A View From the Other Side Of the Line
|When dealing with the Gallipoli campaign, there
is one question that always comes back again : 'How could this go wrong ?.' Well, over the
years, all the facts have sufficiently been studied, but even so there's still an amount
of doubt that lingers on.
There was the poor strategical planning of course. Politicians as well as military commanders were so fascinated by the prospect of a new crusade against Constantinople, that dreams were all too often taken for reality. Knocking Turkey out of the war, was a much tougher nut to crack than they could imagine at the time.
Apart from that, there was also a certain amount of bad luck. The fact that the Anzac forces landed at the worst possible spot on the coast of the Peninsula, is generally attributed to mistakes made by the Navy, although that judgment may be a bit harsh as well : under the circumstances, things could go wrong, and when they eventually did, one must admit that misfortune was one of the factors responsible for the outcome.
And then there were a number of tactical blunders. Once the campaign was on, it soon became clear that a number of the military decisions that were taken that were not ideal at all and often had grave consequences. Judging failure in retrospect is easy of course, but what Hunter-Weston did in Helles can hardly be called inspired leadership. And Suvla was a hundred times worse.
Nevertheless, when one starts rereading the history of the campaign, there is always this same strange phenomenon : you can't help feeling that this time things might not go so wrong, that the whole enterprise might succeed after all. Nonsense of course, but still something you can't avoid.
A very partial explanation for this feeling is the fact that you always fall back on the same sources. No matter who tells the story, the entire campaign is always seen from an Allied viewpoint. No matter whether the author the is on the Helles front or at Anzac, you yourself keep looking with him at Achi Baba, you keep hoping for the capture of Chunuk Bair. This approach to the campaign yields of course a twisted view on the reality of those days. In essence, much that was hoped for, was simply impossible in the field.
It could therefore be interesting, to leave the trodden path, and have a different look at some aspects of the Gallipoli campaign. Why not run across nomansland and, just for once, peep through a loophole in the Turkish parapet? Perhaps the view from there might teach us some interesting bits about the question we started from : ' How could things go so wrong ?'
Click the pics to enlarge them or click the buttons to see them with a legend added.
V beach was that part of the Helles sector where a novelty was tried out, using the River Clyde in combination with a landing from small boats. The idea was not new of course, and probably inspired by the use of a wooden horse at Troy, perhaps long ago, but not 20 miles away from V beach. The troops were to land in what can be best described as a shallow Greek theatre, with forts at both sides
As can be seen from the picture, the soldiers who came running out of the ship, along the improvised gangways at each side, had no real chance to reach te beach. The Turks had positioned their machine-guns in the Old Fort (Eski Kale) and approximately on the spot from where the picture below was taken. When the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers tried to land from their boats and the 1st Dublin Fusiliers emerged from the sally ports in the sides of the River Clyde, this crossfire cut them down before they could even reach the shore. The only survivors of the day found precarious shelter under the low sandbank in the middele of the picture, which is still there, but was a bit higher in 1915. Only after nightfall of 25th April was it possible for them to move, and for the generals to disembark the rest of the troops.
In the morning, 6 VC's were won by people trying to make a landing from the River Clyde possible, despite the hellish Turkish fire. When wing commander Samson made a reconnaissance flight over the area, he observed that ' the sea for a distance of 50 yards from the beach was absolutely red with blood'.
W beach, or Lancashire Landing as it became known after 25th April, was the second main theatre of operations in the Helles sector during the first day. Although the beach itself was defended by less than 100 Turks, it was a formidable objective to be taken by the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers. When they landed from their boats, shortly after 6 am, they were not only confronted with dense wire entanglements on a beach that had also been mined. Apart from that, they faced heavy rifle and machine gun fire from well-sited trenches in front and, perhaps worse, from the two heights at either side of the beach.
As can be judged from the two pictures above, both taken from the Turkish positions, they had not much of a chance. It was by sheer stubborn courage alone, that they eventually broke through the wire and succeeded in silencing the machine guns that enfiladed them from both flanks. They won their famous 'six VC's before breakfast', but on the other hand, on this first day alone, they lost half the strength of their battalion.
During the rest of the campaign, W beach became the real nerve-center of the entire Helles sector. Although the area was under Turkish observation from Achi Baba and was daily shelled from the Asian shore, most supplies for the front were landed here from lighters, there were extensive medical facilities, parks for horses and mules and even an airstrip. The remains of the piers can still be seen today.
|Achi Baba soon became a symbol for the Allied forces in the Helles sector. Although it had to be captured the first day and was the objective for the three successive 'battles of Krithia', this not even so impressive hill was never taken during the campaign. On the contrary, both the English and the French were well aware of the fact that from its top and slopes, they were under constant observation from the Turks. And what was worse, under fire from the Turkish artillery that had been assembled there. As long as the round top and the two distictive shoulders kept looming over the horizon, it was a constant reminder of the campaign's failure so far.|
In the picture, which was taken from the south-west slope of the hill, one can see the entire Helles sector unfold in a big panorama. at the left hand side the entrance to the Dardanelles can clearly be seen, with the Turkish monument on the extreme south tip of the peninsula. In the middle of the picture is the higher ground behind W Beach. The village of Alši Tepe (Krithia) is just outside the picture on the right.
The north flank of Anzac
|The north flank of the Anzac sector remained
virtually unchanged from the day of the landing till the August offensives, when the map
was redrawn. This picture, which was taken from a spot near Fisherman's Hut, gives a good
impression of what the Turks could see, not only on 25th April, but also during the months
It also makes clear why never a serious attempt was made to mount an attack on the sector from the north side. Despite the impossible country the Anzacs had to fight in, their north flank offered sufficient natural protection.
