[On the 25 April the Allied assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula began under the
guidance of the Commander in Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton. The landing was divided into three assaults; the main one at the tip of the peninsula involved the British troops, a second was on the southern side of the entry to the Dardanelles and involved French and French Colonial troops (mainly Sudanese), the last assault which Hamilton referred to as a feint to the main attack was made up of men from Australia, New Zealand and a few Indian troops.
The plan had been hurriedly developed in the wake of the failure of the British Navy to clear Dardenelles on the 18 March and the task of raising, training, and supplying the assault force had removed any element of surprise. The Turks were waiting and prepared even if they were not sure exactly where the blows would land. Hamilton in his prior entries had expressed many concerns over the number of troops, the lack of transports, supplies, and reinforcements, the lack of guns and even the lack of administrative officers to plan the offensive.
By the 25 April however there was no turning back and what follows in Hamilton’s account of the action as he saw it unfold across all three arenas from the conning tower of HMS Queen Elizabeth]
My station is up in the conning tower with de Robeck. The conning tower is a circular metal chamber, like a big cooking pot. Here we are, all eyes, like potatoes in the cooking pot aforesaid, trying to peep through a slit where the lid is raised a few inches, _ad hoc_, as these blasted politicians like to say. My Staff are not with me in this holy of holies, but are stowed away in steel towers or jammed into 6-inch batteries.
So we kept moving along and at 4.30 a.m. were off Sedd-el-Bahr. All quiet and grey. Thence we steamed for Gaba Tepe and midway, about 5 o’clock, heard a very heavy fire from Helles behind us. The Turks are putting up some fight. Now we are off Gaba Tepe!
The day was just breaking over the jagged hills; the sea was glass smooth; the landing of the lads from the South was in full swing; the shrapnel was bursting over the water; the patter of musketry came creeping out to sea; we are in for it now; the machine guns muttered as through chattering teeth–up to our necks in it now. But would we be out of it? No; not one of us; not for five hundred years stuffed full of dullness and routine.
By 5.35 the rattle of small arms quieted down; we heard that about 4,000 fighting men had been landed; we could see boat-loads making for the land; swarms trying to straighten themselves out along the shore; other groups digging and hacking down the brushwood. Even with our glasses they did not look much bigger than ants. God, one would think, cannot see them at all or He would put a stop to this sort of panorama altogether. And yet, it would be a pity if He missed it; for these fellows have been worth the making. They are not charging up into this Sari Bair range for money or by compulsion. They fight for love–all the way from the Southern Cross for love of the old country and of liberty.
Wave after wave of the little ants press up and disappear. We lose sight of them the moment they lie down. Bravo! every man on our great ship longs to be with them. But the main battle called. The Admiral was keen to take me when and where the need might most arise. So we turned South and steamed slowly back along the coast to Cape Helles.
Opposite Krithia came another great moment. We have made good the landing–sure–it is a fact. I have to repeat the word to myself several times, “fact,” “fact,” “fact,” so as to be sure I am awake and standing here looking at live men through a long telescope. The thing seems unreal; as though I were in a dream, instead of on a battleship. To see words working themselves out upon the ground; to watch thoughts move over the ground as fighting men….!
Both Battalions, the Plymouth and the K.O.S.B.s, had climbed the high cliff without loss; so it was signalled; there is no firing; the Turks have made themselves scarce; nothing to show danger or stress; only parties of our men struggling up the sandy precipice by zigzags, carrying munitions and large glittering kerosine tins of water. Through the telescope we can now make out a number of our fellows in groups along the crest of the cliff, quite peacefully reposing—probably smoking. This promises great results to our arms–not the repose or the smoking, for I hope that won’t last long–but the enemy’s surprise. In spite of Egypt and the _Egyptian Gazette_; in spite of the spy system of Constantinople, we have brought off our tactical _coup_ and surprised the enemy Chief. The bulk of the Turks are not at Gaba Tepe; here, at “Y,” there are none at all!
