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The story of the Suvla Bay front,
Gallipoli, from 6th August 1915
to Sir Ian Hamilton’s dispatch of
11th December 1915.

      The 10th (Irish) Division, less its artillery, embarked for Gallipoli on 9th July 1915 and by the end of the month most units had assembled on Lemnos, finally landing at Suvla Bay on 6th/7th August, comprising the 30th and 31st Infantry Brigades, the 29th Infantry Brigade being sent instead to Anzac Cove.  The purpose of sending the 10th and the 11th Divisions to Suvla was to enable a break out to be made by capturing the hills between the front-line and the Tekke Tepe ridge, followed by the Chanuk Bair ridge itself.  It was to coincide with two diversionary attacks.  The first, at Helles was intended to capture the village of Krithia and Achi Baba.  It failed completely.  The Second was to attempt to break out from the Anzac bridgehead by capturing the Lone Pine ridge, a battle that has been remembered for its extreme ferocity in fighting that raged for several days, resulting in an Australian ‘victory’ but not indeed a break-out.  The main attack was to be a concerted break out at Suvla and an attack from Anzac to reach the heights of Chanuk Bair, from which one can look down on the Narrows and the ultimate objective of the Turkish forts that lined the route up the Narrows.  The task was given to the New Zealanders, supported by an Australian attack at the Nek on Walker’s Ridge, the famous and suicidal charge of the Australian Light Horse.  In spite of many failures and much confusion the New Zealanders did reach the ridge but were driven off it on August 9th by the prompt and courageous action of Kemel Ataturk.

      At Suvla the 11th Division landed first, with 34th Brigade on ‘A’ beach, north of the Cut in order to take Hill 10 and the foothills of Kiretch Tepe, and with 32nd and 33rd Brigades landing on ‘B’ beach to take Lala Baba and Chocolate Hill.  The 10th Division were to land next day on ‘A’ beach to reinforce the 34th Brigade advancing up the Kiretch Tepe Ridge and up onto Tekke Tepe itself.  The 32nd and 33rd Brigades of 11th Division landed as planned unopposed on ‘B’ beach and had taken Lala Baba and Nibrunisi Point by midnight, though with considerable loss, particularly of officers.  The landing of Brigadier-General Sitwell’s 34th Brigade was a shambles.  Instead of landing on ‘A’ beach the Destroyers put the men ashore below the cut, several hours before the rest of the Brigade whose lighters stuck on sand-bars.  Despite this the 34th Brigade were 3 kms along the Kiretche Tepe Ridge by early morning.  Hill 10, however could not be found but eventually some of 32nd Brigade, resting on Lala Baba after capturing it, were sent to assist.  The hill was captured by 7.00 pm.  Sitwell then decided to dig in and advance no further.

      The 10th Division were supposed to land on ‘A’ beach, but their landing-craft stuck in the shallows, so after several hours 5 battalions were landed at ‘C’ beach, again below the Cut, and put under the command of 11th Division.  The main body of the 10th Division was then ordered to land at ‘C’ beach, but suddenly a new beach, West Beach, just below the Kiretch Tepe Ridge, was found so the remaining 3 battalions were landed there and told to move up onto the Ridge.  They moved up three miles to join 34th Brigade, but advanced no further.  The five battalions of 10th Division on ‘C’ beach were faced with the task of taking Chocolate Hill and Green Hills.  Help from Sitwell’s Brigade was refused and instead of advancing in a direct line to Chocolate Hill three battalions were ordered to march all round the Salt Lake (8 kms in the heat of the day) before making the attack which succeeded the capturing the hills.  Thus, in spite of much confusion and severe losses by the morning of 8th August the first objectives had been gained a foothold on Kinetch Tepe, Hill 10, Lala Baba, Chocolate Hill and Green Hills.  Stopford had still not landed.  He remained on the ‘Jonquil’ nursing a sprained knee and issued no orders.  With the Turks rushing up reinforcements, the British did nothing on 9th, a day wasted, and by 10th no further progress was possible.  The high hills around Sulva (Kiretch Tepe Ridge to the north, Tekke Tepe in the centre and the Anafarta Spur to the south) were of course still in Turkish hands.  Casualties in the first 24 hours amounted to 1,700 men, a greater number than the garrisons of Turks opposing the landing.  With no machine-guns and without firing even the limited artillery available, there had been no pitched battle.  There was no leadership and therefore no progress.

