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These continual frontal attacks
‘Casualties? What do I care about casualties?’ attributed to General Aylmer Hunter-Weston
Two brigades of Australians and New Zealanders were taken from Anzac Cove to Helles for the Second Battle of Krithia on May 6.
The First Battle of Krithia on April 28 had been a disastrous attack at the centre of the front line ordered by General Aylmer Hunter Weston. A handful of well-entrenched Turks inflicted about 3000 casualties over 10 hours before the attack was abandoned.
Losses never troubled Hunter-Weston, reported having snapped ‘Casualties! What do I care about casualties!’ when the dead and wounded were counted after the mismanaged landing.
British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, shown the plan for the Second Battle of Krithia by an enthusiastic Hunter-Weston (pictured) and aware of the previous disaster, wrote in his diary: ‘I quite fail to see on what his optimism is based.’
No system of trenches was in place and despite aerial reconnaissance, there were no clear idea of Turkish fortifications, so preliminary bombardments before each advance were utterly ineffectual.
Fearing darkness would confuse troops, Hunter-Weston also insisted that attacks across open ground be made in daylight despite the failure of that plan in the first attack.
The Allied force of 25,000, short of ammunition and outnumbered by the enemy well positioned around Krithia, could advance only 600 yards with more than 6000 casualties after three attempts in three days. Two British naval brigades had half their 1600 soldiers killed or wounded.
On May 8 the Anzacs were sent in: the Australians had 1000 killed or wounded in an hour as they fought under heavy fire to within 400 metres of the Turkish trenches and 2km from Krithia. The exposed New Zealanders lost 835 men for little gain. French Sengalese troops were decimated.
With the Turks reinforced and dug in, the Anzac brigades returned to Anzac Cove.
The Gurkha Rifles crept into the tangle of Gully Ravine on the night of May 12 and scaled a 300ft vertical cliff to capture the post above, known as ‘Gurkha Bluff’ and one of the few successes at Helles.
On May 25, before the third ill-fated Battle of Krithia on June 6, Ashmead-Bartlett wrote wearily in his diary off Cape Helles: ‘I went ashore at 1 am to visit Hunter-Weston. He told me there would be another attack in a few days … and he was quite confident of taking Achi Baba. I am getting tired of this old, old story.’
(On the other side of Europe that day the failure of the Gallipoli campaign had become apparent. Told by Prime Minister Asquith he will be replaced at First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill remarks to a visitor: ‘This is what I live for … Yes, I am finished in respect of all I care for — the waging of war…’)
The third Allied attack also failed with a gain of about 200m for more than 6500 casualties (4500 British, 2000 French). Turkish losses were estimated at between 9000-10,000. Despite some initial success, the attack was turned back by determined defenders led by German officer Liman van Sanders, the capable leader who, with Mustafa Kemal, is credited with foiling the Allies at Gallipoli.
The Turkish forces were tired and weakened by the battle but two days later rose in a counter-attack to almost breaking the British lines and drive them into the sea. Second Lt G. Moor was awarded the Victoria Cross for stemming the retreat by shooting the four men leading it ‘and the rest came to their senses’. The remainder led by Moor went back and recaptured a lost trench, saving ‘a dangerous situation’.
From the Gallipoli diary of Major John Churchill: ‘The 29th Div is down to small numbers now … These continual frontal attacks are terrible, and I fear the Generals will be called butchers by the troops. H[unter] W[eston] already has that name with the 29th.’