A Turkish View of the August Offensive
By Kenan Celik
Onsekiz Mart Universitesi, Cannakale 2000 Australian War Memorial Visiting Scholar
Immediately after the battles for Kereviz Dere and Gully Ravine on Gallipoli in July 1915, the question facing Turkish commanders was: would the allies continue their bloody attacks or would they give up the Gallipoli campaign? One thing was certain: nothing was happening on the peninsula. It was like the silence before a thunderstorm. In Turkish headquarters, commanders considered several options until Winston Churchill's speech in Dundee settled the matter: the British would continue the campaign, whatever the sacrifices. Commanders on Gallipoli and Enver Pasha, Minister for War in Istanbul, made plans to counter new offensives.
In the middle of July, the Fifth Turkish Army on Gallipoli was reorganised. The Asian Group, consisting of three divisions supported by the Canakkale Gendarme Battalion, was positioned on the eastern side of the Dardanelles. Six divisions were positioned on the south of the Gallipoli peninsula. Four divisions - the 5th, 9th, 16th and 19th - were stationed at ANZAC. At Sulva, near ANZAC, there were only four battalions, two of infantry and two of gendarme. Further north, the 4th Calvary Brigade defended the Tayfur region. The Saros Group covered Bolayir, Enez and Kavak consisted of the 6th, 7th and 12th divisions of the 16th Army Corps.
Meanwhile, the new Turkish commander, Vehip Pasha, applied a new tactical plan. Previously, many Turkish soldiers under German command were wasted in counter-attacks. This caused friction between the German commander, General Sanders, and Vehip Pasha. The issue was referred to Enver Pasha in Istanbul. Enver visited Cape Helles to assess the situation. With Vehip, Enver climbed to the top of Alcitepe, which dominated the region. Vehip ordered his artillery to fire on British positions. British artillery responded with a much heavier and more destructive barrage of their own. Having demonstrated his point, Vehip asked Enver to imagine the effect on Turkish soldiers if they attacked on this fire. Enver agreed, saying, "You are right. Stay in the trenches. No more bloody counter-attacks." Later, Vehip said that Sanders continued to order the Turkish forces to "push the enemy into the sea," but everyone knew it was impossible. The Turks in Cape Helles mostly stayed in their defensive positions and did not mount any more counter-attacks.
Day by day, rumours of a new landing gained momentum. On 17 July 1915, Enver sent a telegram to Gallipoli, warning 5th Army Headquarters of invasion possibilities. He was particularly worried about Bolayir and Enez at the Gulf of Saros. He advised Sanders to deploy two Turkish corps there. Sanders disagreed and did not deploy the corps there. If he had, he would not have been able to redeploy them back to ANZAC and Sulva in August.
Sanders wrote to Corps Headquarters, asking their opinions of possible offensives. Vehip, commander in the south, responded that he did not expect an attack on his line. He thought a break out at ANZAC, combined with a landing either north or south of ANZAC, more likely. Esad Pasha, Vehip's brother, expected a break out towards Gaba Tepe, south of ANZAC. He did not expect a break out north, towards Chunuk Bair and Hill 971 (Kocacimen Tepe). Both thought a new landing, supported by a strong offensive from forces at ANZAC or Cape Helles, the most probable likelihood. However, Cape Helles was surrounded on three sides by sea, so an offensive east or west was impossible. ANZAC, on the other hand, could support a landing either north or south.
At the same time, Mustafa Kemal, who was not a corps commander but commander of the 19th Division at ANZAC, worried about the north of ANZAC. He could read Hamilton's and Birdwood's minds very clearly. Two months before the August operations, he warned the Fifth Army's chief of staff, Kazim Bey, that north of ANZAC Turkish defences were weak. Kazim agreed and said necessary measures would be taken to shore up the area. However, nothing had been done. Mustafa Kemal continued writing to 3rd Army Corps Headquarters about the problem. Finally, Ehad Pasha and his chief of staff, Fahrettin Bey, visited the 19th Division's headquarters to discuss the matter. Mustafa Kemal took them to the crest of Battleship Hill. From there he pointed out Sazli Dere, Agil Dere and Suvla (Anafartalar).
