Gateway to the Classics: Heroes and Heroic Deeds of the Great War by Donald A. Mackenzie
Heroes and Heroic Deeds of the Great War by  Donald A. Mackenzie

The Heroes of Gallipoli

Some of the fiercest and most picturesque conflicts of the war have been fought on the Gallipoli peninsula, where various landings were made in April, 1915, to secure military co-operation with the naval attacks on the Dardanelles forts. The rough coast, with its narrow beaches, steep slopes, and beetling cliffs, is admirably suited for defensive operations.

Near Gaba Tepe a dramatic coup was effected by the Australians. An advance force, which was conveyed across the sea in battleships, embarked in twelve whale-boats under cover of darkness and reached the shore just as dawn was breaking. As they came through the haze into shallow water the Turks opened fire, but the Australians leapt into the sea, and, wading ashore, charged a trench at a bound, and captured it in quicker time than it takes to tell.

Despite this initial success, however, the Turkish fire increased in fury. Then it was discovered that the landing had taken place farther north than originally intended and right below a ragged sandstone cliff. The jutting ridges overhead were occupied by Turks, who kept sniping continually.

"Up and at 'em, boys!" shouted an officer. Throwing aside their packs, the hardy Australians began to scramble up the cliff like the Highlanders who captured Quebec. They cleared the ridges at the point of the bayonet, nor paused until they reached the summit, which they held firmly until reinforced.

Meanwhile transports arrived with more Australians and New Zealanders and the shore fighting increased in fury. The Turks were heavily reinforced, but their efforts to dislodge the invaders failed completely.

The other landings, which took place at the toe of the peninsula, were similarly of desperate character. At one beach, between Cape Helles and Seddul Bahr, the large transport River Clyde, which carried about 2000 men, was run aground. Lighters were then drawn in between it and a reef, to carry a gangway over which the soldiers could run to the beach. It was not until darkness fell, however, that the men were got safely ashore and found it possible to advance in combination with other landing parties.

During the months of fighting which ensued, heroic efforts were made by the British and French troops to capture Achi Baba hill, which was strongly fortified, and held by a powerful army of Turks under the leadership of German officers.

In August a fresh landing was effected at Suvla Bay, and operations were formulated with purpose to capture the height of Sari Bair and cut off Turkish communications with Achi Baba. Had it been successful, the greater part of the peninsula would have been overrun by the Allied troops.

The Australians at Gaba Tepe, who held the area which had become known as Anzac, put forth heroic efforts to strike a staggering blow at the Turkish defence. The greatest initial success they achieved was the capture of Lone Pine trenches, a series of works which commanded one of the main sources of the enemy's water supply. Charging up hill with heroic dash against a withering fire, the Australians broke through the barbed-wire entanglements, only to find, however, that the trenches were covered with great beams of pine. Snipers continued to sweep their lines through loop-holes. But the resourceful Australians were not to be baffled. They tore up many of the beams and leapt into the darkened galleries, where desperate hand-to-hand encounters took place, until they completely won the position, which they held against fierce counter-attacks.

In the great combined attack which followed, a Colonial column, with an Indian mountain battery, gained the summit of a ridge of Sari Bair, but the columns from Suvla failed to come to their support in time and as arranged, and they were forced to retreat before a massed Turkish force supported by heavy artillery fire.

Subsequently our military authorities arrived at the decision that all attempts to overrun the peninsula would have to be abandoned. Then followed another dramatic happening. Late in December the army of 85,000, distributed between Anzac and Suvla, withdrew from their positions and put to sea in secrecy and without loss. The Turks had no idea what was happening until after the evacuation was concluded. A few weeks later the forces at the extreme toe of the peninsula similarly "lifted their tents like the Arabs and as silently stole away". These winter withdrawals were as masterly military achievements as the heroic landings in spring. All the forces engaged had, in this memorable and unexampled campaign, covered themselves with glory, and the Australians and New Zealanders displayed those high qualities of heroism and initiative which distinguish them as fighting men in the Empire's battles for freedom and justice.

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