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The Irish at Gallipoli – Episode 5: The August Offensive (Suvla Bay)

Despite initial success in the seizure of Chocolate Hill, the Irish would suffer greatly at the hands of determined Turkish defenders and as a consequence of poor leadership and support, including a lack of water in the searing heat of the Gallipoli summer. This episode looks at the battles in the Suvla area in which the Irish fought, including Kiritch Tepe Sirt and Scimitar Hill, and at Hill 60 where Irishmen and Anzacs once again fought alongside each other.

Dr Jeff Kildea

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 5 – The August Offensive (Suvla Bay)

While the principal aim of the August offensive was to capture the heights of the Sari Bair range, the British wished to make a landing at Suvla Bay to secure a base of operations for the forces in the northern sector. Among the soldiers of the British IX Corps landed there were the 30th and 31st Brigades of the 10th (Irish) Division. Later they would be joined by their compatriots in the 29th Division. Despite initial success in the seizure of Chocolate Hill, the Irish would suffer greatly at the hands of determined Turkish defenders and as a consequence of poor leadership and support, including a lack of water in the searing heat of the Gallipoli summer. This episode looks at the battles in the Suvla area in which the Irish fought, including Kiritch Tepe Sirt and Scimitar Hill, and at Hill 60 where Irishmen and Anzacs once again fought alongside each other.

Transcript
In the previous episode we looked at the August offensive and the involvement of the Irish regiments in the battle for the Sari Bair range. In this episode we will examine another aspect of the August offensive, the operations at Suvla Bay, where Irishmen from the 10th (Irish) Division and the 29th Division were involved.

On the morning of 7 August, while the men of the New Zealand and Australian Division were attempting to seize the high points of the Sari Bair range and the 29th Brigade of the 10th (Irish) Division was providing support to the Anzacs, the remainder of the 10th (Irish) Division, along with the 11th (Northern) Division, were landing at Suvla Bay. The scandalous failure of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, a senior yet inexperienced commander, to order his corps to advance immediately from the beachhead and seize the high ground when the landing was relatively unopposed is notorious.

The 10th (Irish) Division would suffer severely during the Suvla campaign, being not only inexperienced, but also ill-equipped and under strength. As we have seen, one of its brigades, the 29th, was sent to Anzac Cove, while the 30th and 31st Brigades landed at Suvla minus the division’s artillery, which was still in Egypt, and the division’s engineers, who were delayed. Nevertheless, the 10th had an early success on the first day, when five of its battalions took part in the seizure of Chocolate Hill, after having advanced across open ground under intense Turkish fire in the heat of the day and without adequate supplies of water. A New Zealand officer, Captain Thornhill described the action:

The Empire can do with a heap more ‘freshies’ of the Irish brand … Those that witnessed the advance will never forget it. Bullets and shrapnel rained on them, yet they never wavered … How they got there Heaven only knows. As the land lay, climbing into hell on an aeroplane seemed an easier proposition than taking that hill.

Apart from this success, however, the ‘freshies’ of the 10th Division had little else to show for their sacrifice. Over the following weeks they suffered heavy casualties, particularly in the assault on the high ridge of Kiritch Tepe Sirt, which had been reinforced by the Turks following Stopford’s delay in moving from the beachhead.

Initially the men of the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers of the 30th Brigade made advances along the top of the ridge, but heat, thirst and exhaustion as well as increasing Turkish resistance slowed their progress. Then the Turks launched a fierce counter-attack with fresh troops and a plentiful supply of bombs, something the Irishmen lacked, thus forcing them to withdraw. At the same time an attack by the 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers of the 31st Brigade on nearby Kidney Hill was beaten back at great expense to the battalion, which was reduced to less than half strength.

The plight of the Irishmen was not helped when, in the middle of the battle, their divisional commander, Lieutenant General Bryan Mahon, resigned in a fit of pique, after he was passed over for promotion to corps commander following Sir Ian Hamilton’s sacking of General Stopford on 15 August.

Six days later, units of the 29th Division, including its three Irish battalions, the Dublin Fusiliers, the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers, which had been brought up from Helles to reinforce the New Army troops at Suvla, suffered badly at Scimitar Hill, which had been taken but abandoned on the first day. During the battle, the continuous shelling set the undergrowth ablaze and many of the wounded were burnt alive where they had fallen. At one point the Inniskilling Fusiliers managed to capture the summit, but were forced to withdrew when they drew heavy fire from the Turks on the Anafarta ridge. Having failed to dislodge the Turks from Scimitar Hill, the action was called off with more than a third of the attacking force, some 5300 men, having been killed or wounded.

