The August Battles - Lone Pine, Suvla Bay, Sari Bair and The Nek
By late summer of 1915, the Allies were faced with a dilemma. They had to break out of their narrow beach heads at Helles (British) and ANZAC if they were to have any chance of achieving the primary aim of the campaign; the neutralisation of the Ottoman defences at the Narrows.
It was all about the 'vital ground' - and the Ottomans had it. As long as the Ottomans had the high ground, particularly at Chunuk Bair, an Allied advance to the Narrows would be untenable. In the hills to the south of the Suvla Plain and north of ANZAC, Ottoman artillery positions could fire from a flank into the ANZAC positions, their fire directed by observers on the heights around Chunuk Bair.
The plan called for another large amphibious landing north of ANZAC at Suvla Bay, using the newly formed IX Corps under Lieutenant General Frederick Stopford, who although a General, had never commanded troops in combat. His force originally comprised three Divisions of fresh (but inexperienced 'New Army') British troops, the aim of which was to clear and seize the high ground around the Suvla Plain. Elements of his 13th Division were detached under command of the New Zealand Australia Division.
Meanwhile the Main Effort would comprise a reinforced New Zealand Australia Division commanded by General Godley, comprising the New Zealand Brigade, the NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade, the Australian 4th Brigade, the 29th Indian (Ghurkas) Brigade, additional British troops from the 13th Division and the 1st and 3rd Light Horse Brigades ( the former to hold ground in the 'Old ANZAC' positions and the latter to support the NZ Brigade).
These forces would be split into a series of bodies that would strike out by night into the rough and broken ground NE of ANZAC up two key ridgelines and then were to attack Chunuk Bair, Q Hills and Hill 971 simultaneously. Finally, a supporting attack by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade across the Nek and onto the key feature of 'Baby 700' was intended to complement a NZ attack down the ridge line from Chunuk Bair.
Complex moves by large formations at night in very difficult terrain, requiring synchronisation and coordination (without modern communications) and with many of the enemy positions masked from the Allied naval gunfire support ticks just about every box in the 'things not to do' list of the tactics handbook.
This was all to be preceded by diversionary attacks at Cape Helles by the British 29th Dvision and at ANZAC by the 1st Australian Division onto a terrain feature that had once been defined by a 'lonesome pine" .
The end-state would see the Allies positioned for a drive on Maidos (modern Eceabat) to isolate the Ottoman defences around the Narrows.
The fight for Lone Pine was intended as a ‘demonstration’ to mask the true intent of the Allies August Offensive with the aim of holding Turkish forces in the vicinity of Lone Pine while the main effort focussed on securing the Sari Bair range. Without Sari Bair the Allies could not contemplate the thrust they needed across the Peninsula aimed at breaking the deadlock that had defined the battlefield since late May 1915.
What was supposed to be a significant demonstration, the battle for Lone Pine, became, next to the landing, the largest and most significant single action fought at Gallipoli by the AIF.
The 1st Division was tasked with the Lone Pine mission. The 3rd Brigade from the ‘outer States' of Queensland, South and Western Australia and Tasmania had led the Division ashore at the Landing in April, so it was placed in Reserve. The 1st Brigade from NSW, which had been the Reserve at the Landing, was placed at the point with the honour of ‘leading the charge’ at Lone Pine. The Victorians of the 2nd Brigade would be the second echelon of the assault, the same role they had fulfilled at the Landing.
So, on the 6th of August the men of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions began their battle procedure and moved into position. They wore white calico armbands and patches on the backs of their tunics so they could be easily identified by observers in the rear and thus avoid being shelled by their own guns and naval gunfire support.
The First Division was deployed such that the 2nd and 3rd Brigades held the left and right flanks respectively while the 1st Brigade attacked in the centre with three Battalions forward and one (the 1st Battalion) as the Brigade Reserve.
Artillery and naval gunfire preparation began in the late afternoon. At 5.30pm, it stopped and the three forward battalions hit the Turkish positions immediately the barrage was lifted, having moved forward in saps or trenches thrown out towards the Ottoman positions. The Reserve, the 1st Battalion, was quickly drawn into to the fight.
They confronted well prepared positions with overhead cover. Some men broke through the roof of the tenches while others ran on into communcations trenches behind. The detail from the AWM diorama below illustrates the situation better than any description can.
Despite a continuous stream of casualties, the Australians quickly captured the forward trenches with the element of surprise in their favour, as they had so quickly made the ground while the Ottomans were still recovering from the effects of the preparatory naval and artillery fire. Troops racing to the rear had got to the rim of a depression known as "The Cup" but from there, the Ottomans quickly regrouped and began the ferocious counter attacking and bombing that characterised the rest of the battle.
Blocking positions or 'stops' were erected in the trenches and furious bomb fights erupted. Attempts at going over the top of the trenches were savagely engaged with machine gun fore from opposing sides. The ANZACs had only improvised 'jam tim' bombs to counter the Turkish hand grenades. Death was around every corner, and the intensity of the fighting unremitting.
The trenches quickly filled with the dead and dying of both sides. Some of the accompanying images illustrate the conditions in which the men fought and died over the following days. Casualty evacuation was a nightmare and decomposing dead lined the rims and floors of the trenches.
Eventually, with the 2nd Brigade having been commited to the fight as well, the position was secured by the 10th August in what was to become the only victory in a string of failures. The battlefield looked like a slaughterhouse; the cost had been appalling.
Most ominously, the Ottomans, particularly Mustafa Kemal, had realised that Lone Pine was not the main game and although fighting furiously to recover lost ground, they did not divert forces heading for the high ground.
Suvla Bay - Content pending
Sari Bair - The attack on the Sari Bair Range was the lynch-pin of the entire plan. It would secure ANZAC from Turkish observation and fire and dominate the eastern approaches. However the plan was overly complex with a night approach through dreadful terrain, to an overly ambitious time-table.
The Lone Pine attack had drawn Turkish reinforcements but the Turks realised it was a feint and the reinforcements kept going north and reinforced the Sari Bair range when the threat there was manifest. They stopped the New Zealand assault force which was waiting for a lost battalion. The Kiwis were unable to regain the inititiative despite the success of the Wellington Battalion in capturing the summit.
The 6th Ghurkas briefly captured Chunuk Bair but were forced off by misdirected fire from Allied warships.
Monash's 4th Brigade had been ignominiously lost in a tangle of steep ravines and razorback ridgelines and sustained heavy casualties when caught in the open by well sited Turkish machine guns.
An attack by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek, which was supposed to have been supported by a complimentary attack by the New Zealanders as pre-requisite, was persisted with despite the New Zealanders not being able to mount their attack. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was infamously decimated for no worthwhile purpose.
Relieving British troops who held the shoulders of the range were swept away in a ferocious Turkish counter attack.
The only modest 'upside' was that ANZAC was able to link up with the Suval force.
The Nek - See this ink for a detailed account
Hill 60 - See this link to a detailed account of this battle (/research/home-page-archives/hill-60-gallipoli)
Steve Larkins 14 August 2015
Composite map using Google Maps and graphics by Steve Larkins