6th Battalion at Gallipoli - Helles Peninsula (Suvla Bay) 1915

This is a redacted version of the 6th Battalion's part in the Gallopoli-Helles Campaign (credited to Richard Overton)

Gallipoli-Helles Operations

The 11th (Northern) Division had seemed destined for France but it happened that in May and June events were conspiring to incline the government for the first time to favour Gallipoli against the Western Front. A disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on 9th May had demonstrated that nothing was to be gained at present from an aggressive policy in France. Again, on the Eastern Front things were going badly with Russia. This was serious since if she were to cease to play an effective role in the war many of the German divisions then fighting on the Eastern Front would be freed for the Western Front. A Gallipoli expedition remained the only feasible method of directly assisting Russia by means of opening up the Dardanelles. Would it not make sense to provide whatever force was needed to obtain a rapid and decisive victory on the Peninsula? On 14th May Kitchener was authorised to offer Hamilton one division which was to be sent out immediately. This was the 52nd Territorial Division which would reach him on the 6th June. In addition he was to enquire from Hamilton what additional forces he needed. In his reply of 17th May Hamilton asked for three divisions.

He then waited three anxious weeks for an answer. The delay was caused by the dissolution of the Liberal government and the length of time it took to form a wartime coalition of Liberals, Conservatives and Labour in its place. This had unfortunate consequences since Hamilton's forces continued to be eroded by battle casualties and sickness while the Turks, with their immense geographical advantage, strengthened their own positions. The answer from Kitchener when it came exceeded Hamilton's request and expectations. At successive meetings of the War Council on 6th and 17th June Kitchener was authorised to offer Hamilton, firstly, the three remaining divisions of the New Army not yet detailed for use on the Western Front, namely the 10th, 11th and 13th and, secondly, urged by Churchill, two Territorial divisions, the 53rd and 54th. To speed up the transportation of these divisions three of the biggest passenger liners were chartered, this despite the scale of the loss that would result if they were sunk by submarines.

Thus it came about that 33 Brigade of 11 Div, with 6th Borders in it, sailed from Liverpool on The Empress of Britain escorted by two destroyers on 1st July and reached the base in Alexandria on the 12th. Here it was necessary to carry out reorganisation of stores and equipment – involving much physical work for soldiers unused to the heat. The Empress of Britain reached Mudros harbour on the 18th July.

How did Hamilton intend to use the five additional divisions? The plan worked out between him and Birdwood centred round a breakout from Anzac, where the Australians and New Zealanders (three divisions strong) had been hanging on since April encircled and overlooked by the Turks. With this force substantially increased breakout might be achieved but the beachhead at Anzac was so cramped that there was a strict limit to the number of additional troops that could be brought in, particularly as they would have to be landed secretly and hidden out of sight. Hence it was decided to make a landing at Suvla simultaneously with the breakout so that the operation could be launched on a broad front and the Turks could be attacked from outside as well as from within the circle. 13 Div and one brigade of 10 Div would be employed in the breakout from Anzac, 11 Div plus the remaining two brigades of 10 Div at Suvla. The latter would form a new corps – IX Corps. 53 and 54 Divs would be in reserve for Hamilton to dispose of.

The part of the plan that gave Hamilton sleepless nights was the break-out from Anzac, where the Turkish defences had seemed near-impregnable and the terrain was exceptionally difficult. Compared with Anzac, Suvla looked easy provided the Turks did not get wind of the landing, since the bay was believed only to be defended by a small force of four battalions (in fact there were only three) and their nearest reserves were at Bulair 30 marching miles away. With Suvla looking a piece of cake if the landing could be safely effected (which secrecy and a night landing should ensure) Hamilton paid insufficient attention to that part of the plan and his orders to the commander of IX Corps were surprisingly slipshod. Where everything depended on dash to get possession of the hills surrounding the bay before the Turks could get there, nothing was written in these orders about the necessity of speed, nor for the matter of that about the presence of the Turkish reserves known to be at Bulair. More surprising still, there was no emphasis on the essential purpose of the landing at Suvla which was to assist the break-out from Anzac. On the contrary the primary task was said to be making Suvla Bay safe. Stage by stage in the transmission of orders these omissions would be compounded and when General Hammersley, commanding 11 Div, issued his own orders to his three brigade commanders these actually stated that one of the purposes of the Anzac attack was to distract attention from the landing at Suvla Bay!