In a sense, and no mean sense either, I am as much relieved, and as sanguine too, at the _coup_ we have brought off here as I was just now to see Birdie’s four thousand driving the Turks before them into the mountains. The schemes are not on the same scale. If the Australians get through to Mal Tepe the whole Turkish Army on the Peninsula will be done in. If the “Y” Beach lot press their advantage they may cut off the enemy troops on the toe of the Peninsula. With any luck, the K.O.S.B.s and Plymouths at “Y” should get right on the line of retreat of the Turks who are now fighting to the South.
The point at issue as we sailed down to “X” Beach was whether that little force at “Y” should not be reinforced by the Naval Division who were making a feint against the Bulair Lines and had, by now, probably finished their work. Braithwaite has been speaking to me about it. The idea appealed to me very strongly because I have been all along most keen on the “Y” Beach plan which is my own special child; and this would be to make the most of it and press it for all it was worth. But, until the main battle develops more clearly at Gaba Tepe and at Sedd-el-Bahr I must not commit the only troops I have in hand as my Commander-in-Chief’s reserve.
When we got to “X” Beach the foreshore and cliffs had been made good without much loss in the first instance, we were told, though there is a hot fight going on just south of it. But fresh troops will soon be landing:–so far so good. Further round, at “W” Beach, another lodgement had been effected; very desperate and bloody, we are told by the Naval Beachmaster: and indeed we can see some of the dead, but the Lancashire Fusiliers hold the beach though we don’t seem yet to have penetrated inland. By Sedd-el-Bahr, where we hove to about 6.45, the light was very baffling; land wrapped in haze, sun full in our eyes. Here we watched as best we could over the fight being put up by the Turks against our forlorn hope on the “River Clyde”. Very soon it became clear that we were being held.
Through our glasses we could quite clearly watch the sea being whipped up all along the beach and about the “River Clyde” by a pelting storm of rifle bullets. We could see also how a number of our dare-devils were up to their necks in this tormented water trying to struggle on to land from the barges linking the “River Clyde” to the shore. There was a line of men lying flat down under cover of a little sandbank in the centre of the beach. They were so held under by fire they dared not, evidently, stir. Watching these gallant souls from the safety of a battleship gave me a hateful feeling: Roger Keyes said to me he simply could not bear it. Often a Commander may have to watch tragedies from a post of safety. That is all right. I have had my share of the hair’s breadth business and now it becomes the turn of the youngsters.
But, from the battleship, you are outside the frame of the picture. The thing becomes monstrous; too cold-blooded; like looking on at gladiators from the dress circle. The moment we became satisfied that none of our men had made their way further than a few feet above sea level, the “Queen Elizabeth” opened a heavy fire from her 6-inch batteries upon the Castle, the village and the high steep ground ringing round the beach in a semi-circle. The enemy lay very low somewhere underground. At times the “River Clyde” signalled that the worst fire came from the old Fort and Sedd-el-Bahr; at times that these bullets were pouring out from about the second highest rung of seats on the West of that amphitheatre in which we were striving to take our places. Ashore the machine guns and rifles never ceased–tic tac, tic tac, brrrr–tic tac, tic tac, brrrrrr…… Drowned every few seconds by our tremendous salvoes, this more nervous noise crept back insistently into our ears in the interval. As men fixed in the grip of nightmare, we were powerless–unable to do anything but wait.
When we saw our covering party fairly hung up under the fire from the Castle and its outworks, it became a question of issuing fresh orders to the main body who had not yet been committed to that attack. There was no use throwing them ashore to increase the number of targets on the beach.
Roger Keyes started the notion that these troops might well be diverted to “Y” where they could land unopposed and whence they might be able to help their advance guard at “V” more effectively than by direct reinforcement if they threatened to cut the Turkish line of retreat from Sedd-el-Bahr. Braithwaite was rather dubious from the orthodox General Staff point of view as to whether it was sound for G.H.Q. to barge into Hunter-Weston’s plans, seeing he was executive Commander of the whole of this southern invasion. But to me the idea seemed simple common sense. If it did not suit Hunter-Weston’s book, he had only to say so. Certainly Hunter-Weston was in closer touch with all these landings than we were; it was not for me to force his hands: there was no question of that: so at 9.15 I wirelessed as follows:
“G.O.C. in C. to G.O.C.”Euryalus”.”
