Australians on Gallipoli after the August Offensive
The failed August Offensive gradually ended on 29 August 1915. It would be nearly 4 months until troops were eventually evacuated from Anzac Cove. In this period, several significant developments affected Australians on Gallipoli.
Situation on Gallipoli
The Allies failed to achieve their August Offensive objectives to break out their beachheads and seize the Gallipoli peninsula. Instead, they gained the third beachhead to defend without any advantages. The logistics of supplying troops worsened because of the separation between beachheads.
Official historian, Charles Bean, described the end of Anzac operations around Chunuk Bair:
So ended the main thrust of the August offensive in Gallipoli. It came much nearer to final success than any other effort of the campaign. It is true that it formed only one half – though the more vital – of the total operation of which the other half ended in complete failure. Had that other – the offensive from Suvla – been conducted with even moderate energy, the heights of Kavak and Tekke Tepe, the "W" Hills, and Kamm Tepe overlooking Ejelnier Bay would unquestionably have been occupied.
Operations by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) continued until the end of August. They launched an attack against Hill 60 on 21 August.
Captain Henry Loughran, a medical officer with the 14th Battalion, reflected on the attack:
On August 7 we could have taken Hill 60 […] almost without a casualty. Now that the Turks had thoroughly entrenched Hill 60 […] we were to storm it. […] While this would have been an impossible task for troops 'in the pink', four out of five of those chosen for the attacks were sick and weary men.
After Hill 60, serious fighting virtually came to an end on Gallipoli. At Anzac, attention turned to:
- the development of new trench lines in the rugged territory captured during the August Offensive
- the looming problem of supplying an army during the coming winter, with its inevitable storms
Changing strategic direction
Despite the improvements aimed at easing the strain of life at Gallipoli for the ordinary soldier, higher command was more concerned about whether to remain on the peninsula at all.
From late August until the evacuation from Gallipoli, the strategic situation in the eastern Mediterranean changed significantly.
Bulgaria's decision to side with the Central Powers in September was a critical factor. Britain, France and Russia had tried to gain support from Bulgaria, but negotiations faltered.
On 5 October, Allied troops began landing at Salonika in Greece. This opened up another front in the Eastern Mediterranean, which stretched scarce resources. On 6 October, German and Austro-Hungarian forces invaded Serbia. A week later, on 14 October, Bulgaria declared war on Serbia.
Between October and November, Allied planners faced a critical decision. Which operation to support – Gallipoli or Salonika?
Keith Murdoch's Gallipoli letter
As broad debates about the Gallipoli Campaign continued, a more contentious episode involved an Australian who wasn't on the battlefield.
Australian journalist Keith Murdoch was the Managing Editor of the United Cable Service in London.
British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, an affiliate of Murdoch, was extremely critical of Hamilton's conduct of the campaign. He asked Murdoch to deliver a letter of his concerns to British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.
On the voyage from Gallipoli to England, a British Army officer seized Ashmead-Bartlett's letter from Murdoch at Marseilles. So Murdoch wrote his own 25-page letter to the Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher in late September.
Murdoch's Gallipoli letter very much followed the criticisms apparent in Ashmead-Bartlett's letter, and it was eventually published as a British cabinet document.
The Gallipoli letter played a minor role in the replacement of General Sir Ian Hamilton on Gallipoli. It also fostered the emerging narrative about the idea of Gallipoli as a place of Australian national sacrifice.
Replacing General Hamilton
The activities of Murdoch and Ashmead-Bartlett did not help Hamilton on Gallipoli. The most critical factors in Hamilton's eventual removal from command were:
- the failure of the August Offensive
- ongoing debates in Britain about wartime strategy
- the issue of reinforcements
The French had intended to send four divisions to Gallipoli, but they eventually went to Salonika. With the changing strategic situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the British 10th (Irish) Division was sent to Salonika from Suvla Bay in early October. Another French division was also sent to Salonika from Gallipoli.
On 11 October, the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, asked Hamilton to estimate the losses he expected if the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was withdrawn from Gallipoli. Hamilton's response was less than favourable. As well as estimating significant losses, it was a policy with which he disagreed.
After discussions in London, Hamilton heard on 16 October that he was being recalled to London. He was replaced by Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Monro, who had recently commanded the Third Army in France.
Hamilton left Gallipoli on 17 October. Until Monro arrived, Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood took temporary command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
The arrival of Monro started serious discussions about evacuating troops from Gallipoli.
Monro was a convinced Westerner who believed that the real war to defeat Germany was being fought on the Western Front. To him, Gallipoli was a sideshow capable of drawing off much-needed men and supplies.
Monro soon dispatched a report to state that:
- many of the troops, with the exception of the Anzacs, were incapable of further sustained effort
- the Turks held all the high ground
- they had received information that heavy guns were reaching the Ottoman Army from Germany
- that effective use of heavy guns could destroy the Anzac positions
Bulgaria's entry into the war on the German side made it possible to transport heavy artillery from Germany to the Ottomans by rail. The Allies hadn't experienced European-style heavy artillery on Gallipoli until this point.
On 29 November, Australians at Lone Pine positions experienced a heavy bombardment, which showed that heavy artillery was being used. The narrow approach trenches to the Allied front line positions were largely destroyed. The 23rd and 24th Battalions, both from Victoria, suffered some of the last heavy casualties to be sustained by Australian units at Gallipoli.
