Battle of Chunuk Bair
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The Battle of Chunuk Bair (Turkish: Conk Bayırı Muharebesi) was a World War I battle fought between the Ottoman defenders and troops of the British Empire. Allied units that made the summit of Chunuk Bair early on 8 August 1915, to engage the Turks were: Wellington Battalion of New Zealand and Australian Division, 7th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and 8th Battalion, Welch Regiment both of the British 13th; who were reached and reinforced in the afternoon by two squads of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, New Zealand and Australian Division. These first summit holders, decimated by withering fire, were relieved at 10.30pm on 8 August by the Otago Battalion (NZ), and the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment New Zealand and Australian Division; who were in turn relieved by 8pm on 9 August by the 6th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment who were massacred and driven off the summit in the early morning of 10 August by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)'s massed attack. The capture of Chunuk Bair, "Çanak Bayırı" (Basin Slope) in Turkish (now "Conk Bayırı"), the secondary peak of the Sari Bair range, was one of the two objectives of the Allied August Offensive that was launched at ANZAC and Suvla to try to break the stalemate that the campaign had become.
The capture of Chunuk Bair was the only success for the Allies of the campaign. However, the success was fleeting as the position proved untenable. The Ottomans recaptured the peak after a few days and were never to relinquish it again.
On the night of 6 August, at the same time as the British IX Corps began landing to the north, the breakout from the Anzac sector was made by units of the New Zealand and Australian Division under the command of General Alexander Godley, who was known for his callous indifference to the plight of his troops. Two columns of troops were directed at two peaks of the dominating ridge which were expected to be captured by dawn on 7 August. Both columns were preceded by a covering force to clear the Ottoman outposts and protect the flanks of the main assaulting force.
The left, or northern, column of the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade and the 29th Indian Brigade, were heading for Hill 971, the highest point on the Sari Bair range. They had the furthest to travel over completely unfamiliar terrain and never got close to their objective. A battalion of Gurkhas from the Indian Brigade, commanded by Major Cecil Allanson, reached a secondary objective, the neighbouring summit of Hill Q, on 9 August but were forced to retreat shortly afterwards.
The right, or southern, column was heading for Chunuk Bair. Though lower than Hill 971, this peak overlooked the north of the Anzac perimeter and was used as a base for an artillery battery. The main Sari Bair ridge extended from Chunuk Bair down into the Anzac sector via Battleship Hill and Baby 700. From Baby 700 the ridge branched towards the beach via the Nek and south to Lone Pine via the line of tenuous Anzac positions known as Quinn's, Courtney's and Steele's Posts. The capture of Chunuk Bair would provide considerable relief to the Anzac sector.
The approach to the peak was made along Rhododendron Spur which ran from the beach to the peak of Chunuk Bair. The Ottomans had outposts along the spur at the Table Top, Destroyer Hill and nearest the beach at Old No. 3 Outpost. There was also an Ottoman outpost on Bauchop's Hill to the north. All these outposts had to be cleared by the covering force, the four understrength regiments of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, before the main assault column could proceed up the spur to the summit. The Auckland Mounted Rifles cleared Old No. 3 Outpost and the Wellington Mounted Rifles took Destroyer Hill and the Table Top. The Otago Mounted Rifles and Canterbury Mounted Rifles captured Bauchop's Hill, which was named after the Otago's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Bauchop who was killed during the attack. In all the New Zealanders lost about 100 men in clearing the outposts and while their efforts were successful, the plan was now running two hours behind schedule, making it difficult to reach the summit before first light.
The main force of the right column was the New Zealand Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General Francis Johnston. Polite accounts claim Johnston was 'ill' on the night of the attack. Other less euphemistic versions maintain that he was 'fighting drunk'. The brigade's four battalions, reduced by sickness and battle, mustered about 2,800 men. The advance was initially made up the valleys, or deres, on either side of Rhododendron Spur and once past the Table Top, the New Zealanders climbed on to the ridge, leaving about 1,000 yards (910 m) to travel to the summit.
