Battle of Hill 60 21 to 29 August 1915
Hill 60 was a low rise in the foothills on the north-western end of Anzac. The fight for Hill 60 was part of the August Offensive, the last major Allied offensive operation on the peninsula. The operation was planned to strengthen a narrow strip of foreshore that connected British forces at Suvla with the Anzac positions further south.
The first unsuccessful attempt to seize Hill 60 from the Turks on 21 August was poorly planned. A further attack on 27 August ended with 3 days of intense fighting, during which objectives were taken, lost and retaken. British, New Zealand and Australian units failed to secure the crest.
Further attacks were called off on 29 August because a weak but sufficient link had been formed with the British forces at Suvla.
Remembering the veterans of Hill 60
Lieutenant Wilfred Addison was a bank accountant from Sydney, New South Wales. Addison landed on Gallipoli on 19 August 1915 with the 18th Battalion. His unit camped at North Beach between the foot of the Sphinx and Walker's Ridge. According to official historian Charles Bean, the very presence of these fresh young soldiers lifted the spirits of the old hands:
These troops came to the tired, and somewhat haggard garrison of Anzac, like a fresh breeze from the Australian bush. 'Great big cheery fellows, whom it did your heart good to see', wrote an Australian. 'Quite the biggest lot I have ever seen'.
[CEW Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, p.739]
After the new soldiers were briefed on the challenges that lay ahead, Addison wrote to his mother:
I daresay I shall be one of the first to fall.
[Addison, quoted in C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, p.739]
As the men pondered their fate, the last British offensive began on 21 August 1915 at Suvla and in the northern sector of the Anzac position.
Two British divisions and a combined force of Anzacs and British troops attacked inland towards the Turkish village of Anafarta.
The objective of the composite force was a low promontory at the northern end of a spur coming down from the Kocacimentepe Range. The Turks called it Kaiajik Aghyl (Sheepfold of the Little Rock) and the Allies called it Hill 60.
If the Allies could capture Hill 60, it would:
- straighten the line between the Anzac and Suvla positions
- make communications along the shore between the two sectors safer
The first assault on Hill 60 was a costly failure for the Australians of the 13th and 14th Battalions.
Many Australians were hit by Turkish machinegun fire when they attacked across a shallow valley. Those who reached the slope on the far side looked back to see their wounded comrades and soldiers of the Hampshire Regiment caught in a bushfire started by Turkish shells. As uniforms caught fire, grenades and ammunition carried by individual soldiers exploded.
Charles Bean described the scene:
The flames, reaching some of the dead or wounded, ignited their clothing and exploded their bombs and rifle ammunition, and thus pieces of burning cloth or wood were flung to other ledges, starting more fires. Any wounded man who so much as stirred to crawl out of reach of the flames was instantly shot by the Turks.
Acts of bravery to rescue the wounded
Under cover of smoke, many of the wounded were dragged away by:
- Captain Henry Loughran, Regimental Medical Officer of 14th Battalion, assisted by his stretcher-bearers
- Chaplain Andrew Gillison of 14th Battalion, a Presbyterian minister from Melbourne
In a footnote to his official history, Charles Bean wrote that Gillison was reading a burial service the next morning when he heard a groan from a nearby ridge in no-man's-land. He had been warned against showing himself in this area, but he went forward and discovered a wounded man. A soldier of the Hampshire Regiment had been out all night and was being attacked by ants.
Gillison crawled out to rescue the wounded man with two 13th Battalion men:
- Corporal Robert Pittendrigh
- Private Edward Hinton
The three men had only dragged the wounded soldier about a yard (91cm) when a Turkish sniper shot both Gillison and Pittendrigh.
Gillison died from his wounds and is buried in Embarkation Pier Cemetery.
Pittendrigh died of his wounds on a hospital ship and was buried at sea off the shores of Gallipoli. His name is remembered on the Lone Pine Memorial to the missing.
Fresh plan of attack
The Allied leaders decided that the only chance of taking Hill 60 was to use fresh, fit troops.
In the early hours of 22 August, the 18th Battalion made its way from North Beach to the Anzac lines opposite Hill 60.
The commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Chapman and his company commanders were briefed by candlelight. They were to charge the Turks with bomb and bayonet. Chapman complained that they had no bombs, but he was told to do the best he could without them.
The lead companies were taken to a position near Hill 60 behind a low scrub hedge and told to attack. The men, who had landed on Gallipoli only 2 days earlier, were ordered to fix their bayonets.
The first wave of the 18th dashed forward through a gap in the scrub hedge. The men safely reached a recently dug Turkish trench.
By the time the second wave came from behind the hedge, the Turks were ready. They poured down machinegun fire. Lieutenant Wilfred Addison was at the head of his platoon. Charles Bean described what happened:
Other platoons issuing through openings south of it were met by a tremendous fire, but a proportion crossed the field, finely led by some of their officers; among them was Lieutenant Wilfred Addison, who, with dying and wounded men around him, and machine gun bullets tearing up the ground where he stood, steadied and waved forward the remnant of his platoon until he himself fell pierced by several bullets.
