Home Land War The Generals Birdwood: The Exceptional British General Who Led The Anzac At Gallipoli In The Great War

Birdwood: The Exceptional British General Who Led The Anzac At Gallipoli In The Great War

N.B.: To find the respective locations of the place names mentioned in this article, please refer to the list of topograpical features: Anzac Cove and Suvla Sectors of the Gallipoli Peninisular at the bottom.

Introduction

birdwoodA true son of the British Raj, William Riddell (a.k.a. Birdy, Birdie or Bill) Birdwood - hereafter WRB - was born in 1865 in Poona (Pune), a government hill station in Maharashtra State, India, to a family of Indian Army officers; however his father was in the Indian Civil Service (ICS). After the usual boarding school years at a British public school (Clifton College, Bristol, England) he entered Sandhurst and upon graduation was commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers. In 1885 WRB sailed to India on a transfer to the British Indian Army where he served with several indigenous cavalry regiments (e.g. The 12th Lancers and The Bengal Lancers) on active service in the North Western Province tribal areas.

In 1899, he sailed from India for South Africa and the Boer War, and served until 1892 as Military Secretary to the then General Horatio Herbert Kitchener. WRB built up a protégé-like association with Kitchener. This continued when Kitchener returned to India as Commander-in-Chief, and WRB was appointed as Quartermaster-General, Indian Army. Promotion to Major General followed in 1911. From 1912 up to the outbreak of the Great War, WRB served as Secretary of the Indian Army Department and as a nominated Member of the Legislative Council.

The lead up to the Dardanelles Campaign

In October 1914, the Australian and New Zealand Governments sent Expeditionary Forces to the United Kingdom to serve with the British Army on the Continent in the war against Germany. However, en route, whilst sailing up the Red Sea, the troopships were diverted to Egypt as the training establishments in the UK were chock-a-block with Kitchener's New Army volunteers. In November 1914, Kitchener, now the British Secretary of State for War, despatched WRB to Egypt to command the combined Australian and New Zealand Force - now called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - which was training in Egypt prior to their transfer to the Western Front. During this training period the name of the joint force became shortened to a telegraphese format of ANZAC.

Thus began an extraordinary relationship between the 49-year old archetypal British Empire General, and the volunteer Australian and New Zealand Armies. Somehow, WRB, small and slim in stature and apparently fearless, quickly built up a rapport with both the rather deference deficient and individualistic Australians and the more military tradition minded New Zealanders. He welded their combined force into what was to be one of the consistently more effective fighting forces in the Great War. The professional soldiers in ANZAC found WRB to be thoroughly competent in the business of soldiery, and he was an effective communicator with all ranks. He also knew how to make concessions to the essentially different mind-set of his Australasian troops and not to get bogged down by a strict adherence to British Imperial military traditions. Not all of WRB's superiors agreed with his atypical relaxed approach; the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, was to prove to be particularly critical of what he considered as over-familiarity between a commanding officer and his men.

With the training of ANZAC well organised in the desert around the Pyramids in Egypt, and on Kitchener's instructions, WRB made a site visit to the Dardanelles. The British War Council, at the urging of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Spencer Leonard Churchill was considering a forcing of the passage of the Dardanelles Straits and making a show of force on the Ottoman Empire capital, Constantinople, by the Royal and French Navies. Reporting directly to Kitchener by telegram, WRB strongly recommended that the Royal Navy could not do the job without the participation of the Army. It is to be assumed that in view of WRB's close relation with Kitchener, WRB anticipated that he would be given the command of the military component of the force. However, in the event, the commander of the French Dardanelles force was found to be senior to WRB, so, on the 12th March 1915, General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton was chosen by Kitchener as a compromise. Hamilton insisted, politely, that Kitchener gave him some further information on his responsibilities. Kitchener informed him that he would command the British 29th Division of the Regular Army, two Divisions of Australian and New Zealand troops - then under training in Egypt - a Royal Naval Division and a contingent of French troops, totalling 75,000 men in all. The overall objective was Constantinople. The army was to be a back up force to the Royal Navy, only to be called upon if absolutely necessary. At a meeting the next day the Force was designated the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF).

In March 1915, a combined Anglo-French Naval fleet attempted to force the Dardenelles and so threaten Constantinople, but were thwarted by the Turkish use of sea-mines and heavy artillery. On the 23rd March 1915 Vice Admiral John de Roebeck, the newly appointed commander of the British Fleet, telegraphed London to inform them that the Navy could not do the job without the assistance of the Army. The Gallipoli Peninular and the Asian shore that guarded the Dardanelles Straits had to be stormed and neutralised before any attempt at forcing the Straits could be attempted. Coincidentally, the 23rd March 1915 was the day the British General Staff drew up an appreciation of the plans for a military invasion of the Dardanelles.

