At nightfall on April 25, ANZAC Divisions clung hard onto ridges above the landing beach. Hopes of embarking on a grand adventure were fast evaporating. Marching through the streets of Constantinople, a disappearing dream. Maj. Gen. Bridges had to make a decision. To stay and fight or evacuate…
April 25th, 1915: A.M.
Having missed the original landing point, the Australians waded ashore.‘The Sphinx’ stood on a maze of ravines, dense scrub and vertical cliffs. It looked down in the early morning light. From its lofty viewpoint groups of khaki-clad ANZACs fought their way uphill. Turks in drab brown uniforms make a haphazard fighting retreat.
The desperate push from the beaches to the heights was on. Rifles cracked, bullets whizzed, ricocheted, passed through bodies. Officers shouted directions, soldiers took cover, returned fire and rushed forward. Shrapnel burst overhead. Men crumpled into the dust in silence, or screaming agony. Chaos and casualties mounted.
Taking the heights around the Sphinx still seemed a possibility, despite unexpected resistance. But Turkish trenches and artillery positions still had to be overrun. Time was running out for the ANZACs. Turkish infantry and machine gunners were being force-marched to their hard-pressed comrades.
The ANZAC’s thought “Johnny Turk” would bolt at the first sight of an invasion fleet. They soon learned not to underestimate their foe. The Turk, defending his homeland proved a tough adversary, and a good shot. ANZAC officers were snipers prized targets. Without leadership, many units lost their momentum, in an already confusing landscape.
Turkish officers were able to direct the battle unhindered. Mustafa Kemal summed the situation up. The Colonel threw all available troops into recapturing the heights around Gaba Tepe. He reportedly told the Turkish 57th regiment
Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.
The Anatolians of the 57th decimated, bought precious time. Their sacrifice is still remembered today. Another group of Turks were out of ammunition and fleeing uphill. Kemal ordered them to fix bayonets and lie down, and by doing so caused the ANZAC’s to hesitate, and halt their attack.
The heights of ‘Baby 700’ (below Hill 971) changed hands several times in desperate fighting. The ANZACs out of options, retreated back to ‘Battleship Hill’ (below Baby 700).
To the south-east of Hill 971, the 3rd Ridge (or ‘Gun Ridge’) was reached. Lacking support the Australians withdrew (to ‘2nd Ridge’). Turkish Artillery continued to rain shrapnel on the unprotected ANZAC infantry advancing uphill.
By the end of the day both sides had reached a stalemate. Dehydrated and exhausted. troops dug in and waited to be re-supplied and for the enemy’s next move.
The setting sun lengthened shadows over shrouded bodies in forlorn gullies. The cries of the dying echoed on the wind, and through the darkening defiles.
It would be a sleepless night for the living, on both sides.
April 25th, 1915: P.M.
Cut into a gully on the beach, with reinforced sandbags and a canvas roof, stood the makeshift HQ of Major General Bridges. It was here that the next moves of the campaign were being thought out, and the fate of the soldiers in the hills decided upon.
Now, writes C.E.W. Bean, at the end of the day –
[Bridges] was striving with all his great mental power and determination to ignore his personal feelings and to keep before his eyes only one issue – what course was best in the interests of the enterprise.
Bridges was as certain as everyone else that a heavy counter attack would come with the daylight.
All his inclination was to stay and fight.
Evacuation was a thought neither Bridges, nor his staff wanted to consider.
He found it exceedingly difficult to decide. But in view of what he heard on all sides, it seemed to him, as to White, that the soldierly course was to face a withdrawal and the preparations should be made for evacuation. Godley was in consultation with him, and was convinced of the likelihood of a disaster in the morning.
General Birdwood would need this information to consider and decide upon. They signaled to Birdwood aboard the Queen Elizabeth – ‘come ashore.’
Bridges to Birdwood: In the interests of the enterprise..
After 10pm, high-ranking officers gathered inside Bridges’ beach HQ. Candle and torchlight illuminated the interior, casting shadows. The tents opening flapped in the warm Mediterranean evening breeze.
Inside, Bridges stooped like a hawk, examining a report. He and his staff looked up from their campaign maps and paperwork. General Birdwood entered, followed by a series of salutes and cordial introductions.
Bridges, never one to mince his words, spoke to the point. ‘Birdy’s’ facial muscles tensed as he listened to the urgent matters at hand. He had already seen the chaos of the landing area with lines of wounded and dying laid out on the beach. – and now, this news, going from bad to worse.
