The Irish at Gallipoli is a six-part podcast series recorded by Dr Jeff Kildea who was Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at University College Dublin in 2014. Dr Kildea was also the Chief Investigator on the Irish Anzacs Project which has made available to researchers and the public a database of the approximately 6500 Irish-born members of the Australian Imperial Force who served in the First World War. The Irish Anzacs Project was made possible through the generous support of the Global Irish Studies Centre of the University of New South Wales; the invaluable partnership of UCD; and a grant from the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Programme. Click here to access the database.
Episode 2 – The Landing
Following the failure of the British and French navies to force the Dardanelles and open up an all-year sea route to Russia, the Allies committed 75 000 soldiers to a ground war in an attempt to neutralise the Turkish forts guarding the Dardanelles by attacking them from the landward side. While the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Aegean coast half way up the peninsula, Britain’s 29th Division was landed at a series of beaches at Cape Helles at the foot of the peninsula. Among the British Army troops at Helles were Irish regulars of the Dublin Fusiliers, Munster Fusiliers and Inniskilling Fusiliers. This episode looks at the landing on 25 April 1915 and, in particular, the slaughter of the Dublins and Munsters at V Beach.
In the first episode of this series we looked at the origins of the Gallipoli campaign and the unsuccessful naval operation to open up the Dardanelles sea-route to the Black Sea and Russia. In this episode we will look at the opening of the military campaign with the landing of ground troops on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915.
The main landing would be by the British 29th Division at Cape Helles around the toe of the peninsula, at five beaches designated from east to west as S, V, W, X and Y, with V and W beaches being the main points of attack. After landing, the 29th Division was to occupy the village of Krithia (or Alçıtepe as it is now called) about 7 kilometres north of Cape Helles and a hill, which the British called Achi Baba, 2.5 kilometres behind the village. It would then advance to Kilid Bahr, a plateau near Maidos (now Eceabat) which overlooks the Dardanelles at the Narrows.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the Anzacs, would land on the Aegean coast just north of a headland called Gaba Tepe on a strand designated as Z Beach. Inland from Z Beach is a mountain range called Sari Bair, with three ridges splaying south-westerly from the high ground of Chunuk Bair to the Aegean Coast. On landing, the Anzac covering force was to move inland and occupy those three ridges while the main force would pass through the covering force to occupy Chunuk Bair. It would then advance across the peninsula to a hill called Mal Tepe near Maidos to prevent reinforcements from the north hindering the 29th Division’s advance while cutting off Turks retreating from Helles.
As a diversion, the French would land at Kum Kale on the Asian side near the mouth of the Dardanelles. Another diversion by the Royal Naval Division would take place in the Gulf of Saros near Bulair on the far north of the peninsula.
The Turkish forces on the peninsula comprised about 80,000 men of the 5th Army in six divisions under the command of a 60-year old German officer General Otto Liman von Sanders. Although von Sanders was well aware of the impending invasion of the peninsula he did not know the precise date and time nor did he know where the main thrust would occur. So, he had to distribute his troops in places where he thought the attack would most likely occur, thus spreading his force.
Two divisions were deployed near and north of Bulair, two divisions on the Asian side and two divisions on the main length of the peninsula.
One of the peninsular divisions (the 9th) was spread along the coast, while the other (the 19th) under Colonel Mustapha Kemal was held in reserve at Boghali near Maidos so that it could move to where ever the need arose. The men of the 9th Division were so thinly spread that they could be expected to do no more than to check an invader so as to give time for the reserves to come up. The 9th and 19th divisions were part of III Corps, a battle-hardened formation that had fought in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Although defeated there, they had learned valuable lessons and were seasoned soldiers.
The first ashore on 25 April were the Australians of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Australian Division who were the covering force. Divided into two waves, the covering force began to come ashore in the dark at about 4.20 am, between moonset and sunrise. In the process of landing, their frontage, which was supposed to be about 3000 metres, narrowed to about 900 metres and they landed bunched up on both sides of a headland called Ari Burnu at the northern end of a cove now known as Anzac Cove. This meant that they had to navigate cliffs rather than gently sloping ground in order to advance inland. However, on the positive side it meant that they avoided the better prepared Turkish defences along the straight stretch of beach south of Anzac Cove and were shielded from enfilade fire along that beach that would have come from Gaba Tepe.
Consequently, the covering force came ashore relatively unscathed, but the commander of the covering force, concerned to protect his right flank from an expected counter attack from Gaba Tepe, paused on the Second Ridge in order to consolidate his position and then directed the first wave of the main force to go to the right rather than to pass through the covering force on the left to advance along the Second Ridge to seize the undefended Chunuk Bair. These two decisions proved to be decisive as it gave the Turks time to bring up their reserves who occupied the high ground, pushed the small numbers of the covering force from their advance positions at Baby 700 just below Chunuk Bair and occupied the Third Ridge, effectively winning the battle for the heights and preventing any advance by the Anzacs beyond the Second Ridge. The small number of Australians who had reached the Third Ridge before the order was given to pause were either killed or forced to withdraw when the Turkish reserves arrived and pushed over the Third Ridge to occupy the landward side of the Second Ridge.