With this news, and the additional intelligence provided by WRB, the British Cabinet also became firm in their insistence that troops should be part of the Dardanelles Campaign. It was decided to attack both the Gallipoli Peninsular, the Asian shore and the City of Constantinople with troops carried by landing craft and transport ships supported by Royal Navy and French warships. This would permit a safe passage of the remainder of the invasion fleet through the Dardenalles Straits, into the Sea of Marmara and onto Constantinople, and so open up the manifold strategic and tactical opportunities that that presented.

In the search for suitable troop formations already in the Mediterranean area, the ANZAC was the first choice of the British Cabinet to beef up the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) for its invasion in April 1914.

Meanwhile, day-by-day, the Turks were rushing in reinforcements and improving the defences of the Dardanelles, whilst another month was wasted as the Allied invasion force of 75,000 troops was organised and transported to the area.

General Liman von Sanders, the German General seconded to command the Turkish Army, used the additional time well and anticipated with accuracy that the Allies would land at certain beaches. Namely, Cape Helles, Gaba Tepe, Bulair - further up the western coast from Gaba Tepe - on the Gallipoli Peninsular and Kum Kale and Besika Bay on the Asian shore of the Straits. He located his forces accordingly.

The landings on Z Beach on the Gallipoli Peninsular

Superseded by General Hamilton as Commander-in-Chief of the MEF, WRB and his ANZAC were assigned to a beachhead called Z Beach. WRB defined this on the 14th April 1915 as ' the beach between Gaba Tepe and Fisherman's Hut' (also confirmed as such on the 18th April 1915 by General William Throsby Bridges, the commander of the Australian 1st Division). This gave the ANZAC 5km of potential landing beach, including areas suitable for landing horses and artillery. It comprised: Brighton Beach; the small cliff ringed cove that was to become known as Anzac Cove; and North Beach. The mid-point of this beachhead was located 22km up the western, or Aegean, coast of the Gallipoli Peninsular, north of a rocky promontory called Gaba Tepe. (WRB had suggested an entirely different location for landing the ANZAC that was located on the Asian coast of the Dardanelles Straits, but he was over-ruled).General von Sander's 60,000 troops, covering both of the Gaba Tepe and the Cape Helles potential landing sites, were located in the adjacent hinterland and along the coast-line. Only two companies of the 27th Turkish Regiment were thinly spread out in sentinel detachments on the coast around Ari Burnu and Gaba Tepe. A four-gun artillery battery was located at Gaba Tepe.

Significantly, in reserve was 34 year-old Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal's 19th Turkish Division comprised of the 57th (Thracians and Anatolians) and the 72nd and 77th (Arab) Infantry Regiments. These reserve troops were judiciously deployed in the hills above Anzac Cove: which proved to be a crucial disposition, given that Kemal was an absolutely ruthless commander determined to resist the invaders at all costs. He told all his men on the 25th April 1915 'I do not order you to attack, I order you to die'. The Allies hope of a surprise landing and a walkover at Beach Z was at best wishful thinking.

The strength of Hamilton forces that arrived off Gallipoli Peninsular and the Asian coast was almost exactly that proposed by Kitchener on the 15th March 1915: the British 29th Division = 17,500; ANZAC = 30,600; French = 16,800; RND = 10,000. Total = 74,500.WRB's Suvla Bay plan had ANZAC divided into two elements. The Covering Force, 4,000 strong, would land at around 0430 hours, just before dawn, on the 25th April 1915, in three waves. These would spread out and seize the beach and its immediate hinterland. The Main Force of 8,000 men would follow and aim to be ashore by 0900 hours ready to push on to capture the strategically vital ridge of Sari Bari with its high-points of Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 and Hill Q. (Hill 971 at 971 feet in altitude was the highest in the Peninsular and was also known by it Turkish name of Koja Chemen Tepe). These features overlooked and would control the beachhead; a fact only too well understood by von Sanders and Mustafa Kemal.

However, Kemal's vital role in resisting the Allies advance at Z Beach should not be allowed to diminish that of Lieutenant Colonel Ali Sefiq Bey's 27th Regiment who were in the van of the fighting with the ANZAC two hours before Kemal's troops were engaged.In the event, the majority of the ANZAC came ashore at a small cove (= small bay edged with steeply rising ground and cliffs) a mile (1.5km) to the north of Gaba Tepe. This landing zone, famously, became known as Anzac Cove.The mismanaged landing of ANZAC was due to a combination of factors i.e. the usual inherent difficulties of a night landing, erroneous navigation, an adverse in-shore current and, possibly, the deliberate relocation of a vital navigation buoy by the Turkish Navy.