It was 1 June 1915 when Mustafa Kemal explained his views on the north of ANZAC and Suvla. The panoramic view from Battleship Hill a landscape laced with gullies stretching towards Suvla. It was like a maze, very confusing. Seeing this, the chief of staff said, "Only the bandits can walk in these gullies." Esad, commander of the 3rd Army Corps, asked, "From what direction will the enemy come?" Mustafa Kemal pointed toward ANZAC and Suvla. "There," he said.
"Okay. Suppose they came through there. How could they move?"
Mustafa Kemal drew a half circle from ANZAC towards Chunuk Bair (Conk Bayiri). "Like that, sir" he said. The corps commander smiled and patted Mustafa Kemal's shoulders. "You do not need to worry because they will not do it."
Defeated, Mustafa Kemal said, "God willing, may it happen the way you think sir."
Instead, on 6 August 1915 it happened the way Mustafa Kemal had outlined. "I do not know how the Corps Commander and the others reacted to my warnings I had already done." In the end, Esad had only placed the 14th Regiment in the north of ANZAC. The area had remained weakly held. In the end, Sanders moved the 11th Division from the eastern bank of the Dardanelles to the hills near ANZAC and combined the 11th Division with the 4th and 8th Divisions to form an Army corps under Faik Pasha.
On 4 August, Turks at ANZAC noticed activity between Lone Pine and Gaba Tepe. Australians were digging new trenches parallel to their lines and new advance lines. The same process was reported at Cape Helles. British troops were building new piers on the beaches there. Meanwhile, the Turkish build up continued. The number of the Turks on the peninsula reached its highest figure, almost 150.000 men.
As is well known, Hamilton received 50,000 reinforcements. Almost half of them reinforced the ANZACs, increasing the number of ANZACs to 37,000 men. A breakout was planned from ANZAC towards Sari Bair, including Hill 971, Chunuk Bair and Hill Q, combined with a landing in Suvla.
To confuse the Turkish defenders, Hamilton ordered several diversions. A British naval squadron commanded by Admiral Nicholson bombarded Sigacik Koyu (cove) near Izmir (Smyrna). Troops were landed on Greek islands near Turkey. Orders were issued to print maps of the whole of Turkey. And 300 Greek pioneers, commanded by Lieutenant Gruparis landed between Karacali and Sazlidere near Enez.
British Diversion at Cape Helles
On 6 August, British artillery and naval guns opened fire on Turkish positions at 2.30 pm. The bombardment lasted two and a half hours. The 88th British Brigade attacked Turkish lines and captured some Turkish trenches. During counter-attacks, the Turkish 30th Regiment regained the trenches lost to the British. Having lost the trenches, the British artillery and Navy again bombarded the Turkish trenches and followed with another attack. The British briefly reoccupied the Turkish trenches, but then were driven back again by Turkish counter-attacks. On the following day, the British 42nd Division attacked after a preliminary bombardment at 9.40 am. Attack and counter-attack lasted until 13 August. The Turks lost about 7,000 men (wounded and killed) in Cape Helles. However, Vehip Pasha knew these were diversions on his lines. He dispatched two available regiments to his brother Esad at ANZAC, where they were urgently needed. They were the 28th and 41st Regiments. Later, Mustafa Kemal made his overwhelming charge on Chunuk Bair at a critical time using the 28th Regiment.
Fighting at Lone Pine
Two Turkish divisions were holding Ariburnu (ANZAC). They were Mustafa Kemal`s 19th Division consisting of the 72nd, 18th, 27th, and 57th Regiments, and the 16th Division, consisting of the 125th, 47th, 48th and 77th Regiments. On 6 August at 5.30 am, five transports were seen on the beaches of ANZAC. Turkish artillery opened fire on them immediately. Ammunition boxes were being carried to the front line and the reserves were moving. The Turkish trenches at Lone Pine were being bombarded. These were the things Turks noticed on the day before the attack at Pine Ridge. When it was 4.30 pm, the rate of fire at Lone Pine increased. The fire directed onto Lone Pine was the heaviest ever seen in ANZAC. The Turkish trenches at Lone Pine had roofs to protect the men underneath. They also had loopholes to shoot through across no man's land. It was believed that they were strong and reliable, but in the heavy howitzer fire coming from Russel's Top, all the Turkish roofs collapsed and blocked the trenches and communication lines underneath. Two battalions from the 47th Regiment were holding these roofed trenches. Most of the men holding the trenches were either killed or wounded in the bombardment and those who survived were made crazy by shells detonated in the tunnels.
