1st Battalion at Gallipoli - Suvla Operations (1915)

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Suvla and back to Cape Helles[edit]

After having been to the Isle of Lemnos and then on to Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula where bitter fighting ensued for the domination of Krithia and Achi Baba, the 1st Battalion had again left for Lemnos on the 7th July where a much needed rest was ordered. But they weren’t to stay there too long before they found themselves back at Cape Helles, ending up in bivouacs on X Beach. They had only been away for two weeks and that included the time it took to sail there and back. The men stayed in bivouacs for a few days before they found themselves yet again in the firing line. Further drafts of men came from England during the next ten days, 96 and 100 respectively, amongst them several officers who were either joining the Battalion on their first appointment or were attached from another regiment. These included:

Captain Kennedy (8th Wiltshire Regiment)
Lieutenant Marsden (7th West Riding)
Lieutenant Holland (10th Suffolk Regiment)
Second-Lieutenant Steer (10th Norfolk Regiment)
Second-Lieutenant Price 1st Border Regt.
Second-Lieutenant Cranfield 1st Border Regt.
Second-Lieutenant Coe 1st Border Regt.
Second-Lieutenant Armstrong 1st Border Regt.

The Battalion’s number of officers had been dramatically reduced, and appointments from other regiments was all to commonplace at a time of war when officers and other ranks became casualties as soon as they moved up front to the firing line. Casualties were always going to be inevitable.

The fighting had been very heavy at times, some days much worse than others and the 1st Battalion had seen their fair share of conflicts taking, or try to take, what seemed like impossible objectives against a force far greater in number. Even though some operations were not as successful as others the men had done what was expected of them, to certain degrees, under the continuing difficult circumstances. When objectives were not achieved, no one could say that they did not put every effort into completing what they had set out to do under the orders of their superior officers. The unpredictability of war can, and will always continue, to dictate what happens next in any given situation.

Suvla from Battleship Hill.

It was at this time upon their return to the mainland that the Battalion would become involved in operations carried out at Suvla Bay[1] as part of the major August offensive, which would lead to the Battalion’s return to the Cape and eventual full and total evacuation of the M.E.F.[2] from the peninsula.

There was a somewhat depleted force of four Infantry Divisions, these being the 10th, 11th, 53rd and 54th, already in place but these did not number more than 30,000 men, a shortfall by any means due to the heavy casualties each of these Divisions had sustained in the previous days and weeks of fighting. As a result the 29th Division was called for to increase the force and with the addition of another division from Egypt, the strength at Suvla, under the command of Major-General de Lisle, was preparing to renew the attack. In his final despatch, General Hamilton tells us that: “It was not until the 21st that I was ready to renew the attack……I decided to mass every available man against Ismail Oglu Tepe……The scheme for this attack was well planned by General de Lisle. The 53rd and 54th Divisions were to hold the enemy from Sulajik to Kiretch Tepe Sirt, while the 29th and 11th Divisions stormed Ismail Oglu Tepe”.[3] General Hamilton described the task ahead for the 11th and 29th Divisions, containing the 6th and 1st Battalions of the Border Regiment respectively, thus: “The hill rises 350 feet from the plain, with steep spurs jutting out to the W. and S.W., the whole of it covered with dense holly-oak scrub, so nearly impenetrable that it breaks up an advance and forces troops to move in single file along goat-tracks between the bushes”.[4] This would slow the advance to an uncomfortably dangerous pace leaving the men exposed in a potentially lethal bottleneck situation; the hill, however, was to be stormed nonetheless.

Landing at Suvla[edit]

It was mid August when the Battalion embarked from V Beach, dividing the numbers into two parties; 600 men leaving at 9pm and 319 at 9.30pm. They arrived at Suvla Bay in the early hours of the following morning, the 17th, where they bivouacked at Punar. They remained there during the course of the day awaiting orders, which came through around 6pm instructing the Battalion to ready themselves to move on to the 159th Brigade HQ; meanwhile A Company was instructed to join the 158th Brigade, “but on reaching its rendezvous the Commanding Officer learnt that, owing to the lateness of the hour, The G.O.C. had decided to make no attempt to advance his line as had been proposed, and the Battalion thereupon retired to Azmak Nullah and there bivouacked for the night, pushing forward patrols in front of the line and accounting for several Turkish snipers who had been giving trouble”.[5] It was here that the 1st Battalion remained during the 18th until the next day when they were ordered to return to Reserve Camp. This they did as instructed and again awaited further orders, remaining inactive on the 20th but in readiness to move on.

