Helles Bay April 1915The Allies managed to land 30,000 men on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but suffered 20,000 casualties in the effort. They held a foothold, but were unable to push forward more than one mile. Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, a journalist embedded with the British military noted; ‘At Anzac any further advance is out of the question, for the Australians and New Zealanders have as much as they can do to hold on to what they have won. No army has ever found itself dumped in a more impossible or ludicrous position, shut in on all sides by hills, and having no point from which it can debouch for an attack, except by climbing up them’. At Helles, the 29th Division had lost half its number, and Bartlett’s conclusion was that ‘we are barely holding our own on the Peninsula, there is absolutely no question of an advance…’[1]

These men suffered. Arrangements for evacuating the wounded, especially at Anzac Cove, were brutal. They were ‘rowed in small boats in a rising sea from ship to ship, suffering terribly, until they found a ship which could accommodate them. There were isolated cases were the masters of merchant ships refused to accept wounded men, and one lighter with several hundred wounded was found at 3 am on April 26th drifting in the ugly swell, having been turned away by seven transports.’ Conditions were execrable. Denied hospital accommodation, the maimed, wounded and dying lay on filthy decks. Latrines were choked and there were no arrangements for feeding or bedding on the 700 mile journey to Egypt. Inexplicably, a well-equipped hospital ship, the Hindoo, lay unused off Helles. [2] Make no mistake, these horrors were the direct consequence of the decisions taken by men in London who cared nothing for the suffering.

By 29 April food, water and ammunition were running low, and the initial impetus had spent itself. ‘As the days dragged by and the heat of the sun increased, the position became as stalemated as it was in the trenches of France and Flanders.’ [3] Despite this, General Hamilton put an unwarranted gloss on his reports to Kitchener, informing him that ‘all continues to go well.’ Absurd though it was, he didn’t want to sound like a ‘malcontent’. [4]

Denied the basics to survive this hell, without enough water, ammunition, protective cover or military leadership, the only consolation on offer was the Word of God. An Anzac awaiting transfer to Gallipoli from Egypt wrote home on 5 May, that the Padre had entered the recreation tent to say a few words. Like many from the Oxford dominated Church of England his comfort was cold. There was ‘nothing necessarily terrible in death’, he informed them, and ‘who lives for England sleeps with God.’ What impact did such nonsense have on morale? These brave lads were writing what might have been their last letter home while a chaplain spouted forth the propaganda of Christian justification juxtaposed with Imperial loyalty. They were to ‘march forward in one glorious body, the Captain of which is Christ’. With stunning insensitivity, he assured them that in death, ‘the rooms of His mansion are being filled, that is all.’ [5] One part of his analogy was correct. The rooms of ‘Christ’s mansion’ filled to overflowing.

By 30 April the Turks had 75 battalions at Gallipoli to Hamilton’s 53. [6] After less than one week, Gallipoli could at best be described as a stalemate. Every capable strategist had repeatedly said that only a joint military and naval operation could succeed. Commodore Roger Keyes, Admiral de Robek’s Chief of Staff, felt strongly that the navy should help the exhausted army by making another attempt to break through the Narrows. Keyes had resolved the minesweeping problem by adapting destroyers for the purpose and replacement battleships had arrived.

HMS Queen Elizabeth ordered back to home Fleet by Admiral Fisher

De Robek asked London to approve a joint operation, but permission was not forthcoming. Indeed, on 12 May the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, ordered the Queen Elizabeth back to home waters. There would be no joint operation. He wanted to end the Dardanelles expedition immediately and, two days later at the War Council, he resigned. [7] Churchill’s future hung in the balance. On 17 May, in the prime minister’s room in the House of Commons, a confrontation between Asquith and Churchill marked the end of his career as First Lord of the Admiralty. [8] On 25 May a new coalition government was formed. Churchill was replaced by Lord Balfour, former conservative prime minister, and member of the inner core of the Secret Elite. [9] Names changed, but the secret cabal’s control of policy remained unaffected.

Hamilton quickly found himself in difficulty. On 17 May, he noted in his diary, ‘On the one hand, there are at present on the Peninsula as many troops as the available space and water supply can accommodate. On the other hand, to break through the strong opposition on my front will require more troops. I am, therefore, in a quandary, because although more troops are wanted there is, at present, no room for them.’ He had two distinct requirements: ’(1) that my force is kept up to strength, (2) that I have a decent allowance of gun ammunition, especially of high explosives.’ Hamilton wanted 50,000 men to maintain his formations, and the shortage of munitions, rectified. [10] Three weeks later he was promised three divisions, but by then, ten new Turkish divisions under German supervision were in place. [11] Long before the sweltering heat of mid-summer, Hamilton realised that lack of drinking water was critical.

