort. Now, with the breath, came a quick encouragement, for looking down from their hillsides they could see Suvla Bay full of ships, the moving marks of boats, dotted specks of men on the sandhills, and more ships on the sea marching like chariots to the cannon. In a flash, as happens when many minds are tense together, they realised the truth. A new landing was being made. All along the coast by the Bay the crackle and the flash of firing was moving from the sea, to chew them that the landing was made good, and that the Turks [176] were falling back. Hardening their hearts at this sight of help coming from the sea the Australians and Sikhs with the last of their strength went at Koja Chemen Tepe, and the New Zealanders upon their right rose to the storm of Chunuk.

It was not to be. The guns behind them backed them. They did what mortal men could do, but they were worn out by the night's advance, they could not carry the two summits. They tried a second time to carry Chunuk; but they were too weary and the Turks in too great strength; they could not get to the top. But they held to what they had won; they entrenched themselves on the new line, and there they stayed, making ready for the next attack.

Two or three have said to me: "They ought not to have been exhausted; none of them had marched five miles." It is difficult to answer such critics patiently, doubly difficult to persuade them, without showing them the five miles. There comes into my mind, as I write, the image of some hills in the west of Ireland, a graceful and austere range, not difficult to [177] climb, seemingly, and not unlike these Gallipoli hills, in their look of lying down at rest. The way to those hills is over some miles of scattered limestone blocks, with gaps between them full of scrub, gorse, heather, dwarf-ash and little hill-thorn, and the traveler proceeds, as the Devil went through Athlone, "in standing lepps." This journey to the hills is the likest journey (known to me) to that of the assaulting columns. Like the Devil in Athlone the assaulting columns had often to advance "in standing lepps," but to them the standing lepp came as a solace, a rare, strange and blessed respite, from forcing through scrub by main strength, or scaling a crag of rotten sandstone, in pitch darkness, in the presence of an enemy. For an armed force to advance a mile an hour by day over such a country is not only good going, but a great achievement; to advance four miles in a night over such a country, fighting literally all the way, often hand to hand, and to feel the enemy's resistance stiffening and his reserves arriving, as the strength fails and the ascent steepens, and yet to make an effort at [178] the end, is a thing unknown in the history of war. And this first fourteen hours of exhausting physical labour was but the beginning. The troops, as they very well knew, were to have two or three days more of the same toil before the battle could be ended, one way or the other. So after struggling for fourteen hours with every muscle in their bodies, over crags and down gullies in the never-ceasing peril of death, they halted in the blaze of noon and drew their breath. In the evening, as they hoped, the men from Suvla would join hands and go on to victory with them; they had fought the first stage of the battle, the next stage was to be decisive.

The heat of this noon of August 7th on those sandy hills was a scarcely bearable torment.

Meanwhile, at Suvla, the left of the battle, the 11th Division, had landed in the pitch-darkness, by wading ashore, in five feet of water, under rifle fire, on to beaches prepared with land mines. The first boat-loads lost many [179] men from the mines and from the fire of snipers, who came right down to the beach in the darkness and fired from the midst of our men. These snipers were soon bayoneted, our men formed for the assault in the dark and stormed the Turk outpost on Lala Baba there and then. While Lala Baba was being cleared other battalions moved north to clear the Turk from the neighbourhood of the beach on that side. The ground over which they had to move is a sand-dune-land, covered with gorse and other scrub, most difficult to advance across in a wide extension. About half a mile from the beach the ground rises in a roll of whale-back, known on the battle plans as Hill 10. This hill is about three hundred yards long and thirty feet high. At this whale-back (which was entrenched) the Turks rallied on their supports; they had, perhaps, a couple of thousand men and (some say) a gun or two, and the dawn broke before they could be rushed. Their first shells upon our men set fire to the gorse, so that our advance against them was through a blazing common in which many men who fell [180] wounded were burnt to death or suffocated. The Turks, seeing the difficulties of the men in the fire, charged with the bayonet, but were themselves charged and driven back in great disorder; the fire spread to their hill and burned them out of it. Our men then began to drive the Turks away from the high ridges to the north of Suvla. The 10th Division began to land while this fight was still in progress.

