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Australia and New Zealand in the Great War
The Legend of the ANZACs
The Landing at Gallipoli
[BY CAPTAIN C.E.W. BEAN, OFFICIAL PRESS REPRESENTATIVE]
ALEXANDRIA , May 13
A further instalment of Captain Bean’s account of the landing of the Australian troops on the Gallipoli peninsula has come to hand.
FIRST TO LAND.
It is impossible to say which battalion landed first, because several landed together.
The Turks in the trenches facing the landing had run, but those on the other flank and on the ridges and gullies still kept firing upon the boats coming inshore, and a portion of the covering force, which landed last, came under a heavy fire before they reached the beach. The Turks had a machine gun in the valley on our left, and this seems to have been turned on to the boats containing a part of the 12 th Battalion. Three of these boats were still lying on the beach some way to the north. The wounded men lay in them for two days before they could be rescued. Two stretcher-bearers of the 2 nd Battalion, who went along the beach during the day to rescue them, were both shot by the Turks. Finally a party waited for dark, and crept along the beach, rescuing nine men who had been in the boats two days, afraid to move for fear of attracting the enemy’s fire. The work of the stretcher-bearers all through the week of hard fighting was beyond all praise.
THE DASHING THIRD
The 3 rd Brigade went over the hills with such dash that within three-quarters of an hour of landing some had charged over three successive ridges. Each ridge was higher than the last, and each party that reached the top went over it with a wild cheer. Since that day the Turks never attempted to face our bayonets. The officers led magnificently, but, of course, nothing like accurate control of attack was possible. Subordinate leaders had been trained at Mena to act on their own responsibility, and the benefit of this was enormously apparent in this attack. Companies and platoons and little crowds of 50 to 200 men were landed wherever the boats took them. Their leaders had a general idea of where they were intended to go, and once landed each subordinate commander made his way there by what seemed to him to be the shortest road. The consequence was the 3 rd Brigade reached its advanced line in a medley of small fractions inextricably mixed. Several further lines of Turkish trenches were swept through on the further ridges.
MAIN BODY ARRIVES
The Turks did not wait for the bayonet, and when at sunrise the ships bringing the first portion of the main body arrived, and steamed slowly through the battleships to unload men, those on board could see figures on the skyline of the ridges near them and the further ridge inland. Presently a heliograph winked from the near top of the second hill. They were our men they could see walking about digging, just as you see them any morning at Liverpool camp during their annual training. The relief which flooded the hearts of thousands of anxious watchers on the ships can better be imagined than described.
It is impossible to say exactly how many of the enemy were holding this particular portion of the coast; perhaps there were five hundred to a thousand. They retired for an hour. During that welcome spell the men who had seized the ridges were able to do something towards entrenching. Meantime the main body had already begun to arrive at the beach, and sought to land the troops in a comparative calm, interrupted only by shells from the Turkish battery to the south. This sprayed with shrapnel the boats as they came from the ships, but managed to hit very few. One boat, just as it landed, had the bottom blown out, without a single man in it being hurt. Our men landed in very heavy kits, and accident in the boats might have been serious. It is believed some of the men were drowned in one or two boats of the covering force, but, except this, hundreds of boats which came to that beach under shell fire during the day scarcely suffered at all.
By this time the first part of the main body was forming up on the beach. The Turks had brought up their troops from the other side of the peninsula, and a fierce attack began, which lasted all day. As fresh troops arrived on the beach they were generally sent straight into the firing line, either on one flank or the other of the covering force. These troops went straight into the firing line where the Turks were already attacking in a force too great to allow the digging of trenches. The only possibility was to hold on in the scrub and dig in after dark.
BAPTISM OF SHRAPNEL.
In that first afternoon the Australians, and, later, the New Zealanders, obtained their first experience of shrapnel in this war. During the first day when they had rushed a position rather like a section of the Blue Mountains, full of winding gullies, it was naturally difficult to discover the position of all the enemy’s guns. Those on a promontory to the south were soon placed, and three were silenced almost at once by a cruiser, which put her nose around one side of the point, while a battleship shelled from the other side. One gun there continued to fire most of the afternoon, but was hit before sundown, and has not been fired since.
TROUBLESOME BATTERY .
But there was a battery in the ranges inland which, during the whole afternoon, it was impossible to place. From 2 o’clock until sundown it fired continuously a salvo of four shells about twice every minute on to ridges which our troops were holding, for the most part without any protection. Some of them were in a deserted Turkish trench, of which the Turks had the exact range. Hour after hour one watched shrapnel bursting over the flank ridge along which our infantry were lying. The navy could do practically nothing to help because we could not tell them where to fire. The first relief was when a small force of Indian mountain artillery, which landed with us, managed to drag its guns into position just behind a part of our line, which was suffering especially, and began firing salvos over their heads in the direction from which the shells were coming. The mere sound of our own guns answering the enemy’s came like a draught of fresh water to the infantry. Of course, our guns drew the enemy’s shrapnel like a magnet on to themselves, and part of the firing line around them. “It’s those guns that’s bringing it this way,” I heard one of our men say. “They’re doing blooming good work, anyway,” said this man later. It would not have mattered whether mountain guns were doing good work or not, the mere sound of them was enough. One of the British officers, who was out in an exposed position, observing for this battery, was hit through the cheek, the bullet taking away all the teeth on one side of his mouth. He went down to the beach, and had the wound dressed, and returned to his post.
