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THE SUVLA PLAN (AUGUST 1915)
Thus on evening of August 8, fortyeight hours after the offensive had begun, the Allies had achived none of their main objectives. The Suvla plan, which was a good plan, had failed because the wrong commanders and soldiers had been employed, and at Anzac the best officers and men were employed upon a plan that would not work. And both attacks had been devilled at the outset by the difficulties of advancing through a strange country in the night. Even at Helles the battle had gone wrong, for the British there had launched their diversionary attack against Krithia at the very moment when the Turks were also massing for an assault. And so the Allies were thrown back to their own trenches with heavy casualties being suffered.
Major Allanson, on his eyrie on the ridge, had made contact with the mainbody of the British during the night and had obtained a reinforcement of Lancashire troops for the new attack- a total of abaut 450 men in all. He had his orders direct from General Godley. Tthey were to keep their head down until the bombardment was over and then they were to rush the Turkish trenches on the ridge.
"I had only fifteen minutes left." Allanson wrote in the report he made two days later. The roar of the artillery preparation was enormous; the hill, which was almost perpendicular, seemed to leap underneath one. I recognixed that if we flew up the hill the moment the bombardment is stopped, we ought to get to the top. I put the three (Lancashire) companies into the trenches among my men, and said that the moment they saw me go forward carrying a red flag, everyone was to start. I had my watch out, it was 5.15 a.m. I never saw such artillery preparation; thetrenches were begin torn to pieces;the accuracy was narvellous, as we were only just below. At 5.18 a.m. it had not stopped, and I wondered if my watch was wrong. 05.20 silence. I waited three minutes to be certain great as the risk was. Then we dashed off, all hand in hand, a most perfect advance, and a wonderful sight... At the top we met the Turks. Le Marchand was down, a bayonet through the heart. I got one through the leg, and then for about what appeared to be ten minutes, we fought hand to hand, we bit and fisted, and used rifles and pistols.
They saw that Allanson, on reaching the summit, had caught the Turks in the open as they were running back to their trenches after the bombardment. They saw the hand-to-hand fighting with the bayonet, and at the end of it they saw the excited and triumphant figures of the Gurkhas and the British waving on the skyline. Then as they disappeared over the other side the thunderclap occurred, but it was impossible to know the direction form which the shells had come or who had fired them.
Yet the incident was not absolutely disastrous. Allanson was still on the top. and although wounded was prepared to hold on there until reinforcements arrived. It was indeed a wonderful view, the best that any Allied soldier had ever had on Gallipoli. After three and a half months of the bitterest fighting the Turks were now displaced from the heights, and in effect their army was cut in half. "Koja Chemen Tepe not yet" Hamilton wrote in his diary, " But Chunuk Bair will do: with, that, we win."
A new command was created embracing the whole battle area from Chunuk Bair to Suvla, and it was given to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In his account of the campaign Liman Von Sanders gives no explanation of why his choice fell on Mustafa Kemal. He simply says, " That evening I gave command of all the troops in the Anafarta section to Colonel Mustafa Kemal... I had full confidece in his energy." Yet it was a surprising appointment to make. One can only conclute that Liman Von Sanders had long since divined Mustafa Kemal's abilities, but had been prevented by Enver from promoting him. But now in this extreme crisis he could afford to ignore Enver.
Mustafa Kemal had been in the heaviest of the figting on the Anzac front form the begining. His 19th Division had met the first shock of the New Zealand advance; it had demolished the Australian Light Cavalryman on August 7 and it had been fighting night and day ever since. In Mustafa Kemal's view the Turkish position had, by then, become "extremely delicate", and told Liman Von Sander's chief-of-staff so over the telephone on August 8. Unless something was quickly done to straighteen out the tangle on Chunuk Bair, he said, they might be forced to evacuate the whole ridge. A unified command on the front was essential. "There is no other course," he went on, "but to put all the available troops under my command." iman Von Sander's chief-of-staff at that stage had no notion that Mustafa Kemal, who was always a troublesome figure at headquarters, was about to be promoted, and he permitted hinself to say ironically, "Won't that be too many troops?", "It will be too few" Mustafa Kemal replied.