This early fighting had won for us a landing-place at Suvla and had cleared the ground to the north of the bay for the deployment for the next attack. This was to be a swinging round of two Brigades to the storm of the hills directly to the east of the Salt Lake. These hills are the island-like double-peaked Chocolate Hill (close to the lake) and the much higher and more important hills of Scimitar Hill (or Hill 70) and Ismail Oglu Tepe (Hill 100) behind it. The Brigade chosen for this attack were the 31st (consisting of Irish Regiments) belonging to the 10th Division, and the 32nd (consisting of Yorkshire and North of England Regiments) belonging to the 11th Divi- [181] sion. The 32nd had been hotly engaged since the very early morning, the 31st were only just on shore. The storm was to be pushed from the north, and would, if successful, clear the way for the final thrust, the storm of Koja-Chemen Tepe from the northwest.

This thrust from Suvla against Koja Chemen was designed to complete and make decisive the thrust already begun by the Right and Left Attacking Columns. The attack on Chocolate Hill, Scimitar Hill and Ismail Oglu was to make that thrust possible by destroying forever the power of the Turk to parry it. The Turk could only parry it by firing from those hills on the men making it. It was therefore necessary to seize those hills before the Turk could stop us. If the Turks seized those hills before us, or stopped us from seizing them, our troops could not march from Suvla to take part in the storm of Koja Chemen. If we seized them before the Turks, then the Turks could not stop us from crossing the valley to that storm. The first problem at Suvla therefore was not so much to win a battle as to win a [182] race with the Turks for the possession of those hills; the winning of the battle could be arranged later. Our failure to win that race brought with it our loss of the battle. The next chapter in the story of the battle is simply a description of the losing of a race by loss of time.

Now the giving of praise or blame is always easy, but the understanding of anything is difficult. The understanding of anything so vast, so confused, so full of contradiction, so dependent on little things (themselves changing from minute to minute, the coward of a moment ago blazing out into a hero at the next turn) as a modern battle is more than difficult. But some attempt must be made to understand how it came about that time was lost at Suvla, between the landing, at midnight on the 6th—7th August, and the arrival of the Turks upon the hills, at midnight on the 8th—9th.

In the first place it should be said that the beaches of Suvla are not the beaches of sea-side resorts, all pleasant smooth sand and shingle. They are called beaches because they [183] cannot well be called cliffs. They slope into the sea with some abruptness, in pentes of rock and tumbles of sand-dune difficult to land upon from boats. From them, one climbs onto sand-dune, into a sand-dune land, which is like nothing so much as a sea-marsh from which the water has receded. Walking on this soft sand is difficult, it is like walking in feathers; working, hauling and carrying upon it is very difficult. Upon this coast and country, roadless, wharfless, beachless and unimproved, nearly 30,000 men landed in the first ten hours of August 7th. At 10 A.M., on that day, when the sun was in his stride, the difficulty of those beaches began to tell on those upon them. There had been sharp fighting on and near the beaches, and shells were still falling here and there in all the ground which we had won. On and near the beaches there was a congestion of a very hindering kind. With men coming ashore, shells bursting among them, mules landing, biting, kicking, shying and stampeding, guns limbering up and trying to get out into position, more men coming ashore or seek- [184] ing for the rest of their battalion in a crowd where all battalions looked alike, shouts, orders and counter-orders, ammunition boxes being passed along, water carts and transport being started for the firing line, wounded coming down or being helped down, or being loaded into lighters, doctors trying to clear the way for field dressing stations, with every now and then a shell from Ismail sending the sand in clouds over corpses, wounded men and fatigue parties, and a blinding August sun over all to exhaust and to madden, it was not possible to avoid congestion. This congestion was the first, but not the most fatal cause of the loss of time.

