London County Council in the Great War 1914 - 1918

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British influence with Turkey, at one time considerable, had, during the last thirty years or so, been, much weakened. One cause of this was the occupation of Egypt and Cyprus, another was the resentment aroused by the spirited condemnations in England of Turkish misrule, a third was the support given by Great Britain after the first Balkan war in 1912-13 to the successful claims of Bulgaria and Greece to Turkish territory, a fourth was the growing understanding between Great Britain and Russia, the hereditary enemy of Turkey. While British influence waned, that of Germany increased. German capital was forthcoming both for public and private purposes, Germany aided the negotiations for the construction of the Bagdad railway, a German general with a German staff was appointed to re-organise the army.

When the Great War broke out Great Britain was seen to side with Russia, and the Turks were further annoyed and alarmed by the fact that two battleships, built for them and intended to strengthen their very weak navy, were detained in England. At the same time the German war vessels Goeben and Breslau, eluding the Allied fleet in the Mediterranean, escaped to Constantinople, and, when their dismantlement was demanded, were sold or given to Turkey. After three months' hesitation, Turkey on 31st October, asserting that her fleet had been fired upon by Russians, declared war.

The Allies soon dealt with the new combatant, and decided to do this by means of a naval attack on Constantinople. They realised that the fall of the city would check Turkish activities in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and Egypt, would ensure the passage of munitions to, and of food from, Russia, and also would lead to the neutrality, if not the assistance, of Bulgaria, the safety of Serbia and the co-operation of Greece.

The approach to Constantinople from the Mediterranean lies through the Dardanelles, the strait, from one to six miles wide, which separates the peninsula of Gallipoli from Asia Minor. To make clear what follows it will be convenient to introduce here a brief description of the district. The length of Gallipoli is a little over fifty miles, and its breadth varies from about three miles at Bulair in the north-east to twenty-four east of Suvla and about seven in the south-west; south of Suvla and west of Maidos the width for a short distance drops to less than five miles. It is a rolling, waterless country, very beautiful in the spring when the hills are covered with flowers, but, as these fade under the summer sun, it takes on a tawny, dusty hue. There is little cultivation, the southern half being covered chiefly with heather and scrub. Most of the coast line consists of steep cliffs, a hundred feet high or more, pierced here and there by gullies which open out into narrow strips of beach two or three hundred yards wide. The chief hills are Sari Bair, nearly a thousand feet high, to the south of Suvla and commanding Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove, and Achi Baba, six hundred feet high, which commands the beaches near Cape Helles at the southern end of the peninsula. Some of the latter, if not all, can also be fired upon from the mainland of Asia Minor.

As a preliminary to the attack upon Constantinople forts guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles were bombarded from the Aegean on 3rd November, 1914, but it was not until 19th February, 1915, after what appeared to be much vacillation in the higher conduct of the enterprise, that the reduction of the defences was seriously undertaken by the British and French navies, acting alone. When the weather permitted during the next four weeks the bombardment was renewed, and several of the forts were at least silenced, if not destroyed An attempt, however, on 18th March to force the Narrows failed with the loss of several ships, and it was then determined that the next assault should be in conjunction with troops on land. The nearest place at which troops or stores could be collected was Egypt, 700 miles away. To facilitate the work an advanced base was formed at Mudros, in the island of Lemnos, but even this was fifty miles from Gallipoli, and only the simplest equipment could be provided there. As the peninsula was for the most part barren and waterless it was necessary, in addition to arranging for the transport of the attacking troops with their guns and ammunition, to make complete arrangements for supplying them with all the food and water they required, and for providing food and water for the transport animals and shelter and medical stores for the sick. These preparations occupied four weeks, although some of the delay would not have been necessary if, owing to faulty organisation, men had not been conveyed separately from their ammunition, guns from the gun-carriages, and wagons from their horses. As it was, many of the transports, when they arrived at Mudros, had to be taken back to Egypt, where their contents were re-arranged. The Turks, warned by the naval bombardments and by the traffic at sea, to expect an attack, had every opportunity to complete their preparations. Troops and guns were hurried into the peninsula, stores and ammunition were collected, trenches were dug on commanding sites, and the few and narrow approaches, including even the shallow parts of the sea, were obstructed with strong wire entanglements.

The landing, under Sir Ian Hamilton as commander-in-chief, was attempted at dawn on Sunday, 25th April, at five points around the southern end of the peninsula and at one to the north of Gaba Tepe on the western coast. The assault on the former was entrusted to the 29th Division, composed of units of the Regular Army, and to the newly formed R. Naval Division, and that on the latter to troops from Australia and New Zealand. Each landing, so far as possible, was to be protected by the guns of the ships. The French effected a diversion by landing at Kum Kale in Asia Minor opposite Helles, Having done this they withdrew some days later and took over the right of the British line at Helles. Reckoning from the east, the positions assailed on the peninsula were S beach, or De Tott's Battery, V Beach near Sedd-el-Bahr, W Beach (or " Lancashire Landing," from the heroism displayed by the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers) between Capes Helles and Tekke, X Beach to the north of Cape Tekke, Y Beach three miles further north, and Z Beach, afterwards known as Anzac, ten miles north of Y Beach.

