Primary Documents - Sir Ian Hamilton on the Battle of Sari Bair, 6 August 1915

Sir Ian Hamilton Reproduced below is the report by the British Commander-in-Chief of operations in Gallipoli, Sir Ian Hamilton.  Hamilton'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.

Click here to read British Minister of War Lord Kitchener's report on events at Sari Bair.  Click here to read the newspaper account filed by journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.

Generally regarded as a failure - the operation was eventually abandoned in its entirely at the close of 1915.

The Battle of Sari Bair by British Commander-in-Chief Sir Ian Hamilton

The first step in the real push - the step which above all others was to count - was the night attack on the summits of the Sari Bair ridge.

The crest line of this lofty mountain range runs parallel to the sea, dominating the under features contained within the Anzac position, although these fortunately defilade the actual landing-place.  From the main ridge a series of spurs run down towards the level beach, and are separated from one another by deep, jagged gullies choked up with dense jungle.

Two of these leading up to Chunuk Bair are called Chailak Dere and Sazli Beit Dere; another deep ravine runs tip to Koja Chemen Tepe (Hill 305), the topmost peak of the whole ridge, and is called the Aghyl Dere.

It was our object to effect a lodgement along the crest of the high main ridge with two columns of troops, but, seeing the nature of the ground and the dispositions of the enemy, the effort had to be made by stages.  We were bound, in fact, to undertake a double subsidiary operation before we could hope to launch these attacks with any real prospect of success.

(1) The right covering force was to seize Table Top, as well as all other enemy positions commanding the foothills between the Chailak Dere and the Sazli Beit Dere ravines.  If this enterprise succeeded it would open up the ravines for the assaulting columns, whilst at the same time interposing between the right flank of the left covering force and the enemy holding the Sari Bair main ridge.

(2) The left covering force was to march northwards along the beach to seize a hill called Damakjelik Bair, some 1,400 yards north of Table Top.  If successful it would be able to hold out a hand to the Ninth Corps as it landed south of Nibrunesi Point, whilst at the same time protecting the left flank of the left assaulting column against enemy troops from the Anafarta valley during its climb tip the Aghyl Dere ravine.

(3) The right assaulting column was to move up the Chailak Dere and Sazli Beit Dere ravines to the storm of the ridge of Chunuk Bair.

(4) The left assaulting column was to work up the Aghyl Dere and prolong the line of the right assaulting column by storming Hill 305 (Koja Chemen Tepe), the summit of the whole range of hills.

To recapitulate, the two assaulting columns, which were to work up three ravines to the storm of the high ridge, were to be preceded by two covering columns.  One of these was to capture the enemy's positions commanding the foothills, first to open the mouths of the ravines, secondly to cover the right flank of another covering force whilst it marched along the beach.

The other covering column was to strike far out to the north until, from a hill called Damakjelik Bair, it could at the same time facilitate the landing of the Ninth Corps at Nibrunesi Point, and guard the left flank of the column assaulting Sari Bair from any forces of the enemy which might be assembled in the Anafarta valley.

The whole of this big attack was placed under the command of Major-General Sir A. J. Godley, General Officer Commanding New Zealand and Australian Division.

Amongst other stratagems the Anzac troops, assisted by H.M.S. Colne, had long and carefully been educating the Turks how they should lose Old No. 3 Post, which could hardly have been rushed by simple force of arms.  Every night, exactly at 9 p.m., H.M.S. Colne threw the beams of her searchlight onto the redoubt, and opened fire upon it for exactly ten minutes.  Then, after a ten-minute interval, came a second illumination and bombardment, commencing always at 9.20 and ending precisely at 9.30 p.m.

The idea was that, after successive nights of such practice, the enemy would get into the habit of taking the searchlight as a hint to clear out until the shelling was at an end.  But on the eventful night of the 6th, the sound of their footsteps drowned by the loud cannonade, unseen as they crept along in that darkest shadow which fringes the searchlight's beam - came the right covering column.

At 9.30 the light switched off, and instantly our men poured out of the scrub jungle and into the empty redoubt.  By 11 p.m. the whole series of surrounding entrenchments were ours.