Taking Hill 70[edit]

The orders they had been waiting for arrived in the 21st, stipulating that “The brigade will attack Hill 70 on a frontage of 400 yards from behind the line now held by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The artillery bombardment will commence at 2.30pm, and at 3.30pm, a covering fire will be opened by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in which 2 machine guns 1st Border Regiment will assist. At 3.30pm the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers will pass this line held by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and make the assault. The 1st Borders will be in support of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and will move up into the trenches at present held by the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as soon as that regiment vacates them. The King’s Own Scottish Borderers will remain in reserve in the present fire trench”.[6] With the orders given the R.I.F., punctual to the minute, advanced to the attack position followed by the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment in support. At this time C and D Companies moved forward; A Company in support of C. During this time an urgent message was received from 87th Brigade HQ. It was evident that Hill 70 was important and must be taken. By 5pm Lieutenant Clague was 500 yards from the objective but was unable to proceed any further. His situation had now called for reinforcements. D Company had advanced to within 50 yards of the objective, that being the summit of the hill; he too needed reinforcements and soon realised that there was no contact with anyone on either of its flanks.

The situation was tense. Those coming up in support were the South Wales Borderers. Between 6 and 6.15pm this advance took place to help finally push through and take Hill 70. All were met with heavy machine gun, rifle and shrapnel fire from a troublesome knoll located to the left of the hill. Men from varying units made a daring assault to the right, charging the trench systems located there and temporarily taking hold. This did not last long as enfilading fire forced them out again to a position of retreat, casualties mounting in the process. Only Lieutenant Clague, out of the 15 officers taking part, remained unwounded.

Evacuating the Hill[edit]

By 8pm the companies were reorganised. They had taken on some hard fighting and many men had become casualties. It was important to establish a continuous line below the crest of the hill; this was worked on under the command of Major Nelson and Second-Lieutenant Coe. Meanwhile, stretcher bearers and water-carrying parties made their way to the firing line. After taking control of the circumstances, Major Nelson, with much forethought, judged the situation to be a hopeless one. This he reported by stating that it might be possible to hold the hill temporarily until daylight, but owing to the nature of the ground, the stony composition of the soil would hinder the construction of appropriate cover from shell fire; he could see no alternative that would not put the men in more danger than they already were. As a result, Major Nelson was, based on his report, ordered to execute a full evacuation of their positions before daylight. Leaving under the cover of night was essential to ensure the least amount of casualties.

As the evacuation took place, there had been no contact with Lieutenant Clague who was still holding out on the extreme left, at that point with only 33 of his own men remaining and a total of 50 from various other units. It was early morning on the 22nd, some time after the evacuation had started, that Lieutenant Clague received the same or similar orders to make an immediate withdrawal from his current position. This he did with great success and despite the very heavy sniping going on around them, they returned to safer ground without serious loss. Also, during this action “many gallant deeds were performed but owing to the heavy mortality among officers & the intermingling of units only very few of them were brough to light”.[7]

However, during these operations the 1st Battalion had suffered serious casualties. A total of 38 non-commissioned officers and men had been killed; 14 officers and 274 other ranks wounded. The total number of men missing amounted to 64. The following officers that were wounded are as follows:

Captain G.C. May Captain J.A. Tennant*[8]
Captain J.T.B. Dinwiddie*
Lieutenant J.H. Hodgson Lieutenant F.A. Rupp
Lieutenant J.J. Adair* Lieutenant J.F.R. Lake*
Lieutenant W.H.F. Chambers Lieutenant K.C. Hamilton
Second-Lieutenant P. New Second-Lieutenant N.C. Ampt*
Second-Lieutenant F.G. Goodall Second-Lieutenant A.P.J. Armstrong
Second-Lieutenant E.C. Steer

Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. St. V. Pollard assumed command of the Battalion the same day of the evacuation of Hill 70. Later that night the Battalion was relieved by the 5th R.I.F. and withdrew to the safety of a gully in the rear. It was here that the Battalion recouped its numbers when a further two drafts of 74 and 99 men respectively joining straight from England along with the following officers:

Second-Lieutenant J.W. Farrell Second-Lieutenant J.R. Streater
Second-Lieutenant D. Cargill Second-Lieutenant M. Duff
Second-Lieutenant H.P. Ledward Second-Lieutenant G.H.S McDonald
Second-Lieutenant C.R. Wise Second-Lieutenant A.W. Fraser
Second-Lieutenant R.S. Mackenzie

A Quieter Period[edit]

File:Allied dugout at W Beach.jpg
Allied dugout at W Beach.