Esad Pasha, watching this bombardment, moved the 13th Regiment forward as reinforcements. He also ordered the 15th Regiment to Lone Pine. What's more, the 64th Regiment was ordered to go closer to the Turkish lines at ANZAC. All available guns were ordered to fire on Lone Pine in the event the Australians attacked. Even a Turkish mortar, which had only 21 shells, was ordered to fire on Lone Pine. At 5.30 pm, the British barrage moved backward to concentrate on the Turkish communication trenches. Simultaneously, Australians came out of the lines in two waves, and then were immediately followed by a third wave. Australians were fighting very well and soon they occupied two lines of the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. They occupied not only the Turkish front-line trenches but also advanced as far as the line of knolls.
We later discovered what happened during the initial fighting. When Turks regained some trenches in bloody counter-attacks, they found Turks and ANZACs lying dead and stuck together. In one place, there were two men - Australian and Turk - who had bayoneted each other and were frozen in standing position, still holding their rifles.
In the counter-attacks, the Turks were not able to push the Australians back from the lines they had occupied. When the 15th Regiment got to Lone Pine, they counter-attacked at 11 pm and fighting lasted until the next day. But nothing changed. The battle of Lone Pine (Kanli Sirt Muharebesi) was mostly hand-grenade fighting. Many, many hand-grenades were used in the fighting. The commander of the 15th Regiment, Ibrahim Sukru, and the commander of the 47th Regiment, Tevfik Bey, were both killed by hand-grenades.
More Turkish reinforcements were thrown into Lone Pine. These were the 10th, 11th, 25th and 64th Regiments. But they did not attack at Lone Pine because there was another dangerous development at Chunuk Bair, in the north of ANZAC. These four regiments were dispatched to that ground. Counter-attacks continued until 10 August. Some sections of the second Turkish line were regained but then the fighting ended. The Battle of Lone Pine lasted three days and four nights. The five Turkish regiments involved at Lone Pine lost 7,164 men (1,520 killed, 4,700 wounded, 760 missing and 134 captured).
Australian losses were 2,000. From these figures, it is easy to see that allied firepower was far superior. Australians argue that Lone Pine was a diversion, but the Turkish experience does not support this view. It was more than a diversion. If we consider all the attacks planned in ANZAC -at the Nek, Pope's Hill and on German Officer's Ridge - it becomes clear that the objective was to push the ANZAC lines as far as the Third Ridge. The ground gained there was as big as a tennis court or hundred metres long, measured against all these sacrifices.
When the battle of Lone Pine started, Mustafa Kemal watched from his commanding position. Seeing the fighting, he immediately ordered his guns to fire on the ridge at Lone Pine. He also moved one battalion to reinforce. He could see Australian infantry moving across no man's land almost unopposed by the Turkish infantry. He wondered what was wrong there. Later he learned that Tevfik Bey, commander of the 47th Regiment, had formed the habit of moving his men back to covered trenches so as not to suffer heavy losses during bombardments. This was a serious mistake, especially in ANZAC where the trenches were so close. Naturally the Turkish infantry would not have time to come through the tunnels after bombardments ceased to reoccupy the trenches they had abandoned.
The Director of Military Operations in Canakkale (Gallipoli), Lieutenant Colonel Kemal Bey - not Mustafa Kemal - said that heavy howitzer fire came from Yuksek Sirt (Russel's Top) onto Lone Pine. On Russel's Top, the New Zealand artillery was camouflaged very well. What's more, the Turks were not used to howitzer fire and this shocked them.