The cove was bounded in the north by a promontory called Ari Burnu and over-looked by a towering rocky feature, The Sphinx. Doubtless in the dark the disoriented landing force was confused between the similarity of the promontories of Ari Burnu and Gaba Tepe.Nevertheless, the Covering Force of ANZAC struggled ashore. After some considerable delay, they began to dig in on the rocky slopes edging the cove and to scale the cliffs at Company strength and advanced on the objectives such as Anderson's Knoll, Plateau 400, Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. Other troops tackled prominent features such as Baby 700 and The Nek. The Main Force followed-up as best it could in a generally chaotic situation.

Initially there was only limited resistance by the lightly armed Turkish forces coastal outposts of the 27th Turkish Regiment. These soon these retreated back into the hills, except for the four artillery guns at Gaba Tepe that maintained a steady rate of fire. But these Turkish troops were soon joined by Colonel Mustafa Kemal's 57th Regiment and later on in the day the 72nd and 77th. The Turkish soldiers had the high ground and used it well.

The misjudged landing of the majority of the ANZAC had caused serious confusion and a general lack of sustained progress across the intended line of advance as the Turkish Army concentrated and counter-attacked, effectively creating a situation of siege. Just before midnight of the first day of the landing, WRB, disquieted by the ensuing chaos and lack of progress, and at the urging of his commanders, reluctantly sent a message to Hamilton implying that ANZAC should be withdrawn; Hamilton categorically refused, imploring ANZAC '?to stick it out'.. But caused further confusion by adding '? no general advance is to be initiated by you'. The ANZAC was already enclosed in their rocky enclave; a topographically inclined triangle of territory equivalent to only 400 football pitches in area.

Thus committed to hold on at Anzac Cove, and whilst the struggle went incessantly on at Cape Helles, WRB decided he had to make a move to break the deadlock in the hills above Anzac Cove. The crucial defence point being Baby 700, a 180m hill en route to Chanuk Bair, since its adjacent strong points such as The Nek, dominated the most forward ANZAC position, Quinn's Post. A mixed force of the New Zealander Infantry Brigade, Australian 1st and 4th Brigade and, as reinforcements, the British Marines, attacked in the early evening darkness of the 2nd May 1915. Trenches were dug in a haphazard manner and amid heavy fighting general chaos reigned. By the 3rd May 1915 all the MEF survivors were back in their original positions. Amazingly, WRB initially thought he had straightened out his line and so reported to Hamilton on the 3rd May 1915. But it was a clear case of a 1,000 ANZAC and British Marine casualties for no territorial gain at all.

WRB's lucky escape

On the 14th May 1915, WRB had a narrow escape whilst on one of his routine tours of inspection at an isolated forward post (Quinn's Post) above Anzac Cove. WRB was examining the enemy positions through a periscope, when an Turkish sniper's bullet struck the body of the periscope and ricocheted across the top of his head leaving bullet fragments embedded in his skull. Although momentarily stunned, and soaked with blood, WRB was soon back on his feet. The incident only served to increase his standing with his men.

Liman von Sander's response

On the 19th May 1915, at 0300hours, Liman von Sanders then took the initiative and launched a determined - even suicidal - attack by 40,000 Turkish troops all along the ANZAC line. They attacked to the strains of the traditional Ottoman military band and shouted religious slogans. (Often the Imams - religious leaders - were in the van with the forward troops, or took over the commanding role when NCO's and officers were incapacitated.) Without covering artillery fire, the shock attack was doomed and was repulsed all along the ANZAC line. But Turkish losses were over 9,000 to less than 1,000 for the ANZACS.

A Plan B

On the 30th May 1915, WRB proposed to Hamilton a plan for a night attack on Sari Bair Ridge. Indubitably, it would be a hazardous undertaking but WRB calculated that with around 20,000 men - his two ANZAC divisions and the Indian Brigade - he could break-through into the valleys on his left and reach the heights of Sari Bair Ridge. He could then reverse the direction of some of his troops to squeeze the Turks between the Sari Bari force and the ANZAC front-line. Once these objectives had been achieved, he hoped to divide the Peninsular in half, entrapping the Turkish 9th Division in the southern half of the Peninsular.

Meanwhile, amidst these distractions, other ANZAC troops would seize Pine Ridge and Gaba Tepe in the south extending the ANZAC perimeter in that direction and neutralise the very effective and persistent Turkish artillery battery on Gaba Tepe.

No immediate action was taken by Hamilton to activate the plan, but it proved to be the germ of an idea on which the August 1915 Offensive was based. But in WRB's May plan there was no mention of an attack at Suvla Bay.