On arrival at Mudros 33 Brigade was singled out from the other two brigades of 11 Div to proceed to Helles and relieve the Royal Naval Division in the line for ten days from 20th July. Here 6th Borders earned golden opinions from that division's field company of Engineers for good work done in improving trenches; they were helped in this by having a number of miners in the Battalion from the Wigan coalfields. The brigade suffered a number of casualties in this period but the Official History comments that its fighting efficiency increased by 50% as a result of those ten days' experience of active service.

On 2 August the Battalion rejoined the Division on the island of Imbros, their jumping off point for the Suvla landing, which was scheduled for the night of 6/7 August. (Sooner would have been better but this was the first night for a month to offer suitable conditions, when the attacking troops could approach the coast in the dark but have the advantage of moonlight after getting ashore.) The night attack would be made by 11 Div and would be followed up at dawn by 10 Div who would be leaving from the island of Mitylene.

The few days spent on Imbros by 6th Borders in hot and dusty camps proved to be very trying and debilitating. Dysentery was rife, reducing the strength of the Battalion for the forthcoming landing, and many of those who stuck it out were weakened by diarrhoea. The men were kept hard at it until the last minute but even as late as the day of departure, 6th August, junior officers were in ignorance of the plans and their part in them beyond the landing itself, so insistent were Hamilton and his staff at GHQ on secrecy. For the same reason, maps were issued too late to be studied properly. It was not until midday of the 6 August that the men were told the landing was to take place that night. Secrecy was important but Hamilton and his staff at GHQ seem to have overdone it.

Soon after 3 pm the troops fell in on their battalion parade grounds and an hour later the Division began to embark, some (including 6th Borders) on to destroyers with lighters in tow, some straight on to lighters. These were motor lighters specially designed for landing troops. Capable of carrying 500 men they had armoured sides, drew only seven feet of water, and had a ramp to allow quick, dry exit under enemy fire.

The fleet set off from Kephalos Bay, Imbros for Suvla an hour after sunset which was 7.15. Apparently confident and in good heart - trusting in its commanders. This trust, as the Official History show only too clearly, was sadly misplaced. The trouble started at the top with the appointment of a wildly unsuitable person to command IX Corps in Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford. Hamilton had asked for a General who had proved himself on the Western Front, perhaps Byng or Rawlinson, but Kitchener ruled this out. Instead by an argument which had everything to do with seniority and nothing to do with fitness for the post, he settled on General Stopford who was 61 years old, in semi-retirement, and had never commanded large bodies of troops in the field. This combination of disqualifications was evident at the time of the appointment but what was not evident was that he was a weak man who would be dominated by his chief of staff, Brigadier General Reid VC. The latter had a fixation about the importance of artillery in offensive operations, a sound principle on the Western Front against an organised system of trenches but one which did not apply at Suvla where the Turks were few and their trenches negligible. Want of adequate artillery support would become a regular excuse for inaction.

One rung lower down, Major General Frederick Hammersley commanding 11 Div would also prove to be inadequate, at age 57 having lost the resilience of youth. In the letter to Kitchener leading to the superseding of these two officers (when it was too late) Hamilton compared the combination of new troops and old generals to putting new wine into old bottles with results that turned out equally unfortunate.

The voyage from Imbros took less than two hours and the leading battalions of 32 and 33 Brigades were safely on shore at B beach by 10 pm. The troops on the destroyers had to wait for the return of the lighters to the ship and this applied to 6th Borders who landed about midnight with 6th Lincolns. These two battalions were initially in divisional reserve. The landing had achieved complete strategic surprise. The local Turkish forces only amounted to three battalions and their nearest reserves were known to be 30 marching miles away at Bulair.

