4. Some Aspects of the Gallipoli Campaign


M30 leaving Mudros.

“The advantage of time and place in all martial actions is half a victory, which being lost is irrecoverable.”
Francis Drake to Queen Elizabeth, 13 April, 1588

“Damn the Dardanelles! They will be our grave!”
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill, 5 April, 1915


i. February to July, 1915

When, in the early evening of 13 January, 1915, after a dispiriting day, the War Council sanctioned a plan presented to them by the First Lord of the Admiralty for ships of the Royal Navy to fight their way through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmora, they did not foresee that they were approving the first stage of a bloody campaign which was to claim the lives of 48,000 Allied servicemen and, after 11 costly months, end in failure. Young, enthusiastic, forceful (some said arrogant), wonderfully articulate, Winston Churchill dazzled his colleagues with a brilliant word picture of the breathtaking events which would follow the appearance of the Fleet off Constantinople: the Turkish government would capitulate, we should join hands with our Russian ally, the wavering Balkan states – Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria – would opt for the Allied side. The war, the First Lord said, might be won outright or, if not, would be shortened immeasurably; the slaughter on the Western Front would cease.

Perhaps Churchill, an ex-cavalryman, would have favoured a charge through the Straits like a seaborne Omdurman, but he supported a more circumspect plan by which the battleships of a reinforced Eastern Mediterranean Squadron would subdue the forts on the European and Asiatic shores one by one as they steamed slowly onwards. By the end of January Churchill was already contemplating using monitors in the Aegean (see Chapter One) although he hoped that by the time any of them were ready for service the guns of the battleships would be threatening the helpless Turkish capital.

A systematic but spasmodic bombardment of the Outer Forts began in February and was continued into March. Little progress was made. On 17 March, Vice Admiral Carden, who had been summoned from the command of Malta dockyard to assume responsibilities which were beyond him, broke down and was invalided home. Carden’s successor, his “second” (1) Vice Admiral de Robeck was more impressive in every way. Stern, calm, kind, professionally competent if not technically minded, de Robeck inherited from Carden his Chief of Staff, Commodore Roger Keyes, who was to become one of the most well known characters of the campaign and of the war. Keyes had acquired a reputation for courage, and for recklessness, as a young officer in China, and had added to this with his aggressive leadership of the North Sea submarines in 1914. Keyes’ instinctive reaction in any crisis was “to steer for the sound of the guns”.

The bombardment of the forts was resumed on 18 March by a Franco – British force consisting of 18 battleships with attendant cruisers and destroyers. In the course of a tremendous onslaught, which was intended to be conclusive, 3 capital ships (Bouvet, Ocean and Irresistible) were sunk by mines, and several other major vessels were damaged, some seriously. Vice Admiral de Robeck ordered the fleet to retire. That night Keyes spent several hours in the Straits aboard the destroyer Jed and of that experience he wrote:

“Except for the searchlights there seemed to be no sign of life and I had the most indelible impression that we were in the presence of a beaten foe. I thought he was beaten at 2 p.m I knew he was beaten at 4 p.m – and at midnight I knew with still greater certainty that he was absolutely beaten; - - .” (2)

It is possible that Keyes was right. Certainly many of the Turkish and German defenders of the Straits were short of ammunition and waited apprehensively for the renewed attack which, they thought, must surely overwhelm them. But that attack was not delivered: de Robeck, despite Keyes’ pleas, refused to move. The Navy had been defeated, not by the heavy guns of the forts but by the unswept mines and the mobile howitzer batteries, scattered about the shore, which protected them.

The Army was now summoned to the assistance of the Navy. If troops were landed on the peninsula, so it was argued, they would quickly take the forts from the rear and disperse the waspish howitzers. The minefields could then be swept at leisure and the Fleet proceed to Constantinople; all that Churchill had foretold could still come to pass. The landings were made on 25 April, on Cape Helles (by the 29th Division) at a beach to the west near Gaba Tepe (by Australian and New Zealand troops) and at Kum Kale on the Asiatic shore (by French forces), this last operation being purely diversionary. The bridgeheads were secured at a terrible cost but the anticipated breakout did not follow despite the most savage and bloody battles.