Calling a truce and holding on

Although WRB did not have that many corpses to dispose of on the battlefield, the Turks did - about 4,000 - to the mutual discomfort of both sides. Accordingly, a truce was called on the 24th May 1916 and many bodies were identified and buried, if only in shallow graves. However, both sides flagrantly used the opportunity to reconnoitre the battlefield and collect discarded weapons.

No further major action took place in June or July 1915. However, WRB's ANZAC front-line troops were continuously engaged in classic Great War trench warfare of tunnelling, mining and diversionary attacks with the added perils of tremendous summer heat, a lack of potable water and the unrelenting threat of tropical diseases.

New brooms and another offensive

Back in London, both Churchill and the First Sea Lord, Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, left the Admiralty under a cloud of contention. Shortly afterward, in May 1915, a Coalition Government, headed by Herbert Henry Asquith, was formed. The effective control of the Dardanelles Campaign passed to a Dardanelles Committee. One of their first decisions, on the 7th June 1915, was to reinforce Hamilton with five divisions - three New Army and two Territorials. This reinforcement would permit a review of the plan that had been proposed by WRB in May 1915. WRB suggested to Hamilton that due to the already crowded conditions at Anzac Cove these new troops should be committed to a new landing adjacent to Anzac Cove, at Suvla Bay, 8km distant.

Meanwhile, Liman von Sanders transferred a further 10 Turkish divisions to the Gallipoli Peninsular. Kemal surmised that the Allies would attack on the left of the Anzac Cove enclave towards Suvla Bay and Hill 971. Liman von Sanders finally agreed and made his dispositions accordingly.

The Suvla Bay landings

The Suvla Bay landing took place on the night of the 6/7th August on three beaches 'A' 'B' and 'C'. A total of 20,000 Allied troops of British IX Corps, comprising New Army Divisions the 10th (Irish) - 30th and 31st Brigades - and the 11th (Northern), were involved under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, long retired, but returned to duty and high command by seniority.

The post-beachhead objectives were the semi-circle of hills called the Kiretch Tepe and Tekke Tepe Ridges (10th Division) and the Anafarta Spur (11th Division) - all about five to 10km inland from Suvla Bay.

The Suvla Bay landings were supported by two diversionary attacks largely based on WRB's proposals in May 1915.

The first diversionary attack was into the steep and gully rivened hills above Anzac Cove by WRB's ANZAC troops with British, Gurkha and Indian support. The second was at Cape Helles where there were four depleted British divisions totalling 26,000 men (the normal operational strength would be 46,000). New assaults would be made on the inland village of Krithia and the heights of Achi Baba close by.

In this manner it was hoped that the Turks would be blocked from advancing on Suvla Bay, cleared from the Sari Bari Ridge above Anzac Cove and drawn southward by the Helles diversionary attack. Also, the Anzac and Suvla enclaves would be united, and a vital launching pad for Suvla Bay/Anzac Cove based offensives would be established.

The Suvla landings ranged from chaotic - due to the usual problems of landing and manoeuvring troops at night - to partially successful. Progress was made by the 11th Division across the Suvla coastal plain, overcoming light resistance from the Turkish defenders at the eastern end of Kiretch Tepe Ridge. But Stopford and his commanders lacked the drive and confidence to take the opportunities offered, and the chance for a significant early breakthrough was lost through this hesitation. The majority of the Allied forces remained close to the beachhead awaiting constructive orders.

When properly organised movement forward began at 1830 hours on the 9th August 1915, it was towards Tekke Tepe Ridge by 32nd Brigade (11th Division). But the Turks had moved in reinforcements and occupied the ridge. They repulsed the British with the bayonet and the decimated 32nd Brigade retreated back towards the beachhead.

On the 9th and 10th August 1915, respectively, the British 53rd and 54th Divisions arrived at Suvla and the 53rd was drawn into the assault.

On the 15th August 1915, Hamilton sacked Stopford and replaced him with Major General Beauvoir de Lisle (Commander British 29th Division at Cape Helles) until the new commander MEF - Lieutenant General Julian Byng - arrived in the field.

The Lone Pine attack

The first ANZAC operation was launched on the evening of the 6th August 1915 with an attack by the 1st Australian Division on the Turkish Lone Pine defence system located 1 mile inland and overlooking Anzac Cove. Here amid brutal hand-to-hand fighting progress was made and Turkish trenches captured. On the 12th August 1915 Lone Pine fell to the Australians and the famous legend of seven VC's won on a scrap of rocky scrubland, one tenth the size of a football pitch, was realised. Lone Pine cost ANZAC 1,700 men. No significant territorial advance was made thereafter - the ever-elusive breakout remained just as elusive.

The Turkish casualties exceeded 4,000.