Turkish posts had been located at the two horns of the bay at Lala Baba and Ghazi Baba, also at Hill 10 midway between the two. A battalion of 32 Brigade dealt with the former (though at considerable cost) and the latter was soon knocked out as well, but there was difficulty and delay in dealing with Hill 10, the specific responsibility of 34 Brigade whose landing had gone disastrously wrong. Unlike the other two brigades, 34 Brigade had landed within the bay itself, the lighters struck hidden reefs and could not be got to land, and the troops had to wade ashore through deepish water. Furthermore, by a navigational error, the destroyers had anchored south of the Cut and about 1,000 yards south of their intended station. The battalion charged with the task of dealing with Hill 10 was misled by the wrong landing place and could not even locate the hill.

This was a severe setback no doubt. Yet the best part of two brigades (32 and 33) were standing by at or near Lala Baba, and had either brigade commander taken the initiative an attack on Hill 10 could have been mounted from this direction. The failure to do so may be attributed partly to lack of impetus from above – Stopford had not come ashore and so did not even know what was going on – and partly to poor briefing due to excessive secrecy.

As it was, by dawn the only success achieved was the capture of the two horns of the bay, and the situation was verging on chaos. The beach was under persistent rifle fire and two or three Turkish guns were dividing their attention between the troops ashore and the numerous vessels in the bay. The confusion was if anything increased by the arrival at daybreak from Mitylene of the two brigades of 10 Div.

Hill 10 was finally taken about 8 am, its hundred defenders retiring eastwards, and with the bay safe at last it should have been possible to move against objectives further inland, initially Chocolate Hills. But lack of leadership at the top was again evident. By mid-morning a stream of contradictory orders and reports was being passed between Hammersley and his brigade commanders as he strove to organise the attack on Chocolate Hills. Stopford, nursing an injured knee, was still ineffectually on board the sloop Jonquil, IX Corps HQ to date.

When eventually Chocolate Hills were assaulted that evening 6th Borders was in on the action. They and 6th Lincolns were brought out of reserve at Lala Baba to lead a general attack. To save time as daylight was already fading they wisely ignored orders to skirt the Salt Lake and marched boldly across it and assaulted the west end of the hill, Lincolns leading and Borders in close support, while two Irish battalions from 10 Div attacked the east end. At last Chocolate Hills were captured, not before daybreak on the 7th as intended, but after nightfall. The Battalion got off relatively lightly in the matter of casualties with two officers wounded, four other ranks killed, three missing and 51 wounded. Next morning it was ordered back into divisional reserve at Lala Baba.

Chocolate Hills should have been the preliminary to advancing on the more important Ismal Oglu Tepe (W Hills) half a mile to the east. That night there were five battalions from three brigades intermingled on Chocolate Hills but since none of the three brigade commanders concerned had come up with them there was no one with the authority to get them sorted out and moving in the right direction. And perhaps no more junior officer sufficiently well briefed to take on this responsibility or even to realise the urgency of the situation. In fact three Turkish battalions had been on the march from Bulair since 5.30 that morning and with marching time of 30 hours could be expected to arrive late 8th August or early 9th, with two divisions following.

At daybreak next morning, 8 August, General Hammersley visited his brigadiers with best of intentions to push forward to the hills but met with a negative response. Having had no visit from Stopford nor received any instructions from Corps for a forward move, his resolve evaporated and he accepted the plea that nothing could be done that day and until the troops had had some rest.