To Roger Keyes, to whom the withdrawal of the fleet from the Straits had been a humiliation for his beloved Service, the situation was now intolerable. While soldiers were fighting and dying ashore, supported by the smaller ships of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, the mighty battleships stood idly by. Again Keyes urged that the attempt to force the Straits should be resumed and, once more, the CinC refused to take his advice. It was not the risk to his capital ships which disturbed de Robeck so greatly, for most of them were obsolete and useless in the line of battle, it was the possible loss of more trained men. The casualty lists of the British battleships which were sunk on 18 March had been surprisingly short, but the CinC regarded the men under his command as being an essential reserve for the Grant Fleet at Scapa which he, like all the senior naval officers of his generation, looked upon as the sure shield which guaranteed the safety of the British Empire. De Robeck would have agreed with Beatty’s former Chief of Staff who wrote:

“The British battlefleet is like the queen on the chessboard - - - . Properly supported by other weapons it is the final arbiter at sea; to lose it is to lose the game.” (3)

The CinC’s fears were reinforced by the appearance of U21 in the Mediterranean with the consequences which have been described. The battleships were not to be put at hazard in the Straits or in support of the Army except in the direst emergency. Positive naval action must await the arrival of the monitors which were not heavily manned, were cheap and easy to build and, with their shallow draft, could be risked when submarine attack was expected; in short, they were expendable.

ii. Plans for an August offensive

In May, with opposition to his army hardening, General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, wrote to the Secretary of State for War, the formidable Kitchener, asking for reinforcements. In the following month, after some vacillation at home due to the political situation (Fisher had resigned as First Sea Lord and Churchill had been sacked as First Lord of the Admiralty), Hamilton was offered 5 additional divisions, 3 of them from Kitchener’s “New Army”. Unfortunately, the implacable opposition of the “Westerners” in France and the inflexible application of the principle of “Buggin’s turn” ensured that, in most cases, the generals despatched with the reinforcements were elderly and lacking experience in modern warfare. General Stopford, for example, who was to command IX Corps at Suvla Bay, was 61, in ill health and, although a respected military historian, had never commanded troops in battle.

On learning that 50,000 fresh troops were to be sent to Gallipoli, Hamilton was elated; but how was he to use them on the constricted battlefields of the peninsula? The CinC already had a plan before him suggested by General Birdwood, commanding the Anzac forces, or by his Chief or Staff, Colonel Skene, and this he now adopted and developed. Instead of continuing with the hopeless frontal assaults on the heights of Achi Bab, the new scheme required that the troops at Helles should keep the enemy on their front pinned down while a force from Anzac, strengthened by reinforcements from England, struck north east at the Sari Bair range. The left flank of this assault force would be protected by 2 fresh divisions landed at Suvla Bay and, once the Sari Bair and Suvla areas were occupied, the 2 components would link hands and sweep triumphantly down to the Straits.

The new offensive was planned to begin on 6 August and was timed to start in the south and spread northward, like a giant firecracker, to keep the Turkish defenders “off balance”. Thus the Helles holding operation would be begin at 2.30 p.m to be followed by a feint from Anzac at the Lone Pine position at 5.30 p.m. The main attack of the whole offensive, also mounted from Anzac, would be launched against the Sari Bair at 8.30 p.m with the men of the “New Army” carrying out a night landing in Suvla Bay an hour later. The conquest of the Suvla area would be completed at dawn on 7 August by a second assault wave” hitting the beach” in daylight.

The build up in the Aegean could not be hidden from the Turks and their agents but elaborate plans were made to conceal from them the main thrust of the new offensive. Smyrna had been under blockade since June and, to convince the enemy that an attempt was to be made against that city, 6,000 men of the Xth (Irish) Division, who were earmarked for the Suvla front, were first sent to the island of Mityleni. To confuse the Turkish defenders still further, arrangements were made for the fleet to demonstrate in the Gulf of Saros (or Xeros) against Bulair at the very head of the peninsula where the enemy felt most vulnerable.

The duties of the Navy in relation to the August offensive were, of course, those that it had assumed in joint operations with the military since time immemorial: to convey the troops to the war theatre, to put them safely ashore and, once landed, to keep them supplied. But, as Hamilton had been starved of artillery throughout the campaign, a special responsibility rested upon the ships which were to give fire support – the monitors and “bulged” cruisers (4) which had been creeping into Mudros one by one since June. These specialised bombardment vessels were dispersed between 3 squadrons, each of which was to operate on a particular front. The 1st.Squadron (commanded by Admiral Nicholson in Exmouth) was to give fire support at Helles, the 2nd. Squadron was to cover the attack from Anzac and the 3rd.Squadron (led by Captain Fawcet Wray in Talbot) was to lie off Suvla.