Wounded Anzacs lying under cloudless sky

Fighting continued throughout the summer. As the death toll rapidly mounted, the incompetence, stupidity and inhumanity of the senior officers beggared belief. Ashmead-Barlett wrote, ‘We carry on at this hopeless game, ignoring all the strategical possibilities… by persisting in these murderous frontal attacks on impregnable positions, losing tens of thousands of our best and bravest men without achieving any result or carrying us any nearer to our goal.’ [12] Orders issued to the 29th Division were seldom intelligible, and frequently had to be changed, modified or ignored. The fate of the fallen was horrendous.

Thousands of British soldiers were left to perish between the lines after attacks had failed, tormented by the intense heat, flies, and thirst, until death came as a merciful relief. The Turks regularly agreed a temporary armistice to collect wounded men, and actually asked for one at Hellles, but British commanders refused. Nothing could have been more demoralising for the ordinary soldier than knowing that hundreds of his brothers-in-arms lay mutilated and unattended only a few yards away in the baking heat, suffering the agonies of the damned in a long, lingering death . [13]

Casualties were of no importance to Hunter-Weston provided the objective was met, [14] but he sacrificed the lives of thousands in the 29th Division without meeting any objective. Under his command, the equivalent of three British divisions were lost in front of Achi Baba without a single salient position being won. [15] His over-optimistic reports played an important part in misleading Sir Ian Hamilton. [16] Hunter-Weston developed dysentery in July 1915 and was promptly ordered home, abandoning thousands of his men whom he left in a much worse condition.

John Hargrave, who served at Gallipoli with the Royal Army Medical Corps described the appalling physical state of the troops just ten days before the allied offensive in August. Shortly after their arrival at Lemnos the newcomers developed dysentery so severe, that some died. They ‘were already an army of sick men’ and instead of becoming acclimatised they were steadily devitalised. [17] They visibly struggled. Many were still unwell as a consequence of recent cholera inoculations. The suffocating heat, the rapid dehydration, the alien foliation which stank in their nostrils, diarrhoea, disorientation, fatigue and heatstroke broke the healthiest of heroes. Could no-one see this? Even on Imbros, where troops had been disembarked in preparation for the attack, water was so scarce that armed guards had to be detailed for water-carts. Instead of training for the assault, they spent hours rushing to the latrines ‘dozens of times a day’. [18]

Suvla Bay landing August 1915

Yet the attack went ahead. Despite their wretched condition, troops were ‘packed like herrings in the beetles and destroyers, silent and listless’ [19] Many had been on their feet since early dawn on 5 August, sweltering under heavy uniforms completely inappropriate for the climate. That evening men stood crushed together on the decks of the transports, some for as long as seventeen hours. It was ‘difficult to move an arm or leg. Limbs stiffened, went numb, began to ache and tingle with pins and needles. [20] Conditions were akin to eighteenth century slave-ships. Worse perhaps. On embarkation, each man had a pint and a half in his water bottle and was solemnly warned not to drink it until absolutely necessary. It was utterly surreal. These troops were condemned to debilitating medical deterioration, depressed, desperate to relieve their bowels, tormented by unquenchable thirst and disorientated in their lethargy and confusion. Confidence and esprit de corps oozed away. They should have been sent into hospital, not battle.

The great Allied offensive began at Helles on the afternoon of 6 August with a naval bombardment. Once again, a terrible slaughter ensued. Desperate hand to hand fighting followed the brutally effective Turkish machine gun-fire and the communication trenches were choked with dead and wounded. The 88th Brigade lost nearly two-thirds of its officers and men. The following morning, 7 August, three brigades of VIII Corps lost nearly 3,500 officers and men, and gained nothing. [21]

Leuitenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford

That same morning an amphibious landing of 20,000 sick and debilitated soldiers took place at Suvla Bay. Hamilton had asked for experienced corps commanders to lead the attack, like Sir Henry Rawlinson, battled hardened on the Western front, but Kitchener saddled him ‘with the most abject collection of generals ever congregated in one spot’. [22] Command of the IXth. Corps was given to the most abject of them all, 61 year old Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford. He had been retired for five years, barely seen active service and had never commanded troops in battle. [23] Physically, Stopford was so feeble and unwell that he was unable to lift his own dispatch case into the train when he set off for Gallipoli, yet he was sent to a climate which taxed the fittest of men. Despite the fact that Hamilton knew Stopford’s limitations, he gave him free rein to plan and control the Suvla operations; ‘ it was like giving a blank, signed cheque to a bankrupt.’ [24] During the landings, Stopford remained aboard HMS Jonquil and slept on deck. No officer was sent ashore to assess the situation. His chain of command broke down completely. [25]

What many historians have failed to record is that the most deadly factor at Suvla Bay was not Turkish machine -guns but an absolute failure to protect the Allied forces from dehydration. Some men emptied their water-bottles before or soon after landing. [26] Only 2 of 5 lighters carrying water arrived on 7 August and both grounded on a sandbank, too far for the water to be piped to the shore. ‘No water was available for use from them until the morning of the 8th.’ [27] Effectively these soldiers were left to survive on one and a half pints of water over two days or more.

Hargrave described the harrowing scenes on the beach where he found ‘little groups of lost men wandering about, dragging the butts of their rifles in the sand, their blistered lips foolishly open, their eyes burnt out like dead cinders. They drifted slowly up and down the gully, sometimes as many as half a dozen in a bunch, [ asking ] always the same question… “Any water?” Other thirst-maddened men wandered up and down the beaches, at times fighting each other in their search for water. Sadly many were reduced to drinking their own urine [ 28 ] which was by then concentrated with salts and waste products of metabolism which added to the chronic problem of dehydration. It was like a scene from a Zombie movie, but these were men, strong men, sacrificed without care.

Desolate country around Suvla Bay

The numbers who died of dehydration at Suvla Bay remain a mystery. Hundreds? Thousands? We will never know, for the establishment had a vested interest in suppressing the truth. Imagine the public outrage if it was discovered that much loved soldiers had died, not from wounds, but from dehydration in the searing 100 degree temperature, or from the dysentery which wracked their exhausted carcasses? Died because the military high command failed to provide the basics for survival. On 5 August, Hamilton had informed Kitchener of the ‘sickness of the Australians, indeed, all the troops here’ [29 ] but his concern did not matter. On 12 August Kitchener responded to the news that the operation had ground to a halt by urging Hamilton to ‘ ginger up’ the men. Lost in the unreal world of ruling-class England, Kitchener urged greater ‘energy and dash’ from sick and dyings soldiers. Like any decent human-being, Hamilton was sickened by this response. [30 ]

[1] Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, The Uncensored Dardanelles, p. 81.
[2] Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, p. 136.
[3] John Hargrave, The Suvla Bay landing, p. 41.
[4] L A Carlyon, Gallipoli, pp. 279-80.
[5] PatsyAdam-Smith, The Anzacs, p. 73.
[6] L A Carlyon, Gallipoli, p. 281.
[7] Baron John Arbuthnot Fisher, Memories and Records, Vol. 1. p. 77.
[8] Martin Gilbert, Winston S Churchill, pp. 448-9.
[9] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 312.
[10] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, Vol. 1, 17 May, 1915 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19317/19317-h/19317-h.htm#Page_127
[11] Hargrave, The Suvla Bay Landing, p. 43.
[12] Ashmead-Bartlett, The Uncensored Dardanelles, p. 81.
[13] Ibid., pp 163-4.
[14] Carlyon, Gallipoli, p. 120.
[15] Ashmead-Bartlett, The Uncensored Dardanelles, pp.162-3.
[16] Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, p. 210.
[17] Hargrave, The Suvla Bay Landing, p. 66.
[18] Rhys Crawley, Climax at Gallipoli, The Failure of the August Offensive, p. 58.
[19] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diaries, Vol II, 6 August, p. 53.
[20] Hargrave, The Suvla Bay Landing, pp. 75-76.
[21] James, Gallipoli, p. 262.
[22] Laffin, The Agony of Gallipoli, p. 153.
[23] Michael Hickey, Gallipoli, p. 240.
[24] Laffin, The Agony of Gallipoli, p. 154.
[25] James, Gallipoli, p. 279.
[26] Hargreaves, The Suvla Bay Landings, p. 115.
[27] Ibid., p. 131.
[28] Hickey, Gallipoli, p. 273.
[29] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, Vol. II, p. 51.
[30] Sir Ian Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, Vol. II, p. 95.