About 11 am Stopford heard from GHQ that air patrols could discover no movement of Turkish troops in the plain east of Tekke Tepe. The message ended "Hope this indicates you will be able to gain a footing early on the Tekke Tepe ridge, importance of which you will realise". Thus encouraged, Stopford passed this on to his divisional commanders but with the following rather equivocal message:
"It is of the greatest importance to forestall the enemy on the high ground north of Anafarta Sagir and on the spur running thence to Ismail Oglu Tepe. If you find the ground lightly held by the enemy push on. But in view of want of adequate artillery support I do not want you to attack an entrenched position held in strength"
Such a half-hearted order (if order it can be called) was hardly calculated to galvanise people into action, and in fact it resulted in complete stagnation. Thus 8th August was a wasted day – and this when two Turkish divisions, now strung out on the road from Bulair, were being urged (though unsuccessfully as it turned out) to reach the hills and commence their counter-attack by sunset when the gathering darkness would protect their attacking troops from the guns of the British fleet.

At Suvla that evening things were put in hand for action the following morning. As part of a general advance ordered by Stopford (this time in less equivocal terms) Hammersley issued a warning order at 6 pm for a joint attack by 32 and 33 Brigades. 32 Brigade would attack the village of Anafarta Sagir and the northern half of the spur running down from that village. 33 Brigade would attack the W Hills and the southern half of the spur. Late that evening 6th Borders who were in divisional reserve at Lala Baba received their orders for the attack.

In order to follow subsequent events it is necessary to switch our view to GHQ at Imbros. During the whole of 7th August Hamilton had exercised no influence whatever over the Suvla operation, being too preoccupied with the desperate struggle going on at Anzac. But as the morning of the 8th wore on he became uneasy about Suvla and decided to go and see for himself. At 11.30 am he ordered the Arno, the destroyer set aside for his own personal use, "for mid-day sharp". But to his intense irritation he was told that the destroyer had developed a boiler problem and was out of action. Only after a five hour wait was he able to get a lift on another ship and he did not reach Suvla until after 6 pm when the dismal picture became apparent to him. He heard first from Stopford on the Jonquil of the leisurely programme for 11 Div to attack next morning. And he heard the same thing from Hammersley whom he rushed off to see, leaving Stopford behind complaining of his bad knee.

On Hamilton's arrival at Hammersley's HQ at Lala Baba a sharp exchange ensued. Hamilton insisted that W Hills must be captured before daylight – and not only W Hills but the main ridge at Tekke Tepe. Hammersley demurred, arguing the various difficulties, principally that of getting orders out in time to his widely dispersed units since it was already 7 o'clock. His superior remained adamant. At least one battalion had to be got to the top of Tekke Tepe before daylight. Hammersley was obliged to give way. He conceded that 32 Brigade, which he believed to be more or less concentrated at Sulajik, might be able to advance that night and agreed to arrange for this. He sent his staff officer over to 32 Brigade HQ at Hill 10 with verbal orders for the Brigade to extend its objectives from the Anafarta spur to as far north as Kavak Tepe on the Tekke Tepe ridge. Furthermore the Brigade was not to wait till the morning but was to move forward during the night in order to ensure at least one battalion was on the ridge before dawn.

In fact Hammersley's objections had substance and the chain of events that resulted from Hamilton's belated intervention was catastrophic. Moreover it had a direct bearing on the disaster which would befall 6th Borders on the morning of 9th August. 32 Brigade was not in fact concentrated at Sulajik as Hammersley had supposed. Unfortunately the brigade commander seems to have been equally ignorant about the whereabouts of his four battalions. Had he but known it, two of them were at that moment well placed for an immediate advance on the Tekke Tepe ridge. 9th West Yorks were 1,000 yards to the east of Sulajik and 6th East Yorks had entrenched themselves on Scimitar Hill. But being unaware of this he sent out battalion runners with an order to all four battalions to concentrate at Sulajik at 10.30 pm when further orders would be issued.

This step was disastrous. The 8th West Riding already at Sulajik was soon joined there by 6th York & Lancaster from near Hill 10. But hours were spent by the messengers tracking down the two forward battalions, and once located more time was wasted as they withdrew from their valuable forward positions to march back to Sulajik. It was not until 2 am that 6th East Yorks arrived at the Sulajik rendezvous. Still the brigadier waited for 9th West Yorks until their absence was finally accepted. After five and a half hours of futile waiting the order to advance was finally given. It was 3.30 am. But at this very moment two Turkish battalions were breasting the slopes on the other side of the ridge and as daylight came the leading elements of 32 Brigade came under heavy fire. The 'race' to the top of Tekke Tepe had been lost.

