Primary Documents - Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett on the Battle of Sari Bair, 6 August 1915
Reproduced below is a newspaper report filed by British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett relating to operations in Gallipoli. Ashmead-Bartlett's account deals with operations initiated on 6 August 1915 - the landings at Suvla Bay - and specifically with the ultimately unsuccessful Battle of Sari Bair.
In contrast to his later letter to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (which eventually was smuggled into Britain to evade censorship: the letter was highly critical of the Allied campaign), Ashmead-Bartlett's report on Sari Bair exuded a sense of exhilaration.
Generally regarded as a failure - the Gallipoli operation was eventually abandoned in its entirely at the close of 1915.
The Battle of Sari Bair by Journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett
The great battle, the greatest fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula, closed on the evening of August 10th.
Both armies then busily engaged in consolidating their new positions, in taking stock of gains and losses, replenishing their ammunition and munitions, and reorganizing the divisions, brigades, and battalions which of necessity became intermingled in this rugged, mountainous country.
I have visited the ground over which the Anzac corps advanced in its desperate efforts, extending over four consecutive days, to reach the crest of Sari Bair, commanding the ridge overlooking the Dardanelles.
The New Zealand infantry, the Gurkhas, and some other battalions almost reached the objective, but were unable, through no fault of their own, to hold their position. A battalion of Gurkhas actually reached the crest of the plateau, but the Turks, taking advantage of the confusion, counter-attacked in great force, and the gallant men from the hills were driven from the crest to the lower spurs beneath.
It was a bitter disappointment to have to relinquish the crest when it almost seemed to be within their grasp after so many months, but there was no alternative. The Anzac corps fought like lions and accomplished a feat of arms in climbing these heights almost without a parallel. All through, however, they were handicapped by the failure of the corps to make good its positions on the Anafarta hills, further north, and thus check the enemy's shell fire.
When all the details of these complicated arrangements are collected and sifted, they will form one of the most fascinating pages of the history of the whole war. It was a combat of giants in a giant country, and if one point stands out more than another it is the marvellous hardihood, tenacity, and reckless courage shown by the Australians and New Zealanders.
The main force debouched from the Anzac position in Lone Pine - a position situated on a plateau 400 feet high, southeast of the Anzac lines. The Australians rushed forward to the assault with the fury of fanatics, taking little heed of the tremendous shrapnel fire and enfilading rifle fire.
On reaching the trenches the great difficulty was to force a way in, for the cover was so strong and heavy it had to be torn away by main force. Groups of men effected entrances at various points and jumped in on top of the Turks, who fought furiously, caught as they were, in a trap.
Some surrendered, but the majority chose to die fighting. In every trench and sap and dugout desperate hand-to-hand fighting took place, four lines of trenches being captured in succession, and fresh infantry being poured in as the advancing lines were thinned by losses.
In this fighting bombs played the most important role, and it was only by keeping up and increasing the supply that the Australians were able to hold the position after it had been won. The Turks massed their force, and for three nights and days made desperate counter-attacks, frequently retaking sections of the line, only to be driven out again.
In this extraordinary struggle, which took place almost under ground, both sides fought with utter disregard of life. The wounded and dead choked the trenches almost to the top, but the survivors carried on the fight over heaps of bodies. In spite of immense reinforcements, with most determined courage the Australians held the ground thus won, and finally the Turks wearied of the struggle.
The trenches were now merely battered shambles, and the task of removing the dead and wounded took days to accomplish. The bodies of 1,000 Turks and Colonials were removed from the trenches alone, while hundreds of others lie outside. The total Turkish losses in this section alone are estimated at 5,000, chiefly incurred in furious counterattacks, among which each bomb burst with fearful effect.
The capture of Lone Pine is the most desperate hand-to-hand fight that has taken place on the peninsula, but this was but a diversion and preliminary to the main movement northward, which began the same evening tinder cover of darkness.