At the same time as Irishmen of the 29th Division were attempting to capture Scimitar Hill, their compatriots serving with the Anzacs were taking part in a battle to seize nearby Hill 60. The low pimple of a knoll, which gloried in the name ‘Hill 60’, was of tactical importance because it formed a link between the Suvla and Anzac sectors and provided a view north towards Anafarta. When the first attack began at 3.30 pm on 21 August, the Connaught Rangers on the left of the attacking force had the task of seizing the Kabak Kuyu wells, which could provide much needed water for the parched troops fighting in the heat of the Gallipoli summer. This they did with relative ease, as there were few Turks there, though they came under heavy fire from Hill 60 and from snipers concealed in the scattered bushes. Much to the annoyance of Lieutenant Colonel HFN Jourdain, commanding officer of the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers, Sir Ian Hamilton in his dispatches attributed the victory to the 29th Indian Brigade without mention of the Rangers. This erroneous account was published in The Times, fuelling complaints by the Irish that their efforts were not being recognised. After correspondence between Jourdain, Godley and Hamilton, The Times eventually acknowledged the Rangers’ part in the attack, but not until 1920.

After capturing the well, the Rangers charged Hill 60 in support of the New Zealanders. In their wild charge the Rangers lost 12 officers and 248 men, of whom 46 were killed before they were eventually stopped. The Australian Official Historian Charles Bean described the charge in these words:

[The Connaught Rangers] were seen dashing up the seaward end of the hill, the Turks running before them. This fine charge called forth the admiration of all who beheld it, and such a movement, if it had been concerted and delivered along the whole line of attack with the flanks well guarded, would probably have carried Hill 60.

By nightfall, the Allies had secured but a foothold on Hill 60, with only the New Zealanders in possession of a small section of the Turkish trenches. The New Zealand commander, Brigadier General Andrew Russell, inspected the troops that night and, realising that his men were too worn out to extend the line, requested fresh reinforcements.

The 18th Battalion of the Australian 2nd Division had landed at Gallipoli just two days before. Thrown into the battle, the battalion, 750 strong, charged the Turkish line, but it was met by a storm of enfilade fire that in a short time reduced its numbers by 11 officers and 372 men, half of whom were killed.

In less than two days, the attacking force had lost over 1300 men – one third of its number. Nevertheless, it had a toehold on Hill 60, and General Birdwood ordered another assault on 27 August. Reinforced by men of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade who had returned from the failed attack on Hill 971, the Australians launched a fresh attack at 4 pm, again suffering severely for little gain as wave after wave was cut down. The New Zealanders and Connaught Rangers, however, managed to gain access to a section of Turkish trench shown on their maps as ‘D–C’. From there, as night fell, the battle became one of hand-to-hand fighting with bayonet and bomb in the maze of trenches that crisscrossed the hill. During the night, the attacking force was reinforced by the 9th Light Horse Regiment. The War Diary of the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers gives some indication of the fierceness of the fighting in which Australians and Irishmen fought literally shoulder to shoulder:

[At 11.55 pm] the Light Horse had come into communication with the [Officer Commanding] Connaught Rangers & had arranged for retaking the trench from D to C. The Australians progressed some distance but were in their turn driven back to D. A further portion of them took & held the more southern portion of the cross trench about 80 yds in front of & parallel to the old New Zealand line. This was done & measures were taken to consolidate this new line. The men advanced in spite of the galling cross fire & shrapnel, in splendid fashion, & made good their footing little by little. It was found, however, that the trench could not be used to the extent desired on account of the piles of dead & debris, which not only littered the trench from D to C, but simply choked it up.

As dawn broke, the Allied forces held disconnected sections of the Turkish line. During the day both sides deepened and extended their trenches and in between bombing duels tried to rest in preparation for the night to come. But for the Connaught Rangers the fight was over. Reduced to only 164 men they were relieved and replaced by men of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment.

The Allies never did capture the summit of Hill 60. Nevertheless, they continued to hold the seaward slopes, securing the Anzac flank and keeping open the link with Suvla. Like so much of what happened at Gallipoli from 25 April onwards, the action at Hill 60 was a half-victory gained at great expense, with the fighting of 27–29 August adding another 1100 names to the casualty list.

The battles for Scimitar Hill and Hill 60 marked the end of British attempts to advance at Suvla. As elsewhere on the Gallipoli peninsula the opposing forces had fought themselves to a standstill after suffering and inflicting huge losses.

In the next episode we will look at the conclusion to the Gallipoli campaign with the evacuation of the allied forces and at the aftermath of the campaign for the Irishmen involved.

Image: Chocolate Hill at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, 1915 (National Army Museum, NAM. 2000-08-94-68).