Though the congestion was an evil in itself, its first evil effect was that it made it impossible to pass orders quickly from one part of the beach to another. In this first matter of the attack on the hills, the way had been opened for the assault by 10 A.M. at the latest but to get through the confusion along the beaches (among battalions landing, forming and defiling, and the waste of wounded momently increasing) to arrange for the assault and to [185] pass the orders to the battalions named for the duty, took a great deal of time. It was nearly 1 P.M. when the 31st moved north from Lala Baba on their march round the head of the Salt Lake into position for the attack. The 32nd Brigade, having fought since dawn at Hill 10, was already to the north of the Salt Lake, but when (at about 3 P.M.) the 31st took position, facing southeast, with its right on the north-east corner of the Salt Lake, the 32nd was not upon its left ready to advance with it. Instead of that guard upon its left the 31st found a vigorous attack of Turks. More time was lost, waiting for support to reach the left, and before it arrived, word came that the attack upon the hills was to be postponed till after 5 P.M. Seeing the danger of delay and that Chocolate Hill at least should be seized at once, the Brigadier General (Hill) telephoned for supports and covering fire, held off the attack on his left with one battalion, and with the rest of his Brigade started at once to take Chocolate Hill, cost what it might. The men went forward and stormed Chocolate Hill, the [186] 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers bearing the brunt of the storm.

At some not specified time, perhaps after this storm, in a general retirement of the Turks, Hill 70, or Scimitar Hill, was abandoned to us, and occupied by an English battalion.

During all this day of the 7th of August all our men suffered acutely from the great heat and from thirst. Several men went raving mad from thirst, others assaulted the water guards, pierced the supply hoses, or swam to the lighters to beg for water. Thirst in great heat is a cruel pain, and this (afflicting some regiments more than others) demoralised some and exhausted all. Efforts were made to send up and to find water; but the distribution system, beginning on a cluttered beach and ending in a rough, unknown country full of confused fighting and firing, without anything like a road, and much of it blazing or smouldering from the scrub fires, broke down, and most of the local wells, when discovered, were filled with corpses put there by the Turk garrison. Some unpolluted wells of drinkable, though [187] brackish water, were found, but most of these were guarded by snipers, who shot at men going to them. Many men were killed thus and many more wounded, for the Turk snipers were good shots, cleverly hidden.

All through the day in the Suvla area, thirst, due to the great heat, was another cause of loss of time in the fulfillment of that part of the tactical scheme; but it was not the final and fatal cause.

Chocolate Hill was taken by our men (now utterly exhausted by thirst and heat) just as darkness fell. They were unable to go on against Ismail Oglu Tepe. They made their dispositions for the night on the line they had won, sent back to the beaches for ammunition, food and water, and tried to forget their thirst. They were in bad case, and still two miles from the Australians below Koja Chemen Tepe. Very late that night word reached them that the Turks were massed in a gulley to their front, that no other enemy reserves were anywhere visible, and that the Turks had withdrawn their guns, fearing that they would be [188] taken next morning. Before dawn on the all-important day of the 8th August, our men at Suvla after a night of thirst and sniping, stood to arms to help out the vital thrust of the battle.

Had time not been lost on the 7th, their task on the 8th would have been to cross the valley at dawn, join the Australians and go with them up the spurs to victory, in a strength which the Turks could not oppose. At dawn on the 8th their path to the valley was still barred by the uncaptured Turk fort on Ismail; time had been lost; there could be no crossing the valley till Ismail was taken. There was still time to take it and cross the valley to the storm, but the sands were falling. Up on Chunuk already the battle had begun without them; no time was lost on Chunuk.