During the whole of this trying time if one thing cheered the men more than another, it was the behaviour of their officers. I saw one officer in charge of a machine-gun, who one knew for certain must be killed if the fight lasted. His men were crouching under the cover of a depression a few inches deep on the brow of a hill. He was sitting calmly on the top of the rise searching for targets through his glasses. Presently three of four salvos of shrapnel burst right over that group, ending with a round of common shell. With its terrifying flash and scatter of loose earth a shout came from somewhere in the rear, ‘Pass the word to retire.’
The officer in question turned round.
‘Where does that order come from?’ he asked, sharply.
‘Passed up from the rear, sir,’ was the answer.
‘Well, pass back, and find who gave it,’ said the officer.
‘Yes; who says retire?’ said several of the men. Next moment an order came up. ‘Line to advance and entrench on forward slope of the hill.’ There was a moment’s delay gathering up rifles, and then over the hill they went. Dusk was just falling, and the enemy’s battery happened at that moment to switch off in order to fire a few last salvos towards the beach. The officer in question was there at his post next morning. When it became necessary to send a man down the hill on some business, before the man had gone 20 yards he was wounded. The officer walked down the hill at once to pick him up. Within a couple of seconds the Turks had a machine-gun on to him, and he fell, riddled with bullets.
Australia has lost many of her best officers this way. The toll has been really heavy, but the British theory is, you cannot lead men from the rear, at any rate, in attack of this sort. It would be absurd to pretend that the life of an officer, like that one, was wasted. No one knows how long the example will live on amongst his men. There were others I will mention later on, when the casualties have all reached Australia, who died fighting like tigers. Some of them knew fully they would die. One was sometimes inclined to think that this sort of leading is useless; but none who heard the men talking next day could doubt its value.
‘By God, our officers were splendid,’ one Australian told me. Wherever I went I heard the same.
During the night lines were straightened, and the men dug in as best they could. The Turks attempted several charges on the extreme right. The charge was generally preceded by a cessation of firing. Then could be heard arguments between the Turkish officers and men going on just over the edge of the hill, just such arguments as issued to take place whenever you tried to superintend natives loading a cart at Mena Camp. Finally, over the ridge came a line of figures, shouting ‘Allah, Allah’. Our troops waited till the enemy were within about 70 yards, then jumped out of the trench with bayonets fixed and began to charge. The Turks have never once waited so far, and have always turned immediately or flung themselves flat and allowed the machine guns to fire over their heads at our men. By morning our line was well dug in. Water had been sent up during the night by every possible means, chiefly in petrol tins. It was carried on donkeys, mules, or by hand. The troops’ stores were constantly arriving on the beach from the huge fleet of transports until the place looked like a great busy port. Some New Zealanders were caught during the night out in the open by a well-trained Turk machine gun, and lost many. The Turks are well trained in German methods, and orders have certainly been given to the men in the trenches by strangers. Possibly in scrub near a trench there is one who gives an order in perfect English and manages to get it passed along the trench. I have seen, personally, one clear example of this.
There has been hard fighting since, which I will report later. I would have reported it before if I had been able to get leave from the Admiralty. But when all is said, the feat which will go down in history is that first Sunday’s fighting when three Australian Brigades stormed, in face of a heavy fire, tier after tier of cliffs and mountains, apparently as impregnable as Govett’s Leap. The sailors who saw the Third Brigade go up those heights and over successive summits like whirligig with wild cheers, and with bayonets flashing, speak of it with tears of enthusiasm in their eyes. New Zealanders are just as generous in their appreciation. It is hard to distinguish between the work of the brigades. They all fought fiercely and suffered heavily; but considering that performed last Sunday, it is a feat which is fit to rank beside the battle of the heights of Abraham.
I believe that the British at Cape Helles fought a tremendous fight. Of Australia it may be said that Australian infantry, and especially the Third Brigade, have made a name which will never die. Around me as I write, guns of half a dozen warships are shaking the hills. The evening is a quiet one. From the ridges above comes the continuous rattle of musketry. As no bullets are whistling overhead, the firing must be by our men. The issue cannot be in doubt, but one knows that even if it were, nothing would take away from the Australian and New Zealand infantry the fame of last Sunday’s fighting.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S PART.
On Monday, the second day of the landing, the enemy again pumped shrapnel on to the ridges. They must have also fired 600 shells at the landing-place, but scarcely hit anyone. Shells on the ridges were far worse. But this time the battleship Queen Elizabeth was sent to support us. During the morning the effect of her shells was enormous. Standing several miles out, she shelled the enemy opposite the north-east corner of our position. The effect of her shells was like a tonic for our tired men. Huge yellow clouds burst from her side, and some seconds later there came a crash as if the sky had fallen in. This was followed almost immediately by a tremendous roar somewhere on the land. Looking in the direction of the Turkish position you saw a vast cloud of earth and green smoke rise skyward.