The actual landing took place at Ari Burnu, at the extreme right in the picture. The first boats landed there, others in Anzac Cove just behind the headland, and some drifted further north to North Beach which was under direct observation from Turkish machine guns, shooting from the camera position. Hardly anyone who landed at this spot, survived the morning.
Travelling right to left from Ari Burnu, the following landmarks can be seen : Plugge's Plateau, which was the first hill stormed by the troops, then the Razor Edge, not more than 30 inches wide, over which a number of Australians ran to Russell's Top, the high ground left of the Sphinx, and finally, at the extreme left of the picture the Nek, where the attack eventually petered out. In front of the sphinx is Walker's Ridge, the sharp slope that from the first day became New-Zealand territory, and stopped all Turkish plans for an attack from that side.
The south flank of Anzac
|This picture shows the entire south flank of the
Anzac sector. It was taken from a Turkish position known to the troops as 'The Balkan
Pits', because of the remnants of old artillery emplacements that dated from a previous
Prominent in the picture is the skyline, formed by the '400 Plateau'. As it was roughly heart-shaped, it had two distinctive sectors : Johnston's Jolly over the horizon, and Lone pine of which the right flank can be seen here.
From 400 Plateau ran a number of narrow slopes, like fingers, that were furiously fought over during the first days of the campaign. Finally all movement ground to a halt, and the two opposing armies dug in along the crests of the different slopes, where a precarious balance of power was kept for the rest of the campaign. In the middle of the picture is the extreme south flank of the Anzac sector, Chatham's Post, with just in front of it, the Bird trenches. To have a better appreciation of the positions however, see the bigger maps.
|One of the actions during the Gallipoli campaign
that became a real legend, also because of Peter Weir's film, is certainly the attack by
the Light Horse at the Nek, during the August offensive. As the whole enterprise proved to
be a disastrous mistake, it soon became a symbol of the foolishness of war in general.
The Nek is in fact the narrow saddle between Russel's Top, which had been occupied by the Anzac forces during the morning of 25th April, and Baby 700, the lowest hill of the Sari Bair Ridge, which was in Turkish hands.
During the fighting of the first day, Baby 700 changed hands five times. Although small groups of Australians had gone beyond it in the morning, the Allies were unable to secure the position and finally had to withdraw to the Nek, where the two opposing forces dug in. There they kept facing each other for the rest of the campaign, over a stretch of ground not wider than two tennis courts.
When at 4.30 on 7th August, the Light Horse were ordered to attack, in fact only to support the main Anzac effort, which was aimed at Chunuk Bair, they did not stand a chance. Not only were they facing 7 lines of Turkish trenches in front of them, but as can be judged from the picture which was taken from Baby 700, the enemy overlooked the whole theatre. Another fact that has to be taken into account, is that at the time of the attack, the whole scene was devoid of trees and shrub, which made the attempt even more hopeless. In less than a quarter of an hour, of the 600 Australians who went over the top, 234 were killed and 138 more were wounded.
|The Farm is a small plateau, not so far from the crest of Chunuk Bair. When during the first two days of the August offensive, the attack started losing momentum, and was stopped on Rhododendron Ridge, a number of troops sought cover in the Gullies on their left, between the ridge and the Farm. On 9th August, a relatively important force assembled on the the small Plateau, under the command of Brig. Gen Baldwin, who established his headquarters there, to try and support the New Zealanders who were still holding on to a precarious foothold on Chunuk Bair itself.|
As Baldwin hesitated too long, they were finally driven out of their trench, and the Turks were able to mount a counterattack. The picture here, was taken from the crest of Chunuk Bair, and illustrates the view the Turks had of the exposed position that was the Farm. When they attacked in force, the place was quickly overrun and most of the defenders, among whom Baldwin himself, were killed. On the Farm is now a cemetery, in which were buried most of the bodies that were collected on the spot and in the neighbouring Gullies.
|Hill 10 is a small, low hillock in the Suvla sector. Before the August offensive, a German Major Willmer, who commanded the Turkish defenses in the region, had a number of trenches dug on top of it because he expected a landing in Suvla Bay itself. As hill 10 was the only elevated piece of land in the area, he had correctly judged its importance in case of an attack. Although he did not possess sufficient barbed wire, he had also had the approaches to the hill mined and machine guns installed. For the Allies, the hill was so unimportant, that it had even gone unnoticed when they drew up their plans for the landing.|
When they finally did decide to land in the bay, after an ultimate change of plans, at 9.30 on the evening of 6th August, things began to go wrong from the start. The 34th Brigade under Brig. Gen. Sitwell, got hopelessly disorganized during the landing : some of them landed much too late, others at locations they did not recognize at all. What was a fact, was that they were continuously sniped at by Willmer's pickets. When Sitwell finally arrived himself after 3 am, nobody was able to locate Hill 10 precisely. It took the English until after 6 am before an attack could be staged, that dislodged the Turkish defenders, who withdrew in an orderly fashion. With a handful of men, hey had held up the best part of a brigade for a full night, prevented an early attack on Chocolate Hill planned for 1.30 am, and this way gained a lot of precious time for reinforcements to arrive.
The picture was taken from the 'crest' of Hill 10, looking at the Salt Lake. In the middle is the Cut, the small channel, that connects the lake to the sea in winter, and the place where an importand part of the 34th Brigade landed. As can be seen, Willmer's position offered the Turks a wide field of fire to stop the attackers.
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