Sunday 25 April 1915 – The Gallipoli Landing
Two landing areas are chosen on the Gallipoli Peninsula for the campaign to drive towards Constantinople, one at Cape Helles, at the southern tip of the peninsula, and one further north, opposite the town of Maidos. It is intended that the southern landing forces will push the Turks back to the northern landing, trapping them between the two forces. Covering fire is supplied by eighteen battleships, twelve cruisers, twenty-four British and five French destroyers. The first landing takes place on the northern beach, code-named Z Beach, shortly before dawn. Australians and New Zealanders, who reached Egypt on their way to the Western Front and have been diverted for what is believed to be a quick and easy battle against the Turks are put ashore here. Because of a navigational error, they are put ashore not at their original landing place, Gaba Tepe, from where they might have advanced on almost level ground across the central part of the peninsula at its narrowest point, but at Ari Burnu, a smaller cape further north, below the precipitous height of Chunuk Bair. The landing itself is virtually unopposed. Shortly before midday a Turkish battery near Gaba Tepe begins to shell the soldiers on the landing beach. Many men push inland, where the Turks begin to inflict heavier casualties. Still, the Australians push forward, up steep terrain, towards the high ground. In the late afternoon, the Turkish troops holding the crest of Chunuk Bair run out of ammunition and begin to withdraw. As a small group of Australians approaches the crest, the commander of one of the six Turkish divisions on the peninsula, Mustafa Kemal orders the Turkish detachment to halt, fix bayonets and lie down facing the enemy.
Kemal orders a regiment forward and leads two hundred men to the crest. He reaches it ahead of most of the men, and sees, four hundred yards below, an Australian column advancing. Pushing his men forward, he organizes each group as it arrives, keeping the Australians from the crest. The Turkish line of retreat along the Bulair Peninsula is stripped of men in order to reinforce the counter-attack. One more Turkish and two Arab regiments are thrown in. Throughout the day the fighting continues and the Australians are held two-thirds of the way up the slope. Successive waves of Turks, hurling themselves on their adversary, are killed by machine gun fire as they climb over the bodies of the previous wave. Australian wounded fall back to the narrow beach and by nightfall both sides are exhausted. General Birdwood, commanding the landing, requests to be allowed to evacuate the beachhead. The Commander in Chief, General ‘Sir’ Ian Hamilton advises Birdwood that the southern force will be advancing the next morning and should divert pressure.
The landings on V, W and X Beaches are entrusted to the 29th Division 86th Brigade of four fusilier battalions under Brigadier General Steuart W Hare. His troops are accommodated in Implacable and Euryalus, before being loaded into boats towed by steam pinnaces, heavy naval covering fire being provided. X Beach consists of a 200 yard strip of sand with a forty foot escarpment, easily negotiable by infantry but difficult for artillery, which is probably why the Turks have made so few preparations. X Beach has but twelve defenders who surrender without firing a shot when the Royal Fusiliers wade ashore from their boats. This battalion easily gains a foothold without suffering any casualties, and attempts to join their comrades by pushing towards W Beach, but high ground in the intervening mile is held by Turks and some shellfire is directed upon them, but with reinforcements from the succeeding wave (Inniskilling Fusiliers and Border Regiment of 87th Brigade) they push on and before dark to link up with W Beach.
Opposition is infinitely greater on W Beach. Two Turkish companies fortified with wire and machine guns lay down a barrage of fire into the Lancashire Fusiliers who land mostly in boats from Euryalus. The action which results passes into folklore, that of men wading ashore, ‘mown down as by a scythe’ as Hamilton states, winning in the process ‘six Victoria Crosses before breakfast’. The survivors, however, rush up to and cut the wire entanglements, notwithstanding the terrific fire from the enemy and, after overcoming supreme difficulties, the cliffs are gained and this position maintained. Among the many very gallant officers and men engaged in the most hazardous undertaking Captain Richard Raymond Willis, Sergeant Alfred Richards, Sergeant Frank Edward Stubbs and Private William Keneally are selected by their comrades as having performed the most significant acts of bravery and devotion to duty and are hence each awarded the Victoria Cross. Sergeant Stubbs is killed in action at age 27. Due to the bravery shown by the Lancashire at W Beach it will be known at Lancashire Landing. In spite severe casualties, the Fusiliers struggle through the wire in an operation described by Hamilton as unsurpassed in British military history and supported by the Worcestershire Regiment from 88th Brigade they hold their bridgehead.
