Battle of the Longest Day

By Compton Mackenzie
(Authorized Press Representative at the Dardanelles.)

[The New York Times/Current History, August 1915]

Dardanelles, via Alexandria, June 30, 1915.

The battle of the Fourth of June ended with substantial progress on our centre, although on our left and on our right, notwithstanding the most violent charges and counter-charges, we were unable to consolidate some of our initial gains. The reason of this may be found in the natural strongholds of the Turkish flanks, natural strongholds that are helped by the most elaborate fortifications.

The British and French line from the Aegean to the Dardanelles is confronted by rising ground that culminates in the centre with the flat summit of Achi Baba, 800 ft. high. On either side the ground falls away to the sea in ravines and dry watercourses (deres), which the Turks have had time to make impregnable to any except those superb troops that are now fighting to pass over them.

There is no room upon the Gallipoli Peninsula to find weak points, and we are now in the position of having to storm an immensely strong fortress, the advanced works of which, by an amazing feat of arms, we already hold, and the glacis of which has to be crossed before we move forward to the assault upon the bastion of Achi Baba and beyond to the final assault upon the very walls of that fortress, the Kilid Bahr Plateau.

Farther up the coast the Australians and New Zealanders have made a lodgment upon one of the strongest advanced works of the Kilid Bahr Plateau. As seen from the northwest here they threaten the communications of the "fortress" and are drawing against them a large part of the garrison. This is composed of the flower of the Turkish Army, and, notwithstanding casualties that must already amount to 70,000, the troops are fighting with gallantry with desperation, indeed, because they realize that when the bastion of Achi Baba falls the occupation of the Kilid Bahr Plateau becomes a mere question of time, and that when Kilid Bahr falls the doom of Constantinople is at hand. In view of the difficulties were it not for the landing one would be tempted to say the impossibilities which confront our men, the gain of a score of yards in the Gallipoli Peninsula may fairly represent for the purposes of comparison a gain of 500 yards in the Western theatre of war. Therefore, to find its importance the gain of 500 yards on June 4 must be measured with affairs like Neuve Chapelle; and the few quiet days that succeeded may be accepted as repose.

After a violent effort on the night of June 11 to 12 there was a brilliant little action by the Border Regiment and the South Wales Borderers which resulted in the gain of two trenches. On the 16th the enemy, led by a Turkish and a German officer, made an assault on the trenches of the 88th Brigade, but were driven off with loss. However, that night the trenches gained by the two regiments on the 11th were heavily bombed, so heavily that our men were forced to retire about 30 yards and dig themselves in. At dawn we were able to enfilade with machine-guns the vacated trenches.

Then the Dublin Fusiliers charged with the bayonet, and once more gave us possession of our gains at heavy cost to the Turks, whose dead filled one trench.

On the evening of the 18th the enemy bombarded very heavily another portion of our trenches on this side of the line. They were evidently attempting in miniature our own methods of Neuve Chapelle and June 4, as immediately after the bombardment they were seen to be massing for an attack. However, the imitation ended rather abruptly at this point, and the affair petered out. On the evening of the 19th the Turks by a fierce attack, managed to get into an awkward salient which had remained in our hands after June 4. For some time there was great difficulty in recovering this, but the 5th Royal Scots and a company of the Worcesters, led by Lieut. Colonel Wilson of the former regiment, made a glorious attack, and drove out the Turks.

Of the Royal Scots, one can add nothing but that they are Edinburgh Territorials brought in by the fortune of war to make the twelfth regiment of the immortal 29th Division whose deeds since April 25 might have stirred the ghost of Homer to sing their valour.

Mention has been made already of the difficulties that oppose our advance upon the two flanks. On June 21 it was determined to straighten the line upon the extreme right, and at 1.30 A. M. the preliminary bombardment began. The dawn had been clear, but soon a curtain of silver, through which gleamed the ghost of the rising sun, hung over the Kereves Dere. This was the smoke of bursting shells. Slowly as the sun climbed up the curtain became more substantial. Then it seemed to droop and sweep along the hollows like a vanishing mist of dawn, and during a respite the thin blue smoke of the bivouac fires came tranquilly up into the still air. The respite was very brief, and the bombardment began again with greater fierceness than before. The 75's drummed unceasingly. The reverberation of the 125's and of the howitzers shook the observation post. Over the Kereves Dere, and beyond, upon the sloping shoulders of Achi Baba, the curtain became a pall. The sun climbed higher and higher. All that first mirage of beauty had disappeared, and there was nothing but the monstrous shapes of bursting shells, giants of smoke that appeared one after another along the Turkish lines. All through the morning the cannonade went on.