The Sari Bari Ridge: Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 and Hill Q

The next part (and, in fact the dominant part) of WRB's revised plan was a breakout from Anzac Cove by a two column assault on the Sari Bari Ridge. It was under the leadership of Major General Alexander Godley, commander of the Australia and New Zealand Division and de facto commander of the ANZAC assault force; in all about 40,000 men would participate. The Northern Column would head for Hill 971 and the Southern Column for Chunuk Bair. At a suitable point the first column would split and a sub-column would assault Hill Q.

On the morning of the 6th August 1915 the assault force advanced northwards along the beach road. It then divided into the two columns - Northern and Southern - and turned inland into the gullies and cliffs of the hinterland. The tactical objectives being to take Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 and Hill Q by the dawn of 7th August 1915. It was as Kemal had predicted.

The van of the attacking force - mainly the New Zealanders Mounted Rifles - cleared the way for the two columns into the foothills of the heights.

Hill 971 and Hill Q

The Northern Column comprised of the Australian 4th Brigade, (General John Monash) the 29th Indian Brigade and the British 40th Brigade (Major General Vaugh Cox) - with Cox in overall command - began the climb for Hill 971 and Hill Q at 1130 hours on the 6th August 1915. But it got lost in the confusing terrain and failed to reach the jump off point for Hill 917, a fact which only became clear at dawn on the 7th August 1915. Like all armies not sure what to do next, they dug in. Monash's force never did take Hill 971.

The 6th Gurkhas, with British support from 13th Division, separated from the Northern Column to independently tackle Hill Q. On the early morning of the 8th August 1915 the 6th Gurkhas nearly achieved their objective but were deterred by intense Turkish artillery fire. Another attempt on the 9th August 1915 was successful but this time they were the victims of friendly naval gunfire and had to withdraw again.

The Indian Brigade of the Northern Column was also scattered into small groups searching for their objective.

Success and failure at Chunuk Bair

The Southern Column comprised of the New Zealander Infantry Brigade, and commanded by Brigadier Francis Johnson, had done well in their assault on the high ground. They had made good progress up Rhododendron Spur and, although behind schedule at dawn on the 7th August 1915, were in sight of their objective - Chunuk Bair - but it was still half a mile away. Moreover, there was no hope that they could keep their commitment to participate in the attack on The Nek . (See below).

At this time there was only a small Turkish force on Chunuk Bair. But before the New Zealander Infantry Brigade could concentrate and organise an attack, the ANZAC were once again forestalled by a German officer seconded to the Turkish Army (Colonel Hans Kannengeiser, Commander of the Turkish 9th Division). In brilliant anticipation of WRB's likely intentions, Kannengeiser had rushed to Sari Bari Ridge with a small contingent of his men (around 20), arriving at 7am on the 7th August 1915. They succeeded in bluffing the advancing ANZAC into thinking that a much larger force faced it. Once the Turkish reinforcements arrived, all chance of a quick successful attack was lost. Nevertheless Godley ordered that an attack be launched on the summit of Chunuk Bair in broad daylight and some adjacent features were occupied at considerable cost. But not the summit where Kannengeisser and his now much reinforced force held on.

During the 7th August the New Zealanders also received reinforcements of two British New Army battalions from 13th Division.

At 0300 hours on the 8th August 1915, a highly effective British naval bombardment virtually cleared the Turks from the summit, and a joint New Zealand and British force occupied it. They also occupied an adjacent plateau called The Farm.

The Allied success was soon largely nullified by an overwhelming attack at 0500 hours on the 10th August 1915 by Mustafa Kemal with strong reinforcements of the Turkish 8th Division. It retook most of the high ground including Chunuk Bair. The Gurkhas on Hill Q and the British at the neighbouring out post called The Farm, occupied by Brigadier General Anthony Baldwin's Brigade, were virtually annihilated. The remnants had to pull out on the night of the 10th August 1915. In all, WRB's force had lost 12,000 men and had gained only a few hundred square metres of territory.

The Battle of The Nek

The costly but successful battle of Lone Pine was followed up by a daring manoeuvre based on what can only be described, with the facility of hindsight, as an extremely foolish decision by WRB. The plan was that at dawn on the 7th August 1915 the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade would attack the crucial Turkish outpost known as The Nek. It was located a mile north of Lone Pine and a mile and a half Southwest of the critical highpoints on the Sari Bari Ridge of Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 and Hill Q. Simultaneously, the New Zealanders would attack downhill from Chunuk Bair as part of a squeezing action between them and the Australians who by the nature of the terrain were attacking on a very narrow front. But, as already stated, the New Zealanders were not in place in time. Nevertheless, WRB gave the order for the Australians to proceed in the certain knowledge that the Turks had earlier lost over 1,000 men in May and June 1915 trying to achieve the same objective, by the same proposed frontal charge and methodology i.e. just the bayonet and the hand-bomb. So, on the 7th August 1915, at 04.25 hours, the Australians (mainly from Victoria and Western Australia), under Godley, attacked The Nek. Three separate waves of men attacked and were exterminated in a hail of Turkish small arms fire and hand bombs. A part of a fourth wave left the trenches to a similar fate. It was probably WRB's worst error of the Campaign and it was a kind turn of Fate that WRB died before the famous movie Gallipoli of the 1980's projected a dramatised cinematic version based on this disaster across the myriad cinema screens of the world.

