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In the foothills success – above the impossible
The ill-fated August offensive began on August 6 with a diversionary attack on Lone Pine at 5.30 pm and another at Cape Helles. After dusk two columns marched north from their camps around Anzac Cove, turning right into the tangled gullies, ravines and cliffs.
Under the overall command of Major-General Alexander Godley and badly guided in the dark into the poorly mapped ascents, the two forces would face insurmountable challenges, performing extraordinary feats under hellish conditions before the attack was called off four days later.
The New Zealand Infantry Brigade in the right column under Brigadier-General Francis Johnston was to head for Chunuk Bair. The left column under Major-General Herbert Cox, with the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade of Brigadier-General John Monash and Cox’s 29th Indian Brigade, had Hill 971 and neighbouring Hill Q as targets expected to be captured by dawn.
Neither would succeed but earlier in the night one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Gallipoli campaign took place as the right column silently swung into the foothills.
With war cries and furious charges, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles units and the Native Contingent captured four of the five key features assigned to the – Old No. 3 Post, Big Table Top, Destroyer Hill and Little Table Top. The final target was tougher: the Otago Mounted Rifles suffered 100 casualties and named the peak Bauchop’s Hill after their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Bauchop, was killed.
Australian war historian Charles Bean described this attack as “a magnificent feat of arms, the brilliance of which was never surpassed if indeed equalled during the campaign.” Voices of the Native Contingent, poignantly harmonised in a hymn a few hours earlier, startled other units with their ferocity.
‘They yelled as they went, with bayonets at the charge, “Ka mate, ka mate! Ka ora, ka ora,” the ancient Maori battle song … On they went … there was no breath to finish the chant; they needed it to push the bayonet home. The lads flung themselves at the foe like a band of destroying angels.’ James Cowen, The Maoris in the Great War, Auckland, 1926.
‘The 4th Brigade formed part of the North Assaulting Column, and I had associated with me the famous 29th Indian Brigade … with one battalion of Sikhs and three battalions of Gurkhas. My Brigade was in the lead and at 9.30 pm swept into black darkness for its two-mile march northwards into enemy territory. It was like walking out on a stormy winter’s night from a warm cosy home into a hail, thunder, and lightning storm. We had not gone half a mile inland when the black tangle of hills between the beach road and the main thoroughfare became alive with flashes of musketry, and the bursting of shrapnel and star shell, and the yells of the enemy and the cheers of our men as they swept in to drive the enemy from the flanks of our march. F M Cutlack, War Letters of General Monash, Sydney, 1934.
The New Zealanders struggled in the dark on a strenuous march through confusing wild gullies, arriving well up the ridge by daylight. They halted on Rhododendron Ridge. Below them to the south, they could see the Australian trenches at the Nek. They were about to watch a senseless slaughter that scarred a nation’s soul.
Further north, on the ridges leading to Hill 971 (Koja Temen Tepe) and Chunuk Bair, other Australians became lost on their night march. Dawn found them pinned down in hastily dug positions exposed to Turkish fire. They were ordered to continue the advance on 8 August, but, as the Australian battalions moved over an exposed slope, they were caught by Turkish machine guns and suffered heavy casualties.