Light Horse Charge at the Nek
On the night of 6 August, the trenches held by Mustafa Kemal's 19th Division were bombarded by British artillery and Navy guns. Kemal could also hear crack of the rifle-fire coming from the north of ANZAC. He knew something was going on there. He concentrated on his line because he knew there would be a strong attack coming. At the same time, he could not help watching what was happening elsewhere. He took strong measures to repulse the expected attack, moving reserves closer to the lines. He issued orders for his troops to keep vigilant watch through the night. He did not sleep either, watching the battlefield from his observation post. An officer and a few men from the 14th Regiment, deployed in the north, came to Mustafa Kemal's Headquarters. They reported that their whole regiment had been wiped out. Kemal's 19th Division now risked being outflanked.
On the morning of 7 August, just before 4 am, the Turkish trenches were again heavily bombarded. Trenches and dugouts were destroyed. After 45 minutes of bombardment, the ANZACs charged the lines held by the 19th Division. The attack was repulsed, though ANZACs occupied some Turkish trenches in the center and on the right. Soon after, the Turks counter-attacked and wiped out the ANZACs in the Turkish trenches. Repeated attacks at Cesarettepe (The Nek) all failed. Mustafa Kemal could see the Light Horse attacks at Cesarettepe. He said he could see light horsemen trying to come out of the lines but as soon as they emerged, Turkish fire wiped them out.
Mustafa Kemal, seeing crises developing behind him, despatched one battalion from the 14th Regiment and two companies from the 72nd Regiment to Chunuk Bair. When the battalion arrived, they reported that the situation was critical. Mustafa Kemal ordered the battalion commander to hold the ground at all costs. Two companies, although weak, held the ridges from Chunuk Bair to Besim Tepe (Hill Q). Two other companies were able to hold the south of Chunuk Bair. These were the first units to block the advance of the New Zealanders. Finally, the 64th and 25th Regiments of the 9th Division arrived to reinforce. The 25th Regiment reinforced the two companies from the 77th Regiment and the 64th Regiment reinforced the two companies from the 14th Regiment on the right. Soon after this, Kannengiesser, commander of the 9th Division, was wounded and replaced by his chief of staff, Hulusi Bey. Chunuk Bair was heavily bombarded and then the New Zealanders attacked again. The Turkish 1/14th Battalion was hard-pressed to repel the attack until the 25th Regiment arrived with new reinforcements. Meanwhile Cemil Conk was appointed as the new commander of the ground. In the evening, the 11th Battalion of 4th Division also arrived to reinforce. Five machine-guns were also brought to Chunuk Bair.
In the north of ANZAC, the 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment were surprised and scattered. Suffering many losses, they retreated to the slopes of Asma Dere where the 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, reinforced them. The Turks checked the Australian advance there.
In the fighting on Chunuk Bair, the commander of the 25th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Kisiklili Nail and his battalion Commander Vidinli Mehmet Ali were both shot. The men were out of control there.
On the night of 7-8 August, Cemil Conk, the 9th Division commander, was planning a counter-attack to regain Sahin Sirt (Rhododendron Ridge). He spent the night at the 64th Regiment headquarters. Heavy fire was coming from sea and land artillery. Seeing this fire, the commander of the 64th Regiment advised against a counter-attack because it would be very costly under such heavy fire. Following this advice, Cemil Bey agreed.
Today we know that this was a serious mistake. That night, the Wellington Regiment from New Zealand occupied the Turkish trenches by surprise attack. This occurred despite there being 12 Turkish battalions in the area. However, they were mixed up. When the New Zealanders occupied the trenches in the attack, the Turks did not know if they were friend or enemy. One Turkish officer watching the action reported to Mustafa Kemal, "Some men are moving from the seaside along Sahin Sirti to Chunuk Bair and I do not know whether they are enemy or Turks." Later on, the same officer said that they were digging on Chunuk Bair. Mustafa Kemal thought they were enemy troops and worried about the confusion there.
Mustafa Kemal's headquarters overlooked Chunuk Bair. Seeing the crisis, Kemal felt obliged to do something. He despatched his aide-de-camp to Chunuk Bair to report. But the aide was shot on the way. Next, Kemal sent his chief of staff. The chief of staff reported that the situation was critical. In fact, Kemal's headquarters was under fire from Chunuk Bair and some of his men were wounded. When the 10th Regiment arrived as reinforcements, Kemal immediately dispatched them to Chunuk Bair.