The 6th Borders had spent Sunday 8th August on the beach near Lala Baba and that evening received their orders to join in 33 Brigade's attack on the Anafarta spur and the W Hills, which had been brought forward to dawn after Hamilton's intervention. 6th Borders were on the right flank, their objective the W Hills. They had a two hour march from Lala Baba in the dark to get to the start line at the eastern foot of Chocolate Hills in time for the 5.15 am start. 'C' Coy were on the right, 'D' Coy on the left and 'A' and 'B' in support. All went well until about 6.10 am when nearing the W Hills and successfully rushing some trenches at their foot the leading platoons came under fire from Scimitar Hill – that same Scimitar Hill which a few hours earlier had been occupied by 6th East Yorks. The effect of being enfiladed from this unexpected quarter was devastating. Twelve officers and 21 men were killed, five officers and 241 men wounded and 31 missing. Amongst the officers killed were the four company commanders, all of them long-serving Regular officers.

Among the Regular officers of the Battalion only three survived – the CO, Col Broadrick, the Quartermaster, Lieut White and the Adjutant, George Darwell. Claude Darwell, who was in charge of the leading platoon of 'D' Coy, was amongst the 12 officers killed. Later George would write that he never saw his brother again. The remnant of the Battalion dug itself in and remained there till 5 pm when they withdrew as best they could taking their wounded with them and losing another five killed in doing so.

The twin failures of 32 Brigade and 33 Brigade on 9th August ended the last chance of success for the Sari Bair offensive since by then it was also evident that the breakout from Anzac (deprived of any help from Suvla) had failed by a narrow margin to seize the dominating feature of Hill 976. What was now essential, for as long as the British intended to remain at Suvla, was to make the bay safe from Turkish shellfire from the surrounding hills, of which the nearest and most dominating were W Hills and Scimitar Hill. General de Lisle had taken over command of IX Corps from Stopford (sent home on 16th August) and his first task was to seize these two hills, which he hoped to do with the help of reinforcements in the shape of 29 Div brought from Helles and the (misleadingly named) 2nd Mounted Division, the last of the reserves available to Hamilton, which had just arrived from Egypt.

On the afternoon of 21st August both the the 1st and 6th Battalions would find themselves fighting virtually side by side – 1st Borders with 29 Div going up against against Scimitar Hill and 6th Borders with 11 Div against W Hill. Despite General de Lisle's confidence the chances were less favourable than on the 9th August. The Turks had brought up reinforcements and also had a considerable advantage in artillery. In the Official History's picturesque phrase – "Their guns overlooked the British lines like an audience at the theatre overlooks the stage." The 6th Battalion was shelled as soon as it left Lala Baba. Only about 40 men were left to press on as far as the east end of Chocolate Hills where the CO (Lt Col Broadrick) was killed and Capt George Darwell wounded. So of the precious cadre of Regular officers on whom the cohesion of the Battalion depended only one remained, the Quartermaster – the veteran Hon Lieutenant Ernest White MC, DCM, an ex Regimental Sergeant Major. Many of the battalion are buried in marked and unmarked graves at Green Hill Cemetery.

Gallipoli Poetry

Here Dead We Lie

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure
Is nothing much to lose
But young men think it is
And we were young. —A. E. Housman, source unknown

War poetry can capture the sense of selfless sacrifice so evident in the the regiment's service as regular, New Army and territorial battalions. The short poem to the right by a man, who although not a veteran nonetheless expresses that bravery.

Now try these links and read some more poems with a distinct Gallipoli and 6th Battalion linkage:

The last word should go to Rudyard Kipling. Kipling's only son John died in 1915 at the Battle of Loos and these lines perhaps reflect the guilt of a father that in ignorance encouraged a son to go.

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

See also

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