Initial Moves & Preparation
Part two of this five part series looks at when the 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment landed at Gallpoli and their initial moves prior to going over the top on 12th August 1915.
After the retreat from Mons the war continued on the Western Front and as we have already seen both sides tried to outflank the other.
As 1914 came to an end the Allied command took stock of where they stood and with a long continuous line of trenches now stretching from the coast of Belgium to the border with Switzerland it seemed that deadlock was the only way ahead on the Western Front. With the Russians faring no better on the Eastern Front it was decided that a new front needed to be sought out. Winston Churchill, who held the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, put forward a plan to attack Germany and her allies in an area thought to be less heavily defended and the Dardanelles were mentioned. This is an area on mainland Turkey and it would become better known by the name of a peninsula situated there, Gallipoli.
The initial task to neutralise this area was given to naval power, who set about trying to destroy the Turkish defences. This failed as the Turks possessed a large number of mobile artillery pieces. It was therefore decided to mount a land invasion of the area. The overall command of this new striking force was given to General Sir Ian Hamilton. In early 1915, it was decided that the force would comprise of Australian and New Zealand troops, known as the ANZAC Corps, and the British 29th and Royal Naval Divisions along with the French Oriental Corps. All of these units joined up in Egypt, but only after many weeks of delay.
The invasion force landed on the 25th April 1915, with the 29th Division landing at Helles, using beaches codenamed S,V,W,X and Y, with the main force landing at V Beach. The ANZAC Corps landed north of Gala Tepe and the French main force landed at Kum Kale. The assault made by the 29th Division troops suffered greatly at the hands of the Turkish defenders who were well entrenched and were able to pour fire from their machine guns onto the troops landing on the Beach.
However, they managed to get ashore, gaining footholds around Seddulbahir Village, which fell on the 26th April, but only after they had fought off Turkish counter attacks and were assisted by the Royal Navy who kept the Turks at bay by bombarding them throughout the night. For this victory the 29th Division suffered greatly and some units lost 70% of their fighting strength. But for their sacrifice the division won 6 Victoria Crosses in the landings.
There then followed a series of battles to gain further ground and the Turks mounted their own offensives to push the invaders back into the sea. The Turks poured more troops in and the notion that this was going to be an easy route to undermine the Central Powers faded. All of these battles led to high casualties on each side and the campaign started to become one of siege warfare and attrition becoming a campaign of trench warfare in the same way that the Western Front did.
The 163rd Brigade officially entered a theatre of war at Lemnos on 6th August and on 9th August the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment transferred from HMT Aquitania to the Steam Ship Osmaniah where they spent a night in cramped conditions as the ship sailed to Imbros. Their war diary notes that the entire battalion transferred less 3 Officers and 157 Other Ranks who remained on the Aquitania. The battalion landed unopposed at ‘A’ Beach opposite Hill 10 at about 1700hrs on 10th August and moved along the shoreline towards Suvla Point to bivouac near Ghazi Baba. By now the rest of the 54th (East Anglian) Division had landed and they were ordered to move inland to join up with the right flank of the 10th Division in the early hours of the 11th August and so they turned inland and deployed battalion by battalion.
Reveille at dawn was followed by an order to move to a more advanced position. Here the 1/5th Norfolks suffered their first casualties. This came when they were shelled by Turkish artillery from the foothills east of Chocolate Hill, with the war diary noting that 3 men were wounded by shrapnel fire. The advance was halted and the Norfolks went to ground sheltering in deep ditches behind rocks and anywhere that offered protection.
They then dug in, with difficulty, and spent the rest of the 11th being harassed by snipers. Then, on the 12th, scarcely two days after landing, they were ordered to attack the Turkish lines with the rest of the 163rd Brigade.
‘August 12th 1915, for the 5th Norfolk Territorials, the 5th Suffolks and 8th Hants a bloody confused day of orders, counter orders, incompetence and a woeful break down in communications. For one who survived, Corporal F M Johnson remembers, ‘A day I shall remember the rest of my life.’
Dick Rayner, author of The Sandringhams at Suvla Bay
Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp had by this time been given local command of the brigade although the overall command remained with the brigade commander, Brigadier Capel Molyneaux Brunker DSO CMG. During the morning a planned advance followed by a night attack on enemy positions was cancelled and,
‘The 54th Division was, as a preliminary to further operations, ordered to clear the enemy from the village of Kuchuck Anafarta Ova and establish a line on its eastern approaches. The 163rd Brigade was ordered to advance and clear the area up to 118 Squares I.N.S. of snipers’
Dick Rayner, author of The Sandringhams at Suvla Bay
In reality they were going to be involved in an attack with a division on either side of them. In the early hours the head of the column finally made contact with the extreme right flank of the 10th Division and turned inland deploying battalion by battalion in the order of the march. They deployed in the following order, 1/5th Suffolks, 1/8th Hampshires, 1/5th Norfolks with the 1/10th and 1/11th Battalion London Regiment (162nd Brigade), who had only landed on 11th August, bringing up the rear. The 1/4th Norfolks had remained at the beach to unload stores but were then moved up to support trenches for the brigade.
The 1/5th Suffolks left flank was positioned with Karakol Dagh to their rear in the north east region, then the 1/8th Hampshires then the 1/5th Norfolks. These regiments, seen on a map, starting with the Suffolks begin to look like they begin to jut out toward the Turkish lines at an angle that places the Norfolks forward right flank on Point 28.
Point 28 can be identified as a spot height on contemporary trench maps of the time. Behind and to the south west would have been Hill 10 and that would place the 1/5th Norfolks facing, exposed at an angle and just to their right, the Turkish strong-point at Kuchuk Anafarta Ova. All around this area there are hills. To the north Kiretch Tepe Sirt, partly occupied by us and partly by the Turks. To the east Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe, both deep within Turkish lines. All providing good commanding views for the enemy.
The 163rd Brigade HQ moved inland and at 1400hrs and Major W T Purdy and 2nd Lieutenant W G S Fawkes of the 5/Norfolks were given orders to be ready to go into action and were given permission to put together water fatigue parties. These parties were told to get as much water as possible. The 1/4th Norfolks also took up positions behind the 1/5th Suffolks.
At 1500hrs, having heard nothing more, Major Purdy went to the battalion’s HQ where he found Proctor-Beauchamp and his Adjutant briefing the other company commanders. He stated,
‘He said. (Colonel Beauchamp) ‘we move at 4 o’clock. Set about it.’ And then he added, ‘I am sorry my orders are so vague but I give them to you as I received them from the Brigadier. He said the Brigade was to move out at 4 p.m. and clear snipers out of the valley… To join up with the 53rd Division on our right and the 10th on our left, and that we should probably attack the Turkish position in the morning.’
Major W T Purdy 1/5th Norfolk Regiment
Unfortunately this was all briefed with the fact that the strength of the enemy was not known and they would be advancing across ground that was not known to them. They were told the navy would support the advance with a bombardment and this commenced on time at 1600hrs.
In the 3rd part of this series we will look at what happened to the 1/5th Norfolks when they went over the top on 12th August 1915.
And the third part of this series will be published on 12th August 2015.