So now, after he had been awake for two nights at Anzac and continually in the front line, Mustafa Kemal suddenly found himself in charge of the battle. He seems to have been not at all dismayed. Having calmly given orders to his successor in command of the 19th Division on battleship Hill, he got on his horse and rode across the dark hills to suvla. One has a vivid picture of him on this solitary midnight ride. Physically he was quite worn out, and his divisional doctor was giving him doses to keep him going. He had grown very thin, his eyes were bloodshot, his voice grating with fatigue, and the battle had brought him to a state of nervous tension which was perhaps not far from fanaticism, except that it was fanaticism of a cold and calculating kind.
At sunrise Hamilton, watching from the deck of the Triad, was presented with an awful sight. His men were streaming back across the plain in thousans, and at 6 a.m., only an hour and a half after the battle had begun, there seemed to be a general collapse. Not only were the hills lost, but some of the soldiers in their headlong retreat did not stop until yhey reached the Salt Lake and the sea. "My heart has grown tough amidst the struggles of the Peninsula," he wrote in his diary that night, "but the misery of this scene well might broke it... Words are no use.".
Later that day, Stopford sent out a message to one of his divisional generals congratulating him on his stand. "Do not try any more today," he added, "unless the enemy gives you a favourable chance."
Mustafa Kemal had watched the battle from a hiltop behind to front line, and by midday he was satisfied that he had nothing more to fear from the British on the Suvla front. But by now alarming messages had reached him from Sari Bair. Allanson had gained the ridge and the centre of crisis had obviously shifted there. At 3 p.m. Mustafa Kemal went off on horseback through the blazing heat, and having called in on Liman Von Sander's headquarters on the way, reacehed Chunuk Bair just as the evening light was failing. Allanson and his men had been withdrawn, byt other British troops had taken up their positions on the hill; a fresh Turkish regiment which was due to come up from Helles had not arrived, and the troops in the line were to some extent demoralized by the British artillery fire and continuing strain of the battle.
Mustafa Kemal, who was now spending his fourth night on his feet, at once ordered an attack for four-thirty on the following morning, August 10, His staff protested that the men were incapable of further effort, but Mustafa Kemal merely repeated his order and went off on a personal reconnaissance along the front.
It was the last gasp of the battle, the final spasm that was to decide the issue one way or another. On both sides the men had been fighting for three days and nights without sleep, and with very little water or food. The trenches behind them were choked with dead and wounded, and most of those who were still living looked out on their hideous surroundings through a fog of exhaustion. They lay on the ground, they waited, and they responded to their orders like robots with dull mechanical movements. They were ready enough to go on fighting, but some of them hardly know what they were doing, and the end of the nightmare in which they were living was now becoming more important to them than the idea of victory. It had been so hot through the day that water had begun to seem like the one last luxury in the world, more urgent even than sleep, and when water mules went by men ran forward to lick the moisture off the canvas buckets. On Chunuk Bair the trenches were barely thirty yards apart, and Mustafa Kemal got two regiments into his front line very quietly through the night. All depended on whether or not the British guns fired on this mass of closely-packed men before they could charge with the light of the morning sun behind them.
When there were still a few minutes to go before daybreak Mustafa Kemal crept out into no-man's-land and softly called out a few last words of encouragement to his men as he crawled along. "Don't hurry. Let me go first. Wait until you see me raise my whip and then all rush forward together."
At four-thirty he stood up between the opposing trenches. A bullet smashed his wrist watch but he raised his whip and walked towards the British line. Four hours later not an Allied soldier remained on Sari Bair.
It had been a fiercer charge than the one at Suvla, more compact and much more desperate, and most of the Turks who took part in it were obliterated by the British artillery on the open slopes. But they managed to win back their lost trenches, and by midday on August 10 not a single height of any importance at Suvla or Anzac was in British hands. At Cape Helles the battle subsided to a fitful end.
It was apparent that the Allies had been incomparadly the losers. During the 259 days that elapsed between the first landing in April 1915 and the final withdrawal in January 1916 they sent half a million men to Gallipoli, and slightly more than half on these became casualties. There is some doubt about the exact number of the Turkish losses, but they are officially computed at 251.000, which is just one thousand less than those suffered by the Allies; and this perhaps is the best indication of how closely the struggle was fought.