Up on Chunuk at that moment a very bitter battle was being fought. On the right, on Chunuk itself, the Gloucester and New Zealand Regiments were storming the hill, in the centre and on the left the Australians, English, and Indians were trying for Hill Q and the [189] south of Koja Chemen. They had passed the night on the hillsides under a never-ceasing fire of shells and bullets, now, before dawn, they were making a terrible attempt. Those on Chunuk went up with a rush, pelted from in front and from both flanks by every engine of death. The Gloucesters were on the left and the New Zealanders on the right in this great assault. They deployed past The Farm and then went on to the storm of a hill which rises some four hundred feet in as many yards. They were on the top by dawn; Chunuk Bair, the last step, but one, to victory, was ours and remained ours all day, but at a cost which few successful attacks have ever known. By four o'clock that afternoon the New Zealanders had dwindled to three officers and fifty men, and the Gloucester battalion, having lost every officer and senior non-commissioned officer, was fighting under section-leaders and privates. Still, their attack had succeeded; they were conquerors. In the centre the attack on Hill Q was less successful. There the English and Indian regiments, assaulting together, were [190] held; the Turks were too strong. Our men got up to the top of the lower spurs, and there had to lie down and scrape cover, for there was no going further. On the left of our attack the Australians tried to storm the Abd-el-Rahman Bair from the big gulley of Asma Dere. They went up in the dark with Australian dash to a venture pretty desperate even for Gallipoli. The Turks held the high ground on both sides of the Asma gulley, and were there in great force with many machine guns. The Australians were enfiladed, held in front, and taken in reverse, and (as soon as it was light enough for the Turks to see) they suffered heavily. As one of the Australians has described it: "The 14th and 15th Battalions moved out in single file and deployed to the storm and an advance was made under heavy rifle and machine gun fire. After the 15th Battalion had practically withered away, the 14th continued to advance, suffering heavily, and the Turks in great force. As we drove them back, they counter attacked, several times. The Bat- [191] talion thus got very split up and it is impossible to say exactly what happened."

It is now possible to say exactly that that 14th Battalion fought like heroes in little bands of wounded and weary men, and at last, with great reluctance, on repeated orders, fell back to the Asma Dere from which they had come, beating off enemy attacks all the way down the hill, and then held on, against all that the Turk could do.

By noon, this assault, which would have been decisive had the men from Suvla been engaged with the Australians, was at an end. Its right had won Chunuk, and could just hold on to what it had won, its centre was held, and its left driven back. The fire upon all parts of the line was terrific; our men were lying (for the most part) in scratchings of cover, for they could not entrench under fire so terrible. Often in that rough and tumble country, the snipers and bombers of both sides, were within a few yards of each other, and in the roar and blast of the great battle were countless little battles, [192] or duels to the death, which made the ground red and set the heather on fire. Half of the hills of that accursed battlefield, too false of soil to be called crags and too savage with desolation to be called hills, such as feed the sheep and bees of England, were blazing in sweeps of flame, which cast up smoke to heaven, and swept in great swathes across the gullies. Shells from our ships were screaming and bursting among all that devil's playground; it was an anxious time for the Turks. Many a time throughout that day the Turkish officers must have looked down anxiously upon the Suvla plain to see if our men there were masters of Ismail and on the way to Koja Chemen. For the moment, as they saw, we were held; but not more than held. With a push from Suvla to help us, we could not be held. Our men on the hills, expecting that helping push, drew breath for a new assault.

It was now noon. The battle so far was in our favour. We had won ground, some of it an all-important ground, and for once we had the Turks with their backs against the wall and [193] short of men. At Helles they were pressed, at Lone Pine they were threatened at the heart, under Koja Chemen the knife point was touching the heart, and at Suvla was the new strength to drive the knife point home and begin the end of the war. And the Turks could not stop that new strength. Their nearest important reserve of men was at Eski Kevi, ten miles away by a road which could scarcely be called a goat track, and these reserves had been called on for the fight at Krithia, and still more for the two days of struggle at Lone Pine. All through that day of the eighth of August Fate waited to see what would happen between Suvla and Koja Chemen. She fingered with her dice uncertain which side to favour; she waited to be courted by the one who wanted her. Eight hours of daylight had gone by, but there was still no moving forward from Suvla, to seize Ismail and pass from it across the valley to the storm. Noon passed into the afternoon, but there was still no movement. Four hours more went by, and now our aeroplanes brought word that the Turks near Suvla were moving [194] back their guns by ox-teams, and that their foot were on the march, coming along their break-neck road, making perhaps a mile an hour, but marching and drawing steadily nearer to the threatened point. The living act of the battle was due at Ismail: from Ismail the last act, the toppling down of the Turk forever among the bones of his victims and the ruin of his ally, would have been prepared and assured. There was a desultory fire around Ismail, and the smoke of scrub fires which blazed and smouldered everywhere as far as the eye could see, but no roar and blaze and outcry of a meant attack. The battle hung fire on the left, the hours were passing, the Turks were coming. It was only five o'clock still; we had still seven hours or more. In the centre we had almost succeeded. We could hang on there and try again, there was still time. The chance which had been plainly ours, was still an even chance. It was for the left to seize it for us, the battle waited for the left, the poor, dying Gloucesters and Wellingtons hung on to Chunuk for it, the Gurkhas and English in the trampled corn- [195] fields near The Farm died where they lay on the chance of it, the Australians on Abd-el-Rahman held steady in the hope of it, under a fire that filled the air.