By noon the Second Division of the French had on the left stormed and captured all the Turkish trenches of the first two lines. Even the Haricot Redoubt, with its damnable entanglements and its maze of communicating trenches, was in French hands. On the right, however, the First Division, after reaching their objective, had been counter-attacked so effectively that they had fallen back. Again they advanced; again they took the trenches; again they were driven out. It began to look as if the victory upon the left would be fruitless, that the position would become an untenable salient and the Haricot Redoubt revert to the enemy.

At this moment a message was sent to say that the trenches must be recaptured, and, when recaptured, held. There were still five hours of daylight for this battle of the longest day. British guns and howitzers were asked for and were lent at once. The bombardment was resumed throughout that afternoon, and at half-past five it seemed as if every gun on earth were pouring shells on the Turkish lines.

At six o'clock the third assault was delivered. In one trench there was a temporary shortage of ammunition, but the enemy fought even with stones and sticks and fists. A battalion came hurrying up from the Turkish right to reinforce it, was caught on open ground by the drummng 75's, and it melted away. Six hundred yards of Turkish trenches were taken, and still the bombardment was continued in order to ward off the counter-attack that was anticipated.

The smoke of the shells, which at dawn had been ethereal, almost translucent, was now, in the sunset, turbid and sinister, yet the sunset was very splendid, flaming in crimson streamers over Imbros, tinting the east with rosy reflections and turning the peaks of Asia to sapphires. It had a peculiar significance on this longest day of the year, crowning as it did those precious five hours of daylight that, for the French, had been fraught with such achievement. Slowly the colour faded out, and now, minute by minute, the flashes of the guns became more distinct; the smoke was merged in the gathering dusk, and away over the more distant Turkish lines the bursts of shrapnel came out like stars against the brief twilight. One knew the anxiety there would be in the darkness that now was falling upon this 21st of June, but in the morning we heard gladly that the enemy's counter-attacks had failed, and that our Allies were indeed firmly established.

The Turkish casualties were at least 7,000. One trench, 200 yards long and 10 feet deep, was brimming over with the dead. They were valiant those dead men. French officers who have fought in the West say that, as a fighting unit, one Turk is worth two Germans; in fact, with his back to the wall, the Turk is magnificent. The French casualties were marvellously few considering what a day it had been, what an enemy was being attacked, and how much had been gained. The right of the line now commands Kereves Dere, and the profile of Achi Baba seems to write itself less solidly against the sky.

ATTACK BY LAND AND SEA

The British Press Bureau on June 30, 1915, issued the following:

General Sir Ian Hamilton reports that the plan of operations on the 28th was to throw forward the left of his line south-east of Krithia, pivoting on a point about one mile from the sea, and after advancing on the extreme left for about half a mile to establish a new line facing east on ground thus gained. This plan entailed the capture in succession of two lines of the Turkish trenches east of the Saghir Dere, and five lines of trenches west of it. The Australian Corps was ordered to co-operate by making a vigorous demonstration.

The action opened at nine o'clock with a bombardment by heavy artillery. The assistance rendered by the French in this bombardment was most valuable.

At 10:20 the Field Artillery opened fire to cut wire in front of Turkish trenches, and this was effectively done. The effect on the enemy's trench near the sea was great. The very accurate fire of his Majesty's ships Talbot, Scorpion and Wolverine succeeded in keeping down his artillery fire from that quarter.

At 10:45 a small Turkish advanced work in the Saghir Dere known as the Boomerang Redoubt was assaulted. This little fort, which was very strongly sited and protected by extra strong wire entanglements, has long been a source of trouble. After special bombardment by trench mortar, and while bombardment of surrounding trenches was at its height, part of the Border Regiment at the exact moment prescribed leapt from their trenches as one man like a pack of hounds, and pouring out of cover raced across, and took the work most brilliantly.

The artillery bombardment increased in intensity till 11 A. M., when the range was lengthened, and infantry advanced. The infantry attack was carried out with great dash along the whole line.