At V Beach at first light the battleship Albion bombards the Turkish positions for an hour, whereupon 2,000 troops, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, two companies of the Hampshire Regiment and one of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and a field company of the Royal Engineers, are hidden in a collier, the River Clyde, which is deliberately run aground. A bridge of lighters is prepared so that the men can rush from the ship to the shore. A few men disembark from the boats and run to shelter under a bank at the side of the cliff. As the remainder attempt to do the same, they are caught by fierce machine gun fire from the cliff above, and by artillery fire located in the ruins of the Sedd-el-Bahr fort that had been blasted during the naval bombardment two months earlier. The armor plated sides of the River Clyde are protection against the fire, but the troops are marooned inside. The sea at V Beach becomes red with blood as far out as fifty yards from shore. By 09:30 it is obvious that the position is hopeless, with scarcely two hundred men established on the beach. Hunter-Weston, aboard Euryalius and without making inquiries as to the progress of the landing, orders in the succeeding wave. Too few of the landing-boats are still operational for the second wave to be successful, but their commander Brigadier General Henry Edward Napier of 88th Brigade 29th Division is killed at age 53 attempting to reach the beach. Killed at his side is his Brigade Major John Henry Dives Costeker DSO (Royal Warwickshire Regiment) a veteran of the South African War who had been previously wounded in France in November 1914. A renewed attempt to break out of River Clyde only increases the number of troops to reach the beach to about four hundred, and not until darkness do the survivors file off the shot-riddled ship, this time without sustaining a casualty. Further along V beach, the remainder of the Dublin Fusiliers are landed from naval cutters, small wooden boats propelled with oars, with a half company going in east of Sedd-el-Bahr. These men, too, are mown down, many of them sinking in the water and drowning under the weight of their packs. So many men are lost in the first hour that a halt is called until nightfall, when the remaining troops in the River Clyde are put ashore. In all, 950 men land at W Beach. By the time the beach is secured, six officers and 254 men have been killed, and 283 wounded.
In sharp contrast troops landing at S Beach are virtually unopposed. When told by a Turkish prisoner that there are only one thousand men in the area, they dig in, assuming that the Turk was referring to the immediate area. In fact, he means the whole peninsula south of Gaba Tepe. When other prisoners confirms this figure later in the day, and make it clear that the thousand men refer to those in the whole of the Cape Helles area, including the village of Krithia and the heights of Achi Baba, they are not believed. They then turn back to W Beach to help in the battle there. The Turks on W Beach are outflanked by men from the other beaches, and beaten back by the surviving Lancashire Fusiliers and a steady stream of reinforcements that eventually outnumber them ten to one.
The landing by the South Wales Borderers (87th Brigade), a party from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and an engineer detachment on S Beach is accomplished with success. Landing later than the rest at 07:30, by 22:00 the Borderers have captured the main defenses, then dig in and repulse the counter-attacks made here. Here, unlike the other beaches, the Turkish trenches are visible from the sea, and so the covering naval bombardment is of greater significance. Private Thomas Lewis (South Wales Borderers) is killed at age 23. His brother will die in Adan in July.
The landing at Y Beach is conceived by Hamilton as an attempt to take the Turkish defenders of the cape from the rear, 2,000 men deposited at this isolated spot could march across the peninsula, roll up the defenders and join the troops landed at Cape Helles. It is not actually a beach, but a 200 foot cliff, entirely undefended. The cliffs are climbed without hindrance, but such is the confusion in orders that neither of the unit commanding officers involved know who is senior and thus in command, and neither appreciates the significance of the position. Consequently the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Plymouth Battalion Royal Marines sit serenely on the cliff-top all day, doing nothing while their comrades are being slaughtered on the other beaches. Twice the Y Beach commanders asked Hunter-Weston for orders but receive no reply. Hamilton sails past in Queen Elizabeth and Keyes begs him to put more men ashore there – the Royal Naval Division could have been landed before dark once their Bulair demonstration has ended – but Hamilton though appreciating the tactical significance, feels that he cannot issue such orders without the approval of Hunter-Weston.