“Would you like to get some more men ashore on ‘Y’ beach? If so, trawlers are available.”
Three quarters of an hour passed; the state of affairs at Sedd-el-Bahr was no better, and in an attack if you don’t get better you get worse; the supports were not being landed; no answer had come to hand. So repeated my signal to Hunter-Weston, making it this time personal from me to him and ordering him to acknowledge receipt. (Lord Bobs’ wrinkle):–
“General Hamilton to General Hunter-Weston, “Euryalus”.
“Do you want any more men landed at ‘Y’? There are trawlers available.
Acknowledge the signal.”
At 11 a.m. I got this answer:–
“From General Hunter-Weston to G.O.C. “Queen Elizabeth”.
“Admiral Wemyss and Principal Naval Transport Officer state that to interfere with present arrangements and try to land men at ‘Y’ Beach would delay disembarkation.”
There was some fuss about the _Cornwallis_. She ought to have been back from Morto Bay and lending a hand here, but she had not turned up. All sorts of surmises. Now we hear she has landed our right flank attack very dashingly and that we have stormed de Tott’s Battery! I fear the South Wales Borderers are hardly strong enough alone to move across and threaten Sedd-el-Bahr from the North. But the news is fine. How I wish we had left “V” Beach severely alone.
Big flanking attacks at “Y” and “S” might have converged on Sedd-el-Bahr and carried it from the rear when none of the garrison could have escaped. But then, until we tried, we were afraid fire from Asia might defeat the de Tott’s Battery attack and that the “Y” party might not scale the cliffs. The Turks are stronger down here than at Gaba Tepe. Still, I should doubt if they are in any great force; quite clearly the bulk of them have been led astray by our feints, and false rumours. Otherwise, had they even a regiment in close reserve, they must have eaten up the S.W.B. as they stormed the Battery.
About noon, a Naval Officer (Lieutenant Smith), a fine fellow, came off to get some more small-arm ammunition for the machine guns on the “River Clyde”. He said the state of things on and around that ship was “awful,” a word which carried twentyfold weight owing to the fact that it was spoken by a youth never very emotional, I am sure, and now on his mettle to make his report with indifference and calm. The whole landing place at “V” Beach is ringed round with fire. The shots from our naval guns, smashing as their impact appears, might as well be confetti for all the effect they have upon the Turkish trenches.
The “River Clyde” is commanded and swept not only by rifles at 100 yards’ range, but by pom-poms and field guns. Her own double battery of machine guns mounted in a sandbag revetment in her bows are to some extent forcing the enemy to keep their heads down and preventing them from actually rushing the little party of our men who are crouching behind the sand bank. But these same men of ours cannot raise head or hand one inch beyond that lucky ledge of sand by the water’s brink. And the bay at Sedd-el-Bahr, so the last messengers have told us, had turned red. The “River Clyde” so far saves the situation. She was only ready two days before we plunged.
At 1.30 heard that d’Amade had taken Kum Kale. De Robeck had already heard independently by wireless that the French (the 6th Colonials under Nogués) had carried the village by a bayonet charge at 9.35 a.m. On the Asiatic side, then, things are going as we had hoped. The Russian “Askold” and the “Jeanne d’Arc” are supporting our Allies in their attack. Being so hung up at “V,” I have told d’Amade that he will not be able to disembark there as arranged, but that he will have to take his troops round to “W” and march them across.
At two o’clock a large number of our wounded who had taken refuge under the base of the arches of the old Fort at Sedd-el-Bahr began to signal for help. The “Queen Elizabeth” sent away a picket boat which passed through the bullet storm and most gallantly brought off the best part of them.