The Army and Navy planning staffs were laughably small by modern standards but they worked together amicably enough and it is possible to see in Gallipoli in 1915 the skeleton of inter-service combined operation planning which was fleshed out so memorably nearly 30 years later. Certainly Commodore Keyes was as severe with officers promoting internal dissension as General Eisenhower was to be in WWII:

“- and we had an arrangement, that if anyone introduced a particle of grit into the smooth working of the machine, his head would be blown off!” (5)

As M30 made her way through the Mediterranean, the fresh troops who were to take part in the August offensive were being conveyed to Lemnos, Imbros and Mityleni and, on the nights of 3-4, 4-5 and 5-6 August, 25,000 men were ferried stealthily from Mudros to Anzac where they were to lie concealed in caves, dugouts and trenches until the appointed hour when they were to rise up and fall upon the unsuspecting Turk.

iii. Plans for the Suvla Bay Landings.

Nibrunesi Point lies 3 miles to the north of Anzac and is the southern boundary of Suvla Bay. The pont has steep cliffs on its northern and southern sides and these continue northwards along the curving shoreline of the bay gradually declining in height until, opposite Lala Baba, all that fronts the sea is low dunes of shifting sand. Halfway around the bay lies The Cut, a gully through which the sea is driven by the wild, winter, western winds to flood a low lying inland area, one and a half square miles in extent. So is formed the Salt Lake, which dries out in summer as the sea recedes. North of The Cut the dunes continue but rocky cliffs rise up once more as the bay sweeps round to Suvla Point.

The Salt Lake leads into the Suvla Plain:

“- - surrounded on three sides by formidable hills, like an enormous amphitheatre, the salt lake gleaming harshly, and the yellow aridity of the ground, which looks deceptively flat and uncomplicated, broken here and there by a few olive trees. The feeling of desolation is almost tangible. There is hardly any shade, the glare from the Salt Lake assails the eyes, the ground is coarse and thirsty looking, and the sentinel hills sweeping in a great arc from north to south grim, aloof and hostile, quivering in the heat. Towards the hills, as the ground begins to rise, there are belts of scrub, thickening at the foothills, and here and there one can detect a patch of greenish cultivation among the dreary, dusty brown of the Plain.” (6)

The hills to the north of the Suvla Plain, the Karakol Dagh and the Kiretch Tepe, stretch 6 miles north eastwards from Suvla Point to Ejelmer Bay. Rising to 660’ at their highest point they plunge steeply into the Gulf of Saros on the northern side. From Ejelmer Bay the Anafarta ridge runs down the east side of the Plain until, almost opposite Nibrunesi Point, there runs westward first a spur 1 mile long, and then a succession of hills, each one lower than its predecessor as the range marches to the sea – W Hills (330’), Scimitar Hill (200’), Green Hill, Chocolate Hill (160’), and, finally Lala Baba (150’) standing close to the bay. One other feature of military importance rises from the flat surface of the Plain itself – Hill 10 (60’) which lies to the north of The Cut.

Speed was the essence of Hamilton’s plan for Suvla, which pitted 20,000 men against a garrison which was thought to number about 3,000 but which, in fact, was considerably smaller. Following their night landing, the men of “Kitchener’s Army” would overwhelm the Turkish outposts and by daylight, it was thought, would have captured Lala Baba, Hill 10, Chocolate Hill, Green Hill, W Hills and part of the Kiretch Tepe. The 2nd.assault wave, landing at dawn, would complete the conquest of the Kiretch Tepe and secure the dominating, undefended Anafarta ridge, early capture of which was essential to forestall the Turkish reinforcements held at Bulair, some 35 miles away to the north. Thus by early on 7 August, the Allied line would stretch from Ejelmer Bay to the Sari Bair.

The Navy was enthusiastic about the plan for Suvla Bay which provided a fine harbour for the hundreds of ships needed to supply the Suvla and Anzac fronts, and which could be protected against underwater attack by a vast anti-submarine net stretched between Nibrunesi and Suvla Points. The quick reduction of the Anafarta ridge was as crucial to the Navy as it was to the Army for enemy guns mounted on the heights could control the Bay and, furthermore, Ejelmer Bay at the northern end was required as an alternative anchorage should westerly winds prevail. At Keyes’ suggestion it was agreed that the landings should be made outside the Bay itself, to the south of Nibrunesi Point, where destroyers could run in until their bows were almost touching the shelving beach and where, once ashore, the troops could form up in the shelter of the cliffs before advancing inland.