In spite of many failings, notably the inactivity and ignorance of the actual situation among the high command, the landing has been made and held on all but Y Beach. This landing ends as it began, in confusion. Towards the evening a Turkish attack is launched from the north, and continues all night. The British have not bothered to entrench properly, and after the death of Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Stephen Koe commanding the 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers at age 50 his half of the landing force requests evacuation, which the navy accommodates. Colonel Koe served at Tirah and on the Northwest Frontier of India and dies on his 50th birthday.
The operation has been hindered by the restricted number of landing vessels available; at ANZAC. For example, the Australian and New Zealand Corps has only the capacity to transport 1,500 men at the time, and although the rate of disembarkation is sped by the use of destroyers and trawlers which are able to approach near to shore, reinforcements can only be fed in comparatively slowly. The fleet provides covering fire when it can, but communications with the shore are so bad that often they dare not fire for fear of hitting their own troops. Worst of all is the lack of direction, neither Hamilton nor Hunter-Weston are able to judge the true state of the position. Nevertheless, almost 30,000 troops have been disembarked, despite fearful casualties, and at Cape Helles the Turks are shattered, having lost half of the 2,000 men who have opposed the landings. A determined push from the beaches during the night could well achieve the landings initial territorial objectives; but the paralysis of the central command continues.
The situation at ANZAC however is critical. Kemal’s counter attacks have been mounted with such vigor that the ANZAC forward positions are lost and the error in landing means that instead of a beach a mile lone, the corps has barely half that, only thirty yards wide, creating impossible congestion upon the small jetty which has been built following the landing. The defenders are penned into a bridgehead less than 3,500 yards long by about 1,200 yards deep, in broken terrain, the troops exhausted, disorganized and in need of food and water. Unlike his opposite number at Helles, Birdwood has been ashore all afternoon, and is told by his divisional commanders that the beachhead must be evacuated, as their forces are incapable of resisting a renewed Turkish assault. Birdwood signals to Hamilton that his position is critical and that his subordinates have advised evacuation. Hamilton replies that Hunter-Weston’s eventual attack will relieve the pressure, and that all the ANZACs have to do is dig, dig, dig, and stick it out.
As the different beachheads are linked up it seems possible that despite the terrors of the first day’s fighting at V and W, the strategic plan might still come together, with the Turks driven so far northward that Allied troops will be able to capture all the forts on the European shore. For the men who have landed amid such carnage at V and W, the main thought is of digging in, and tending the wounded. At W Beach the task of attending the wounded is a battle in itself.
At 03:30 steamboats leave three battleships and tow half the strength of the three Australian Infantry battalions ashore at Gallipoli. These men, all 1,500 of them become the first wave to land at Anzac Cove. Half an hour later, destroyers follow, pulling in the remainder of these battalions and another Australian Infantry battalion which is the reserve force. The 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade is the first to land at 04:29. The first man ashore is probably Lieutenant Duncan Chapman, who will later be killed at Pozieres in 1916. The first Turkish shot rings out soon and at 04:29 the first Turkish flare is fired which lights up the sky for the enemy to see the Australians landing. At 04:45 the whine of the Turkish shells is heard for the first time, the first of a slow succession of such salvos.
The next Australian Infantry battalion is carried north of Ari Burnu point and has to cross 200 yards of sea after being discovered. During the journey, machine guns rake the crowded boats, striking down the helpless men as they row desperately for land. Some are shot and others immediately take their place at the oars. Presently they ground and while wading ashore in waist deep-water bullets pinging all around them.
The men throw their packs on the beach and turn on the enemy. All is confusion before them. Instead of the open plain they expected, the scrub-covered hills rise steeply away. The bushes sparkle with Turkish rifle and machine gun fire, and bullets enfilade many parts of the beach. The Australians are on a strange shore, being shot down by an unseen enemy. Someone had blundered. The boats have landed on a part of the coast that General Birdwood and Australian officers had scanned from a warship a few days earlier and considered “impossible” for an attempt at landing in the dark.
Still the force does not hesitate. Concerted movement is impossible, but groups of men plunge immediately into the waist high scrub and rush the steep slopes before them. They clamber swiftly up and overrun a trench with the bayonet, sinking to hands and knees to scale vertical cliffs, chasing back the Turks. Within ten minutes the fastest of them have crested the heights, and stand looking triumphantly 300 feet and more above the coast.
