BATTLES AT CAPE HELLES
Meanwhile a battle of a very different kind was being fouth by the British at Cape Helles, some thirteen miles away to the south. It will be remembered that the 29th Division (with some additional troops) under Hunter-Weston, was to make five separate landings around the toe of the Peninsula in the vicinity of the village Seddulbahir which had been scanned many times from the sea and ýt presented a perfect target for the naval guns. These were considered as advance guards of all alied attacks. These were considered as advanceguards of all allied attacks. To the riht of the little cove there was a ruined medieval fortres with a minuscule village behind it. Beside this fortress the land sloped quite gently down to a small gravelly beach no more than 300 yards long and 10 yards wide. Although it was known
that this natural amphitheatre had been entrenched and sown with barbed wire it seemed likely that the whole area could be so savaged and cut about by the naval barrage that very little fight would be left in the defenders by the time the first British troops got ashore.
Accordingly at 5 a.m. in the uncertain first light of the morning, the battleship Albion opened up a tremendous bombardment on the village and the cove. There was no reply from the shore. After an hour it was judged that the Turks there must either be demoralized or dead,and the River Clyde with her two thousand men on board was ordered to the shore. About twenty small boats all filled with men, went with her. There was some delay in the programme, for the current down the Dardanelles was much stronger than anyone had guessed, and the lunches with the small boats in tow made slow headway against it. At one time the River clyde got ahead of them and to be brought back into position. Thus it was in broad daylight and on the calmest of seas that the soldiers approached the shore. An unnatural stillness had succeeded the barrage. Neither on the beach nor in the fortress nor on the slopes above was there movement of any kind. At 6.17 a.m. the River Clyde grounded her bows without a tremor just below the fortress, and the first of the boats was within a few yards of the shore.
In that instant the Turkish rifle fire burst out. It was frightful fire, and it was made more shocking by yhe silence that had preceded it. Far from being demoralized, the Turks had crept back to their trenches as soon as the bombardment was over, and they were now firing from a few yards away into the pacjed mass of screaming, struggling men in the boats. A few among the British jumped into the water and got to the shelter of a little band on the far side of the beach, and there they huddled while the storm of bullets passed over their heads. The others died in the boats just as they stood, crowded shoulder to shoulder, without even yhe grace of an instant of time to raise their rifles. When all were dead or wounded-the midshipmen and sailors as well as the soldiers-the boats drifted helplessly away. This was the beach on which the Marines had walked in perfect safety two months before. Many strange scenes occurred because the men persisted in trying to do the things they had been told to do.
A sailor from the Lord Nelson, for example, managed to pole his cutter up to the beach, but when the turned to beckon his passengers to the shore he found that they were no longer alive. The boy was observed to be standing there in wonder when he too was struck and his boat slid back into the sea.
Meanwhile Commender Unwin was having difficulty aboard the River Clyde. Her bows were still divided by an expanse of deep water from the shore, and when they tried to bring the steam hooper round to fill the gap it was swept away to port by the current and lay broadside to the beach, where it was useless. It was vital now that the two lighters should be brought round from the stern to make the causeway between the ship and the shore. Unwin left the bridge and dived overboard with a rope in his hand. He was at once followed in to the water by an able seaman named Williams. Together the two men swam to the shore, and while still standing waist deep in water and under heavy fire they managed to get the lighters lashed together and placed before the bows. Bracing himself against the current. Unwin held the more landwar of the two lighters in position and shouted to the soldiers in the River Clyde to come ashore.
The men at once come running dow the gangways along the ship's sides, and as they ran that presented a target which was not unlike the line of moving objects one sees sometime in shooting gallery at a village fair. Having beaten off the smaller boats the Turks were now able to give all their attention to this new assault. They opened up their fire to both sides of the ship, and soon the gangways became jammed with dead and dying. Those of the British who succeeded in reaching the lighters found themselves exposed to an even closer fire, and presently Williams was hit. Not knowing that he was dead, Unwin propped him up in the water and in doing so let go his grip on the lighter. Immediately it was swept away in the current, spilling its cargo of wounded into the sea.
Air Commodore Samson came flying over Seddulbahir at this moment, and looking down saw that the calm blue sea was "absolutely red with blood" for a distance of fifty yards from the shore, " a horrible sight to see ". Red ripples washed up on yhe beach, and everywhere the calm surface of the water was whipped up into a gustly discoloured foam by thousands of falling bullets. The sun was shining brightly.
