Battle of Sari Bair

World War IBattle of Gallipoli

'''Battle of Sari Bair'''
ConflictWorld War I
DateAugust 6 - August 29, 1915
PlaceGallipoli peninsula, Turkey
ResultTurkish victory
Combatants
Britain, Australia, India, New Zealand Turkey
Commanders
Gen .Sir Ian Hamilton Otto Liman von Sanders,
Mustafa Kemal
Strength
4 divisions (initial)
8 divisions (final)
??
Casualties
12,000+Suvla: 8155
Anzac: 12,000+
Total: 20,000+

The World War I battle for the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey had raged on two fronts, Anzac and Helles, for three months since the invasion of April 25. With the Anzac landing a tense stalemate, the Allies had attempted to carry the offensive on the Helles battlefield at enormous cost for little gain. In August, the British command proposed a new operation to reinvigorate the campaign, which became known as the Battle of Sari Bair or the August Offensive. The aim was to seize control of the Sari Bair ridge, the high ground that dominated the middle of the peninsula.

The main operation started on August 6 with a fresh landing 3 miles north of Anzac at Suvla Bay in conjunction with the Anzacs mounting an attack north into the rugged country alongside the Sari Bair range with the aim of linking with the Suvla landing and capturing the high ground. At Helles, the British were now to remain largely on the defensive.

Table of contents
1 Prelude
2 The Anzac Breakout
3 The Suvla Landing
4 The Last Battles
5 Aftermath

Prelude

For this offensive the Allied commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, was provided with three British New Army divisions; the 10th (Irish) Division, the 11th (Northern) Division and the 13th (Western) Division — all previously untried in battle. He was later reinforced with two Territorial Army divisions; the 53rd (Welsh) Division and the 54th (East Anglian) Division and one division of dismounted yeomanry; the 2nd Mounted Division.

The Suvla landing was to be made by the British IX Corps, under the command of the aged Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford who had retired in 1909 and had never commanded men in battle. His appointment was made based solely on seniority but his hesitancy during the preparations for the landing should have warned Hamilton that he was not a fit choice for the command.

The Anzac Breakout

The attack from the Anzac perimeter was directed against two peaks of the Sari Bair range; Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. Under the overall command of General Godley, the attacking force included the New Zealand and Australian Division, the British 13th Division plus a couple of extra infantry brigades.

The plan was for two assaulting columns to march out of Anzac on the night of August 6. The right-hand column, comprising the New Zealand Infantry Brigade under Brigadier General Francis Johnston, would head for Chunuk Bair. The left-hand column, commanded by General Vaughn Cox, heading for Hill 971 and neighbouring Hill Q, contained the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade (Monash) and Cox's 29th Indian Brigade. Both objectives were expected to be captured by dawn.

To distract the Turks from the impending offensive, on August 6, at 5.30 pm, an attack was made at Lone Pine by the infantry brigades of the Australian 1st Division. While the attack was ultimately successful in capturing the Turkish trenches, it was counterproductive as a diversion as it attracted reinforcements to the north.

The right column heading for Chunuk Bair had a simpler navigation task as their route was to some degree visible from the old Anzac perimeter. In what became known as the Battle of Chunuk Bair, the New Zealanders were unable to capture the peak by the morning of August 7 but managed the feat the next evening.

On the morning following the breakout, a number of other attacks were planned within the old Anzac perimeter. The most notorious being the attack of the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek which had depended on the New Zealanders having captured Chunuk Bair on schedule.

The left column's journey through the tangled ravines was doomed to failure and, having become lost and confused, it never got close to the objective of Hill 971. By the morning of August 8 Cox's forces were sufficiently organised to attempt an attack on their original objectives of Hill 971 and Hill Q. However Monash's brigade were still mistaken about their position relative to Hill 971. In fact, by the end of the day's advance Monash's troops had actually reached the position they had believed they had been starting from. Meanwhile Hill 971 was more unreachable than ever. The three Australian battalions that had made the assault suffered 765 casualties - the 15th Battalion was reduced to about 30% of its normal strength.

Of the force aiming for Hill Q, one battalion of Gurkhas commanded by Major Cecil Allanson and joined by disparate New Army men, moved to within 200 feet of Hill Q by 6 pm on August 8 where they sought shelter from the heavy Turkish fire. After a naval artillery bombardment, the battalion attacked the summit shortly after 5 am on August 9. The plan of the attack, as concocted by General Godley, had involved numerous other battalions but all were lost or pinned down so the Gurkhas went on alone. They succeeded in driving the Turks off the hill but were then caught in further naval gunfire from friendly monitorss. Having suffered heavy casualties and with no reinforcements, Allanson's force was pushed back off the hill shortly afterwards.

By the end of August 9 the Allies retained only a foothold on Chunuk Bair. On August 10 the Turks counter-attacked and regained control of the entire Sari Bair ridge.

See Also: Battle of Lone PineBattle of the Nek — Battle of Chunuk Bair

The Suvla Landing

Stopford's IX Corps comprised the British 10th and 11th Divisionss. At the time of the landing on August 6 the British were confronted by three Turkish battalions under the command of a Bavarian cavalry officer, Major Wilhelm Willmer.

Willmer had no illusions about withstanding any landing in force. His plan for the defence of Suvla was merely to delay the British at the beach for 12 hours before falling back to the next line of defences. This would give the three Turkish divisions in reserve at Bulair, 30 hours march away, a chance to reach the high ground before the British. Three strong points were built; one on Kiretch Tepe to the north, one on Hill 10 in the centre and one on Chocolate Hill, near the southern end of the salt lake that lay behind the beach. Small pickets were positioned elsewhere, including on Lala Baba, a small hill between the beach and the salt lake.

