THE ANZAC LEGEND 25th APRIL 1915
Shortly after 2 a.m three battleships, The Queen, Prince of Wales and London, reached their sea rendezvous off Gaba Tepe andstopped to lower their boats. The 15.000 Australians who were to make the first assault assembled very quitely on deck. They had their last hot drink, and then, with their heavy packs on their back and their rifles slung on their shoulders, they went down the Jacob's ladders in the darkness.
They sat tightly packet together in the boats, neither smoking nor talking, as they were towed on towards the shore. Presently they could see the dark smudge of the cliffs on the horizon ahead of them, and beyonds this, reflected in the sky, the flash of the Turkish searchlights sweeping the Dardanelles on the other side the Peninsula.
At 4 a.m. when they were still 3.000 yards away, the tows were cast off, the black shapes of the battleships slid slowy astern, and a line of pinnaces, their engines sounding unnaturally loud, went on with the boats towards the shore. There was still no sign of life there. Once signalman cried out, "There's light on the starboard bow." But it proved to be nothing more than a bright star and there was till no sound but the throbbing of the pinnace engines and the slow fall of the sea on the rocks. When they were within two or there hundred yards of the beach, the pinnaces in their turn cast off, and the bluejackets took to the oars. The men had now been in the boats for several hours, their limbs had grown stiff and cramped, and the tension of waiting was becoming unbearable, it was incon ceivable that they had not been seen. Suddently a rocket soared up from the cliffs, and this was instantly followed by a sharp burst of rifle fire. Here finally was the moment for which they had been trained; the men jumped out of the boats and began wading the last fifty yards to the land. A few were hit, a few were dragged down by the weight of their packs and drowned, but the rest stumbled throught the water to the beach. A group of Turkish Soldiers was running down the shore towards them. Forming themselves into a rough line the Dominion soldiers fixed their bayonets and charged. The Anzac legend had begun.
Now suddenly everything seemed to go wrong. The men had been told that they would find level ground and fairly easy going for the first few hundred yards Inland from the beach. Instead of this an unknown cliff reached up before them and as they hauled themselves upward, clutching at roots and boulders, kickings footholes into the rocks, a heavy fire came down on them from the heights above. Soon the air was filled with shouts and cries. Men kept losing their grip and tumbling down into gullies from which apparently there was no egress. Those who gained the first heights went charging off after the enemy and were quickly lost; and those who followed on behind, not knowing where to go, followed new paths of their own in other directions. Officers lost touch with their men, units became hopelessly mixed up and signals failed altogether. Sunrise revealed a scene which had never been envisaged in Hamilton's or anybody's plans.
Over an area of several thousand square a dozen isolated skirmishes were going on. Small groups of the Australians had penetrated inland for a mile or more; but most of yhe others were still pinned to the coast where, they stumbled about among the rocks and the prickly scrub of the ravines. It was now apparent to everyone that they had not landed on the Gaba Tepe beach at all. In the darkness an uncharted current had swept the boats aboud a mile north of the intended landing-place and they were now in the midst of the "moon" landscape of the Sari Bair range.
The situiation was almost as bewildering for the Turks as it was Domimion troops. They had made no plans whta?? so ever to meet this kind of attack. From the Gaba Tepe headland they still commanded the beach, and they drove back any of the Australians who attempted to come along it, but the small cove at which the boats had chanced to make their landfall was blocked from their field of fire and partly screened by jutting cliffs from the heights above.
In the hills themselves there was no properly organized defence at all, and it was largely a matter of how far and how fast the Anzac troops could make their way over the tortuous ground and in some cases this was very far and fast indeed. By 7 a.m. one young officer and two scouts had succeeded in climbing the first three ridges on the coast, and they were able to look down on the calm waters of the Narrows, only three and a half miles away, the object of the whole offensive. Another party was half way up the dominating peak of Chunuk Bair. By 8 a.m. eight thousand men had come ashore, and although there was great confusion everywhere, the horrors of the dark and the fear of facing bullets for the first time were now over, and an exuberant relief began to spread through the Anzac troops. Theofficers set about gathering them together for a more coherent advance.
It was at this point that Mustafa Kemal arrrived. We have Kemal's own account of his actions on this day, and there appears to be no reason to doubt his facts since they are confirmed by other people. Since dawn, he says, he had been standing by with his reserve division at Boghali in the neighborhood of the Narrows, and it was not until 6.30 a.m. that he received an order to send off one battalion to meet the Anzac attack. The march from Boghali was slow and difficult, for the Turks themselves did not known this ground. Two guides who were sent on ahead got lost, and it was Mustafa Kemal himself who, with a small compass and map in hand, found a way up to the crest of Sari Bair. From here he looked down and saw the warships and the transports in the sea below, but of the actual battle in the broken hills along the shore he could make out nothing at all. His troops were tired after the long hot march, and he gave orders for them to rest while he himself, accompanied by two or three officers, went forward on foot to get a better view.