      While the battle was raging on the heights above Anzac, the 53rd Division arrived at Suvla on 8th/9th August, by which time the Turkish reinforcements had also arrived.  Scimitar Hill had been taken but was lost again, and wounded men trying to crawl back were burnt alive in the scrub fires that were started by the Turkish counter-attack.  Suvla had become a beachhead under siege, which it remained until the evacuation, and in these circumstances it was more than ever necessary if any progress was to be made against the now well-entrenched Turkish reinforcements that artillery should be landed.  Instead, on 10th August the 54th Division arrived, and Sir Ian Hamilton pressed Stopford to attack the Tekke Tepe Ridge with a frontal assault.  After huge delays and many excuses, the 163rd Brigade of 54th Division began to move forward (carrying maps of another part of the peninsula), not reaching the Tekke Tepe Ridge itself, but in the general direction of Scimitar Hill in the centre of the plain.  They were shot down in the scrub, including the famous Sandringham Company that was lost in the smoke without trace.  On 14th August 10th Division renewed their attack up the Kiretch Tepe Ridge, which was a moderate success, but were not reinforced and were driven back.  The 10th Division commander, Major-General Mahon then walked off in a huff and ‘deserted’ to Mudros because when Stopford, now finally sacked, needed to be replaced, a younger general than Mahon, Major-General de Lisle, was given the temporary command.  Mahon eventually returned to what was left of the 10th Division.

      More artillery had now arrived and De Lisle was promised another new Division, the 2nd Mounted, to be brought over from Egypt without their horses.  There was even renewed and futile discussion about a possible new landing at Bulair.  Before this could even be contemplated, one last desperate attempt was made to secure some sort of break out from Suvla - the attacks on Scimitar Hill and Hill 60 on August 21st, which were intended merely to ‘tidy up’ the beachhead by taking the country around W Hills and Scimitar Hill, and for the New Zealanders and Indians to join Suvla to Anzac by taking Hill 60.  The 29th Division were brought round from Helles to take Scimitar and the 11th Division were to take the W Hills.  The 2nd Mounted were to be in reserve.  The artillery barrage looked terrific but achieved nothing prior to the attack at 3.00 pm that was met with murderous counter-fire.  By 5.00pm the attack on W Hills had failed and although the 29th Division reached the top of Scimitar Hill for a time they were quickly driven off and again the wounded were caught and burnt in the bushfires.  The ‘Mounteds’ were ordered forward and were sacrificed.  They marched steadily across the dried-up Salt Lake and reached Chocolate Hill at 5.00 pm.  Briefly they gained the top only to be driven off.  On that day de Lisle’s troops lost 5,300 casualties, more than a third of his force of 14,300 men, for virtually no gain.  Meanwhile, the battle for Hill 60 went on for more than a week and a further 2,500 men were lost to the Anzacs.  On October 15th Hamilton was finally recalled home, a failed General, and Kitchener appointed Sir Charles Monro as his replacement.

      Sir Ian Hamilton’s 3rd Despatch of 11th Dec. to Lord Kitchener describes the fighting in July and August, which sums up the failures of Lieutennt-General Sir Frederick Stopford and Brigadier-General Sir William Sitwell.

      ‘It was lack of artillery support which finally decided him to acquiesce in a policy of going slow which, by the time it reached the troops, became translated into a period of inaction.  The Divisional Generals were, in fact, informed that, “in view of the inadequate artillery support,” General Stopford did not wish them to make frontal attacks on entrenched positions, but desired them, so far as was possible, to try and turn any trenches which were met with.  Within the terms of this instruction lies the root of our failure to make use of the priceless daylight hours of the 8th August.

      Normally, it may be correct to say that in modern warfare infantry cannot be expected to advance without artillery preparation.  But in a landing on a hostile shore the order has to be inverted.  The infantry must advance and seize a suitable position to cover the landing, and to provide artillery positions for the main thrust.  The very existence of the force, its water supply, its facilities for munitions and supplies, its power to reinforce, must absolutely depend on the infantry being able instantly to make good sufficient ground without the aid of the artillery other than can be supplied for the purpose by floating batteries.  This is not a condition that should take the commander of a covering force by surprise.  It is one already foreseen.  Driving power was required, and even a certain ruthlessness, to brush aside pleas for a respite for tired troops.  The one fatal error was inertia. And inertia prevailed.’

      The units of the 10th and 11th Divisions had shown their mettle when they leaped into the water to get more quickly to close quarters, or when they stormed Lala Baba in the darkness.  They had shown their resolution later when they tackled the Chocolate Hills and drove the enemy from Hill 10 right back out of rifle range from the beaches.  Then had come hesitation.  The advantage had not been pressed.  The senior Commanders at Suvla had had no personal experience of the new trench warfare, of the Turkish methods, or of the paramount importance of time.  Strong, clear leadership had not been promptly enough applied.

5 February 2010

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9th Batt. Devons
Jan-April 1917

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Azmak Cemetery

Kiretch Ridge

‘A’ Beach

Lala Baba Hill

Salt Lake and Teke Tepe Ridge