Nuri Bey, who was Mustafa Kemal's friend, telephoned and asked about Chunuk Bair, saying, "At the Corps Headquarters they told me to attack on Chunuk Bair but I did not know the ground and asked for details. When I asked for the details, Esad Pasha and his chief of staff said angrily, 'There is no point in talking, just go'. Tell me, who is the commander there?" Answering this question, Mustafa Kemal said, "Go to Chunuk Bair immediately and the time and circumstances will decide who is the commander there."
Obviously there was a leadership problem there. At the beginning, the German officer Kannengiesser was commander but he was shot. His chief of staff took command but he was also shot. Cemil Bey was appointed as the new commander, but when the 8th Division arrived, Ali Riza Bey became the commander. What's more, Sanders appointed another German officer named Potrih as the commander of the 9th Division. This made things even more confusing. Another decision shifted responsibility of Hill 971 to the Suvla Corps. Chunuk Bair was the responsibility of the 3rd Army headquarters. The Turks had moved more men than needed to Chunuk Bair but they lacked coordination and leadership. They were not directed by capable hands.
Once more Mustafa Kemal called the 3rd Army Headquarters at Kemal Yeri and warned them about the critical situation there. He did not know whether the enemy had taken the strategic hill or not, but his officers reported that the enemy was filling sandbags to improve the lines. The men from the 25th and 64th Regiments were about 25-30 metres away from the enemy there. Finally, on 8 August, Mustafa Kemal was called by Sander's chief of staff, Kazim Bey. Kazim Bey asked, on behalf of Sanders, for Mustafa Kemal's opinion on Chunuk Bair. Mustafa Kemal said, "It is very critical and if you do not take the final option, the only remaining one to correct it, it will be disaster." In his opinion the final option was to bring all the available men under one command. "You should combine all the men under one leadership and make me the commander of them." The chief of staff replied, "Isn't it too much?" Mustafa Kemal said, "Even it is less than necessary you will see."
Mustafa Kemal takes command of Suvla (Anafartalar)
Meanwhile, when the 16th Army Corps arrived at Suvla (Anafartalar) under Fevzi Bey, they were ordered to attack immediately. The commander, Fevzi Bey declined. "The men covered 50-60 kilometers to arrive here from Bolayir." He wanted to attack the next day. Sanders sacked him and appointed Mustafa Kemal as commander of the Corps.
Mustafa Kemal left Ariburnu (ANZAC) at 11.30 pm. While going to Suvla, he found the 5th Division headquarters. He wondered what they were doing there when their 14th Regiment had been wiped out in the north of ANZAC. Who put them there doing nothing? He ordered them to go to Suvla
After walking through the gullies and ridges, he arrived at Anafarta detachment headquarters. The German commander of the detachment, Vilmer Bey, was asleep. Kemal asked for directions to the headquarters of the 16th Army Corps. At 1.30 am, in pitch dark, he finally found the Corps headquarters. The Corps commander was also asleep. Mustafa Kemal woke the commander and asked him what orders he had given to the men for next day. An unsigned order was produced. Mustafa Kemal for a signature but the old Corps commander declined. Seeing no point in further discussion, Kemal issued an order to the Corps. The Corps would attack at in Suvla 4.30 am, the 12th Division on the right and the 7th Division on the left. They would drive towards Damakcilik spur to split Suvla from ANZAC.
The Turkish attack in Suvla succeeded, checking the British and Australian advance towards strategic hills such as Hill 971, Teke Tepe and Kavak Tepe. But Kemal's mind was still on Chunuk Bair. Before leaving Suvla for Chunuk Bair, Mustafa Kemal visited Corps Headquarters at Camli Tekke. He met Sanders and they discussed what to do with two new regiments coming from Cape Helles as reinforcements. Sanders put forward two options: they were either to attack on Damakcilik Spur or on Chunuk Bair. Mustafa Kemal declined the attack on Damakcilik Spur because it would not succeed. The position was not favorable and the Turks could be fired on from two sides. If they did not make it, they would not have more men to try another option. The two regiments were the last reserves available to be used on Gallipoli. In Mustafa Kemal's view, the best option would be an attack on Chunuk Bair. Sanders said, "It is up to you, I just said my opinion on the matter."
