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Australia and New Zealand in the Great War
The Legend of the ANZACs
The Landing at Gallipoli
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MAY 8, 1915
AUSTRALASIANS - GLORIOUS ENTRY INTO WAR
BRILLIANT FEAT AT GABA TEPE.
The story of how the Australasian troops landed at Gaba Tepe, and made good their footing, in the face of the Turkish fire and subsequent counter-attacks, is vividly told by Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett.
The work of the covering force was splendidly carried out, and Mr. Bartlett says there has been no finer feat of arms in this war than that of the Colonial troops.
Operations, according to an official statement, are now being pressed on under highly satisfactory conditions, though the enemy is offering stubborn resistance.
The eight casualty list issued by the Defence Department last night contained the name of one additional officer, who had died from wounds.
The list mainly consisted of the names of a large number of wounded non-commissioned officers and men from all the States except Tasmania .
The total number of killed announced to date is 142.
MR. Ashmead-Bartlett’S STORY.
LONDON , May 7.
Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett, one of the correspondents permitted to accompany the fleet to the Dardanelles , was aboard a warship with five hundred Australians, who formed the covering party for the landing at Gaba Tepe.
Mr. Bartlett says: It required splendid skill, organisation, and leadership to get the huge Armada under weigh from Mudros Bay accidents. The warships and transports were divided into five divisions. Never before has an attempt been made to land so large a force in the face of a well-prepared enemy.
At 2 o’clock on April 24 the flagship of the division conveying the Australasians passed down the long line of slowly-moving transports, amid tremendous cheering, being played out of the bay by the French warships. At 4 o’clock the ship’s company and troops assembled to hear the Admiral’s proclamation to the combined forces. This was followed by the last Service Before Battle, in which the chaplain uttered a prayer for victory, and called a divine blessing on the expedition, all standing with uncovered and bowed heads.
RESTING FOR THE ORDEAL.
At dusk all lights were put out, and the troops rested for the ordeal at dawn. It was a beautiful, calm night, with a bright half moon. By 1 o’clock in the morning the ships reached the rendezvous five miles from the landing place, and the soldiers were aroused and served with their last hot meal.
The Australians who were about to go into action for the first time under trying circumstances, were cheerful, quiet, and confident, showing no sign of nerves or excitement. As the moon waned the boats were swung out, the Australians received their last instructions, and men who six months ago were living peaceful civilian lives began to disembark on a strange, unknown shore in a strange land to attack an enemy of different race.
Each boat was in charge of a midshipman, others were loaded with great rapidity, in absolute silence, and without a hitch. The covering force was towed ashore by ships’ pinnaces. More of the Australians’ brigade were carried aboard the destroyers, which were to go close inshore as soon as the covering force landed.
At 3 it was quite dark, and a start was made shorewards, amid suppressed excitement. Would the enemy be surprised or on the alert?
At 4 o’clock three battleships, line abreast and four cables apart, arrived 2500 yards from the shore, with their guns manned and searchlights made ready. Very slowly boats in tow like twelve great snakes, moved in-shore. Each edged towards each other in order to reach the beach four cables apart. The battleships moved slowly in after them, until the water shallowed.
Every eye was fixed on the grim line of hills in front, menacing in the gloom, the mysteries of which those in the boats were about to solve. Not a sound was heard nor a light seen, and it appeared as if the enemy was surprised. In our nervy state the stars often were mistaken for lights ashore.
The progress of the boats was slow, and dawn rapidly was breaking. At 4.50 the enemy showed an alarm light which flashed for ten minutes and disappeared. The boats appeared almost on the beach, and seven destroyers glided noiselessly inshore.
At 4.53 came a sharp burst of rifle fire from the beach. The sound relieved the prolonged suspense, which had become almost intolerable. The fire lasted a few minutes, and then a faint British cheer came over the waters, telling that the first position had been won. At 5.3 the fire was intensified, and by the sound we could tell our men were firing. The firing lasted twenty five minutes and then died down somewhat.
The boats returned, and a pinnace came alongside with two recumbent figures on deck and a small midshipman cheerfully waving his hand, with a shot through his stomach. Three wounded in the first burst of musketry.
A TERRIBLE FUSILLADE.
The boats had almost reached the beach when a party of Turks entrenched ashore opened a terrible fusillade with rifles and a Maxim. Fortunately most of the bullets went high. The Australians rose to the occasion. They did not wait for orders or for the boats to reach the beach, but sprang into the sea, formed a sort of rough line, and rushed the enemy’s trenches. Their magazines were uncharged, so they just went in with cold steel.
It was over in a minute. The Turks in the first trench either were bayoneted or ran away, and the Maxim was captured.
Then the Australians found themselves facing an almost perpendicular cliff of loose sandstones, covered with thick shrubbery. Somewhere about half way up the enemy had a second trench, strongly held, from which poured a terrible fire on the troops below and the boats pulling back to the destroyers for a second landing party.