If, as men say, the souls of a race, all the company of a nation's dead, rally to the living of their people in a time of storm, those fields of hell below Koja Chemen, won by the sweat and blood and dying agony of our thousands, must have answered with a ghostly muster of English souls in the afternoon of that eighth of August. There was the storm, there was the crisis, the one picked hour, to which this death and mangling and dying misery and exultation had led. Then was the hour for a casting off of self, and a setting aside of every pain and longing and sweet affection, a giving up of all that makes a man to be something which makes a race, and a going forward to death resolvedly to help out their brothers high up above in the shell bursts and the blazing gorse. Surely all through the eighth of August our unseen dead were on that field, blowing the horn of Roland, the unheard, unheeded horn, [196] the horn of heroes in the dolorous pass, asking for the little that heroes ask, but asking in vain. If ever the great of England cried from beyond death to the living they cried then. "De o qui Galt. Demuret i unt trop."

All through the morning of that day, the Commander-in-Chief, on watch at his central station, had waited with growing anxiety for the advance from the Suvla Beaches. Till the afternoon the critical thrust on Chunuk and the great Turk pressure at Lone Pine made it impossible for him to leave his post to intervene, but, in the afternoon, seeing that neither wireless nor telephone messages could take the place of personal vision and appeal, he took the risk of cutting himself adrift from the main conflict, hurried to Suvla, landed, and found the great battle of the war, that should have brought peace to all that Eastern world, being lost by minutes before his eyes.

Only one question mattered then: "Was there still time?" Had the Turks made good their march and crowned those hills, or could our men forestall them? It was now doubt- [197] ful, but the point was vital, not only to the battle, but to half the world in travail. It had to be put to the test. A hundred years ago, perhaps even fifty years ago, all could have been saved. Often in those old days, a Commander-in-Chief could pull a battle out of the fire and bring halted or broken troops to victory. Then, by waving a sword, and shouting a personal appeal, the resolute soul could pluck the hearts of his men forward in a rush that nothing could stem. So Wolfe took Quebec, so Desaix won Marengo, so Bonaparte swept the bridge at Lodi and won at Arcola; so Csar overcame the Nervii in the terrible day, and wrecked the Republic at Pharsalia. So Sherman held the landing at Shiloh and Farragut pitted his iron heart against iron ships at Fort Jackson. So Sir Ian Hamilton himself snatched victory from the hesitation at Elandslaagte. Then the individual's will could take instant effect, but then the individual's front was not a five mile front of wilderness, the men were under his hand, within sight and sound of him and not committed by order to another tactical [198] project. There, at Suvla, there was no chance for these heroic methods. Suvla was the modern battle field, where nothing can be done quickly except the firing of a machine gun. On the modern field, especially on such a field as Suvla, where the troops were scattered in the wilderness, it may take several hours for an order to pass from one wing to the other. In this case it was not an order that was to pass, but a counter-order; the order had already gone, for an attack at dawn on the morrow.

All soldiers seem agreed, that even with authority to back it, a counter-order, on a modern battlefield, to urge forward halted troops, takes time to execute. Sir Ian Hamilton's determination to seize those hills could not spare the time; too much time had already gone. He ordered an advance at all costs with whatever troops were not scattered, but only four battalions could be found in any way ready to move. It was now 5 P.M.: there were perhaps three more hours of light. The four battalions were ordered to advance at once to make good what they could of the hills fronting the [199] bay before the Turks forestalled them. At dawn the general attack as already planned was to support them. Unfortunately the four battalions were less ready than was thought; they were not able to advance at once, nor for ten all-precious hours. They did not begin to advance till 4 o'clock the next morning (the 9th of August) and even then the rest of the Division which was to support them was not in concert with them. They attacked the hills to the north of Anafarta Sagir, but they were now too late, the Turks were there before them, in great force, with their guns, and the thrust, which the day before could have been met by (at most) five Turk battalions without artillery was now parried and thwarted. Presently the Division attacked with great gallantry, over burning scrub, seized Ismail and was then checked and forced back to the Chocolate Hills. The left had failed. The main blow of the battle on Sari Bair was to have no support from Suvla.