West of Saghir Dere three lines of trenches were captured with little opposition. The trenches were full of dead Turks, many buried by the bombardment, and one hundred prisoners were taken in them.

East of the Ravine the Royal Scots made a fine attack, capturing the two lines of trenches assigned to their objective, but the remainder of the Brigade on their right met with severe opposition and were unable to get forward.

At 11:30 the Royal Fusiliers led its Brigade in the second phase of the attack west of the Ravine. The Brigade advanced with great steadiness and resolution through the trenches already captured, and on across the open, and taking two more lines of trenches reached the objective allotted to them, the Lancashire Fusiliers inclining: half-right and forming line to connect with our new position east of the Ravine.

The northernmost objective had now been attained, but the Gurkhas pressing on under the cliffs captured an important knoll still further forward, actually due west of Krithia. This they fortified and held during the night, making our total gain on the left precisely one thousand yards.

During the afternoon the trenches, a small portion of which remained uncaptured on the right, were attacked, but the enemy held on stubbornly supported by machine-guns and artillery, and the attacks did not succeed.

During the night the enemy counter-attacked the furthest trenches gained, but was repulsed with heavy loss. A party of Turks, who penetrated from the flank between two lines of captured trenches, was subjected to machine-gun fire at daybreak, suffered very heavily, and the survivors surrendered.

Except for a small portion of trench already mentioned, which is still held by the enemy, all and more than was hoped for from operations has been gained. On the extreme left the line has been pushed forward to a specially strong point well beyond the limit of the advance originally contemplated.

All engaged did well, but certainly the chief factor in the success was the splendid attack carried out by the 29th Division, whose conduct on this, as on previous occasions, was beyond praise.

AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION

The British Press Bureau states on July 1 that, in continuation of his last message respecting the British advance in the Gallipoli Peninsula, Sir Ian Hamilton had reported as follows:

Further details have now been received with regard to the part played by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the operations of the 29th. As previously stated, the General Officer Commanding the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was instructed to undertake operations with a view to preventing the enemy in his front from detaching troops to the southern area.

Between 11:30 A. M. and 12 noon the action was opened, His Majesty's ships Humber, Pincher, and Chelmer engaging enemy's heavy guns. At 1 P. M. part of the Second Light Horse Brigade and the Third Infantry Brigade moved out on the right of the position, advancing some 700 yards, when the enemy was encountered in strength. Meanwhile the artillery engaged the enemy's reserves, which were collecting in the ravine opposite right centre, by shelling them effectively with guns and howitzers.

About 2.30 P. M. the enemy appeared to be preparing a counter-attack against the left of our advanced troops, but on howitzer and machine-gun fire being turned on the enemy's attacks were easily repulsed. The retirement of the advanced troops was begun at 3 P. M., well covered by rifle, machine-gun, and artillery fire, and the troops were all back in the trenches between 4:30 and 5:30 P. M.

Our machine-guns and artillery did considerable execution. Naval gun fire also gave valuable assistance. Demonstrations made after dark at 8:45 and 11:30 P. M. with flares, star shell, and destroyer bombardment were successfully carried out.

The Eighth Corps report 180 prisoners taken since the morning of the 28th, namely, 38 of the Sixteenth Regiment, 139 of the Thirty-third Regiment, and three of the Thirteenth Regiment. A Circassian prisoner carried a wounded private of Royal Scots into our lines under fire.

AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION

Sir Ian Hamilton reported, as published by the British Press Bureau on July 6, the following details of the attack made by the Turks on the night of 29th-30th June:

About 2 A. M. searchlights of His Majesty's ship Scorpion discovered half a Turkish battalion advancing near the sea north-west of Krithia. Scorpion opened fire, and few of the enemy got away. Simultaneously the enemy attacked the knoll we captured due west of Krithia, advancing from a nullah in close formation in several lines. The attack came under artillery and enfilade rifle fire, and the enemy lost heavily. The foremost Turks got within forty yards of the parapet, but only a few returned.

The Turks made several heavy bomb attacks during the night, our troops being twice driven back a short distance. Early in the morning we regained these trenches by bayonet attack, and they have since been strengthened.

At 5:30 A. M. 2,000 Turks, moving from Krithia into the ravine, were scattered by machine-gun fire. The operations reflect great credit on the vigilance and accurate shooting of His Majesty's ship Scorpion. The Turkish losses in the nullah and ravine are estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 dead.

