Gallipoli: planning a disaster

The Third Battle of Krithia, in which George Calderon was killed on 4 June, may have been the bloodiest single battle fought by the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, i.e. in terms of its own losses. Enemy losses, both in the Allied attacks and Turkish counterattacks, were even greater. The British and French troops were exhausted, and ‘by the middle of June […] there was scarcely a man on the peninsula who was not a victim to the prevailing epidemic of dysenteric diarrhoea’ (Official History).

So where was the campaign to go now?

Ian Hamilton had decided this before 4 June: when he received the reinforcements he had requested, he would attempt to break out from Anzac across the narrowest part of the southern peninsula, capture Maidos and Kilid Bahr, and cut off the Turks’ southern communications. In absolute secrecy, General Birdwood had presented a scheme for the attack to Hamilton on 30 May. Four days after the Third Battle of Krithia, Hamilton received a cable from Kitchener saying that he was sending out three new divisions. These, of course, might take up to five weeks to arrive, but they were enough for Hamilton’s staff to start planning in detail what they hoped would be the ‘decisive blow’ of the campaign. In the last week of June, Kitchener even offered Hamilton two more divisions, which he accepted. The new government was hoping for a spectacular success.

Meanwhile, it was decided that the pressure must be maintained on the Turks at all costs. This time the attacks would be concentrated on the two flanks where they had failed on 4 June, and the biggest concentration of howitzers possible would be used before the infantry went in. On 21 June the French attempted to take the deadly Turkish fortifications on the crest of Kereves Spur, but captured only Haricot Redoubt. On 28 June the British tried the same tactics along Gully Spur and Gully Ravine. George’s old regiment, the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers, had been reattached to the 87th Brigade after 4 June, moved to the left of the line, and took part in these engagements. The Turks sustained huge losses in their counterattacks and feared the complete collapse of their right flank. But the British VIII Corps simply did not have enough howitzers at its disposal; as a result, in the very sector of Fir Tree Spur where George had fallen on 4 June the 156th Brigade (Royal Scots and Scottish Rifles) were massacred. Today, 30 June 1915, the French were able to take advantage of the Turks’ disarray on the British front to capture the rest of the Kereves Spur fortress (the ‘Quadrilateral’).

The new ‘bite and hold’ tactics looked to have been successful. But, yet again, they had come at a terrible cost to the attackers. The French had given their all but were under constant bombardment from the Asiatic shore. In Peter Hart’s words, ‘They would do little more for the rest of the campaign than hold their line’. The 156th Brigade were part of the 52nd (Lowland) Division that had started arriving two days after George’s death; Hamilton’s first reinforcement division, then, was already depleted. Moreover, knowing that the real thrust was to come at Anzac/Suvla, at least one member of the British higher command regarded all these attacks as ‘cruel and wasteful’.

It seems that Hamilton had resigned himself to a ‘no-win’ situation at Helles. Everything, therefore, now depended on the planning and execution of the ‘decisive blow’ to be launched from the north in August. If that failed, the disaster would be complete.

Next entry: Commemoration (to be concluded)

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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