The Queen Elizabeth has been provided with monstrous shrapnel sent out specially for this job. The shell weighs nearly a ton, and, on bursting, leaves in the air not a woolly little puff of ordinary shrapnel, but a miniature thundercloud.
Early on the second morning the 8 th Australian Infantry repelled four Turkish charges. The 4 th Infantry made a most gallant attack with bayonet, and drove the Turks back through the scrub until they came on the Turkish camp. The 7 th and 10 th went straight through that until they were faced by three machine guns in a position further back, and came under the fire of a battery. This battalion afterwards was ordered to retire somewhat, as the position was difficult to support.
The Turks next attacked the left and right of the 3 rd Brigade. The Queen Elizabeth’s fire, and that of the other warships, soon settled the fate of the former attack, but in the latter case the fierce fire of machine guns sweeping down a ridge, which was peculiarly exposed to shrapnel fire, proved too trying for the battalion holding it. There had never been an opportunity of digging trenches at this spot, the fire being too hot. The battalion had been put straight into this nasty corner immediately after its arrival, and was subjected to a heavy strain for a time. The ridge was left almost clear of our troops. the Turks began to creep up to the edge of it, and almost to the rear of the 3 rd Brigade. This was towards evening. The 3 rd Brigade had been in the trenches, continuously fighting, often without any food. Every man brought ashore with him three days’ rations, but in the fierce rush up the hills on Sunday morning many had left their food behind.
THE NINTH AND TENTH.
On Monday afternoon an endeavour was made to take some battalions of this brigade out of the trenches to rest and to collect the portions which were scattered through the firing line. Part of the 9 th and 10 th were waiting down the valley at the rear when the Turks began to take this ridge. There was nothing for it but to send the tired 9 th and 10 th to take the ridge again.
I saw that advance from a few hundred yards away. At first one very gallant officer of the retreating regiment came through the scrub, and collecting odds and ends of his battalion from hollows, and waving them forward, standing up all the time, he succeeded in rallying a few men, and leading them forward several hundred yards. There the effort rested, but I saw this particular officer several times later running up and down in the firing line in his macintosh, hopping over the scrub amidst a deadly fire, when every other living thing upon that plateau was flat upon its face.
Presently up came the 9 th and 10 th, line after line, in very good lines of 20 or 30. They went through the scrub, rushing for all they were worth, and dropping every hundred yards or so to take breath; then up again, and on towards the end of the ridge. About three rushes covered it. They were facing shrapnel and machine gun fire, but reached the required point. Three times they were driven off the ridge; three times they came and took it, and at the last time remained there.
When the Brigadier asked them afterwards what they wanted to retire for, ‘Well, we retired in very good lines, sir,’ said one stalwart, grinning.
‘And so they did, the beggars,’ added the Brigadier.
Just after the two battalions had begun their first charge across this hill an order was passed along the trenches to a point where the writer was. ‘Pass along order to cease fire. The British are getting round at the back of the Turks, and there is a danger of hitting them.’
Some of the men ceased firing automatically, but the officers around me questioned the order.
‘Where does the order come from?’ they asked.
This was passed down, and presently the answer came back, ‘Order from general headquarters; cease firing. The French and Indians are within two miles of the back of the Turks. We are afraid of hitting them.’
Our officers knew there were no French or Indians, and the British, they believed, would be at least ten miles away.
‘Take no notice of that order’ was passed along.
But before firing could be begun again the Turks had two or three minutes during which they could raise their heads with impunity to fire into our undefended men.
Exactly the same trick was played at another part of the line two hours earlier. A very few days has put officers and men wise to these ruses.
There was little or no rest for the men in the trenches on Monday night, and on Tuesday the fighting was still in parts heavy; but between Tuesday and Thursday it was at last possible for the tired troops who had gone up the hills on that first Sunday morning, and had been fighting hard ever since, to be relieved and sent down to the rest camp. Then was the first time when any estimate could be made of the losses. Men and officers supposed to be dead or wounded turned up safe and sound from various parts of the line where they had mixed in with other battalions.
BATHING UNDER FIRE.
Almost all of them enjoyed a bathe during the warm hours of the afternoon, and for a time the beach in the midst of the fiercest battle ever fought in the Dardanelles look more like Manly on a holiday. Hundreds of men were bathing together out in the roadstead, while nine or ten warships were constantly firing salvos of huge guns ten miles away. Along the sunny shore were men diving, splashing, and enjoying a sunbath.
Occasionally shrapnel flicked up the water, but very few men were hit. Only one, as far as I know, was killed during the whole day whilst bathing. This accident had not the least effect on the bathers.
Practically all our men have now had a day’s rest and gone back to the trenches. They are attacked somewhere every night and most days. Last night, for example, in their attack the Turks did not reach the trenches, and their dead were lying thick on the ground this morning. To-day they attacked another part of the line, and reached within 50 yards, but none got near. A machine-gun mowed them down. Twenty or so can be seen lying within a small space.
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