General Stopford, who was to command IX Corps (the Xth and IXth Divisions) was also enthusiastic about the plan when it was shown to him for the first time on 22 July and commented:

“This is the plan I always hoped he (Hamilton) would adopt. It is a good plan and I congratulate whoever has been responsible for framing it.” (7)

Unfortunately, Stopford’s ardour began to cool after he had discussed the plan with his Chief of Staff, General Reed, who was one of the few senior officers sent out to the peninsula who had served in France, and who brought with him from the Western Front a marked aversion to mounting an infantry attack without adequate artillery preparation. Experience had taught Stopford’s Chief of Staff that continuous entrenchments could not be carried without howitzer support and this was the theme of his lecture to his commanding officer and anyone else who would listen to him. Reed refused to believe the air reconnaissance reports which showed that there were no “continuous entrenchments” on the Suvla Plain and, indeed, hardly any trenches at all:

“In fact he thoroughly disheartened everyone with whom he came in contact. - - - his gloomy forebodings were not helpful, and I shall always regard him as the principal marplot of the Suvla landings, as I told him on more than one occasion.” (8)

When Stopford returned, with Reed, to GHQ, Imbros, on 25 July, he was full of queries and counterplans. Where were the howitzers he needed? How did the staff know that only 5 Turkish battalions guarded Suvla ? Surely the defenders must be securely entrenched? To secure his left flank, General Stopford now insisted that the Kiretch Tepe must be taken at the earliest possible moment and, to achieve this troops would have to be landed within the Bay. The Army planners were hard pressed for the date set for the grand attack was close at hand, and as one of them, Colonel Aspinall (9) admitted, they played too little attention to the Suvla section of the overall plan believing it to be subsidiary to the hammer blow which was to be delivered from Anzac. Consequently, Stopford was given his head to a dangerous degree; the landing within the Bay was agreed upon and new orders were issued which were fatal to Hamilton’s original conception. Stopford was now instructed that “your primary objective will be to secure Suvla Bay for all the forces operating in the Northern Zone” and that he was only to seize the series of low hills leading east from Nibrunesi Pont if this could be done “without prejudice” to the main aim. Despite its importance to the Army and the Navy, the Anafarta ridge did not figure in the revised orders at all although, as Hamilton noted in his diary for the 8 August:

“It was clear to half an eye that Tekke Tepe (the highest point on the ridge) was the key to the whole Suvla Bay area.” (10)

Neither Vice Admiral de Robeck nor Commodore Keyes liked Stopford’s idea that troops should be landed on exposed beaches within the Bay at night. In the interests of security there had been no detailed reconnaissance of the shoreline and the only chart available was a skimpy affair produced in 1875. To Keyes, who had examined the Bay carefully from a hill near Anzac and from seaward, “the foreshore to the eastward looked very shallow and on the northern shore very foul” (11) but, nevertheless, he fell in with the plan believing that the Navy had failed the Army in the Straits and that, on this occasion, it was his clear duty to put the troops ashore at the place their commander had chosen.

The plan, as finally agreed, was that the 10,000 men of the XIth. (Northern) Division (General Hammersley) should make the initial landings, the 32nd. And 33rd. Brigades being put ashore at B and C beaches (south of Nibrunesi Point) and the 34th Brigade at the controversial A Beach (inside the Bay, north of The Cut). The dawn assault would be launched by the Xth. (Irish) Division which would be landed at A beach, although Keyes believed that, in daylight, an alternative landing place could be found if the approaches were found to be as difficult as he feared.

Rear Admiral Christian (12) was despatched from London to command the naval side of the landings, although the only men in the Navy who had experience of combined operations on the scale envisaged for Suvla were those who had planned and led the April assaults. Keyes suggested to de Robeck that the CinC should keep control of the Suvla operation in his own hands but was told that Christian would take command “in order that he should have the same opportunities as Admirals Wemyss and Thursby had in April”. (13) Truly, the principle of “Buggins turn” ruled the Navy as surely as it did the Army!

The plan for the supporting 3rd. Squadron was for 2 bulged cruisers and 2 small monitors to be off Suvla Point while:

“- - a 3rd.monitor was stationed to the northward at Ejelmer Bay and to this division was attached the destroyer Foxhound and the balloon ship Manica for spotting.” (14)

As M30’s log proves, she was the monitor ordered northward and, although no reason is given for this move, an examination of the map suggests that ships in Ejelmer Bay would be well placed to support the planned dawn attacks on the Kiretch Tepe and Anafarta ridges. However, there is another possible explanation for the positioning of M30 so far from the principal beachhead, and this will be studied later.

None of the officers of M30 could have known that their ship was assigned to the 3rd.Squadron until their ship arrived in the Aegean, nor that they would come under the command of an officer who had been “virtually ostracised by the Service” (15) for a decision which, most of the wardrooms of the Fleet believed, showed him to lack courage.

