100 years today the Suvla Bay landings, a major milestone in the Gallipoli campaign, commenced. Material digitised from the York and Lancaster Regimental Archive by the First World War Archive Project shows a fascinating glimpse of the campaign, as explored by the project’s Placement Student Aidan Peel.
The Gallipoli campaign lives infamously in British military history as having cost many lives and resources in the attempt to re-open the straits of the Dardanelles in Turkey, which Britain’s Russian allies relied on for access to aid. The amphibious offensive at Suvla Bay in particular was a military failure, plagued with poor judgement and planning from senior officers. Despite the failures of the offensive the many courageous men involved deserve to be remembered with honour
The British 11th (Northern) Division, who were to participate in the landings under Major General F. Hammersley, consisted of three Brigades, numbering 13,700 men and 12 guns. These brigades included voluntary ‘weekend soldiers’ such as the 32nd Brigade, comprised of four Yorkshire regiments under Brigadier General H. Haggard which included the 6th York and Lancaster Regiment.
The Suvla Bay landing was initially planned to be a support operation for the offensive on the Sari Bair straights, however the scale and situation of the enterprise forced the high command to re-adjust the aims. Suvla Bay offered a great deal of space to amass troops and the landings would provide the additional forces needed for an assault on the Sari Bair Ridge from which they could secure a position across the narrow point of the peninsula. For those involved with the landings the primary objectives were to capture the Turkish artillery and secure the hills surrounding the Suvla plain from which an offensive to take the Sari Bair ridge could be progressed. Each regiment was to focus on their own specific objectives which were to be achieved in a strict time frame in order to maintain the initiative and advance before the enemies reserve could be brought up from Bulair. The whole operation itself was kept in upmost secrecy, to the extent that even the officers themselves had little knowledge of the undertaking.
“Bde [Brigade] orders were recd [received] at mid-day on 6th. Till then not a soul below C.O’s [Commanding Officers] had the slightest idea of what was intended as maps of the ASIATIC side had been issued (as a blind to the swarm of spies placed in Egypt) it was thought that a landing was intended here.
The landings themselves took place just before 10pm on the night of the 6th August in perfect conditions, with minimal resistance from Turkish forces upon initial landing. Many of the landings went disastrously as Lighters transporting the troops ran aground far from the beaches and the soldier’s weapons becoming waterlogged as they swam to shore. Nevertheless, the 32nd Brigade landed successfully at Beach B (one of three beaches) with the objective of capturing the settlement at Lala Baba and advancing to Hill 10 to merge with the 34th Brigade and proceed to take Chocolate Hill by first light on 7th.
The success of the landing could not be repeated however, with the 32nd suffering heavy casualties at Lala Baba and becoming hopelessly intermingled with other Brigades milling around on the beach after the confusion of the night landing. The 32nd Brigade therefore failed to join the 34th Brigade upon Hill 10, slowing the British offensive considerably with the result that Hill 10 was eventually captured, although six hours behind schedule.
The capture of Chocolate Hill at first light on 7th had been given upmost importance, but failed to materialize until much later than originally planned. Due to problems landing supplies the men had only the water they had landed with and Hammersley had confused matters by issuing 3 different orders in quick succession, each cancelling the other. These orders arrived at their recipients in varying orders adding to the confusion. The attack was temporarily suspended until 5:30pm. By 7pm the British were able to prise Chocolate Hill away from the hands of the small Turkish force that occupied it, the main Turkish force having withdrawn some time ago. Rather than advancing the high ground gained in the attack, a number of regiments pulled back to the beach and remained there through 8th August.
“Aug 8th Set out about 8am in reserve for 33rd Bde and 10th Div. Things are rather sedate just now.”
Tekke Tepe, lay undefended before them and with the Turkish reinforcements earliest possible arrival estimated as the evening of the 8th it was vital to press forward. Despite this a day of rest was ordered and orders to attack Tekke Tepe were only issued late on 8th.
“Although Hammersley realized that TEKKE TEPE was the key to the situation he never mentioned it in his orders nor did he stress the vitality of pressing on as quickly as possible to the highest point of ANAFARTA RIDGE, whatever happened his orders contained the fatal words, ‘if possible’”
The orders to attack Tekke Tepe contradicted a previous order and caused a frantic scramble to locate and consolidate the various regiments of the 32nd Brigade. The assault on Tekke Tepe eventually began at 4am on 9th. By daylight on the 9th the Turkish reinforcements had arrived, beating the British to the top of the ridge by approximately two hours. Tekke Tepe, undefended since the landings, now proved to be a challenging obstacle which would cause devastating losses for the Allied Forces. The men assaulting Tekke Tepe were already tired and exhausted and stood little chance facing a fierce Turkish force which decimated the 6/ East Yorks and came within 40 yards of 32nd Brigade’s HQ. The Brigade would be unable to establish itself on Tekke Tepe.
The situation in Suvla and the subsequent defeat at Scimitar Hill would prove to be the final blow to British morale in the Gallipoli Campaign. The weather would also deteriorate dramatically, turning to snow and ice within a few months finally forcing the Allied Army to evacuate Suvla in December 1915.