By this time it was the end of August. The Battalion was going to be spending much of its efforts in duties relating to preparations for the months ahead. After having been relieved by the 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the men continued with dugout improvements and moved up to relieve the 2nd Hants Regiment, in addition to supporting the K.O.S.B. and the S.W.B. who were at this time in the firing line. On the 27th a working party of 200 men were sent to help unload stores at A Beach and on the 30th, a total of four officers and 200 men were sent to the K.O.S.B. and S.W.B. communication trenches to aid them in their work from 8pm till midnight. The Battalion saw the last day of the month making necessary improvements to their existing accommodation in addition to working on plans for making two nullahs habitable for the winter occupancy.

In comparison to previous months, September was fairly quiet. Fighting did not stop on account of rest from the firing line and much action, by way of minor attacks in various forms, continued throughout, however, the 1st Battalion's involvement would not seem them in similar action that had taken place on Hill 70. Their time was spent at (what is stated in the war diary) as the Suvla Bay Zone, where they rotated from reserve to firing line and back again. However, the majority of their time was spent on:

  • “1st: Work in firing line; support & second line trenches;
  • 2nd: Work on communication trenches;
  • 3rd: Work on improving accommodation in the gullies for troops to live in & constructing fresh dug-outs in places where they would not be flooded out;
  • 4th: Sending working parties to work on the communications belonging to other regiments”.[9]

To the men it was clear that the firing line, support and second trenches were not safe by any means due to inadequate depth and the parapet not suitably bullet proof. Work in these trenches was difficult owing to the nature of the rocky subsoil, which caused many problems, yet blasting seemed to be the best solution but this still took time as there were safety issues to bear in mind. The communication trenches, which ran back to the S.W.B. nullah, had not been successfully completed to make them safe enough without the dangers of being caught in the snipers sights or killed by stray bullets. The accommodation in the two gullies where the Battalion was resident was far too cramped and so they were extended in size to better accommodate the number of men living in them. On the 21st the Battalion was supposed to have been relieved by the Royal Munster Fusliers but this was delayed for a further 24 hours. In the meantime during that evening “a party of 2 officers & 100 rank & file of Newfoundland Regt. were sent up to the Battalion to be instructed in trench warfare. The whole of these were accommodated either in the firing line or close support trenches in proportion of one man of the Border Regt. to two of the Newfoundland Regt”.[10] The relief they waited for came through the next day and the Battalion was ordered back to Border Gully where they again waited due to “inclement weather”. On the 24th the Battalion embarked at Little West Beach proceeding to the Isle of Imbros[11] on board the S.S. Ermine and it was here that upon arrival the Battalion was accommodated in a rest camp where another draft of 54 men joined the ranks.

They did not remain there for too long and a week later they received an order to prepare to move back to Cape Helles. On the 2nd October they embarked in lighters, later transhipping to three trawlers, and sailed back to Helles. On arriving at Lancashire Landing the Battalion was met by the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General who personally showed them to their rest camp accommodation. The Battalion, along with the entire 87th Brigade, which for a short while had been detached from the 29th Division and attached to the 52nd, were again employed in the construction of winter dug-outs throughout the month in readiness for longer occupancy on the peninsula. Work coninued as it had done before at Suvla in much the same way. Between the 16th and 19th there was “Continuous sniping by day & night & also bomb throwing from catapults. The TURKS rifle fire at first was brisk, but fell off a bit each day. Their trenches vary from 40 to 120 yds away from ours. On most nights we opened fire on their working parties & also sent out patrols & bombing parties to various portions of their trenches. The trenches when we took them over were very narrow, the parapets were not bullet proof & the trench in some places enfiladed, the fire step was so low as to be impossible to fire over the parapet. We put in a lot of work both by day & night remedying these defects & also improving the communication trenches. Before we left the Battn was complimented by Gen. LAWRENCE G.O.C. 52nd Div. on the good work done in no short a time”.[12] Also, there were concerns as mining could be heard. This usually meant one thing and so with great urgency the information was sent to Brigade, where upon realising the dangers sent the Royal Engineers out to investigate. As a result a counter mine was started under R.E. supervision to prevent the inevitable from happening.