Private Mark Peters, 24th Battalion, told the Australian Red Cross what had happened to his mate, Private Alexander Macbeth, as a result of this shelling:
Macbeth was taken off the cooks fires and put into the trenches. He was at work in a sap Nov 29 at Lone Pine ... A big shell came over and blew the sap to pieces. His mates hunted for Macbeth, but failed to find him. They all believed him blown to pieces and buried in the debris.
It was a foretaste of things to come for the men of the AIF when they reached the Western Front a few months later.
Kitchener was shocked by Monro's forthright but accurate assessment of the situation. Kitchener visited the Dardanelles in November to see it for himself.
During his visit, Kitchener made two critical decisions:
- a partial evacuation of Gallipoli from Anzac and Suval was recommended
- forces in the Eastern Mediterranean region were reorganised
Monro was to command all forces in the Eastern Mediterranean outside of Egypt. This included:
- the newly formed Dardanelles Army under Birdwood
- the Salonika Army under Lieutenant-General Sir Bryan Mahon
Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Godley took over command of the ANZAC in late-November 1915.
Kitchener's recommendation for a partial evacuation led to the eventual order for the complete evacuation of Gallipoli.
Despite the strategic changes that occurred after the August Offensive, the ANZAC was reinforced. Elements of the 2nd Australian Division arrived on Gallipoli during August.
Major-General James Legge commanded the 2nd Division. Legge had briefly commanded the 1st Australian Division after the death of Major-General Sir William Bridges. Previously, he had been the Chief of the General Staff. Some of his contemporaries considered him brilliant, but others thought he was a schemer.
The 2nd Division had been hastily formed in July 1915 from various units stationed in Egypt. It was made up of:
- 5th, 6th and 7th Brigades with troops drawn from all over Australia
- various artillery units and service arms found in Egypt
Despite the challenges involved with bringing the 2nd Division up to strength, reinforcements were much needed at Anzac. The physical state of troops at Anzac Cove was poor.
A report produced in September by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Purves-Stewart, a consulting physician to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, concluded that:
The contrast between the old and the fresh troops was striking. The newly-arrived men were of splendid physique, in the pink of condition, active and alert. The older troops were emaciated in 77 per cent of cases, and nearly all of them showed well-marked pallor of the face.
Interestingly, Purves-Stewart noted that:
[t]he spirit and morale of these soldiers, whether of the old or newly-arrived troops, were excellent. Not one man hinted at the slightest inclination to be relieved from trench duty.
Leaders tried to improve the state of troops at Anzac Cove. Poor quality food was a contributing factor in the health concerns of soldiers. Providing men with daily food and water rations had always been a logistical challenge. In the aftermath of the August Offensive, planning focused on preparations for winter. The supply hub at North Beach was developed.
As well as reinforcement by the 2nd Australian Division, the ANZAC experienced other changes in its composition after the August Offensive.
The British 13th (Western) Division, which had served at Anzac during August, was swapped for the British 54th (East Anglian) Division from IX Corps at Suvla Bay. Throughout the Gallipoli Campaign, the New Zealand and Australian Division contained Australian and New Zealand troops, as well as contingents from Britain and India.
Development of North Beach
A new, larger base was developed at North Beach. The location was relatively free from observation by Turkish snipers. Piers were developed and piles of boxes of stores soon appeared. By November, two large tented hospitals had moved into the area, including the No 1 Australian Stationary Hospital from Lemnos.
Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, returning from a long rest period on Lemnos, was amazed by North Beach:
What a change! Why, when we left there was hardly anything round this side of the Cove [Anzac Cove]. It was not safe. Now there are tents and a YMCA and what is this great sandbag mansion going up directly in front of us? A Post Office, eh. Eighty feet long, twelve feet high and twenty feet wide. Some building! Windows, doors and a counter, too. Crikey, things are coming on in these parts.
Operations at Anzac
Major operations on Gallipoli ceased at the end of August. But military operations continued, and this was a period of intense trench warfare.
Many of the conditions that had plagued the Gallipoli Campaign continued unabated. While the possibility of evacuation was being considered, another scheme for forcing the Dardanelles was discussed, but ultimately abandoned.
The amount of artillery at Anzac Cove increased, and sniping continued. Operations in the open were limited to scouting and patrols.
Offensive operations in this period primarily took place underground and formed part of planning for future operations that never materialised. One reason for the lack of offensive action above ground was the ever-increasing strength of Turkish defences. Tunnelling and underground mining were considered as tactics to undermine Turkish defences.
For example, in September, Legge suggested a tunnelling scheme that would emerge at the rear of The Nek. The scheme became known as 'Arnall's Folly' after Captain Harry Arnall of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion who was tasked to construct the tunnel. Many of the mines and tunnels came close to or under Turkish positions.
One curious episode of operations towards the end of November deserves retelling.
Leaders realised that during the evacuation, the Ottomans might associate silence with withdrawal. Brigadier General Sir Cyril Brudenell White wanted to convince the Turks that silence could have another meaning.
Australian troops fought the 'Silent Battle' between 24 and 27 November:
- no sniping or artillery fire directed at the Turks
- only firing on the enemy when under attack
The success of this intriguing experiment was mixed. Records tell us that the Ottomans were unsure whether it suggested a possible withdrawal from key positions or the start of preparations for winter.