Once the capture of Old No. 3 Post was fairly under way, the remainder of the right covering column carried on with their attack upon Bauchop's Hill and the Chailak Dere.  By 10 p.m. the northernmost point, with its machine gun, was captured, and by 1 o'clock in the morning the whole of Bauchop's Hill, a maze of ridge and ravine, everywhere entrenched, was fairly in our hands.

The attack along the Chailak Dere was not so cleanly carried out - made, indeed, just about as ugly a start as any enemy could wish.  Pressing eagerly forward through the night, the little column of stormers found themselves held up by a barbed-wire erection of unexampled height, depth, and solidity, which completely closed the river bed - that is to say, the only practicable entrance to the ravine.

The entanglement was flanked by a strongly-held enemy trench running right across the opening of the Chailak Dere.  Here that splendid body of men, the Otago Mounted Rifles, lost some of their bravest and their best, but in the end, when things were beginning to seem desperate, a passage was forced through the stubborn obstacle with most conspicuous and cool courage by Captain Shera and a party of New Zealand Engineers, supported by the Maoris, who showed themselves worthy descendants of the warriors of the Gate Pah.

Thus was the mouth of the Chailak Dere opened in time to admit of the unopposed entry of the right assaulting column.

Simultaneously the attack on Table Top had been launched under cover of a heavy bombardment from H.M.S. Colne.  No general on peace manoeuvres would ask troops to attempt so break-neck an enterprise.  The flanks of Table Top are so steep that the height gives an impression of a mushroom shape-of the summit bulging out over its stem.

But just as faith moves mountains, so valour can carry them.  The Turks fought bravely. T he angle of Table Top's ascent is recognized in our regulations as "impracticable for infantry."  But neither Turks nor angles of ascent were destined to stop Russell or his New Zealanders that night.  There are moments during battle when life becomes intensified, when men become supermen, when the impossible becomes simple -and this was one of those moments.  The scarped heights were scaled, the plateau was carried by midnight.

With this brilliant feat the task of the right covering force was at an end.  Its attacks had been made with the bayonet .and bomb only; magazines were empty by order; hardly a rifle shot had been fired.  Some 150 prisoners were captured, as well as many rifles and much equipment, ammunition and stores.  No words can do justice to the achievement of Brigadier-General Russell and his men.  There are exploits which must be seen to be realized.

The right assaulting column had entered the two southerly ravines - Sazli Beit Dere and Chailak Dere - by midnight.  At 1.30 a.m. began a hotly-contested fight for the trenches on the lower part of Rhododendron Spur, whilst the Chailak Dere column pressed steadily up the valley against the enemy.

The left covering column, under Brigadier-General Travers, after marching along the beach to No. 3 Outpost, resumed its northerly advance as soon as the attack on Bauchop's Hill had developed.

Once the Chailak Dere was cleared the column moved by the mouth of the Aghyl Dere, disregarding the enfilade fire from sections of Bauchop's Hill still uncaptured.  The rapid success of this movement was largely due to Lieutenant-Colonel Gillespie, a very fine man, who commanded the advance guard, consisting of his own regiment, the Fourth South Wales Borderers, a corps worthy of such a leader.

Every trench encountered was instantly rushed by the Borderers, until, having reached the predetermined spot, the whole column was unhesitatingly launched at Damakjelik Bair. Several Turkish trenches were captured at the bayonet's point, and by 1.30 a.m. the whole of the hill was occupied, thus safeguarding the left rear of the whole of the Anzac attack.

Here was an encouraging sample of what the New Army, under good auspices, could accomplish.  Nothing more trying to inexperienced troops can be imagined than a long night march, exposed to flanking fire, through a strange country, winding up at the end with a bayonet charge against a height, formless and still in the starlight, garrisoned by those spectres of the imagination, worst enemies of the soldier.

The left assaulting column crossed the Chailak Dere at 12.30 a.m., and entered the Aghyl Dere at the heels of the left covering column.  The surprise, on this side, was complete.  Two Turkish officers were caught in their pyjamas; enemy arms and ammunition were scattered in every direction.