Hill 60, Scimitar Hill and W Hills

However, on August 21st 1915, WRB wishing to rationalise the two northern enclaves, decided on a new objective. It was a small hill, named Hill 60, 200 feet high and strategically situated between the two enclaves of Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. This was timed to coincide with an attack above Suvla Bay on Scimitar Hill and W Hills by Stopford's IX Corps. The objective of the two attacks was to unite the two enclaves.

So depleted had Birdwood's reserves become that he had to pull together a mixed force of ANZAC and others i.e. Australians from Monash's Brigade and New Zealand Mounted Rifles, Indians from Cox's Brigade and British troops from three of the New Army battalions.

The Australians made the first assault on the afternoon of the 21st August 1915 supported by the Indian Brigade; a foothold was obtained on the base of the hill.

On the 22nd August 1915, elements of the newly arrived Australian 2nd Division were hurled into the fight. They arrived armed with only rifles and bayonets. Fit and healthy, when compared with the exhausted veterans, they attacked energetically with the bayonet suffering over 300 casualties and were quickly reduced to half of their strength. But some progress was made.

On the 27th August 1915, WRB tried again with another mix of nine battalions of Australians, New Zealanders and British including the remnants of the Australian 3rd. Light Horse Brigade that had fought so well at the Nek. Further progress was made including the capture of some trenches at the summit. But the Turks retained their hold on the half of Hill 60 that included the north-facing positions overlooking the Allies' Suvla Bay positions. WRB had lost another 2,500 casualties for little gain and little, or no, no evident strategic importance.

Meanwhile, Scimitar Hill, located on the Anafarta Spur that formed the southern boundary of the Suvla sector, had been assaulted and captured on the 9th August 1915 by a battalion (Yorkshires) of the 10th Division, but was then abandoned. On the 9th August 1915 it was once more assaulted, but after intensive fighting the British lost it again. On the 10th August 1915, there was a final unsuccessful attempt by 53rd Division; the newly landed Division was effectively destroyed.

The new British commander of IX Corps (de Lisle) decided on a further attack from the Suvla base and put together a mixed force. For the Scimitar Hill and adjacent W Hill operation he assigned the 29th Division and 11th Division respectively, with 2nd Mounted Division (Yeomanry) as reserve.

The attack on Scimitar Hill and W Hills began on the morning of 21st August 1915. But, although 29th Division captured Scimitar Hill, the failure of 11th Division to make progress on the W Hills made the Scimitar Hill operation untenable and the troops withdrew. Bush fires killed many of the Allied wounded.

An attempt to bring in the Yeomanry from their reserve positions close to the Suvla Bay beachhead was doomed when the Turks decimated them in the open plain with shrapnel. A charge by the remnants of the 2nd Brigade (South Midland) led to the capture of Scimitar Hill, but a Turkish counter-attack quickly drove them off.

Sporadic attacks and counter attacks by both sides lasted to the 29th August 1915 when the British concluded the Scimitar Hill and W Hills operation.

Outcome of the Suvla Bay expedition

At Suvla, Stopford's incompetence, indolence and hesitation led to a stalemate and 18,000 casualties. The only positive result was the joining up of the ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay enclaves into a single operational unit.

The front line of the two connected enclaves remained relatively stable until the Allied evacuation (see below) began in December 1915.

Promotions

On the 28th October 1915, WRB was promoted to Lieutenant General and made commander of the British Dardanelles Army i.e. ANZAC, British VIII Corps (Cape Helles) and British IX Corps (Suvla Bay) on 19th November 1915. General Godley became commander of ANZAC.

Talking up an evacuation

Even before the 1915 August Offensive failed to make any significant progress, Kitchener felt Hamilton had to go. Afterwards, he found a reason for the grand gesture and sacked him when Hamilton dared to query Kitchener's rationale for an evacuation of the Peninsular, and claimed it would involve a 50% casualty rate.

Unfortunately, once he arrived on site, on 28th October 1915, Hamilton's replacement, Major General Sir Charles Munro, rapidly came to the same conclusion. But, when personally asked by Monro, WRB insisted that there should be no evacuation from any front: Generals Davis (Cape Helles) and Byng (Suvla) agreed with withdrawal. Monro's estimation of casualties was 40%; not far off the 'unthinkable' 50% postulated by Hamilton.