The British had now reached that point in a battle which is the most terrible of all-the point where the leaders feel they must persist in attacking although all hope has gone. Just for a short time one lives in this meaningless and heroic limbo which is at the edge of panic, and which makes a kind of welcome to death. It is a feeling which perhaps the parachutist knows when for the first time he jumps from the aircraft into the sky. The senseless attack had to continue for a little longer until it was sufficiently demonstrated that the thing was impossible, until enough of the general pool of courage had vanished with the dead, and shock and exhaustion had overcome them all. And so they kept pulling yhe lighters back into position, and the men kept running out of the ship and the Turks kept killig them.
When Commander Unwin collapsed in the water through cold and exhaustion a naval lieutenant and two midshipmen jumped in to take his place. After an hour's rest aboard the River Clyde Unwin was back in the water again, dressed in a white shirt and flannel trousers (his uniform had been ripped off his back), and there h remained, struggling with the lighters, bringing the wounded off the beach, until again he collapsed and was carried away.
By 9.30 a.m., when the casualties were being numbered in many hundreds, it was becoming apparent to the soldiers at last that they could do no more. Barely two hundred had reached the shelter of the little bank on yhe beach and the barbed wire before them was hung with the corpses of the who had tried to cut a way through to the Turkish trenches. A thousand others remained inside the River Clyde, and they were safe enough there, with the bullets hammering on the armoured plates of the ship, but directly they showed themselves at the sallyports the killing began again. Only the machine guns mounted behind sandbags in the bows of the ship were able to keep firing. General Hunter-Weston was at sea abord the cruiser Euryalus all this time, and he knew little or nothing of what was going on. Accordingly he put the next part of the plan into action Brigadier-General Napier was ordered to the shore with the main body of the troops. The transports steamed slowly forward to the point where they had a rendezvous with the boats which had taken the first assault troops to the shore. Had this meeting ever taken place a massacre of far greater proportions would certainly have occured. But of the original assault force there remained barely half a dozen boats with living crews. These now come up to the transports and having emptied out their dead and wounded, the sailors stood by to return to the shore. Ther was room only for Naiper, his staff and a few of his soldiers. As they approached the beach, the General was hailed by the men on the River Clyde who wanted to warn him that it was useless to continue. Napier, however, did not understand the situation. He came alongside the lighters, and seeing them filled with men sprang on board to lead them to the shore. But they made no response to his orders and he realized then that they were all dead. From the decks of the River Clyde they called to the General again. "You can't possibly land." Napier shouted back, "I'll have a damned good try." He tried, but he was dead before he reached the beach.
With this the assault landing at Seddulbahir came to an end. Meanwhile the other four landings at Cape Helles had been going forward and with much better success. After heavy fihting near Tekke Burnu, about a mile away to the west, considerable numbers of soldiers were ashore on two beaches there, and towards midday, Hunter-Weston began to divert his reinforcements to this point. To the east in Morto Bay, another force had scrambled up the cliffs with trifling loss at Eski Hisarlik Point and was securely ensconced. But the commander at Eski Hisarlik had no orders to go the relief of Seddulbahir- indeed, He had no knowledge of what was going on there- so he stayed where he was and entrenched.
An even stranger situation had developed at the fifth landing place, a point which had been called "Y" beach, about four miles up the coast on the western side of the peninsula. This landing was Hamilton's own idea; he had planned to spring a trap on the Turks by getting 2.000 men ashore in this isolated spot. Their mission was to the Turks in the rear and perhaps even cut them off entirely by marching across the tip of the peninsula and joining up with the other landings in the south. There was no actual beach at this point, but a cleft in the cliffs seemed to offer a fairly easy way up to the heights 20 feet above, ad reconnaissance from the sea had revealed that the Turks had established no defences on the shore.
This enterprise opened with astonishing success. The 2.000 men landed and climbed up the cliffs without a single shot being fired at them. At the top there was no sing of the enemy at all. While their senior officers strolled about through the scrub inspecting the position the men sat down the smoke and brew themselves a cup of morning tea. And so the morning was whiled away. Less than an hour's march to the south, Their comrades at Seddulbahir and Tekke Burnu were being destroyed, but they knew nothing of this.
They heard the distand sounds of firing through the clear sunlit air, but they made no move in that direction. Had they known it, These troops at "Y" beach were equal in numbers to the whole of the Turkish forces in the tip of the peninsula that morning; they could have marched forward at will and encircled the entire enemy position. By midday they might have cleared the way to Achi Baba and turned a massacre into a brilliant victory.
The following verse written by Jack Churchill, Winston Churchill's brother appeared later in an Army broadsheet:
" Y Beach, the Scottish Borderer cried,
While panting up the steep hillside,
Y Beach !
To call this thing a beach is stiff,
It's nothing but a bloody cliff.
Why beach ?"