About 10 P. M. on the 30th of June the Turks again attacked with bombs a portion of the most northerly trench captured by us on 28th. An officer of the Gurkhas being wounded, not dangerously as it turned out, the men became infuriated, flung all their bombs at the enemy, and then charging down out of the trench used their kukris for the first time and with excellent effect. About dawn the Turks once more attempted an attack over the open, but nearly the whole of these attacking forces, about half a battalion, were shot down, and a final bomb attack, though commenced, failed utterly.

Further reports from Australia and New Zealand Corps, as to the enemy's attack on 29th-30th on our right flank, state that the action commenced by very heavy fire from midnight till 1:30 A. M., to which our men only replied by a series of cheers. The Turks then launched their attack, and came right on with bayonet and bombs. Those who succeeded in getting into our saps were instantly killed; the remainder were dealt with by bomb and rifle fire from the 7th and 8th Light Horse. By 2 A. M. the enemy broke, and many were killed while withdrawing. The enemy's attack was strongest on his right. They were completely taken aback by a concealed sap constructed well ahead of our main line, and the dead are lying thickly in front of this. Some got into the sap and several across it; all these were wiped out by fire from the main parapet farther back.

Following the defeat of this attack, the enemy attacked at 3 A. M. on our left, and 30 men came over the parapets in front of the right of Quinn's Post. These were duly polished off. Prisoners brought in state that three fresh battalions were employed in the main attack, which was made by the personal order of Enver Pasha, who, as they definitely assert, was present in the trenches on June 29. This is confirmed by the statement of an intelligent Armenian prisoner captured on that date. According to him, stringent orders were recently issued that no further attacks were to be made, because if the Turks remained on the defensive the British would be forced to attack, and would suffer as severely as the Turks had hitherto suffered. But Enver Pasha, when he arrived in the northern section, overrode this instruction, and orders were received by the prisoner's regiment that the Australians were to be driven into the sea.

On July 2, after a heavy bombardment of our advanced positions by high explosives and shrapnel, lasting half an hour, the enemy infantry advanced, but were driven back to the main nullah about a mile to our front by the accurate shooting of His Majesty's ship Scorpion and by our rifle and machine-gun fire. About 7 P. M. the Turkish artillery recommenced their bombardment, under cover of which two battalions emerged from the nullah to the north-east of our most advanced trench and commenced an attack across the open, advancing in two regular lines. At the outset very effective shrapnel fire from the 10th Battery Royal Field Artillery caused great execution among the attackers. Gurkha supports then advanced, and there being insufficient room in trenches took up a position on some excavated earth in rear, whence deadly rifle fire was poured into the advancing lines. Turkish officers could be seen endeavouring to get their men forward, but they would not face the fire and retreated in disorder after suffering heavy casualties.

The ground in front of our trenches in every direction can be seen covered with Turkish dead, and patrols sent out at night report that the valleys and ravine are also full of them. There can be no possible doubt that the enemy's losses have been very heavy. After checking and counter-checking reports from all sources, I put down their total casualties between June 28 and July 2 at 5,150 killed and 15,000 wounded. The number of killed is, therefore, approximately correct, while the wounded is an estimate based partly on the knowledge of the number already reported arrived at Constantinople, and on experience of proportion of wounded to killed in previous engagements. Since June 29 the total amount of Turkish arms and ammunition collected is 516 rifles, 51 bayonets, 200 sets of equipment, 126,400 rounds of ammunition, 100 bombs.

The following is an extract from captured divisional orders: "There is nothing that causes us more sorrow, increases the courage of the enemy, and encourages him to attack more freely, causing us great losses, than the losing of these trenches. Henceforth commanders who surrender these trenches, from whatever side the attack may come, before the last man is killed will be punished in the same way as if they had run away. Especially will the commanders of units told off to guard a certain front be punished if, instead of thinking about their work, supporting their units and giving information to the higher command, they only take action after a regrettable incident has taken place.

"I hope that this will not occur again. I give notice that if it does I shall carry out the punishment. I do not desire to see a blot made on the courage of our men by those who escape from the trenches to avoid the rifle and machine-gun fire of the enemy. Henceforth I shall hold responsible all officers who do not shoot with their revolvers all the privates who try to escape from the trenches on any pretext. Commander of the 11th Div., Colonel Rifaat."