Soon after 2 o’clock we were cheered by sighting our own brave fellows making a push from the direction of “W.” We reckon they must be Worcesters and Essex men moving up to support the Royal Fusiliers and the Lancashire Fusiliers, who have been struggling unaided against the bulk of the Turkish troops. The new lot came along by rushes from the Westwards, across from “X” to “W” towards Sedd-el-Bahr, and we prayed God very fervently they might be able to press on so as to strike the right rear of the enemy troops encircling “V” Beach. At 3.10 the leading heroes–we were amazed at their daring–actually stood up in order the better to cut through a broad belt of wire entanglement.
One by one the men passed through and fought their way to within a few yards of a redoubt dominating the hill between Beaches “W” and “V.” This belt of wire ran perpendicularly, not parallel, to the coastline and had evidently been fixed up precisely to prevent what we were now about to attempt. To watch V.C.s being won by wire cutting; to see the very figure and attitude of the hero; to be safe oneself except from the off chance of a shell,–was like being stretched upon the rack! All day we hung _vis-à-vis_ this inferno. With so great loss and with so desperate a situation the white flag would have gone up in the South African War but there was no idea of it to-day and I don’t feel afraid of it even now, in the dark of a moonless night, where evil thoughts are given most power over the mind.
Nor does Hunter-Weston. We had a hurried dinner, de Robeck, Keyes, Braithwaite, Godfrey, Hope and I, in the signal office under the bridge. As we were finishing Hunter-Weston came on board. After he had told us his story, breathlessly and listened to with breathless interest, I asked him what about our troops at “Y”? He thought they were now in touch with our troops at “X” but that they had been through some hard fighting to get there. His last message had been that they were being hard pressed but as he had heard nothing more since then he assumed they were all right–! Anyway, he was cheery, stout-hearted, quite a good tonic and–on the whole–his news is good.
To sum up the doings of the day; the French have dealt a brilliant stroke at Kum Kale; we have fixed a grip on the hills to the North of Gaba Tepe; also, we have broken through the enemy’s defences at “X” and “W,” two out of the three beaches at the South point of the Peninsula. The “hold-up” at the third, “V” (or Sedd-el-Bahr) causes me the keenest anxiety–it would never do if we were forced to re-embark at night as has been suggested–we must stick it until our advance from “X” and “W” opens that sally port from the sea. There is always in the background of my mind dread lest help should reach the enemy _before_ we have done with Sedd-el-Bahr.
The enveloping attacks on both enemy flanks have come off brilliantly, but have not cut the enemy’s line of retreat, or so threatened it that they have to make haste to get back. At ‘S’ (Eski Hissarlick or Morto Bay) the 2nd South Wales Borderers have landed in very dashing style though under fire from big fortress artillery as well as field guns and musketry. On shore they deployed and, helped by sailors from the ‘Cornwallis’, have carried the Turkish trenches in front of them at the bayonet’s point. They are now dug in on a commanding spur but are anxious at finding themselves all alone and say they do not feel able, owing to their weakness, to manoeuvre or to advance. From “Y,” opposite Krithia, there is no further news. But two good battalions at large and on the war path some four or five miles in rear of the enemy should do something during the next few hours. I was right, so it seems, about getting ashore before the enemy could see to shoot out to sea. At Gaba Tepe; opposite Krithia and by Morto Bay we landed without too much loss. Where we waited to bombard, as at Helles and Sedd-el-Bahr, we have got it in the neck.
This “V” Beach business is the blot. Sedd-el-Bahr was supposed to be the softest landing of the lot, as it was the best harbour and seemed to lie specially at the mercy of the big guns of the Fleet. Would that we had left it severely alone and had landed a big force at Morto Bay whence we could have forced the Sedd-el-Bahr Turks to fall back.
One thing is sure. Whatever happens to us here we are bound to win glory. There are no other soldiers quite of the calibre of our chaps in the world; they have “esprit de corps”; they are volunteers every one of them; they are “for it”; our Officers–our rank and file–have been so “entered” to this attack that they will all die–that we will all die–sooner than give way before the Turk.