The three battalions travelling along the north side of the spur were in position by 04:30, shortly before dawn. They advanced to a knoll dubbed "The Apex" which was only about 500 yards (460 m) from the summit where at the time there were only a handful of Ottoman infantry. The Canterbury battalion on the south side of the spur was lost and delayed. Johnston made the fatal decision to wait for the last battalion to arrive before making the attack.
The attack on Chunuk Bair was a main element in a wider offensive. At 04:30 a supporting attack was planned at the Nek against Baby 700, intended to coincide with the New Zealanders attacking from Chunuk Bair down onto the rear of the Ottoman trenches on Battleship Hill. The Battle of the Nek went ahead nonetheless, with tragic consequences.
Chunuk Bair (Çanak Bayırı/Conk Bayırı)
The opportunity for a swift victory at Chunuk Bair had been lost. By 08:00 the Ottomans had started firing on the New Zealanders on the spur. The commander of the Ottoman 9th Division, German Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Kannengiesser, had reached the summit and was preparing its defence. In daylight, after an exhausting climb and faced by stiffening opposition, the prospects for a New Zealand assault against the peak looked slim. Nevertheless General Godley ordered Johnston to attack.
Two hundred yards beyond where the New Zealanders were positioned on the Apex was another knoll called "The Pinnacle" from which it was a straight climb to the summit. Off the side of the spur to the north was a small, sheltered plateau known as "The Farm".
Johnston told the Auckland battalion to attack. About 100 made it as far as the Pinnacle where they desperately tried to dig in. Around 300 fell as casualties between there and the Apex. Johnston told the Wellington battalion to continue the attack. The battalion's commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone refused, stating that he was not willing to order his men to carry out a hopeless attack. He said his battalion would take Chunuk Bair at night.
During the day the New Zealanders were reinforced by two battalions from the British 13th (Western) Division; the 7th Battalion of The Gloucestershire Regiment and the pioneers of 8th Battalion, the Welch Regiment.
Shortly after 03:00 on 8 August, following a naval bombardment of the peak, the Wellington's, followed by the Gloucester's, reached Chunuk Bair virtually unopposed. The preceding barrage had driven most of the Ottoman defenders away as the ground was too hard and rocky for deep entrenchments.
Chunuk Bair would prove hard to defend. It was only possible to scrape shallow trenches amongst the rocks. The peak was exposed to fire from the main Ottoman line on Battleship Hill to the south and from Hill Q to the north. If the original plan for the offensive had worked, Hill Q would have been in Allied hands. Allanson's battalion of Gurkhas reached it briefly the following day but were in no position to offer relief to the troops on Chunuk Bair.
By 05:00 on 8 August the Ottomans were counter-attacking against the Wellingtonians. The slope of the hill was so steep that the Ottomans could get within 22 yards (20 m) of the trenches without being seen. The New Zealanders fought desperately to hold off the Ottomans, firing their rifles and those of their fallen companions until the wood of the stock was too hot to touch. When the Ottomans got up to the trenches the fighting continued with the bayonet. The Ottomans overran part of the New Zealand trench and took some prisoners. In full daylight, reinforcements were only reaching the summit at a trickle.
The fight raged all day until the trenches were clogged with the New Zealand dead. Around 17:00 Malone was killed by a misdirected artillery shell, fired from either Anzac or a British ship.
The Ottomans had reclaimed the east side of the summit and were reinforced by the arrival of the 8th Division from Helles. As the extent of the Allied offensive became apparent, General Otto Liman von Sanders, the commander of the Ottoman forces in the Dardanelles, appointed his competent officer, Colonel Mustafa Kemal, the commander for the defence of Suvla and Sari Bair.
As darkness fell on the evening of 8 August, the fighting subsided and the Wellington Battalion was relieved. Out of the 760 men of the battalion who had reached the summit, 711 had become casualties. Whereas Malone had resisted sending his men on a suicidal charge when told to follow the Auckland Battalion on 7 August, a day later the outcome would be the same. The New Army battalions had suffered the same. 417 casualties amongst the Welch pioneers and 350 amongst the Gloucester's including all the officers of the battalion. For the wounded the suffering was only beginning. Some took three days to travel from the higher reaches of Rhododendron Spur to the beach, a little over a kilometre away.
