As an essentially literary chap, I do not propose to embroil myself in controversy about the Commander of the 29th Division at Helles, Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston (1864-1940), popularly known as ‘Hunter-Bunter’. He has been described as ‘one of the Great War’s spectacular incompetents’, Sir Douglas Haig referred to him as ‘a rank amateur’, and I admit that in his photographs he looks a bit touched. But one can hardly deny that in impossible circumstances he did his best to come up with a new plan for advancing the Allied front in the Helles sector after the Second Battle of Krithia (see my post of 6 May).
He immediately ordered the expeditionary force to maintain a ‘ceaseless initiative’ of pushing forward by sapping and night advances, so as to reduce the gap between the Allied and Turkish lines to an ‘assaulting distance’ of about 200 yards. By the end of this week 1915 that had been achieved. So what next?
Hunter-Weston was convinced that an attack should now be launched along a line from the Aegean to the Straits. The newly arrived commander of the French right flank, General Gouraud, agreed with him. Rather than the old ‘pivoting round the French at Kereves Dere’ idea, which had failed at both Krithia 1 and 2, they wanted to mount a meticulously prepared general advance. Indeed it would be planned in such detail as to be ‘scientific’ — Hamilton’s word for the unsporting secret of the Germans’ military successes.
Today, then, Hunter-Weston was promoted to Lieutenant-General, and the 29th Division, 42nd Division and Royal Naval Division were put under his command as VIII Corps. However, before a ‘Third Battle of Krithia’ could be launched Hamilton had to decide whether to wait for the reinforcements that Kitchener had promised him — the 52nd (Lowland) Division. They could take another fortnight.
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Today, 24 May 1915, the negotiated formal armistice was held at Anzac from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., during which about four thousand Turkish and Anzac soldiers were buried in services conducted by imams and priests. ‘Nothing could cleanse the smell of death from the nostrils for a fortnight afterwards’, wrote Orientalist, M.P., lieutenant-colonel and intelligence officer Aubrey Herbert. ‘There was no herb so aromatic but it reeked of carrion, not thyme nor lavender, nor even rosemary.’
In his Gallipoli (2013) Peter Hart writes:
The true situation was now clear to the Turks. While the Australians’ position looked weak, vulnerable to just one mighty effort to throw them into the sea, in fact it had several inherent strengths that were not immediately obvious. It was almost impossible to cross a No Man’s Land defended by alert infantry armed with bolt-action rifles and machine guns, with artillery support, unless an artillery barrage had already suppressed their ability to open fire at the crucial moment. This was a universal truth of the Great War that the Allies had discovered often enough […]; now the Turks, too, learnt that lesson.
This did not prevent Hunter-Weston and Gourand from making the same mistake with their plans for a Third Battle of Krithia.
There is no evidence that when he arrived at Helles two days later George Calderon even heard about the bloodbath at Anzac on 19 May and its surreal aftermath.
But the fact that both the Turks and the Allies saw their positions at Anzac as practically invulnerable, meant that they could now divert troops to the Helles front.
Next entry: 25 May 1915