Battle of the Nek 7 August 1915
Early on 7 August 1915, the Nek was the site of a brave but tragic assault by the dismounted 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The charge aimed to attract Turks to the Nek while New Zealand troops seized the heights of Chunuk Bair as part of the August Offensive. The Allies hoped this would distract the enemy at the critical moment, making the Turks who held the trenches at the Nek think that Allied soldiers might be coming down the slopes behind them. This didn't happen as planned. The light horsemen rose from their trenches. They met a hail of bullets. Within 45 minutes, three waves of Australians and part of a fourth wave were cut down. Most men fell before they got near the Turkish lines.
Small but deadly battle
The Nek was an important location on Gallipoli for the Allies. On the northern end of the Anzac front, this narrow bridge of land stretched between the landmarks of Russell's Top and Baby 700. The Turks occupied trenches on the slopes of Baby 700 and dominated the Australian positions below.
Naval gunfire and shore-based artillery shelled the Ottoman positions. The bombardment was intended to provide cover for the Australians during the attack. Unfortunately, the barrage ended 7 minutes too early, but the officers of the Light Horse at the Nek did not adapt their plans. They held back their men until the appointed time for the charge.
The delay gave the Turks enough time to set up their machine guns. They were ready for the assault.
The plan was for the New Zealanders to move down from Chunuk Bair and attack when the Light Horse did. But the New Zealanders hadn't taken Chunuk Bair as intended, so their support did not come.
The first wave of light horsemen was immediately shot down by a devastating hail of rifle and machinegun fire.
The second line of troops scrambled over the dead and wounded, and suffered the same fate.
Given the circumstances, a cancellation of the attack was proposed, but the officer in charge refused to abandon the attack. He had been told that some Australians had reached the Turkish trenches. The third wave was went over and met the same fate as the previous two. Then, without a signal having been given, men on the right of the fourth wave also went over before the attack could be cancelled.
The casualties of the action were devastating. Of the 600 Australian troops involved, 234 were killed and 138 were wounded.
Visiting the Nek today
At the Nek Cemetery, 326 men are buried but you cannot find their graves. Beneath a cross you can see a few headstones, mostly special memorials to soldiers believed to be buried there. Some of these are dedicated to Australian light horsemen and carry the date 7 August 1915.
In 1919, Lieutenant Cyril Hughes of the Graves Registration Unit found and buried the unidentifiable remains of more than 300 Australians. The men had died in an area described by official historian Charles Bean as a 'strip the size of three tennis courts'.
These Australian deaths occurred during and shortly after one of the most tragic Australian actions on Gallipoli - the charge of the 8th and 10th Light Horse Regiments at the Nek at dawn on 7 August 1915.
Charles Bean felt this charge would go down as one of the bravest acts in the history of Australians at war. In memorable words, Bean described the scene:
The Nek could be seen crowded with their bodies. At first here and there a man raised his arm to the sky, or tried to drink from his water bottle. But as the sun climbed higher … such movement ceased. Over the whole summit the figures lay still in the quivering sun.