Before the war, Captain Fawcet Wray, RN, had been one of the fashionable coterie, led by the garrulous Admiral Lord Charles Beresford (16) and dubbed “The Syndicate of Discontent”, which opposed Fisher’s reforming programme which was introduced to modernise the Service and concentrate the most powerful units of the Fleet in the North Sea. When hostilities began, Fawcet Wray was serving in the Mediterranean in the armoured, or heavy cruiser Defence, as Flag Captain (Chief of Staff) to Rear Admiral Troubridge commanding the 1st.Cruiser Squadron. At one point in the long, and mishandled, chase of the German ships Goeben and Breslau in 1914, Troubridge had been in a position to intercept them and, despite having doubts about the outcome (the battlecruiser Goeben was more heavily armed, and thought to be faster than any of the British ships), decided to give battle. However, persuasion by his Flag Captain convinced Troubridge that to oppose the enemy would be in contravention of his orders not to engage “a superior force” and, consequently, Admiral Souchon and his ships reached Constantinople unscathed where their arrival precipitated the Turks into the war on the German side. (17)

Subsequently, Rear Admiral Troubridge was court martialled on the cumbersome charge that he did “through negligence or through other default, forbear to pursue the chase of His Imperial Majesty’s Ship Goeben, being an enemy then flying” and, although acquitted, never served at sea again. Fawcet Wray escaped court martial, or any formal censure, but the 2nd. Sea Lord (in charge of personnel) recommended that he should “remain unemployed”, and so he did until February, 1915, when men and ships were badly needed for the Dardanelles and he was appointed to the old light cruiser Talbot.


A rather bashful gun crew man a weapon similar to that mounted in M30

As the senior captain of the 3rd. Squadron, Fawcet Wray automatically assumed command but if he saw this appointment as a means of re-establishing his character in the eyes of his peers and My Lords of the Admiralty, then the ships he had to realise his ambition were most unlike the well drilled, uniformly smart heavy cruisers with which he had been familiar in happier days. In addition to the elderly Talbot, 3rd Squadron consisted of the obsolete bulged cruisers Grafton and Theseus, the destroyer Foxhound, 3 untried 6” gunned monitors (M30, M31 and M33) and the balloon ship Manica – surely the most curious ship of all.

Manica had been taken up by the Admiralty whilst unloading manure in Manchester docks and, once converted, had been sent out to Gallipoli at the suggestion of General Birdwood. In her strengthened and cushioned hold Manica housed a German designed Drachen balloon together with 250 gas cylinders, and she also carried motor lorries which ensured that the specialised Balloon Section (6 officers and 37 men) could operate their clumsy charge on land as well as on the sea.

The strange and heterogeneous collection of ships which constituted the 3rd.Squadron did, in fact, allow Captain Fawcet Wray to restore his tattered reputation for, at the conclusion of the Gallipoli campaign, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the citation stating that “Talbot was the mainstay of the supporting cruisers and light craft, especially at Suvla from 6th. to 10th. August.” (18)

Notes

In the days of sail the CinC was placed in the centre of the line of battle and his ship always attracted the fiercest enemy attacks. To protect the flagship powerful vessels were stationed ahead and astern, commanded by captains of proven fighting ability who were known as the CinC’s “seconds”. When steam succeeded sail the term was still used but then meaning “second in command”.
2. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
3. Chatfield. “It Might Happen Again.”
4. After their 9.2” guns were removed and fitted in Ms. 15-28, the old cruisers of the Edgar class were brought out of retirement and re-fitted as monitors. Steel “bulges”, semi-circular and 15’ deep, were bolted to the ships’ sides as protection against torpedoes and timber stiffening was worked into the hulls.
5. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
6. Rhodes James. “Gallipoli.”
7. Quoted in Bush, “Gallipoli” and several other books.
8. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
9. Later the Official Historian of the campaign.
10. Hamilton. “Gallipoli Diary.”
11. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
12. Christian was reputed to be a difficult character. He had been in charge of Osborne Naval College when Cadet Archer Shee was discharged for stealing without the opportunity of defending himself – an incident immortalised in Terence Rattigan’s play “The Winslow Boy.”
13. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
14. Corbett. “Naval Operations, Vol.3”.
15. Marder. “From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Vol.2.”
16. Speaking of Beresford as an MP, Churchill said “He is one of those of whom it was well said: ‘before they get up they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.’”
17. See Tuchman, “The Guns of August”, Van der Vat, “The ship that changed the World”, et al.
18. The Naval Who’s Who, 1917.

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