As the men directly above the beach break the skyline, some are struck down by the bullets of their comrades firing below, others by enemy rifleman from above. Soon the Turks vanish into the dark tangle of gullies behind them, and their shooting dies away. Realizing this, many Australians pause, breathless and elated, believing victory won. A few push on, thrusting inland after the retreating enemy, striving urgently to make good the prize they have gained. During the day individuals and small parties penetrate more than one and a half miles from the sea, but then they are halted, and pushed back, and until after the war ends no Allies solider will pass the point they have reached.
Fortunately for the Australians, only a company or so of the enemy have opposed their landing, but at 04:45 Turkish shrapnel has begun to burst among the troops along the ridges, and shortly after 09:00 the men furthest out see lines of Turks advancing. The counter-attack moves up the valleys outflanking the scattered Australians outposts, shooting men in positions shortly before thought to be impregnable, and driving back the Anzac line.
Towards the southern flank another battalion advances directly inland from the beach in reasonably compact order to 400 Plateau, near the second ridge. They arrive there between 06:00 and 07:00, and begin digging in while the battalion scouts and a few others advance to the third (later Gun) ridge. The enemy’s fire is negligible at first, but it increases as the advanced parties are pushed in by the Turkish counter-attack, and soon men in the main body are under heavy enfilading fire. Many are shot, and the survivors are forced to lie and endure a merciless fusillade.
Upon receiving a message that AE2 has successfully penetrated the Dardanelles Straits the Commander In Chief, ‘Sir’ Ian Hamilton sends out his now famous message: “Your situation is indeed serious, but dig yourselves right in and stick it out. The Australian submarine has got up through the Narrows and torpedoed a cruiser…dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.”
Sub Lieutenant Arthur Waldene St Clair Tisdall (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) is awarded the Victoria Cross during the landings from SS River Clyde at “V’ Beach in the Gallipoli Peninsula. Sub Lieutenant Tisdall hearing wounded men on the beach calling for assistance, jumps into the water and pushes a boat in front of him and goes to their rescue. He is however obligied to obtain help and takes with him on two trips Leading Seaman Malia and on other trips CPO Perring and Leading Seamen Curtiss and Parkinson. In all Sub Lieutenant Tisdall make four or five trips between the ship and the shore and is thus responsible for rescuing several wounded men under heavy and accurate fire. This officer will be killed on 6th May 1915.
Sub Lieutenant Wilfrid St Aubyn Malleson (Royal Navy) is awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his services during the landing of the army on the Gallipoli Peninsula. He assists Commander Edward Unwin, when, observing that the lighters which are to form the bridge from the River Clyde to the shore has broken adrift, he leaves the ship and under a murderous fire attempts to get the lighters into position. Midshipman George Leslie Drewry also assists Commander Unwin at the work of securing the lighters under heavy rife and Maxim fire. He is wounded in the head, but continues his work, and twice subsequently attempts to swim from lighter to lighter with a line. Midshipman Malleson, after Midshipman Drewry has failed from exhaustion to get a line from lighter to lighter, swims with it himself and succeeds. The line subsequently breaks, and he afterwards makes two further, but unsuccessful attempts at his self imposed task. During the landing on V Beach Able Seaman William Charles Williams (Royal Navy) with the three other men (George Leslie Drewry, Wilfred St. Aubyn Malleson and George McKenzie Samson) is assisting the commander (Edward Unwin) of their ship, HMS River Clyde at the work of securing the lighters. He holds on to a rope for over an hour, standing chest deep in the sea, under continuous enemy fire. He is eventually dangerously wounded and later killed by a shell while his rescue is being secured by the commander who described him as the bravest sailor he had ever met.
At the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign the BEF in France have available 10.6 rounds per gun per day against a requirement of 50 rounds per day. The Second Army has only eight of the excellent 60-pounders, the bulk of its medium artillery consisting of forty four converted naval 4.7’s of South African War vintage. For these there is only 4.2 rounds per gun per day against a minimum need of twenty-five. Additionally the 4.7 has already earned the name “strict neutrality” because of its uncertain shooting. The simple truth is that, hard pressed to maintain even one major campaign in 1915, the British are quite incapable of two.