No finer feat has been accomplished in the course of the war than the manner in which the troops destined for the main movement against Sari Bair Ridge were deployed for the attack. Millions of rounds of ammunition and thousands of shells were successfully concentrated at advanced posts without the enemy becoming aware of the movement. Neither did he know of the strong reinforcements which had reached the Australian corps. All this required the utmost skill, and was successfully kept a profound secret.
It was at 9 p.m., August 6th, when the force crept forward from the outposts. For nights past the navy had thrown searchlights on this and other lower positions and had bombarded them at frequent intervals. This procedure was not departed from on the 6th, and the Turks had no suspicion of the coming attack. When the lights were switched on to another position the Australians dashed forward and speedily captured the positions in succession, and throughout the night Bauchop's Hill and Big and Little Table Tops were occupied.
By the morning of the 7th our whole force was holding the front and slowly moving toward the main Sari Bair position in face of great difficulties, harassed by the enemy's snipers and checked by the difficulties of the ground and the scarcity of water. It was decided to postpone a further advance until nightfall. The forces were reorganized into three columns.
For the final assault on Chunuk Bair, which was timed to begin at dawn on August 9th, large reserves from another division were thrown into the firing line to assist the New Zealand and Indian infantry, and the men, as far as possible, rested through the day and the early part of the night.
The advance on the morning of the 9th was preceded by a heavy bombardment of Chunuk Bair and Q Hill by the naval and land guns. The advance of No. 3 column was delayed by the broken nature of the ground and the enemy's resistance.
Meanwhile the Gurkhas charged gallantly up the slope of Sari Bair, and actually succeeded in reaching the heights on the neck between Chunuk Bair and Q Hill. It was from here that they looked down on the Dardanelles, but were unfortunately unable to hold the position in face of violent counter-attacks and heavy shell fire.
During this time the Turks counter-attacked the left column in great strength, and the column was compelled to withdraw to the lower slopes of Sari Bair.
Meantime throughout the day and night the New Zealanders succeeded in maintaining their hold on Chunuk Bair, although the men were thoroughly exhausted. During the night of the 9th the exhausted New Zealanders were relieved by two other regiments. At dawn the Tenth Regiment of the Turks, which had been strongly reinforced, made a desperate assault on our lines from Q Hill and Chunuk Bair.
To the strength of a division, in successive lines, they hurled themselves, quite regardless of their lives, on the two regiments which, after desperate resistance, were driven from their position by artillery fire and sheer weight of numbers further down the slopes of Chunuk Bair.
Following up their success, the Turks charged right over the crest and endeavoured to gain the great gully south of Rhododendron Ridge, evidently with the intention of forcing their way between our lines and the Anzac position. But they had reckoned without our artillery and ships' guns. This great charge of four successive lines of infantry in close formation was plainly visible to our warships and all our batteries on land.
In this section the Turks were caught in a trap. The momentum of their charge down hill prevented them from recoiling in time, and they were swept away by hundreds in a terrific storm of high explosive shrapnel, and common shells from the ships' guns and our howitzers and field pieces.
As the shells from the ships exploded, huge chunks of soil were thrown into the air, amid which you saw human bodies hurled aloft and then chucked to earth or thrown bodily into deep ravines. But even this concentrated artillery fire might not have checked the Turkish advance, unless it had been assisted by the concentrated fire of ten machine guns at short range. For half an hour they maintained a rapid fire until the guns smoked with heat.
During the whole of this time the Turks were pouring across the front in dense columns, attempting to attack our men. Hardly a Turk got back to the hill. Their lines got mixed up in a wedge as those in front tried to retire while others pressed them from the rear. Some fled back over the crest, seeking to regain their trenches; others dashed downward to the ravines. In a few minutes the entire division had been broken up and the survivors scattered everywhere.
If they succeeded in driving us from the crest of Chunuk Bair, the Turks paid a terrible price for their success. Thus closed, amid these bloodstained hills, the most ferocious and sustained "soldiers' battle" since Inkerman.
Source: Source Records
of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "lazy liz" was a heavy artillery shell fired by the Allied battleship Queen Elizabeth.
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