The men are not fighting blindly as in South Africa: they are not fighting against forces with whose motives they half sympathise. They have been told, and told again, exactly what we are after. They understand. Their eyes are wide open: they “know” that the war can only be brought to an end by our joining hands quickly with the Russians: they “know” that the fate of the Empire depends on the courage they display. Should the Fates so decree, the whole brave Army may disappear during the night more dreadfully than that of Sennacherib; but assuredly they will not surrender: where so much is dark, where many are discouraged, in this knowledge I feel both light and joy.
Here I write–think–have my being. To-morrow night where shall we be? Well; what then; what of the worst? At least we shall have lived, acted, dared. We are half way through–we shall not look back. As night began to settle down over the land, the “Queen Elizabeth” seemed to feel the time had come to give full vent to her wrath. An order from the bridge, and, in the twinkling of an eye, she shook from stem to stern with the recoil from her own efforts.
The great ship was fighting all out, all in action. Every gun spouted flame and a roar went up fit to shiver the stars of Heaven. Ears stopped with wax; eyes half blinded by the scorching yellow blasts; still, in some chance seconds interval, we could hear the hive-like b rr rr rr rr rr r r r r of the small arms plying on the shore; still see, through some break in the acrid smoke, the profile of the castle and houses; nay, of the very earth itself and the rocky cliff; see them all, change, break, dissolve into dust; crumble as if by enchantment into strange new outlines, under the enormous explosions of our 15-in. lyddite shells. Buildings gutted: walls and trenches turned inside out and upside down: friend and foe surely must be wiped out together under such a fire: at least they are stupefied–must cease taking a hand with their puny rifles and machine guns? Not so. Amidst falling ruins; under smoke clouds of yellow, black, green and white; the beach, the cliffs and the ramparts of the Castle began, in the oncoming dusk, to sparkle all over with hundreds of tiny flecks of rifle fire.
Just before the shadows of night hid everything from sight, we could see that many of our men, who had been crouching all day under the sandy bank in the centre of the arena, were taking advantage of the pillars of smoke raised between them and their enemy to edge away to their right and scale the rampart leading to the Fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. Other small clusters lay still–they have made their last attack.
Now try to sleep. What of those men fighting for their lives in the darkness. I put them there. Might they not, all of them, be sailing back to safe England, but for me? And I sleep! To sleep whilst thousands are killing one another close by! Well, why not; I _must_ sleep whilst I may. The legend whereby a Commander-in-Chief works wonders during a battle dies hard. He may still lose the battle in a moment by losing heart. He may still help to win the battle by putting a brave face upon the game when it seems to be up. By his character, he may still stop the rot and inspire his men to advance once more to the assault. The old Bible idea of the Commander:–when his hands grew heavy Amalek advanced; when he raised them and willed victory Israel prevailed over the heathen!
As regards directions, modifications, orders, counter-orders,–in precise proportion as his preparations and operation orders have been thoroughly conceived and carried out, so will the actual conflict find him leaving the actual handling of the troops to Hunter-Weston as I am bound to do. Old Oyama cooled his brain during the battle of the Shaho by shooting pigeons sitting on Chinese chimneys. King Richard before Bosworth saw ghosts. My own dark hours pass more easily as I make my cryptic jottings in pedlar’s French. The detachment of the writer comes over me; calms down the tumult of the mind and paves a path towards the refuge of sleep.
No order is to be issued until I get reports and requests. I can’t think now of anything left undone that I ought to have done; I have no more troops to lay my hands on–Hunter-Weston has more than he can land to-night; I won’t mend matters much by prowling up and down the gangways. Braithwaite calls me if he must. No word yet about the losses except that they have been heavy. If the Turks get hold of a lot of fresh men and throw them upon us during the night,–perhaps they may knock us off into the sea.
No General knows his luck. That’s the beauty of the business. But I feel sanguine in the spirit of the men; sanguine in my own spirit; sanguine in the soundness of my scheme. What with the landing at Gaba Tepe and at Kum Kale, and the feints at Bulair and Besika Bay, the Turkish troops here will get no help to-night. And our fellows are steadily pouring ashore.
Diaries, Commander in Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, 25 April, 1914