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 3 – The Advance to Krithia
At the end of the first day of the military campaign at Gallipoli the Allies were ashore at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. However, they had failed to seize their first day objectives and had only a tenuous toehold on the peninsula. For almost three months the British and French forces at Cape Helles, assisted on one occasion by Australians and New Zealanders from Anzac Cove, fought a series of battles to take the village of Krithia and the high ground behind it, which the British called Achi Baba. These attempts would cost the Allies dearly in casualties and, despite the gain of some ground, the two objectives remained in Turkish hands. This episode looks at the battles for Krithia and the part played in those battles by Irish troops of the 29th Division.
In episode 2 we looked at the landings on 25 April 1915 at Anzac Cove by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs) and at Cape Helles by the British 29th Division, which included a battalion from each of the Dublin Fusiliers, the Munster Fusiliers and the Inniskilling Fusiliers.
As we have seen, the Dublins and Munsters, who landed at V Beach, suffered such huge losses that for a few weeks thereafter they were amalgamated into a composite battalion nicknamed the Dubsters, while the Inniskillings were more fortunate in that they landed at X Beach, which was lightly defended.
Y Beach, further north on the Aegean coast, was not defended at all and the 2000 British troops who landed there climbed a pathway to the cliffs atop the beach and sat down to await the main force which was to advance from the southern beaches. Y Beach is close to Krithia, one of the 29th Division’s objectives for the first day, but the landing party made no attempt to seize the village, which was virtually undefended. Nor did they make their way south to assist the troops at V and W Beaches who were unable to advance to meet them because they were facing stiff opposition. Eleven hours after the landing Ottoman reinforcements launched an attack on the Y Beach landing party, eventually causing them to withdraw in disorder back to the beach from where they were evacuated.
For the next two days the 29th Division pushed forward from V, W and X Beaches to consolidate its beachhead in preparation to advance on Krithia and the high ground behind it, which the British called Achi Baba. They were joined on the right by the French, who on the first day had made a diversionary landing at Kum Kale on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles and later by the Royal Naval Division, which had made a feint in the Gulf of Saros.
At 8 am on 28 April the advance began. The plan was for the line, which stretched across the foot of the peninsula, to swing like a gate hinged on the right. This meant that the British on the left had further to march than the French on the right. On the far left was the 87th Brigade, including the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who found their progress impeded by the rough terrain of Gully Ravine and the Turkish machine guns which brought relentless fire on the attackers. Turkish counter attacks drove the allies back in places, necessitating units on their flanks to fall back as well. By 6 pm the attack was called off. Progress had been made but, despite the allies suffering 3000 casualties, Krithia was still in Turkish hands. Thus ended the First Battle of Krithia.
The Commander in Chief Sir Ian Hamilton decided to bring in reinforcements of artillery and infantry before trying again. Among the reinforcements were the 2nd Australian Brigade, the New Zealand Brigade and five batteries of Australian and New Zealand artillery, transferred from the Anzac sector. While the British paused to build up their forces, the Turks counter-attacked. On the night of 1st/2nd May they tried to break through with a force of 16 000 men. One of the points of the attack was a part of the line held by the Dubsters. Despite being less than battalion strength, the composite force of Irishmen held on. A second counter-attack on 4 May was also repulsed.
On 6 May at 11 am the Second Battle of Krithia began, led by troops of the 88th Brigade with the Irish and the Anzacs in reserve. But it faltered before it really got started. The attacking formations had advanced only a few hundred metres before they ran into heavy fire from hidden machine-guns, which was so effective that it halted their progress for the rest of the day. Sir Ian Hamilton ordered Major General Hunter-Weston to resume the attack the next day, but this time to start an hour earlier. As before, the Turkish machine-gun positions had a devastating effect on the lines of advancing infantry. By 2 pm the second attack had also stalled. Hunter-Weston then committed the 87th Brigade, which included the two Irish battalions, the Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Dubsters. But again the attack failed.
Observing the adage ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ Hamilton ordered another attack on the third day. The plan of attack for the third day provided for the New Zealanders to replace the 88th Brigade. The Irish of the 87th Brigade would be on their left. As Major CB Brereton of the Canterbury Battalion led his company out of the Dubsters’ trench, one of the Irishmen called out, ‘It’s no good advancing, sir, you’ll all be killed. It’s no good, sir’. He was not far wrong. By midday the attack was once more brought to a halt, with only a minimal gain of ground. Sustained Turkish machine-gun and rifle fire had inflicted heavy casualties on the New Zealanders, including Major Brereton, who was severely wounded.