The grand attack was now in full swing, but the country gave new sensations in cliff climbing even to officers and men who had graduated over the goat tracks of Anzac.  The darkness of the night, the density of the scrub, hands and knees progress up the spurs, sheer physical fatigue, exhaustion of the spirit caused by repeated hairbreadth escapes from the hail of random bullets - all these combined to take the edge of the energies of our troops.

At last, after advancing some distance tip the Aghyl Dere, the column split up into two parts.  The Fourth Australian Brigade struggled, fighting hard as they went, up to the north of the northern fork of the Aghyl Dere, making for Hill 305 (Koja Chemen Tepe).  The Twenty-ninth Indian Infantry Brigade scrambled up the southern fork of the Aghyl Dere and the spurs north of it to the attack of a portion of the Sari Bair ridge known as Hill Q.

Dawn broke, and the crest line was not yet in our hands, although, considering all things, the left assaulting column had made a marvellous advance.  The Fourth Australian Infantry Brigade was on the line of the Asmak Dere (the next ravine north of the Aghyl Dere) and the Twenty-ninth Indian Infantry Brigade held the ridge west of the farm below Chunuk Bair and along the spurs to the northeast.

The enemy had been flung back from ridge to ridge; an excellent line for the renewal of the attack had been secured, and (except for the exhaustion of the troops) the auspices were propitious.

Turning to the right assaulting column, one battalion, the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, clambered slowly up the Sazli Beit Dere.  The remainder of the force, led by the Otago Battalion, wound their way amongst the pitfalls and forced their passage through the scrub of the Chailak Dere, where fierce opposition forced them ere long to deploy.

Here, too, the hopeless country was the main hindrance, and it was not until 5.45 a.m. that the bulk of the column joined the Canterbury Battalion on the lower slopes of Rhododendron Spur.  The whole force then moved up the spur, gaining touch with the left assaulting column by means of the Tenth Gurkhas, in face of very heavy fire and frequent bayonet charges.  Eventually they entrenched on the top of Rhododendron Spur, a quarter of a mile short of Chunuk Bair - i.e., of victory.

At 7 a.m., the Fifth and Sixth Gurkhas, belonging to the left assaulting column, had approached the main ridge northeast of Chunuk Bair, whilst, on their left, the Fourteenth Sikhs had got into touch with the Fourth Australian Brigade on the southern watershed of the Asmak Dere.

The Fourth Australian Brigade now received orders to leave half a battalion to hold the spur, and, with the rest of its strength, plus the Fourteenth Sikhs, to assault Hill 305 (Koja Chemen Tepe). But by this time the enemy's opposition had hardened, and his reserves were moving up from the direction of Battleship Hill.

Artillery support was asked for and given, yet by 9 a.m. the attack of the right assaulting column on Chunuk Bair was checked, and any idea of a further advance on Koja Chemen Tepe had to be, for the moment, suspended.  The most that could be done was to hold fast to the Asmak Dere watershed whilst attacking the ridge northeast of Chunuk Bair, an attack to be supported by a fresh assault launched against Chunuk Bair itself.

At 9.30 a.m. the two assaulting columns pressed forward whilst our guns pounded the enemy moving along the Battleship Hill spurs.  But in spite of all their efforts their increasing exhaustion, as opposed to the gathering strength of the enemy's fresh troops, began to tell - they had shot their bolt.

So all day they clung to what they had captured, and strove to make ready for the night.  At 11 a.m. three battalions of the Thirty-ninth Infantry Brigade were sent up from the general reserve to be at hand when needed, and, at the same hour, one more battalion of the reserve was dispatched to the First Australian Division to meet the drain caused by all the desperate Lone Pine fighting.

By the afternoon the position of the two assaulting columns was unchanged.  The right covering force were in occupation of Table Top, Old No. 3 Post and Bauchop Hill, which General Russell had been ordered to maintain with two regiments of mounted infantry.

At 4.30 a.m. on August 9th, the Chunuk Bair ridge and Hill Q were heavily shelled.  The naval guns, all the guns on the left flank, and as many as possible from the right flank (whence the enemy's advance could be enfiladed) took part in this cannonade, which rose to its climax at 5.15 a.m., when the whole ridge seemed a mass of flame and smoke, whence huge clouds of dust drifted slowly upwards in strange patterns on to the sky.  At 5.16 a.m. this tremendous bombardment was to be switched off on to the flanks and reverse slopes of the heights.