The 11th Division landed on the night of August 6. The 10th Division would land the following morning. The original objectives were the capture of the ridge lines to the north (Kiretch Tepe) and east (Tekke Tepe) and the line of hills to the south on the Anafarta Spur. However, Stopford's timorous nature and Hamilton's failure to exert his will on his subordinate commanders meant the objectives were diluted to little more than securing the beach. The revised objectives were the capture on the first night of Kiretch Tepe ridge to the north and Chocolate Hill to the south as well as the two smaller rises close the the beach - Lala Baba and Hill 10. The advance on Chocolate Hill was to be made by going the long way around the north shore of the salt lake.

The landings suffered from the same confusion that reigned at Anzac on April 25. Troops from the 34th Brigade under Brigadier General William Sitwell disembarked south of their intended landing point and also south of 'The Cut' - the channel that drained the salt lake into the Aegean Sea. Lighters ran aground on sandbars so that the troops had to wade some distance to get ashore. Many units became intermingled.

The 32nd Brigade landed opposite Lala Baba which was captured by the 6th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. This was the first combat action by any unit of Lord Kitchener's New Army and was a foretaste of what was to come for the men of that army during the war. Of the two companies that made the assault, a third of the men and nearly all the officers became casualties. After Lala Baba was secure, the 32nd Brigade moved north to join up with the 34th Brigade near Hill 10.

Of the 34th Brigade, the only battalion to approach its first day objective was the 11th Battalion from the Manchester Regiment which, despite landing south of 'The Cut', managed to navigate from the beach north along the shore and then strike towards the Kiretch Tepe ridge. The Turkish defenders inflicted some 200 casualties on the Manchesters but eventually retreated. Elsewhere on the beach disorganisation reigned. Attempts to capture Hill 10 failed because no one in the field knew where Hill 10 was. Shortly after dawn it was found and captured, the Turkish rearguard having withdrawn during the night.

By evening on August 7 progress had been minimal. To the south east Chocolate Hill and Green Hill were taken in the evening with minimal resistance but constant harassment by shrapnel and sniper fire. The British suffered 1700 casualties on the first day at Suvla.

Stopford's first serious attempt at the ridges of the Anafarta Hills to the east was made on the night of August 8 and the morning of August 9 by which time the Turkish reinforcements had begun to arrive. The fighting concentrated around Scimitar Hill which protruded northwards from the Anafarta Spur and dominated the southern approach to the Tekke Tepe ridge. On August 8 the hill had actually been captured by the 6th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment with little opposition before being abandoned. Attempts to retake the hill on August 9 and 10 were thwarted by the Turks, commanded by Colonel Mustafa Kemal. The gunfire was so intense it set the undergrowth ablaze and many of the wounded were incinerated where they lay.

On the Kiretch Tepe on August 9, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers briefly captured a knoll named 'Jephson's Post' near the centre point of the ridge. It was recaptured in subsequent bitter fighting and would ultimately become the final front line on the ridge.

As the fighting developed, the landing was reinforced by the arrival of the British 53rd Division on August 9 followed by the 54th Division on August 10. Stopford now had four divisions under his corps command but was faced by a similar strength of Turkish defenders.

The 53rd Division was mauled in another attack on Scimitar Hill on August 10. The 163rd Brigade of the 54th Division suffered a similar fate when it attempted to clear the way through the foothills of the ridge on August 12. The 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment was part of the 163rd Brigade and this battalion contained the 'Sandringham' Company, raised from the men of the King George V's Royal Estate at Sandringham, which disappeared during the fighting, killed or captured. A few survivors who became POWs returned to Britain after the war but numerous myths arose about the actual fate of the company.

On August 15 Hamilton finally sacked Stopford and a number of division and brigade commanders. The command of IX Corps was given to General Beauvoir De Lisle, commander of the 29th Division.

The Last Battles

As the shape of the new front line firmed, General Hamilton planned one further attack to try and link the Suvla landing to Anzac. This required the capture of a group of hills; Scimitar Hill and the 'W' Hills from Suvla and Hill 60 from the new Anzac sector. The attacks were to commence on August 21. At Suvla, De Lisle had his 29th Division and the 2nd Mounted Division which had been moved to Suvla as additional reinforcements.

The 29th Division was to attack Scimitar Hill while the 11th Division was to take the W Hills on the south of the Anafarta Spur. The 2nd Mounted Division was in reserve near Lala Baba on the far side of the salt lake. This attack was the largest mounted by the Allies at Gallipoli. Scimitar Hill was captured briefly but the attackers were driven off or killed by the defensive fire from the Turks higher up the spur. Once again the undergrowth ignited, burning many of the wounded. The 2nd Mounted Division were called to join the attack and in a feat of the sort of glorious folly for which the British gentleman soldier is reknowned, they advanced, marching in extended formation, straight across the salt lake, under fire the whole way. For a second time the hill was captured, briefly, before being lost for the final time. The attack of the 11th Division towards the W Hills was held up by strong Turkish defences.

In the Anzac sector, Hill 60 had been unoccupied on the morning of August 7 when Australian scouts passed across it however the Turks swiftly occupied and fortified it. The Battle of Hill 60 lasted for eight days and while the summit of the hill was eventually reached, the Allies were unable to completely dislodge the Turkish defenders.

See Also: Battle of Scimitar HillBattle of Hill 60

Aftermath

Once the battles of August 21 had finished, the front lines at Suvla and Anzac remained static for the remainder of the campaign. Localised fighting continued but no more major advances were attempted.


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