Despite four failed attempts, Hamilton was still not ready to admit defeat, even though his force had not yet reached or even sighted the Turkish front line. At 5.30 pm on 8 May, the attack resumed. The leading battalion of the 87th Brigade was shot down as soon as it left its trenches and not a metre of ground was gained. Meanwhile, the 2nd Australian Brigade, given only a half-hour’s notice, ran forward to a trench occupied by British soldiers, which the Australians called the ‘Tommies’ Trench’. Unclear as to what they were meant to do next, many of the Australians either jumped into the trench or lay down behind it. When their commander, the Irish-born Colonel McCay, arrived, he climbed on to the parapet and called out, ‘Now then, Australians! Which of you men are Australians? Come on, Australians!’ With Turkish bullets whizzing into the parapet and raising clouds of dust, the soldiers of the 2nd Brigade rallied to the cry of ‘On Australians! Come on, Australians!’ and scrambling out of the Tommies’ Trench, their bayonets glinting in the afternoon sun, advanced towards an unseen enemy, who poured a hail of bullets and shrapnel down on them.
All the while McCay prowled up and down the parapet, exposed to fire, urging newly arrived men, exhausted by reason of the rush and their heavy packs, to press on. When the attackers reached a point within 550 metres of the Turkish line they could see for the first time where the enemy was located, but it was a cruel deception – what they couldn’t see were Turkish skirmishers hidden by the scrubby undergrowth 100 metres in front of the trench, who continued to pour a heavy fusillade into the advancing Australians. With the Turkish trench still more than 350 metres ahead, the remnants of the 2nd Brigade’s front line eventually faltered and became stationary, with the survivors desperately scraping holes in the ground in order to find some respite from the Turkish bullets. The Australians had lost one half of their 2000 strong force. There would be no attempt the next day to resume the attack. Hamilton had done his dash. Without effective artillery support and against an unseen and disciplined enemy, it was always going to be a worthless gesture.
With the arrival of fresh reinforcements from Egypt, the Anzac infantry were relieved to be able to return to the northern sector at Anzac Cove. During May the British pushed the line forward by a series of stealthy night attacks to get within striking distance of Krithia.
The lack of artillery support for a general advance was exacerbated when HMS Goliath was sunk by a Turkish torpedo boat on 13 May and HMS Triumph and HMS Majestic were sunk by a German submarine on 25 and 27 May.
Following the failure of the previous two battles, Hamilton insisted that the next attack be limited to seizing the Turkish trenches and establishing a new line 500 metres beyond. On 4 June the Third Battle of Krithia began. The 29th Division was on the left of the attacking line with the French on the right and the newly arrived 42nd Division in the middle. The attacks on the left and the right bogged down as the troops found it difficult to make progress in Gully Ravine on the left and the Kereves Dere ravine on the right. In the middle the Manchester Regiment fought its way to the outskirts of Krithia and to the lower slopes of Achi Baba. However, with its flanks unprotected it had to withdraw. Once again progress was made, mostly in the middle, but at a huge cost: 4500 British and 2000 French casualties. Yet Krithia was still out of reach.
Instead of launching a fourth major attack, General Hunter-Weston decided to undertake limited attacks along the two flanks. On 21 June the French began on the right, capturing the Haricot Redoubt, a Turkish strong point in the Kereves Dere which had proved troublesome in earlier attacks. On 28 June it was the turn of the 29th Division to attack along Gully Spur, Gully Ravine and neighbouring Fir Tree Spur. They had some success, particularly on the left of their line where the Irish regiments were engaged, but the Turks mounted a massive counter attack along Gully Ravine. In the vicious hand to hand fighting that followed two Inniskilling Fusiliers, Captain Gerald O’Sullivan and Corporal James Somers, were awarded the Victoria Cross for recapturing a trench taken by the Turks.
Inspired by the success of these limited attacks, Hunter-Weston ordered another thrust in the centre and on the right for 12 July. However, after some initial success Turkish counter-attacks nullified much of the gains. By now, both sides had fought themselves to a standstill at Helles and the focus of the campaign would shift to the Anzac sector as we will discuss in the next episode.
Image: Map of the landing of the British 29th Division at Cape Helles on April 25, 1915 during the Battle of Gallipoli. The front line established by the night of April 26 is shown by the red dash-dot line. The front line reached by the night of April 27 is shown by the red dotted line. This became the “jumping off” line for the First Battle of Krithia (Public Domian via Wikimedia Commons).