General Baldwin's column had assembled in the Chailak Dere, and was moving up towards General Johnston's headquarters.  Our plan contemplated the massing of this column immediately behind the trenches held by the New Zealand Infantry Brigade.  Thence it was intended to launch the battalions in successive lines, keeping them as much as possible on the high ground.

Infinite trouble had been taken to insure that the narrow track should be kept clear, guides also were provided; but in spite of all precautions the darkness, the rough scrub-covered country, its sheer steepness, so delayed the column that they were unable to take full advantage of the configuration of the ground, and, inclining to the left, did not reach the line of the Farm - Chunuk Bair - till 5.15 a.m.

In plain English, Baldwin, owing to the darkness and the awful country, lost his way - through no fault of his own.  The mischance was due to the fact that time did not admit of the detailed careful reconnaissance of routes which is so essential where operations are to be carried out by night.

And now, under that fine leader, Major C. G. L. Allanson, the Sixth Gurkhas of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade pressed up the slopes of Sari Bair, crowned the heights of the col between Chunuk Bair and Hill Q, viewed far beneath them the waters of the Hellespont, viewed the Asiatic shores along which motor transport was bringing supplies to the lighters.

Not only did this battalion, as well as some of the Sixth South Lancashire Regiment, reach the crest, but they began to attack down the far side of it, firing as they went at the fast-retreating enemy.

But the fortune of war was against us.  At this supreme moment Baldwin's column was still a long way from our trenches on the crest of Chunuk Bair, whence they should even now have been sweeping out towards Q along the whole ridge of the mountain.  And instead of Baldwin's support came suddenly a salvo of heavy shell.

These falling so unexpectedly among the stormers threw them into terrible confusion.  The Turkish commander saw his chance.  Instantly his troops were rallied and brought back in a counter-charge, and the South Lancashires and Gurkhas, who had seen the promised land, and had seemed for a moment to have held victory in their grasp, were forced backwards over the crest, and on to the lower slopes whence they had first started.

But where was the main attack - where was Baldwin?  When that bold but unlucky commander found he could not possibly reach our trenches on the top of Chunuk Bail in time to take effective part in the fight, he deployed for attack where he stood - i.e., at the farm to the left of the New Zealand Brigade's trenches on Rhododendron Spur.

Now his men were coming on in fine style, and, just as the Turks topped the ridge with shouts of elation, two companies of the Sixth East Lancashire Regiment, together with the Tenth Hampshire Regiment, charged up our side of the slope with the bayonet.  They had gained the high ground immediately below the commanding knoll on Chunuk Bair, and a few minutes earlier would have joined hands with the Gurkhas and South Lancashires, and, combined with them, would have carried all before them.  But the Turks by this time were lining the whole of the high crest in overwhelming numbers.

The New Army troops attacked with a fine audacity, but they were flung back from the height and then pressed still further down the slope, until General Baldwin had to withdraw his command to the vicinity of the Farm, whilst the enemy, much encouraged, turned their attention to the New Zealand troops and the two New Army battalions of No. 1 Column still holding the southwest half of the main knoll of Chunuk Bair.

Constant attacks, urged with fanatical peristence, were met here with a sterner resolution, and although, at the end of the day, our troops were greatly exhausted, they still kept their footing on the summit.  And if that summit meant much to us, it meant even more to the Turks.

At daybreak on Tuesday, August 10th, the Turks delivered a grand attack from the line Chunuk Bair Hill Q against these two battalions, already weakened in numbers, though not in spirit, by previous fighting.

First our men were shelled by every enemy gun, and then, at 5.30 a.m., were assaulted by a huge column, consisting of no less than a full division plus a regiment of three battalions.  The North Lancashire men were simply overwhelmed in their shallow trenches by sheer weight of numbers, whilst the Wilts, who were caught out in the open, were literally almost annihilated.

The ponderous masses of the enemy swept over the crest, turned the right flank of our line below, swarmed round the Hampshires and General Baldwin's column, which had to give ground, and were only extricated with great difficulty and very heavy losses.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A "gutzer" was slang for a stroke of bad luck.

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Primary Docs