The 2nd S.W.B. relieved the Battalion and between the 19th and end of the month time was spent in and out of the firing line, working on improving 2nd line and communication trenches along with continuous efforts in making the winter dugouts habitable. During October at HELLES ” everything had been very quiet, nothing of military interest happened. A little shelling every day which seemed to do marvellously little damage on our side, a great many enemy shells did not burst. No attacks on either side were made”.[13] Cape Helles was going to be remembered for many things but during winter it would be remembered for its attack by other enemies, namely those belonging to the raging sickness spreading its way throughout the force in the forms of jaundice, septic sores and primarily dysentery. Casualties, as stated in the war diary, shows the number of men killed, wounded, missing or sick in any given week yet the single main cause of casualties during this time was due to sickness. The Battalion, however, was at a fairly reasonable strength with yet another draft of 150 men joining the ranks along with many others who had returned from convalescence.

The turning point on the peninsula[edit]

It came as no surprise that the strategically difficult operations in Gallipoli were becoming far too costly for such diminutive tangible gains. In many cases no such gains were made at all and throughout residence on the peninsula many thousands of men had become wounded, were missing or had lost their lives, only to become part of another set of statistics. With the situation at hand, “having regard to the needs of the main theatre of war, the difficulties of providing reinforcements for General Hamilton were almost insuperable, and that it was desirable to ‘cut our losses’ and evacuate the peninsula”.[14] The situation in Gallipoli had started to turn and “ on the 11th October Lord Kitchener cabled to Sir Ian asking for an estimate of the possible losses which a complete withdrawal would involve; and on receiving a reply that these might be as high as 50 per cent”.[15]

Important decisions were to be made regarding the M.E.F. and on the 16th October Lord Kitchener directed General Hamilton to return home for a meeting regarding the present situation. It was here that he was informed of his successor, General Sir Charles Munro, who would command the M.E.F. from that point on. It was on the 17th that General Hamilton issued the following farewell message:

“On handing over the command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to General Sir C. C. Munro, the Commander-in-Chief wishes to say a few farewell words to the Allied troops with many of whom he has now for so long been associated. First he would like them to know his deep sense of the honour it has been to command so fine an Army in one of the most arduous and difficult campaigns which has ever been undertaken; secondly, he must express to them his admiration of the noble response which they have invariably given to the calls he has made upon them. No risk has been too desperate, no sacrifice too great. Sir Ian Hamilton thanks all ranks, from generals to private soldiers, for the wonderful way they have seconded his efforts to lead them towards that decisive victory, which under their new chief, he has the most implicit confidence they will achieve”.

The M.E.F. received their new Commander by the 30th October and it was unmistakable that he was strongly against any further action at Gallipoli, clearly instead, taking the view of a full and total evacuation in favour of further loss of life for objectives that were becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. The decision for withdrawal from Gallipoli came from the Secretary of State for War and early November marked the start of this becoming a reality when the necessary orders were given.

The Full Evacuation of the M.E.F.[edit]

To move such a force from any location was always going to take a long time. At Gallipoli this had to be done under difficult circumstances as the risk of running high and insurmountable casualties, as a result, would be catastrophic. Many arrangements needed to made and being at the foot of a resilient enemy meant that the M.E.F. had to remain very much focused on the tasks at hand, each person, platoon, Company, Battalion, Regiment, Brigade and Division working as one to prepare for the eventual withdrawal with the minimum loss of life possible. The combined number of the forces at Suvla and ANZAC[16] totalled 83,000 men, along with large quantities of weaponry, ammunition, horses, mules, the carts in which they pulled, and all sorts of supplies. This had to be loaded on the transport ships over a period of weeks and all this in the face of the enemy at 300 yards, some even keeping a watchful eye at only 20. There was nothing the M.E.F. could do about that other than keep them at their heels for as long as possible.

The firing line had to be maintained and the 1st Battalion was there once again on the 8th November doing just that. Something that probably wouldn’t haven been considered by many men was the single handed charge made by Segeant J. Cooper, who in the heat of fighting ordered his men to stand down, before taking the parapet and running over to the Turkish trenches some 120 yards distance. There he stood atop the breastwork and shot five of the trench’s occupants before making his way back under a covering fire from his comrades. It was sheer luck that he managed to survive, welcomed back to the safety of his own trench with congratulatory cheer. What drove him to do that is unknown. It could have been one of many reasons all that would lead back to him doing his duty, in a spur of the moment, heroic and even foolish, kind of way.

The weather made an undesirable change and the area was hit hard by torrential downpours. The 17th was a deplorable day. The rain flooded the trenches, weakened the walls and in many places the parapets fell in on themselves causing terrible damage. But it did not get any better as only a week later a destructive blizzard tore through their residences and many men died from exposure, 10,000 having to be removed because of terrible sickness. During December though, 106 in number joined the Battalion and of these 86 had recovered from illnesses and wounds. Captain J.R.C. Meiklejohn and Second-Lieutenants Jessup, Rettie, Palmer and Campbell also joined at this time.