The main blow was given, none the less, by the troops near Chunuk. Three columns were formed in the pitchy blackness of the very early [200] morning of the 9th, two to seize and clear Chunuk and Hill Q, the third to pass from Hill Q on the wave of the assault to the peak of Koja Chemen. The first two columns were on the lower slopes of Chunuk and in the fields about The Farm, with orders to attack at dawn. The third column consisting wholly of English troops was not yet on the ground, but moving during the night up the Chailak Dere. The Dere was jammed with pack-mules, ammunition and wounded men; it was pitch dark and the column made bad going, and those leading it were doubtful of the way. Brigadier-General Baldwin, who commanded, left his Brigade in the Dere, went to the Headquarters of the 1st column, and brought back guides to lead his Brigade into position. The guides led him on in the darkness, till they realised that they were lost. The Brigadier marched his men back to the Chailak, and then, still in pitch darkness, up a nullah into the Aghyl Dere, and from there, in growing light, towards The Farm. This wandering in the darkness had tragical results.

[201] At half-past four the guns from the ships and the army opened on Chunuk, and the columns moved to the assault. Soon the peaks of their objective were burning like the hills of hell to light them on their climb to death, and they went up in the half-darkness to the storm of a volcano spouting fire, driving the Turks before them. Some of the Warwicks and South Lancashires were the first upon the top of Chunuk; Major Allanson, leading the 6th Gurkhas, was the first on the ridge between Chunuk and Hill Q. Up on the crests came the crowding sections; the Turks were breaking and falling back. Our men passed over the crests and drove the Turks down on the other side. Victory was flooding up over Chunuk like the Severn tide: our men had scaled the scarp, and there below them lay the ditch, the long grey streak of the Hellespont, the victory and the reward of victory. The battle lay like a field ripe to the harvest, our men had but to put in the sickle. The Third Column was the sickle of that field, that Third Column which had lost its way in the blackness of the wilder- [202] ness. Even now that Third Column was coming up the hill below; in a few minutes it would have been over the crest, going on to victory with the others. Then, at that moment of time, while our handful on the hilltop waited for the weight of the Third Column to make its thrust a death-blow, came the most tragical thing in all that tragical campaign.

It was barely daylight when our men won the hilltop. The story is that our men moving on the crest were mistaken for Turks, or (as some think) that there was some difference in officers' watches, some few minutes' delay in beginning the fire of the guns, and therefore some few minutes' delay in stopping the bombardment, which had been ordered to continue upon the crest for three-quarters of an hour from 4:30 A.M. Whatever the cause, whether accident, fate, mistake, or the daily waste and confusion of battle, our own guns searched the hilltop for some minutes too long, and thinned out our brave handful with a terrible fire. They were caught in the open and destroyed there; the Turks charged back upon the remnant and [203] beat them off the greater part of the crest. Only a few minutes after this the Third Column came into action in support: too late.