[CEW Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, p.743]
By 10am that day, the 18th Battalion's attempt to take Hill 60 had also failed. Only 760 men were left at North Beach. In 4 hours on 21 August, the battalion took 383 casualties, including about 190 killed.
In subsequent actions on Hill 60, the 18th Battalion suffered another 256 casualties. Within a week of arriving on Gallipoli, over 80% of its men were either dead or wounded.
Second assault on Hill 60
Despite the failures of 21 and 22 August, the Allies decided to continue trying to take Hill 60. Moving Allied troops and supplies between the Anzac area in the south and Suvla in the north was unsafe while Hill 60 was controlled by the Turks.
Further attacks on Hill 60 between 27 and 29 August involved the men of the:
- 4th Brigade
- 9th Light Horse Regiment (South Australia)
- 10th Light Horse Regiment (Western Australia)
A mixed force of Australian, British and New Zealand units made the next assault on 27 August.
By then, the Turks had constructed a complex system of trenches on Hill 60. With no maps or plans of the Turkish trenches, the Allied troops who seized them had little idea of where they were.
Elements of the 4th Brigade were involved in the attack: 250 men from the 13th, 14th and 15th Battalions.
The attack started at 5am. Within minutes of their advance, two-thirds of the men were dead or wounded, and the attack in this sector was abandoned.
For the 4th Brigade, the Gallipoli campaign was over. The unit had 4016 men at the landing. Between 6 and 28 August, it had fought exclusively in the battles to the north of the old Anzac lines beneath Chunuk Bair and now at Hill 60. By 28 August, its strength had been reduced to 968 weary soldiers.
In late August, the medical officer of the 15th Battalion wrote:
The condition of the men of the battalion was awful. Thin, haggard, as weak as kittens and covered with suppurating sores. The total strength of the battalion was two officers and 170 men. If we had been in France every man would have been sent to hospital.
[Regimental Medical Officer, 15th Battalion, quoted in A G Butler, Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-1918, Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, Vol 1, p.321]
The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade also played a prominent part in the Hill 60 fighting between 21 and 28 August. The New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli 2700 strong, but the unit was down to 365 men by the end of August.
At night on 27 August, the dismounted Australian 9th Light Horse was led into the trenches. They were ordered to bomb their way towards the Turkish positions. In a night battle at close quarters in the trenches, they were unable to drive the Turks back. Among the dead was their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Carew Reynell.
On the afternoon of 28 August, General Alexander Godley visited the camp of the 10th Australian Light Horse, which had suffered so severely at The Nek. Godley told them they would take a trench on the summit of Hill 60.
During the night of 28 to 29 August, the men of the 10th Light Horse had a fierce bombing battle with the Turks. The Australian line moved a little closer to the summit of Hill 60.
Between midnight and dawn in a captured Turkish trench, the light horsemen held off repeated enemy attacks. Hundreds of bombs hurled into the Australian positions were promptly thrown back. Turkish frontal assaults were beaten off with determined rifle fire.
Lieutenant Hugo Throssell of Cowcowing, Western Australia, was prominent in this action. Although wounded, Throssell refused to leave and kept up the spirits of his men throughout the night. The doctor who attended him later described Throssell's condition:
He took the cigarette but could do nothing with it. The wounds in his shoulders and arms had stiffened, and his hands could not reach his mouth … [his] shirt was full of holes from pieces of bomb, and one of the 'Australias' [shoulder badges] was twisted and broken, and had been driven in to his shoulder.
[Captain Horace Robertson, quoted in Snelling, VCs of the First World War - Gallipoli, Stroud, 1995, p.225]
For his efforts, Throssell received the last Victoria Cross (VC) awarded to an Australian soldier on Gallipoli. The soldiers who stood with Throssell that night deserve to be remembered too.
Corporal Sutton (Sid) Ferrier of Casterton, Victoria, reputedly flung over 500 bombs that night. Shortly after dawn, a Turkish bomb, which he was attempting to throw back, exploded in his hand, blowing his arm off at the elbow. Ferrier walked to an aid post but died 10 days later on a hospital ship. Ferrier's name is listed among the dead of the 10th Australian Light Horse on the Lone Pine Memorial to the missing.
The 10th Light Horse's bombing attack on Hill 60 was the last action of the battle. It was believed, wrongly, that the summit had been captured at a cost of over 1100 casualties. Today it is hard to see what real advantage was gained, although the enemy was pushed back slightly.
High costs of the action
Charles Bean, careful as always in his assessments, concluded that this sacrifice had allowed the Anzacs:
a position astride the spur [Hill 60] from which a fairly satisfactory view could be had over the plain
Perhaps the best summing up of the British Empire's struggle for the Sheepfold of the Little Rock came from a New Zealand soldier, Corporal James Watson of the Auckland Mounted Rifles:
We gained about 400 yards [366m] in four days fighting, 1000 men killed and wounded. Land is very dear here.
[Watson, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli - The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.327]