The forces at Suvla and ANZAC were decided to be the first to leave the peninsula; with five Divisions at Suvla alone this was done remarkably quickly and by the 20th they had all been withdrawn. The Divisions at Helles consisted of the 29th, 42nd, 52nd, Naval Divisions and a number of French troops. By the 28th orders were received that the M.E.F., in its entirety, was to leave Gallipoli. Before this was accomplished the 13th Division came over from Imbros to relieve the 42nd Division and during the last few days of occupancy on the peninsula the 42nd, 52nd and Naval Divisions had been withdrawn leaving only 13th and 29th Divisions remaining. The force on land was now a fraction of it former self and this meant an increasing danger from overwhelming numbers. The year 1915 was seen to the end and the introduction of the New Year brought about the final phase of the evacuation, which on the night of the 8th/9th came into play when the 1st Battalion moved into position for covering the embarkation on W Beach. Here is how they were situated:

File:Preparing for evacuation at W Beach.jpg
Preparing for evacuation at W Beach.
  • “A Company: Second-Lieutenant Streater and 2 machine guns, were on the left from Bakery gully near the cemetery, with a post – 1 officer and 10 men – on the road below the cliffs;”
  • “B Company: Captain Ewbank and 1 machine gun, were occupying the ground from the cemetery to the right, covering both roads of approach;”
  • “C Company: Second-Lieutenant Farrell, with an officer and 40 men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 1 machine gun, were on Hunter-Weston Hill;”
  • “D Company: was in support under Lieutenant Millard.”[17]

In the early hours on the 9th January the last remaining troops of the 29th Division fell back through the defences. The 1st Battalion, still occupying the land until the safe removal of the last troops, also fell back in the following order: C Company first, then A Company, shortly follow by C and D Companies. A, B and D Companies, along with Battalion HQ made their way to Pier 2 and embarked on lighters after which they transhipped to the destroyer Staunch. Second-Lieutenant Fraser, along with 25 men remained as a small covering party. During this time the stockpile of ammunition on W Beach was destroyed, as it was quicker to do this than transport it, but as a result 5 men of the 1st Battalion were injured because of falling debris. It took some time for the Battalion in its entirety to reach Mudros Harbour as it had been separated in the process. 184 men and 4 officers were transferred from the Staunch to the Princess Irene because she was over laden and in the face of rising winds would have too dangerous. Parts of C Company turned up at scattered intervals and Second-Lieutenant Fraser and his men arrived last, safely.

Once the Battalion had been assembled together, they boarded the Minneapolis and Nestor and embarked on the journey back to Alexandria arriving on the 14th and 16th respectively. They later entrained for Suez and it was here that the 1st Battalion underwent reorganisation and further training with a fresh draft of 343 other ranks and the following officers: Lieutenant Sinclair and Second-Lieutenants Cargill and Barry.

The Battalion had been through various battles and dealt with the enemy under tense circumstances. They, as part of the 29th Division, had been ordered to Suvla in the hope that the extra numbers would improve the chances of a victory there but this was to no avail. The unsuccessful attempts there led them back to Cape Helles where throughout the winter occupancy there was much suffering and misery as a result of harsh and uncomfortable weather. Many losses were incurred due to conflicts and sickness and the decision to withdraw from the peninsula, in the eyes of those leading the M.E.F., seemed like the right thing to do given the current situation they were in. They had learned many lessons during their time at Gallipoli, which it was hoped would be put to use when they were to eventually arrive at their new destination, that of the Somme on Western Front.

See also[edit]

References / notes[edit]

  1. On the Aegean coastline of the Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey
  2. Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
  3. Wylly, p. 60
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. Wylly, pp.60 & 61
  7. War Diary of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment for August 1915. National Archives Catalogue Ref: WO/95/4311.
  8. Star denotes Officer Died of Wounds.
  9. War Diary of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment for September 1915. National Archives Catalogue Ref: WO/95/4311.
  10. War Diary of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment for September 1915. National Archives Catalogue Ref: WO/95/4311.
  11. The largest of the Turkish Islands.
  12. War Diary of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment for October 1915. National Archives Catalogue Ref: WO/95/4311.
  13. War Diary of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment for October 1915. National Archives Catalogue Ref: WO/95/4311.
  14. Wylly, p.62
  15. Wylly, p.62
  16. Acronym meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
  17. Wylly, p.64