… the two divisional commanders laid before Birdwood their grave doubts as to whether the over-stained troops could possibly withstand further shellfire and a heavy attack in the morning …
Birdwood respected Bridges’ opinion. But he could not countenance talk of defeat,
The idea of evacuation came as a shock to Birdwood. At first he was completely opposed to it. But it was late and an instant decision one way or the other was required. Bridges, whose advice counted greatly with him, led him aside, and urged the immense importance of the matter.
If anything was to be done it must be done before dawn. In the end Birdwood was impressed, exactly as Bridges had been, by the intense anxiety of his subordinates. He did not, however take action on his own initiative, as Bridges had urged, or even make a definite recommendation.
Sir Ian Hamilton, commander of the campaign would need to know the full situation at Gaba Tepe. Birdwood was aware that the British landings at Helles had run into difficulties,
He simply put the case most strongly before Hamilton, and left the responsibility of decision to him.
Birdwood to Hamilton: If we are to re-embark…
Birdwood sent the following hand-written message to Sir Ian Hamilton aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
Both my divisional generals and brigadiers have represented to me that they fear their men are thoroughly demoralised by shrapnel fire to which they have been subjected all day after exhaustion and gallant work in the morning. Numbers have dribbled back from the firing line and cannot be collected in this difficult country. Even New Zealand Brigade which has only recently been engaged lost heavily and is to some extent demoralised. If troops are subjected to shellfire again to-morrow morning there is likely to be a fiasco, as I have no fresh troops with which to replace those in the firing line. I know my representation is most serious, but if we are to re-embark it must be at once.
Hamilton aboard the Queen Elizabeth woken from his sleep at about midnight,
[I]n his pyjamas [he] came into the Admiral’s cabin where de Roebuk, Thursby, Commodore Keyes, Carruthers and Cunliffe Owen were standing round the table.
Thursby handed him Birdwood’s letter. In silence he read it, and then looked up. “This is a difficult business,” he said. “What are we to do about it?”
Braithwaite stood there in his pyjamas, chewing on his big moustache, but making no remark or suggestion.
It was Thursby who answered. He said he did not believe it was possible to evacuate the troops. The boats, many of them had been smashed and sunk, the transports had been scattered… Hamilton asked Curruthers what he thought… [he] replied that it seemed to him impossible to re-embark the force within necessary time. Cunliffe Owen agreed. “Well, on that I decide it,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton to Birdwood: Dig, dig, dig…
Hamilton sat down and wrote to Birdwood.
Your news is indeed serious. But there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take at least two days to re-embark you, as Admiral Thursby will explain to you. Meanwhile the Australian submarine AE2 has got up through the narrows and has torpedoed a gunboat at Chunuk. Hunter-Weston, despite his heavy losses, will be advancing tomorrow, which should divert pressure from you. Make a personal appeal to your men and Godley’s to make a supreme effort to hold their ground.
P.S You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig until you are safe.
And that is exactly what they did, like their lives depended on it. In the words of C.E.W Bean —
The forms of men hard at work could be seen in the moonlight … the clink of shovels was everywhere on the hillside.
Out to sea warships sat silhouetted against the evening horizon. Iron leviathans floating at the edge of the world, exhaling smoke and steam from their coal-stoked bellies.
At ANZAC Cove, the moon shone over the Meditteranean sea. Boats brought men and equipment in, and ferried the injured and dead out.
Greek and Trojan warriors who fell in battle made their journey, so they believed, across the river Styx to the underworld. To do this they had to pay the ferryman. If coins weren’t placed in the mouth, the deceased man’s soul wandered the shoreline for 100 years. A century has past since the ANZACs stormed the Sphinx’s heights. They paid a heavy price, but their spirits still wander over the shores of our literary imagination. Like the ancients they are remembered in collected histories, by modern bards such as Charles Bean.
Follow Maj. Gen. Bridges story…
Bean C.E.W. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Vol. 1 .
Broadbent, Harvey Gallipoli: the fatal shore Penguin : Camberwell, Vic. 2005
Hart, Peter Gallipoli London : Profile, 2011.
Moorehead, Alan Gallipoli Arum: London, 1956, rep 2007.
Roberts, Chris The landing at ANZAC 1915 Big Sky Publishing: Newport, NSW 2015.
Gallipoli: The first day ABC online http://www.abc.net.au/gallipoli/
Morris, Phillipa From Mosman to Gallipoli http://mosman1914-1918.net/project/blog/mosman-to-gallipoli