To the copy from which this extract was taken the following note is appended: "To Commander of the 1st Battalion. The contents will be communicated to the officers, and I promise to carry out the orders till the last drop of our blood has been shed. Sign and return. Signed. Hassan, Commander, 127th Regiment, Then follow signatures company commanders."

HEAVY TURKISH LOSSES

The British Press Bureau on July 7 issued this report by General Ian Hamilton:

The night of July 3-4 was quiet in the northern section, but at 4 A. M. the enemy started a heavy bombardment of the trenches. All the guns previously used against us, and some new ones, were in action, but the bombardment died away about 6 A. M. without doing much damage. During the bombardment about twenty 11.2-inch shells were dropped from a Turkish battleship in the strait.

In the southern section the Turks kept up a heavy musketry fire along the whole line during the night and did not leave their trenches. At 4 A. M. their batteries started the most violent bombardment that has yet been experienced. At least 5,000 rounds of artillery ammunition were expended by them.

Meanwhile this shelling of our lines on the peninsula proved the preliminary to a general attack on our front with special efforts at certain points. The principal effort was made at the junction of the Royal Naval Division section with that of the French.

Here, at 7.30 A. M., the Turks drove back our advanced troops and assaulted a portion of the line held by the Royal Naval Division. Some fifty Turks gained a footing in our trench, where, nevertheless, some men of the Royal Naval Division held on to our supports, and the men who had retired counter-attacked immediately and hurled the Turks out of the trench again.

Another attack on the right of the Twenty-ninth Division section was practically wiped out by rifle and machine-gun fire. On our left the Turks massed in a nullah, to the northeast of our newly-captured trenches, and attempted several attacks. None of these was able to get home owing to the steadiness of our troops and our effective artillery support. The bombardment died down toward 11 A. M., though it was resumed at intervals.

Not only was the result a complete failure, but while our losses were negligible and no impression was made on our line, the enemy added a large number to his recent very heavy casualties. It seems plain from the disjointed nature of his attack that he is finding it difficult to drive his infantry forward to face our fire.

SLAUGHTER BY CANNON LIGHT

In a dispatch by George Renwick to The London Daily Chronicle, dated at Lemnos, July 11, the following description of fighting, followed by heavy Turco-German casualties, appeared:

The heaviest fighting which has taken place on Gallipoli Peninsula since the allied forces landed there began late on Tuesday and lasted well into Wednesday. It resulted in a swing forward of the southern line of the allied armies for five furlongs and in the infliction of staggering losses on the enemy. Those who were in the battle place the Turco-German casualties at 7,000 killed and from 14,000 to 15,000 wounded. Many prisoners were taken.

The whole army in the southern part of the peninsula was engaged, and the Australians and New Zealanders further north also played a part. The victory marks a definite stage in the initial work of throwing forces around Achi Baba, which may now be described as one of the strongest fortresses in the world.

The Allies had been resting in comparative tranquillity and the Turks had evidently become persuaded the enemy was experiencing a shortage of ammunition. This belief convinced them of the excellent opportunity of driving the invaders into the sea. Late Tuesday night the first signs of the enemy's movement were detected. No time was lost in flashing a warning message to headquarters. The French were soon alert and the artillery at that portion of the line against which the attack was being prepared was quickly and strongly reinforced.

French and British machine guns were rushed to the front until a perfect wall of heavy and light guns was in position. Then there came a short interval of silence and waiting, almost oppressive. Suddenly the stillness was broken by a tremendous burst of shells from the Turkish guns, and for a time shrapnel poured down on the French front. But the men were safely positioned in dugouts and little loss resulted. From the strait loud booming began. The battered Goeben was at work again, and during the bombardment she pounded our right with some forty 11-inch shells. Many did not burst they were apparently of Turkish manufacture.

This hail of shells lasted just an hour and a half and was the severest bombardment to which our lines have been subjected during the weeks of struggle on the peninsula. No sooner had the heavy fire ceased than great solid masses of Turks leaped forward to the attack. On they came, the silence unbroken save for their shouts, until they reached a point within sixty or seventy yards of the French position. Then from 200 well placed machine guns a devastating answering fire burst from our Allies' trenches, and the rifles joined in, 20,000 of them. The big guns flared and cast a lurid light over the scene.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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