Kemal's Return to Chunuk Bair and the counter-attack he led
Immediately afterwards, Mustafa Kemal went to Chunuk Bair. He wanted to be there to direct the attack. It would be very important in terms of psychology. When he came to Chunuk Bair, he saw that the highest ridges were a no man's land. Trenches were about thirty yards [30 m] apart, the Turks on one side and the New Zealanders on the other side. But the New Zealanders' fire was not able to hit or sweep the gullies behind the Turkish trenches. Kemal went to the 64th Regiment's headquarters in a gully just behind the ridge of Chunuk Bair. Men from the 24th Regiment were in the trenches on the front line at Chunuk Bair. Just behind them were the men from the 23rd Regiment. The 23rd was the only regiment not used. The 10th, 23rd, and 24th Regiments were from 8th Division under Ali Riza Bey. The 9th Division was also there under Potrih but they were scatted and mixed up other units. Further right, men from the 4th Division were deployed on Abdurrahman Bayiri.
Actually, men from the 4th, 8th and 9th Divisions were mixed up. Only the 23rd Regiment was in good order. Kemal decided to use this regiment in the attack on Chunuk Bair. Another regiment was coming from Seddulbahir (Cape Helles), but Kemal could not be certain they would arrive. They might have become lost in the night. Fortunately, they did arrive. This was the 28th Regiment, despatched by Vehip Pasha to ANZAC. He knew there would be no point in staying in Cape Helles when he was outflanked by the ANZACs and British.
When Mustafa Kemal explained his intention to attack Chunuk Bair to Galip Bey, 8th Division chief of staff, Galip warned against it. "We have been attacking for two days but all the attacks have been futile and there may be another disaster." Logically, Galip Bey was right. But there are ideas that cannot be explained in terms of logic. Mustafa Kemal had made his decision. He thought a surprise attack would succeed.
He ordered Ali Riza Bey to prepare an attack in the night. He put the 23rd Regiment on the right just before Chunuk Bair. The 28th Regiment he placed on the left to attack towards Sahin Sirt. The 28th Regiment squeezed in amongst the 24th and 10th Regiments who were occupying the front-line trenches. The attack would be a bayonet charge unsupported by any bombardment. It would be done in one minute and then Kemal did not know what would happen.
Kemal remembered, "It was early in the morning, on the tenth of August, the dawn was about to break. I was just standing before tent, and I could see all the men. The time was 4.30 am. I was worried about my men waiting in thick infantry lines. If the enemy opened fire on these thick lines, it would be disaster. I immediately ran to the front to greet and inspect the men and said, ' Soldiers! I am sure that you will defeat the enemy, you do not hurry, let me go first, when you see my whip go up, you all go together.' Then they walked with the commanding officers. All the men were in attack position, one step forward, rifles with fixed bayonets, officers with revolvers or swords in hand, tuned in for my signal as a single heart forgot everything but his signal with the utmost care."
When Mustafa Kemal gave the signal, 5,000 men in 22 lines charged on the New Zealanders and the British at Chunuk Bair. One second later there was only one sound - "Allah … Allah … Allah." The British did not have time to fire and all the men in the front-line trenches were bayoneted. The British troops were wildly scattered. In four hours' time, the 23rd and 24th Regiments regained the lines at Chunuk Bair. The 28th Regiment regained Pinnacle (the highest point on Rhododendron Ridge). Just after the Turks regained Chunuk Bair, the Navy and artillery began firing. Hell let loose. Iron rained from the skies over the Turks. Everybody accepted their fate. All around people were killed and wounded. While Mustafa Kemal watched the fighting, a piece of shrapnel hit his pocket watch. The watch was broken but protected his life. He had a bruise on his chest, but nothing else. He was destined to save the country.
At 12.15 pm, he ordered Ali Riza Bey to stop the attack. They had been fighting for about eight hours. In the fighting around Chunuk Bair, 9,000 Turks were killed or wounded. The Turks again held the highest ground. Although the allies had used fifty thousand men, nothing had changed on Gallipoli. It was a terrible waste of human beings. For the Allies, there was no way of gaining their point.
After the August fighting, Mustafa Kemal sent a report to Fifth Army Headquarters. "I think they are done and the British cannot launch another serious attack on Gallipoli."