Upon the receipt of Munro's recommendations on the 29th October 1915, an annoyed Kitchener decided to personally visit the Peninsular and did so in early November 1915. Meanwhile, the newly convened War committee decided they could not yet agree to Monro's evacuation plan.

Whilst en route to the Dardanelles, Kitchener took WRB into his confidence and told him he thought the British Admiralty would probably agree to another attempt at forcing a passage through the Straits, but the army had to help. In the absence of Munro from the Dardanelles (he was away visiting the other part of his bailiwick, Salonika, as C-in-C MEF) Kitchener made WRB acting Commander-in-Chief, MEF. He wanted WRB to find a new landing place at Bulair - north of Suvla Bay - and to run down the other enclaves. WRB demurred, and responded that the Bulair plan would only lead to disaster. He also opined that Monro should keep his command as he was far more experienced in this kind of warfare. Kitchener then changed his mind yet again and said he doubted the British Navy would participate in a new attack on the Dardanelles. He told WRB to put together a secret plan for an evacuation.

After doing the rounds, and consulting widely in Gallipoli, Kitchener compromised, settling for evacuation from the now united Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove enclave whilst the Cape Helles Front would be maintained. But now opinion in the newly established War Committee in London had also changed, and a total withdrawal was insisted upon. Munro was made responsible for the overall strategy whilst WRB, and his able assistant, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander White, were to organise and implement the evacuation plan.

The evacuation of the MEF from the Dardanelles

Essentially the problem facing WRB and his team was to evacuate all the Allied troops and their diverse accoutrements from two entirely separate battlefields - Cape Helles and the now united Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay enclave. The accoutrements in hand included 17,000 horses and mules and 400 guns. With a strength of over 100,000 Allied troops on the Peninsular in October 1915, it was decided that the withdrawal should be a staged one of three phases.

  1. The Preparatory Phase: Reduction in total numbers sufficient to maintain a winter defence strategy.
  2. The Intermediate Phase: Further reductions to leave a force capable of maintaining a winter defence strategy for two weeks.
  3. The Final Phase: Complete and total withdrawal with all possible speed and in total secrecy.

Immediately, the first phase was put into effect in the Anzac Cove and Suvla enclave. Under the guise of routine winter troop rotations, evacuation of some active service units began on the 11th December 1915, along with all the non-combatants, the sick and some of the army medical staff and their hospital supplies. The Cabinet Committee in London decided that withdrawal of the Cape Helles troops would not be authorised until the Anzac Cove/Suvla Bay exercise was completed; even at that point it was still keeping its options open.

WRB paid daily visits to the Anzac Cove/Suvla Bay enclave to oversee the preparations and execution of the meticulous timetable. Nightly evacuations took place until the night of the 19/20th December 1915, when the last members of the MEF climbed aboard their transports at 0400 hours and sailed away to Egypt.

Throughout the weeklong evacuation, every effort had been made to maintain secrecy and to deceive the Turkish commanders of the Allies intentions. Various deceptions were used to convince the Turks that the Allies were still present in the enclave during the evacuation. These included the lighting of cooking fires, mounting rifles to fire at intervals and, on the night of the 18/19th December 1915, exploding a huge mine under the Turkish trenches on the Sari Bari Ridge killing many Turks. The escaping troops also left many booby-traps to impede a possible follow-up before the evacuation could be completed.

The withdrawal was a complete success with 80,000 safely evacuated to the waiting transport vessels; only two of the Allied troops were injured in the actual withdrawal.

When von Sanders realised the Allies had left Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay, he became determined to attack the Cape Helles enclave at the foot of the Peninsular and finish off the Allies. But the need to bring up eight divisions of reinforcements, plus various administrative delays and vacillating command decisions at the highest levels, meant the attack could not begin until the 7th January 1916.

Meanwhile, WRB and the Allied commanders awaited the approval from the War Committee to complete the total evacuation, and made plans to resist any offensive by the Turks in the interim. The approval for evacuation was received on the 28th December 1915, but already the French had evacuated some of their troops between the 12th and the 22nd December and were proposing a total withdrawal.

WRB and his team decided to follow the same phased pattern of withdrawal at Cape Helles and employ similar deception techniques as were used at Anzac Cove and the Suvla Bay evacuation. The French commander, General Brulard, pressed to have the French leave as soon as possible.

On the 1st January 1916, the final elements of the French component of the MEP departed, but left behind their artillery for the use of the remaining Allied troops. At sea the weather deteriorated and caused some problems in the arrangements for the evacuation of the French. It also impeded the organisation of the main evacuation, causing WRB to authorise the abandonment of large numbers of beasts of burden and a huge amount of supplies in favour of getting all the men off as per schedule.