At V Beach three companies of the 1st R. Dublin Fusiliers, and a party from the Anson Battalion, R.N.D., while being landed from boats were shot down. The collier River Clyde was run aground, and the troops on board endeavoured to reach the shore across a bridge of boats. In doing this and in maintaining the bridge, three companies of the 1st R. Munster Fus. and two of the 2nd Hants were almost destroyed, only a remnant finding, under a low sand-bank, protection from the terrible rifle and machine-gun fire which ' The word was coined from the initial letters of the title " Australian and New Zealand Army Corps." swept the beach. The remainder of these three battalions stayed on board under continual fire until nightfall, when they managed to land. Having joined the survivors on shore they attacked the village and old fort of Sedd-el-Bahr, but in the darkness and unknown country the attack miscarried, and the force was almost overwhelmed by a counter-attack. Early on the morning of the 26th the attempt was renewed, and, aided by the guns from the fleet, was successful.

At W Beach the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, supported by the 4th Worcesters and the 1st Essex, and at X Beach the 2nd R. Fusiliers, with a working-party from the Anson Battalion, R.N.D., and assisted by the 1st R. Inniskilling Fusiliers, were even more successful, and the landings were secured on the first day with casualties which, though heavy, were not so heavy as at V Beach. The attacks at S and Y Beaches were planned chiefly with the object of diverting the enemy's reserves and of thus protecting the main attack at V, W and X Beaches. That at S Beach by the 2nd S. Wales Borderers succeeded, and the ground won was permanently held, but at Y Beach the 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Plymouth Battalion, R.N.D., having accomplished their purpose, were withdrawn on the 26th. At Anzac the troops forced a landing, pressed on up steep gullies, beat off numerous counter-attacks, and by the evening of the 26th had made good their advance on a front of over two miles to a depth in parts of nearly one mile. Units of the R.N.D., supported by the Navy, made a feint attack upon the enemy's lines at Bulair at the neck of the peninsula, but no landing was seriously attempted.

When the positions gained on the various beaches had been consolidated and while stores and ammunition were being landed our men had some sort of a respite. This was badly needed, for many, exhausted by lack of food, water and sleep, by the toil of digging for most of the day under a hot sun and of carrying heavy loads most of the night, and by the strain of frequent counter-attacks, were nearing the limits of their endurance. About this time some Indian troops and units from the 42nd Division arrived as reinforcements. During May the line was slowly advanced from Helles towards Krithia, a village on the slopes of Achi Baba, the chief assaults being on 6th-8th May and on 4th and 28th June. Counter-attacks were frequent and in particular one on the night of 19th/20th May at Anzac, where the lines had been stationary since the landing, was so violent and the Turkish losses so heavy that they were granted an armistice in which to bury their dead. Two British submarines, E11 and E14, gallantly penetrating the minefields in the straits torpedoed several Turkish transports carrying reinforcements. By the end of the month, that is, in six weeks from the first landing, the casualties among the British and Anzacs amounted to nearly 40,000, a number which exceeded the total battle casualties in the whole of the South African War.

The next two months were marked by frequent attacks and counter-attacks, leading to no definite result, and it became clear that, although our forces had been strengthened by the arrival of the 13th and 52nd Divisions, the Turkish line could not be carried by direct assault. A plan was therefore formed to land a force at Suvla Bay three miles to the north of Anzac, and then to advance from Anzac upon the Sari Bair ridge. It was hoped in this way to cut the enemy's communications and to turn his position. Accordingly on 6th August the enemy's attention was engaged near Helles by an attack (which happened just to forestall an attack which he was planning) and during the night following a landing was effected at Suvla by part of the 10th and by the 11th Divisions. The 53rd and 54th Divisions landed later. The opposition was comparatively slight, and, if prompt action had been taken, a great success might have been achieved. The delay in pressing our advantage was due partly to the exhaustion of the soldiers who, notwithstanding elaborate precautions, suffered terribly from lack of water, but still more to inertia and confusion in the local higher command upon which Sir Ian Hamilton commented somewhat severely in his despatch. The 6th E. Yorks who had occupied Scimitar Hill with hardly any fighting were, in error, withdrawn in order to attack elsewhere. The Turks were able to bring up reinforcements and the advance which might with so little loss of life have led to great results was checked. Meanwhile the advance from Anzac by British, Dominion and Indian troops, although impeded by the partial failure at Suvla, proceeded slowly up almost precipitous heights covered with scrub, and early in the morning of 8th August a ridge near Chunuk Bair was seized which commanded a view across the peninsula to the Narrows. The 6th S. Lancs from the 13th Division and some Gurkhas, however, who so gallantly captured it came under the fire of their own guns, troops which should have supported them lost their way, and under heavy counter-attacks the ridge had to be abandoned. Although the attack thus failed, the area held at Anzac was enlarged from less than one mile to about eight.

The troops having been reinforced by a dismounted Yeomanry division from Egypt, a further attempt to advance from Suvla Bay was made on 21st August. After severe fighting which continued during the night, positions were gained on Scimitar Hill. It was decided that these would be untenable by day and our men were withdrawn.