The Turks beat them down the hill to The Farm, but could not drive the men of the First Column from the southwestern half of the top of the Chunuk. All through the hard and bloody day of the 9th of August the Turks tried to carry this peak, but never quite could, though the day was one long succession of Turk attacks, the Turks fresh and in great strength, our men weary from three terrible days and nights and only a battalion strong, since the peak would not hold more. The New Zealanders and some of the 13th Division held that end of Chunuk. They were in trenches which had been dug under fire, partly by themselves, partly by the Turks. In most places these trenches were only scratchings in the ground, since neither side on that blazing and stricken hill could stand to dig. Here and there, in sheltered patches, the trenches were three feet deep, but whether three feet deep or three inches, all were badly sited, and in some parts had only [204] ten yards field of fire. In these pans or scratchings our men fought all day, often hand to hand, usually under a pelt of every kind of fire, often amid a shower of bombs since the Turks could creep up under cover to within so few yards. Our men lost very heavily during the day but at nightfall we still held the peak. After dark the 6th Loyal North Lancashires relieved the garrison, took over the trenches, did what they could to strengthen them, and advanced them by some yards here and there. At four o'clock on the morning of the 10th, the 5th Wiltshires came up to support them and lay down behind the trenches in the ashes, sand and scattered rubble of the hilltop. Both battalions were exhausted from four days and nights of continual fighting, but in very good heart. At this time, these two battalions marked the extreme right of our new line; on their left, stretching down to The Farm, were the 10th Hampshires, and near The Farm the remains of the Third Column under General Baldwin. There may have been in all some five thousand men on Chunuk and within [205] a quarter of a mile of it round The Farm.

In the darkness before dawn when our men on the hill were busy digging themselves better cover for the day's battle, the Turks, now strongly reinforced from Bulair and Asia, assaulted Chunuk with not less than 15,000 men. They came on in a monstrous mass, packed shoulder to shoulder, in some places eight deep, in others three or four deep. Practically all their first line were shot by our men, practically all the second line were bayoneted, but the third line got into our trenches and overwhelmed the garrison. Our men fell back to the second line of trenches and rallied and fired, but the Turks overwhelmed that line too and then with their packed multitude they paused and gathered like a wave, burst down on the Wiltshire Regiment, and destroyed it almost to a man. Even so, the survivors, outnumbered 40 to 1, formed and charged with the bayonet, and formed and charged a second time, with a courage which makes the charge of the Light Brigade seem like a dream. But it was a hopeless position, the Turks came on [206] like the sea, beat back all before them, paused for a moment, set rolling down the hill upon our men a number of enormous round bombs, which bounded into our lines and burst, and then following up this artillery they fell on the men round The Farm in the most bloody and desperate fight of the campaign.

Even as they topped Chunuk and swarmed down to engulf our right, our guns opened upon them in a fire truly awful, but thousands came alive over the crest and went down to the battle below. Stragglers running from the first rush put a panic in the Aghyl Dere, where bearers, doctors, mules and a multitude of wounded were jammed up with soldiers trying to get up to the fight. Some of our men held up against this thrust of the Turks, and in that first brave stand, General Baldwin was killed. Then our line broke, the Turks got fairly in among our men with a weight which bore all before it, and what followed was a long succession of British rallies to a tussle body to body, with knives and stones and teeth, a fight of wild beasts in the ruined cornfields of The Farm. [207] Nothing can be said of that fight, no words can describe nor any mind imagine it, except as a roaring and blazing hour of killing. Our last reserves came up to it, and the Turks were beaten back; very few of their men reached their lines alive. The Turk dead lay in thousands all down the slopes of the hill; but the crest of the hill, the prize, remained in Turk hands, not in ours.

That ended the battle of the 6th—10th of August. We had beaten off the Turks, but our men were too much exhausted to do more. They could not go up the hill again. Our thrust at Sari Bair had failed. It had just failed, by a few minutes, though unsupported from the left. Even then, at the eleventh hour, two fresh battalions and a ton of water would have made Chunuk ours, but we had neither the men nor the water; Sari was not to be our hill. Our men fought for four days and nights in a wilderness of gorse and precipice to make her ours. They fought in a blazing sun, without rest, with little food and with almost no water, on hills on fire and on crags rotting to [208] the tread. They went, like all their brothers in that Peninsula, on a forlorn hope, and by bloody pain they won the image and the taste of victory, and then, when their reeling bodies had burst the bars, so that our race might pass through, there were none to pass, the door was open, but there were none to go through it to triumph, and then, slowly, as strength failed, the door was shut again, the bars were forged again, victory was hidden again, all was to do again, and our brave men were but the fewer and the bitterer for all their bloody sacrifice for the land they served. All was to do again after the 10th of August, the great battle of the campaign was over. We had made our fight, we had seen our enemy beaten and the prize displayed, and then (as before at Helles) we had to stop for want of men, till the enemy had remade his army and rebuilt his fort.


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