On the 31st December 1915, Munro left for Cairo and WRB became the Commander-in-Chief, MEF. Von Sanders’ final major offensive on the Cape Helles enclave was launched on the 7th January 1916 and was contained with some difficulty and heavy Turkish casualties. A limiting factor for von Sanders ambitions was that the extreme martial fervour that had been a quite unexpected aspect of the Turkish resistance to the Allies in the early days, was notably diminished: some Turkish units even refused to advance into battle at all. Even the previously highly respected Imams were unable to motivate the worn out and disillusioned front-line Turkish soldiers.

Despite the various difficulties, the Allies' evacuation of the Cape Helles enclave went ahead as planned. The final exodus took place on the night 8-9th January 1916. It was a complete success and involved no Allied casualties at all.

The whole evacuation exercise was a remarkable application of clever strategy and tactics by the Commander-in-Chief, Major General Sir Charles Michael Monro, whose strategic decisions were excellent. The exceptional tactical planning and co-ordination of WRB, Lieutenant Colonel White and their staff officers ably supported Monro. Mention should also be made of Captain Cecil Aspinall-Oglander who was consistently an outstanding planner and organiser.Estimates about the extent of the Allied evacuation vary but totalled about 140,000 men, 9,000 horses, mules and donkeys and 470 guns along with stores and munitions.Many comments have been made to the effect that had the planning, organisation and co-ordination of the initial Allied Dardanelles Campaign had been as effective as that of the evacuation, the outcome of the Campaign would have been entirely more favourable.ANZAC casualties.

RB's ANZAC suffered 34,000 (44%) casualties and 10,000 (13%) dead whilst those inflicted on the French were 27,000 (34%) casualties and 8,000 (10%) dead. The British had 120,000 (38%) casualties with 26,000 (8%) dead. The disparities in the percentages of casualties and dead of the ANZAC, when compared with the British and French, is at least in part due to the fact that the ANZAC were largely front-line troops. Whereas the British and French contingents included many support troops who were, at least in principle, less liable to be exposed to danger.

Reorganisation

The ANZAC evacuees were transported back by sea to the Allied bases in Egypt where they were reorganised, retrained and absorbed reinforcement drafts from Australasia, to form two Corps, I ANZAC and II ANZAC, the latter being under the command of WRB. Also, WRB was appointed Commander of the Australian Imperial Force, (AIF) i.e. commander of all Australian forces in place of General Sir William Bridges, who had been killed at Gallipoli.

Reassigned to the Western Front

When it was decided that I ANZAC would be the first unit to move from Egypt to France, WRB, as the senior commander, changed places with Major General Alexander John Godley of I ANZAC, who then took over command of I ANZAC.

WRB stayed with his ANZAC until he took over Fifth Army. But these BEF commands of WRB make a story for another article.

Postscriptum

WRB's ambition to be appointed Governor General of Australia was never realised, and he died on the 17th May 1951.

It is assuredly incorrect to say he was loved by his ANZAC troops, although he certainly regarded them with much affection. But he was held with high regard by many, and even the most anti-Pommie ANZAC would grudgingly agree that he did his best for his men, most of the time under extremely difficult conditions and lack lustre commanders.

N.B.: The soldiers of the Ottoman Empire in the Dardanelles Campaign should perhaps more properly be called Ottomans rather than Turks or Turkish.

This is justified by the fact that although many of the soldiers at Gallipoli were not of Turkish nationality, all belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The Empire's population figures in 1914 were 15 million Turks and 11 million other nationalities. Indeed, some of the most effective troops in the Turkish Army were Arabs and, although the Anatolian Turks formed the largest component of the infantry soldiers at Gallipoli, a significant proportion came from the other nationalities that made up the Ottoman Empire. Non-Muslims such as Jews and Christians also served, in relatively small numbers, but were restricted to serving in the Pioneers (Labour Corps).

Some of the modern generation of the former non-Turkish nations of the Ottoman Empire in the Ottoman Provinces - Arabia, Armenia/Kurdistan and Mesopotamia/ Syria - have strong views on this matter. They assert that the word Ottoman best describes the soldier who served at Gallipoli. Unfortunately, the selective use of 'Ottoman' rather than the conventional use of the words 'Turk' and 'Turkish' in a text like this would probably only tend to confuse matters rather than clarify.

Anafarta Spur - Anzac Cove - Ari Burnu - Baby 500 - Chunuk Bair - Fisherman's Hut - Gaba Tepe - Hill 60 - Hill 971 - Hill Q - Kiretch Tepe Ridge - Lone Pine - The Nek - Plateau 400 - Quinn's Post - Sari Bari Ridge - Scimitar Hill - Sphinx Hill - Tekke Tepe - W Hills

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 December 2008 10:44 )  

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