After the failure at Suvla the fighting died down into the routine of trench warfare. Early in October two of the English and one of the French divisions were sent to Salonica and towards the middle of the month Sir Ian Hamilton was ordered to advise upon the evacuation of the peninsula. A few days later he was recalled to England and Sir Charles Monro was appointed in his place. This officer reported strongly in favour of evacuation and his opinion was confirmed by Lord Kitchener who, towards the middle of November, inspected portions of the lines at Helles, Anzac and Suvla.

A striking incident showed the risk of remaining during the winter. On 27th November a sudden gale from the south-west destroyed several piers and landing stages and did much damage among the smaller transports. At the same time a deluge of rain converted the trenches into torrents in which friend and foe, stores and mules, were swept away. This was followed by a blizzard, lasting for nearly two days and nights, and this again by a heavy frost. The troops suffered terribly from the unusual cold, many died, and about 10,000 sick had to be removed.

The evacuation was begun at Anzac and Suvla and was completed there on the night of 19th/20th December, just in time to avoid a storm which arose a few hours later. More than 83,000 men were embarked (with the accidental loss of only two men), with 5,000 horses and mules, 2,000 wagons and 200 guns. At Helles our men were even more fortunate, for a south-westerly gale was beginning to blow as the last of them left the shore. There the evacuation was completed in the early morning of 9th January, 1916, and included 35,000 men, 4,000 animals and no guns.

The assault upon the peninsula, urged with such gallantry for so many months and in face of so many difficulties, thus ended in failure. This was not due to any lack of bravery, daring, skill or endurance on the part of the rank and file, but rather to the inability of the superior commands to meet the demands of so great an enterprise and to the fact that, in spite of repeated requests, adequate reinforcements were not forthcoming. In the House of Commons on 20th March, 1917, Mr. Asquith, commenting upon the report of the Dardanelles Commission, claimed that the expedition had saved the position of Russia in the Caucasus, had delayed for months the defection of Bulgaria, had kept immobilised at least 300,000 Turks, and had contributed to the favourable development of events in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.

Arthur Roake (R.N.R., L.F.B.) was awarded the D.S.M. for his gallantry on 25th April, 1915, when, being one of a small party which had been landed to reconnoitre, he carried a wounded officer under heavy fire back to the boats, and the next day acted as a guide to a second party. Sergeant W. F. Bird (1st Co. of London Yeoman, Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. for conspicuous gallantry, on 21st August, 1915, at Suvla, when, as medical orderly, he remained under fire attending the wounded, and displayed great bravery and devotion to duty. E. Griffiths (R.F.R., L.F.B.) won the D.S.M.

The casualties were: killed 28,200, wounded 78,095, missing 11,254, making a total of 117,549; there were also nearly 100,000 sick, chiefly cases of dysentery, malaria, and, towards the end of the occupation, frost-bite. The deaths among the Council's staff were:
25th April, J. G. Everett (H.M.S. Eitryalus, Tram.) killed at W Beach ; 28th, F. A. Dolan (R.E., Ch. Engr.) ; 29th, G. H. Morgan (R. Naval Div., Tram.); 6th May, C. E. Hutchings (R. Naval Div., L.F.B.) of wounds received on the 3rd, and William West (R. Naval Div., Asylums) ; 25th, Sergeant F. Blanchard (R. Naval Div., Educ); 4th June, William Perriman (H.M.S. Bacchante, Ch. Engr.) of wounds received on 25th April at the landing at Anzac; 21st, James Childs (Hamps, Asylums); 28th, Albert Cox (Essex, Tram.); 6th August, Captain Francis Falcon (4th Worcesters, Ch. Engr.) and Samuel Russell (2nd Hamps., Tram.), both at Helles, and Sergeant E. D. Long (Wilts, Tram.) near Anzac; 7th, Capt. C. S. Blake (S. Lancs, attd. 6th Lancs Fus.) near Helles; 8th, 158 William Tuffey (7th Glouc, Stores) near Chunuk Bair; 13th, Lance-Corp. S. H. Butler (W. Riding, Asylums) of wounds received near Suvla on the 10th; 14th, Arthur Olney (R.A.S.C, Tram.) on H.M.S. Royal Edward when she was torpedoed; 15th, Lieut. H. J. Hoare, B.Sc. (Econ.), LL.B. (10th London, Clerk) and Sergeant A. T. F. Beaumont (10th London, Tram.) both near Suvla; 21st, E. S. Miller (City of London Yeo., Educ), near Suvla; 27th September, William Wilson (2nd Scottish Horse, Tram.); 4th November, W. J. Filbee (R. Fusiliers, Tram.), near Suvla; 11th, Capt. A. M. Philips (Yorks L.L, attached 9th W. Yorks., Arch.), near Suvla; 27th, Edwin Barnard (R.E., Arch.), near Suvla. Frank Murrell (H.M.S. Glory, L.F.B.) on 15th August, D. G. King (Essex, Asylums) on 22nd November and H. J. R. Marson (Essex, Tram.) on 24th November, died of dysentery. T. H. Baker (R.F.A., Asylums) died on 6th December of tuberculosis.