Godley remained at his headquarters near the beach, largely ignorant of the state of the fighting. His plan for 9 August was to take Hill Q. The main force for the assault was a brigade commanded by Brigadier General Anthony Baldwin. Baldwin commanded the 38th Brigade of the 13th Division but the situation was so confused that the force he led towards Hill Q contained only one of his normal battalions, the 6th East Lancashires. He also had the 9th Worcestershires and 9th Warwicks from the 39th Brigade and the 5th Wiltshires from the 40th Brigade (who would later be redirected to reinforce Chunuk Bair). Plus he led two 10th (Irish) Division battalions; the 10th Hampshires and 6th Royal Irish Rifles from the 29th Brigade. Most of the 10th Division had landed at Suvla on 7 August.
This force would climb to Hill Q from the Farm. At the same time the New Zealanders on the right from Chunuk Bair and units of General Vaughn Cox's Indian Brigade on the left would also attack the hill. The plan fell apart when Baldwin's battalions became lost in the dark trying to find the Farm which they did not reach until after dawn, around 6 a.m.. The only force to reach Hill Q was Allanson's battalion of Gurkhas. They suffered the same fate as Colonel Malone, shelled by their own artillery, and their stay on the hill was brief.
With the offensive once again stalled, the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair had to endure another day of Ottoman harassment. As night fell the remaining New Zealanders moved back to the Apex and were replaced by two New Army battalions, the 6th Battalion of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and some of the 5th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment from Baldwin's force.
On the morning of 10 August Mustafa Kemal led an overwhelming Ottoman counter-attack. If Chunuk Bair, the one Allied success of the August offensive, was recaptured, the battle was effectively over. His plan lacked subtlety but was brutally effective - overrun the defenders by sheer weight of numbers. Unlike Godley though, Mustafa Kemal led his men from the front. During the fight he was struck in the chest by shrapnel but was saved by his pocket watch which absorbed the blow.
There were about 2,000 defenders on or below the summit of Chunuk Bair. Baldwin's brigade at the Farm numbered a further 3000. The Ottomans swept over the Lancashire battalion on the summit, wiping it out to the last man. The Wiltshires were killed or driven into the steep valleys. The Ottomans headed down Rhododendron Spur towards the Pinnacle, driving the New Army troops before them. New Zealand machine gunners positioned at the Apex shot down the Ottomans as they tried to continue down the spur. The gunners could not discriminate friend from foe so they also killed many New Army troops who were amongst the charging Ottomans. The Ottomans descended to the small plateau of the Farm and annihilated Baldwin's brigade. About 1,000 British were killed, the rest driven off into the surrounding gullies.
One Victoria Cross was awarded for actions at Chunuk Bair to Corporal Cyril Bassett, who repaired phone lines while under fire. A memorial arch, the Malone Memorial Gate, commemorating the heroic Lieutenant Colonel Malone was constructed in Stratford, New Zealand in 1923 and a plaque unveiled in the New Zealand Parliament's Grand Hall in 2005.
The loss of Chunuk Bair marked the end of the Battle of Sari Bair. Fighting would continue elsewhere until 21 August but there would be no more attempts to capture the heights. The Apex formed the new front line on Rhododendron Spur. In 1919 burial teams found the Farm still covered in the bones of the men from Baldwin's brigade, who were interred in The Farm Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery when it was constructed on the site after the Armistice.
Appearances in fiction
New Zealand writer Maurice Shadbolt produced a play Once on Chunuk Bair in 1982. A film version Chunuk Bair (Daybreak Pictures) was released in 1991. There is a detailed fictional description of the battle from the point of view of an Ottoman Turkish soldier in Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres, bestselling author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
In popular culture
British singer PJ Harvey performs a song entitled "On Battleship Hill".
- Echoes of Gallipoli, Kinloch, 2005; Gallipoli The NZ Story, Pugsley, 1984; Gallipoli The Turkish Story, K. Fewster/V. Basarin/H.H. Basarin; The Gallipoli Letter, Murdoch, 2010
- http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-heroes/godley.htm[not in citation given]
- "Malone War Memorial". New Zealand History Online. Retrieved 2005-08-06.
- "Colonel's courage gets its due - 90 years later". New Zealand Herald. 9 August 2005. Retrieved 2008-08-06.