They had reached the slopes of Chunuk Bair when they saw a party of Turkish soldiers running towards them, evidently in full retreat. Mustafa Kemal shouted to them to stop and asked them why they were running away. "Sir, the enemy," the men pointed down the hill, and at that moment a detachment of Australians soldiers emerged through the scrub. Mustafa Kemal was a good deal nearer to them than to his ow battalion, and he ordered the frightened soldiers about him to stand and fight. When they protested they had no ammunition, he forced them to fix their bayonets and lie down in a line on the ground. Seeing this, the Australians also took cover, and while they hesitated, Mustafa Kemal sent his orderly officer running back to bring up his battalion which was waiting out of sight on the other side of the ridge.
In his repotr, Mustafa Kemal remarks cryptically, "The moment of time that we gained was this one," and he goes on to describe how his battalion came up and drowe the Australians from the hill. It seems possible that Mustafa Kemal's astonishing career as a commanding general dates from this moment, for he saw what neither Liman Von Sanders nor anybody else had seen that Chunuk Bair and the Sari Bair ridge had become the key to the whole southern of the Peninsula. Once established on these heights the Allies would dominate the Narrows and direct their artillary fire where they wished for a dozen miles around. Indeed, the whole system of the Turkish defence was based upon the principle that they must hold the hills so that they could overlook the enemy and constantly force him to attack and these were the most important hills of all. It was not distance that counted on Gallipoli, nor even the number of soldier's of the guns of the Fleet; it was a simple issue of the hills. Later on, fifty thousand men were to lose their lives around Chunuk Bair, in establishing this fact.
From the Allies point of view it was one of the cruellest accidents of the Campaign that this one junior Turkish commander of genius, should have been at yhis particular spot at this moment, for otherwise the Australians and New Zealanders might very well have taken Chunuk Bair that morning, and the battle might have been decided then and there.
After the war the Turkish General Staff noted in its history of the Campaign: "Had the British been able to throw stronger forces ashore at Gaba Tepe either by reinforcing more rapidly those first disembarked, or by landing on a broader front, the initial succesful advance of 2.500 yards in depth might have been extended so as to include the ridges overlooking the straits, and a serious, perhaps fatal blow would struck at the heart of the Turkish defences."
Mustafa Kemal realized at once that his single battalion was quite inadeqate in this situation. He therefore ordered up the whole of his best regiment, the Turkish 57th, and then when heavy fighting developed he committed one of his Arab regiment as well. As a divisional commander he had no authority, whatsoever to do this these werethe only reserves Liman Von Sanders possessed, and their position would have been hopeless if the Allies had planned yet another landing in another place. It was not until the end of the morning, however, that Kemal galloped back to Corps Headquarters and informed Essad Pasha of what he had done. At the same time he asked for permission to throw in the third and last regiment of the 19th Division. The battle had now grown so furious and threatening that Essad had no choice but to agree, and Kemal came back to assume command along the whole Anzac front. He never again left it until the campaign was over.
there is an air of inspired excitement about Mustafa Kemal's actions this day,and he even seems to have gone a little bersek at times. Instinctively he must have realized that his great chance had come, that he was either going to die here or make his name at last. He was constantly at the extreme front, helping to whell guns into position, getting up on the skyline among the bullets.
Sending his men into attack in which they had very little hope of survival. One of his orders was worded: " I don't order you attack, I order you to die. In the time which passed until we die other troops and commanders can take our places." The soldiers got up from the ground and ran into the rifle and machine-gun fire; and at the 57th Turkish regiment was demolished. It was the most confused of battles Anzac troops were also determined to attack, despite the disorder of their first landing and the mixing up of their units, despite the fack that nowhere could the guns of the Fleet bring them any help in this bewildering country. There was no front line. The men landing on the beach were as much exposed to the snipers' bullets as those a mile inland. Advancing up a gully the soldiers would suddenly find themselves in the midst of the Turks, and hand-to hand fighting with the bayonet began. Ridges were stormed and lost, and then abandoned by both sides. Units fihting side by side lost touch not only with their headquarters but with each other, and there were times when the bullets like cross-currents in the wind seemed to be comming from several different direction at once.
And so all through the midday hours the wild scramble went on and no one could be sure of anyting except that the Allies were ashore and building up their reinforcements with every hour that went by.