A TOUGH PROPOSITION
Here was a tough proposition to tackle in the darkness, but those colonials were practical above all else and went about it in a practical way. They stopped a few minutes to pull themselves together, get rid of their packs, and charge their rifle magazines. Then this race of athletes proceeded to scale the cliff without responding to the enemy’s fire. They lost some men, but didn’t worry, and in less than a quarter of an hour the Turks were out of their second position, and either bayoneted or fleeing.
As daylight came it was seen that the landing had been effected rather further north of Gaba Tepe than originally was intended, at a point where the cliffs rise very sheer. The error was a blessing in disguise, because there was no glacis down which the enemy could free, and the broken ground afforded good cover for troops once they had passed the forty yards of flat beach.
The country in the vicinity of the landing is formidable and forbidding. To the sea it presents a steep front, broken into innumerable ridges, bluffs, valleys, and sandpits. Rising to a height of several hundred feet the surface is bare, crumbly sandstone, with thick shrubbery about six feet in height, which is ideal for snipers, as the Australasians soon found to their cost. On the other hand, the Australasians proved themselves adepts at this kind of warfare.
CASUALTIES IN BOATS
In the early part of the day heavy casualties were suffered in the boats conveying troops from the destroyers, tugs, and transports. The enemy’s sharpshooters, hidden everywhere, concentrated their fire on the boats. When close in, at least three boats broke away from their tow and drifted down the coast without control, being sniped at the whole way, and steadily losing men.
The work of disembarking proceeded mechanically under a point-blank fire. The moment the boats touched the beach the troops jumped ashore and doubled for cover; but the gallant boat crews had to pull in and out under a galling fire from hundreds of points.
All through the 25 th this went on, the boats landing troops, ammunition, and stores. When it was daylight the warships endeavoured to support them by heavy fire from secondary armaments; but not knowing the enemy’s position this support was more moral than real.
SPLENDIDLY CARRIED OUT.
When the sun had fully risen we could see that the Australians had actually established themselves on the ridge, and were trying to work their way northward along it. The fighting was so confused and occurred on such broken ground that it was difficult to follow exactly what happened on the 25 th; but the covering force’s task was so splendidly carried out that it allowed the disembarkation of the remainder to proceed uninterruptedly, except for the never-ceasing sniping. But then the Australians, whose blood was up, instead of entrenching, rushed northwards and eastwards, searching for fresh enemies to bayonet. It was difficult country in which to entrench. They therefore preferred to advance.
AUSTRALASIANS IN TROUBLE
The Turks had only had a weak force actually holding the beach, and had relied on the difficult ground and their snipers to delay the advance until reinforcements came. Some of the Australasians who pushed inland were counter attacked and almost outflanked by oncoming reserves. They had to fall back after suffering heavy losses.
The Turks continued to counter attack the whole afternoon; but the Australasians did not yield a foot on the main ridge. Reinforcements poured up from the beach, but the Turks enfiladed the beach with two field guns from Gaba Tepe. This shrapnel fire was incessant and deadly. The warships vainly for some hours tried to silence them.
The majority of the heavy casualties during the day were from shrapnel, which swept the beach and ridge where the Australasians were established. Later in the day the guns were silenced or forced to withdraw, and the cruiser moving close inshore plastered Gaba Tepe with a hail of shell.
PRESSURE BY ENEMY.
Towards dusk the attacks became more vigorous, the enemy being supported by powerful artillery inland, which the ships’ guns were powerless to deal with. The pressure on the Australasians became heavier and their line had to be contracted.
General Birdwood and his staff landed in the afternoon and devoted their energies to securing the position so as to hold firm until next morning, when they hoped to get field guns into position.
Some idea of the difficulty can be gathered when it is remembered that every round of ammunition and all the water and stores had to be landed on a narrow beach, and carried up pathless hills, through a valley several hundred feet high, to the firing line. The whole mass of troops was concentrated in a very small area, and was unable to reply, though exposed to relentless and incessant shrapnel fire, which swept every yard of the ground. Fortunately much of it was badly aimed, and burst too high.
HEROISM OF WOUNDED.
A serious problem was getting off the wounded from the shore. All those unable to hobble had to be carried from the hills on a stretcher, and then hastily dressed and carried to the boats. Boat parties worked unceasingly the entire day and night.
The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten. Hastily placed in trawlers and lighters’ boats, they were towed to the ships. In spite of their sufferings they cheered the ship from which they had set out in the morning. In fact, I have never seen anything like these wounded Australians in war before.
Though many were shot to bits, without hope of recovery, their cheers resounded throughout the night. You could see in the midst of the mass of suffering humanity arms waving in greeting to the crews of the warships. They were happy because they knew they had been tried for the first time, and had not been found wanting.
A WORTHY FEAT.