It was during the desperate fighting for the heights and the ridges, rather than on the beach, that most of the more than 700 Anzacs were killed in the first days of the campaign.
While the Anzacs were fighting it out on land, an Australian submarine the AE2 under the command of an Irishman, Lieutenant Commander Henry Dacre Stoker of Dublin, made its way through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara, where it began to disrupt Turkish shipping before it was disabled and forced to scuttle.
While the Australians had opted for an attack in the dark to preserve the element of surprise, Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, GOC 29th Division, decided on a daylight attack so as to minimise confusion.
At 6.25 am, a small flotilla of open boats carrying three companies of the Dublin Fusiliers struggled against the current towards a thin strand of sand near the village of Sedd-el-Bahr, designated in the plan of attack as V Beach. Alongside them, a 2000-ton collier, the River Clyde, steamed towards the beach carrying about 2100 men, comprising the Munster Fusiliers, two companies of the Hampshire Regiment, the remaining company of the Dublin Fusiliers and additional support troops.
The idea was to run the collier aground in the shallow waters off the beach so that a string of lighters, or small barges, that were being towed by the ship would be carried forward to the beach by their momentum and, with the assistance of a small support vessel, be held in place to form a bridge between the ship and the shore. The soldiers inside the hold of the River Clyde, shielded from Turkish bullets until the last minute, would emerge through access ways cut into the ship’s sides and run the short distance across the lighters to the beach, where they would form up and advance to their objectives.
With the gangway finally in place, the soldiers filed out of the ship’s hull to be met by an intense hail of bullets and shrapnel. Captain GW Geddes, Officer Commanding X Company of the Munster Fusiliers, who led his men out, was unscathed, but the next 48 men behind him all fell. The Turkish defenders in Sedd-el-Bahr fort could fire on those emerging from the starboard side, while those inside Fort No. 1 on the heights above the beach, at a range of no more than 300 metres, covered the port side and enfiladed any of the troops who made it ashore. Their only cover was a sandbank, where Captain Geddes took shelter with the survivors. Geddes later wrote that in the process he lost 70 percent of his company.
The losses among the troops in the open boats were also high. In some cases, the oarsmen were shot so that the boats drifted and the helpless soldiers crammed into them were mown down. In other cases, the defenders waited until the men, having tossed their oars, were within 20 metres of the shore and then swept the boats with fire. Captain Guy Nightingale of the Munsters wrote in his diary that, of the first boat-load of 40 men, only 3 reached the shore, all wounded, while altogether the Dublins in the open boats lost 560 men and 21 officers in 15 minutes. In all, it is estimated that more than half of the Irish troops who tried to get ashore were killed or wounded. It was reported that the sea in the bay was red with blood.
Apart from a small party that had managed to get close to the Sedd-el-Bahr fort and had dug itself in, the survivors continued to shelter under the sandbank until nightfall, when the rest of the troops on board the River Clyde were landed under cover of darkness. According to Geddes, the two companies of Hampshires who disembarked that night did so without a shot being fired at them.
Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the expedition, acknowledged the disaster in his memoirs when he wrote: ‘Would that we had left [V Beach] severely alone and landed a big force at Morto Bay, where we could have forced the Sedd-el-Bahr Turks to fall back’. So heavy were the Irish losses, that for three weeks after the landing the Dublins and the Munsters ceased to exist as separate units, being amalgamated into a composite battalion attached to the 87th Brigade and nicknamed the ‘Dubsters’.
W Beach was also a scene of slaughter, with six Victoria Crosses being awarded to men of the Lancashire Fusiliers, one of them an Irishman Private William Keneally of Wexford. The three other beaches were relatively quiet, with the Inniskillings, who landed at X Beach in a supporting role, not meeting serious opposition until they moved inland.
Badly mauled, the invading force was unable to move much beyond the beach head. On the day after the landing Corporal William Cosgrove of the Munster Fusiliers was awarded a Victoria Cross for his part in the fighting to capture Sedd-el-Bahr village. Two days later, after consolidating its position, the 29th Division began its advance to Krithia and Achi Baba, the subject of the next episode.
Image: Map of the Dardanelles drawn by G.F. Morrell, 1915. The map shows the Gallipoli peninsula and west coast of Turkey, and the location of front line troops and landings (State Library of New South Wales, public domain via Wikimedia Commons).