For fifteen mortal hours they occupied the heights under incessant shell fire, without the moral or material support of a single gun ashore, and subjected the whole time to a violent counter attack, by a brave enemy, skilfully led, with snipers deliberately picking off every officer who endeavoured to give a command or lead the men.
There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and the storming of the heights, and above all, the holding on whilst reinforcements were landing. These raw colonial troops in these desperate hours proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons , the Aisne , Ypres , and Neuve Chapelle.
Early on the morning of the 26 th the Turks repeatedly tried to drive the colonials from their position. The latter made local counter attacks, and drove off the enemy with the bayonet, which the Turks never face.
The Turks, who were largely reinforced overnight, prepared a big assault from the north-east. The movement began at 9.30. From the ships we could see the enemy creeping along the hilltops, endeavouring to approach under cover. He also brought up more guns, and plastered the position with shrapnel, while the rifle and machine-gun fire became unceasing.
Seven warships crept close in, with the Queen Elizabeth further out as a kind of chaperone. Each covered a section, and opened a terrific bombardment on the heights and valleys beyond.
As the Turkish Infantry advanced they met every kind of shell our warships carry, from ‘Lizzie’s’ 15-inch shrapnel to 12-pounders. Our shooting was excellent, yet owing to the splendid cover the Turks advanced gallantly, while their artillery not only shelled our positions, but tried to drive off the ships.
HILLS ABLAZE WITH SHELLS.
The scene at the height of the engagement was sombre and magnificent. It was a unique day, perfectly clear, and one could see down the coast as far as Seddul Bahr. Three warships were blazing away, and on shore the rifle and machine gun rattle was incessant. The hills were ablaze with shells, while masses of troops stood on the beaches waiting to take their places in trenches.
The great attack lasted two hours. We received messages that the ships’ fire was inflicting awful losses on the enemy.
Then amidst the flash of the bayonet and a sudden charge by the Colonials, before which the Turks broke and fled amidst a perfect tornado of shells from the ships, they fell back, sullen and checked.
They kept up an incessant fire throughout the day, but the Colonials were now dug in.
Some prisoners were captured, including officers, who said that the Turks were becoming demoralised by our gunfire, and the Germans had difficulty in getting them to attack.
Throughout the night of the 26 th the Turks harassed our lines by creeping up and endeavouring to snipe the Australasians in their sheltered trenches, but never daring to press home the attack, although they were present in overwhelming numbers. The Turks paid dearly for their temerity. One section of the New Zealanders charged them with the bayonet, and drove them off in disorder.
It was obvious on the morning of April 27 that the Turks had not recovered from the terrible hammering they received on the 26 th, and they had no stomach for another big attack. The entrenchments were now firmly established in a semi-circle in front of the whole foreshore, which was being used for the disembarkation of troops, supplies, guns, and ammunition. The Colonials’ position had also been immeasurably improved by the landing of field guns and several Indian mountain batteries.
GREAT NAVAL GUNNERY
Continuing his account of the fighting in the Dardanelles , Mr Ashmead-Bartlett says that the Turks evidently intended to drive the Australasians into the sea. On the 26 th, by great concentration of infantry and unceasing shrapnel fire, expecting to find the line held thinly by men exhausted by losses, and the exertion during landing. They were soon disillusioned. These Australasians were determined to die to a man rather than surrender the ground so dearly won. Every man knew that his only hope for safety lay in victory as it was impossible to re-embark an army once landed. The ring of hills commanding the beach lost most. Troops when under fire for the first time, especially volunteers a few months in training, keenly feel losses especially if the[y] occur before there is time to settle down, but these Colonials were the exception to the rule.
Despite heavy losses the survivors were as keen as ever. The enemy throughout the 17 th resorted to new tactics in the hope of driving the Colonials off the shore and preventing supplies and reinforcements reaching the beach. The enemy on the night of the 26 th, brought up many field guns, wherewith they opened a tremendous bombardment on the foreshores and the sea. They kept up an incessant rain of shrapnel. The Turkish trenches could no longer enfilade the beach, as every attempt to place the guns was immediately checkmated by a few well aimed salvos from the warships. The Turkish gunners attempted to put a great cutrain [sic] of shrapnel over the sea, between the warships and the transports and the shore. It was an amazing sight to see scores of shells bursting and churning up the water like a great hailstorm.
Some of the shells fell far out, others made a great danger zone, through which boats and trawlers had to pass. This hail of lead made not the slightest difference to the gallant crews in pinnaces, boats, lighters and tugs who took as much notice as if it were a tropical thunderstorm. The spectacular affect of the bombardment was magnificent, but the damage was practically nil.
The warships throughout the 27 th incessantly fired on any enemy’s infantry attempting to advance. Hydroplanes did excellent work, directing the fire on the guns inland. The ships’ indirect firing, daily becoming more efficient, is now so accurate that nothing could live, provided the target was accurately spotted The Turks frequently fire heavy guns from the other side of the peninsula, hoping to his [i.e. hit] the transports, but have not yet succeeded.
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